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Maryland and Virginia Native Plants: Easy Ephemerals

Relatively available and mostly simple to grow.

Lasting for only a short time in spring, native ephemerals add a touch of magic to your garden. They emerge from the ground seemingly overnight. Once they finish blooming, plants die back until the following spring. These plants are the native garden's equivalent of daffodils, ornamental hyacinths and tulips. Another way to think about it is as the native plant garden's spring bling! Scientists also tell us ephemerals are important early food sources for pollinators. Why think about these spring blooming plants now?


If you want to add more ephemerals to your garden, this is an ideal time to think about it. It can be difficult to find ephemerals in nurseries at other times of year when the plants are dormant. Once spring ends and they disappear, it can even be difficult to remember where they are in your own garden!


These four are relatively available and easy to grow in the right conditions. All tend to favor richer, moister soils of the open woodland so a dappled shady spot that is moist is just about perfect.

Trillium

Native trilliums include yellow trillium (Trillium luteum), toad trillium with red flowers (Trillium cuneatum) and white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Trilliums reach a foot and a half or so high and have have spectacular foliage and flowers. Shade or part shade and moist soils are best. Trilliums can tolerate soils with average moisture once established. The plants typically bloom from April to May. The clumps of flowers are very slow to spread by rhizomes.


Since they are so slow to spread, you may want to consider making more plants by dividing them. Traditionally this is recommended for fall though garden writer and podcaster Margaret Roach suggests doing this in spring when the plants are easily found. Her easy directions are here.


Native plant nurseries Watermark Woods, Kollar Nursery and Nature by Design all list them as in stock so those may be good places to start if you are looking for these.

Virginia Bluebells

If trilliums are easy to grow, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virgninica) are super easy! They emerge every spring with dark purple flower buds which morph into the bluebells on foot and a half high stems. They spread nicely and bring shady areas alive. Shade or part shade and moist soils are best. These can also tolerate soils with average moisture once established.


Plant More Natives has bluebells available and Nature by Design has them on their 2023 plant list. Watermark Woods and Kollar Nursery include bluebells on their plant lists but do not show them in stock. Some garden centers will carry these in spring.

Wild hyacinth

Wild hyacinth bulbs (Camassia scilloides) produce pale lavender flowers and top out at a foot to two high. The plants have strappy foliage, much like a daffodil. They can also tolerate clay soils and sun. They do need moisture in spring while they are blooming. The bulbs I have seen for sale are typically relatively young and small. The plants seem to increase in size and vigor over the first couple of years. In our garden they also have a long bloom time, blooming from late March to early May. You can read more about these bulbs here.


Bona Terra notes they are growing wild hyacinth though they are not yet available for sale and

Nature By Design includes these on their 2023 Plant List. Farther afield, Prairie Moon Nursery has bare root plants available by mail.

Wood or Celandine Poppy

Bright yellow flowers of wood poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) bud up early and as the plant grows, they continue to bloom with new flowers. These also spread delightfully. They will self seed, often 40 or 50 feet away from the original plant. Seedlings can easily be moved. They self seed but, to my mind, not in an aggressive way -- just in the way that gives you more plants for spring! If they are in a moist setting, their foliage can persist through most of summer. The shape of the leaves is like a large lobed fern -- very pretty as a ground cover.


Watermark Woods shows wood poppies as in stock on their plant list.


A note about purchasing ephemerals: they tend to be harder to find and more expensive than other perennials. While a few nurseries are noted here, these are not the only places you can find these plants. The best time to look is during early spring and native plant nurseries will be the best bet by far. A bit of extra effort required. The extra effort goes a long way towards creating a garden grounded in a real sense of place!






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We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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