The first native woodland plants of spring

The first four native plants to make a spring appearance in an Indiana woodland garden are small beauties.

Courtesy of Gene Bush
True to its name, dwarf snow trillium (Trillium nivale) isn't bothered by snow or cold, so it's one of the first woodland wildflowers to put in an appearance in spring.

The past two weeks of late winter have been like the perfection of a Chamber of Commerce poster for southern Indiana: sunshine that makes you feel like a fat cat sleeping in a sunny window and cool breezes to hold off the perspiration while you work to clear debris from the garden.

Certainly it's been walking weather for seeing what is in bloom as the soil warms. Here are the first four native plants to make their mark:

Trillium nivale, or dwarf snow trillium, has a very descriptive common name, for it is not unusual to see snow on the blooms. Nivale means snowy. This little gem seems to take any weather nature can send its way without damage to the blooms or foliage.

The plant is only three to four inches high, and the foliage has good substance, with the two-inch leaves being heavily veined and silvery blue-green in color. The flowers are on very short stalks, one to a plant, the color of snow, and large for the overall size of the plant. Blunt petals are about two inches long with yellow stamens. This species of trillium has a special place in my garden and my love of natives.

As Trillium nivale fully opens, the harbinger of spring (Erigenia bulbosa) joins the little parade of blooms. When in bloom, it is easy to see why it is called salt and pepper as well as harbinger of spring. The flowers are white with black stamens. Never more than four inches in height, the lax, bright-green stems creep from beneath leaf litter to end in tiny clusters of white flowers. Leaves are lacy, adding to the delicate appearance. Given time, small colonies form from seed.

Erythronium americanum is also known as troutlily for the speckled and mottled foliage. It has two leaves to a mature plant, each about six inches long. In the middle of the two leaves is a short stem with a single flower. It's bright butter-yellow and as the flowers age, the pointed petals recurve. The pollen is protected by the flowers closing in cloudy weather, opening to the rays of the sun. Given time, they seed about to form colonies. Patience is required, however, as plants take about five years or more to mature to flowering size.

Hepatica acutiloba, the sharp-leaf windflower, emerges one flower to the fuzzy stem, pushing up through last year's battered foliage and stems. With the aging of the plant, more stems form until there are showy stands eight to 10 inches across. Height is about eight inches, and flower color can range from white to pink or blue, but I usually see white in woods close by. Leave are threes and often mottled in pewter. [Click here to see photos of my troutlily and hepatica.]

Each day, each walk in the garden, now brings new foliage and flowers, and I find myself going to the gardens more every day these first days of spring.


Gene Bush, a nationally known garden writer, photographer, lecturer, and nursery owner, gardens on a shaded hillside in southern Indiana. His website is He also writes the Garden Clippin's Newsletter. To read more by Gene here at Diggin' It, click here. Or follow him on Twitter.

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