Iowa’s Ephemeral Wildflowers

Early spring Iowa’s woodlands come to life with patches of color as our native wildflowers start to bloom. The first flowers of spring are often called ephemerals, which means “short-lived”, a nod to the short bloom time these plants experience. Ask about these plants at your local nursery, but never dig these plants up from their native habitats.

Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) – a delicate, low-growing perennial with deeply lobed leaves and solitary, five-petaled white flowers. Can form sizable stands on the edge of the woods or in clearings.

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) – a short, slender plant with loose cluster of pink flowers with pink anthers. Foliage is grass-like and unobtrusive. One of the most attractive ephemerals.

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) – a clumping plant with finely dissected fern-like leaves. Flowers are fragrant, white, and shaped like upside down breeches. Multiple flowers bloom on each arching stem.

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) – spotted basal leaves sheath the stalk of nodding yellow flowers. Flowers are solitary, but each plant sends up multiple stalks. Stamen are large and copper colored. Petals and sepals bend backwards. The name trout lily describes the similarity of the leaf markings to those of certain species of trout.

Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var obtusa) – This wildflower blooms before its own leaves appear. Flowers are 6-petaled and come in shades of blue, pink, and white. The leaves are 3-lobed and rounded with a fuzzy pubescence. Leaves don’t die back to the ground until the following spring.

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) – Upright plants with nodding clusters of pink buds that open into blue bell-shaped flowers. Naturalizes well and makes quite a show. This is one of the more common wildflowers found in commerce.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) – A many-petaled white flower with distinct deeply cleft leaves. Flowers are very short lived. Each flower has a single basal leaf that wraps around its stalk.

Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) – Three large, whorled leaves hide the dainty white flower of nodding trillium. The three white petals and three green sepals of this flower bend backwards and show off deep rose anthers.

Look for these plants while walking through the woods this spring.

Prepared by Lindsey Smith, Collections Curator