By Ashlyn Luckey | Visitor Services Assistant

AmeriCorps Member, September 2023 – August 2024

In Wisconsin, we’re familiar enough with the unpredictable Midwestern weather to know that the phrase “April showers bring May flowers” might just mean snow showers! But did you know that despite the saying, and the sometimes uncooperative weather, many native flowers actually bloom well before May? These early-blooming wildflowers, called spring ephemerals, are often as short-lived as they are early. The word ephemeral references how long the blooms last, sometimes only a single day.

At The Nature Place, our native gardens are home to a variety of spring ephemerals including bloodroot, hepatica, pasque flower, shooting star, wood violet, and Jacob’s ladder. Whether I find them in our gardens or out along a trail, I’m always so excited to see these friendly little flowers; they’re the perfect reminder that spring is here, even when nothing else is blooming yet — except maybe the dandelions! Going for a walk on a warm day in early spring and spotting the tiny blossoms of a spring ephemeral always makes my day.

Spring ephemerals are not the only early signs of spring in our gardens, though! One of my personal favorite native plants, prairie smoke, is one of the earliest bits of color in the gardens this year. While their dusty red hue is their most outstanding feature at this time of year, you actually can’t see their flowers most of the time. The pinkish-red color of prairie smoke’s sepals is what makes them stand out before they develop their distinctive wispy seed heads towards the middle of summer. However, the flowers, which hang upside down hidden by the sepals, are usually a cream color. If you look closely, you can also see the yellow-green of Golden Alexander buds in our rain garden, which are sure to turn into golden blossoms shortly. These buds may be tiny now, but in a few short months they’ll be growing strong, on plants that could be over a foot tall! Near our demonstration produce garden, the fruit trees have been blossoming too, branches full of white petals filling the air with the sweet scent of spring.

The pale purple hepatica blossoms I spotted while looking for the bloodroot.
Red prairie smoke in the pollinator garden hiding their blossoms.