Plants by Bloom Season: Spring
Alternate Leaf Dogwood, Pagoda Dogwood - Cornus alternifolia
The alternate leaf dogwood is one of about 10 species of dogwood native to New York state. It is a small woody tree/shrub with a rounded crown and can reach a height of about 25’. The branches and leaves tend to be horizontal, which is why it is also referred to as the "pagoda dogwood", and the leaves are arranged alternately along the branches. The branches are loose and open. The alternate leaf dogwood has small, white, fragrant flowers in late spring, with berries developing in July and August. Like the serviceberry, the alternate leaf dogwood is an understory tree, and in the wild is found at forest edges. As such, it prefers partial shade, but will tolerate full sun as long as it gets enough water.
American Trout Lily (ephemeral) - Erythronium americanum (yellow dog-tooth violet, adder’s tongue)
The mottled brown leaves of the American trout lily are a common sight in the woodlands of Clark Reservation in early spring. Although we often see a carpet of these plants, a single plant sends up only two leaves and a flower stalk. The trout lily spreads through rhizomes to form colonies. An ephemeral, the leaves and flowers die back by summer.
Blood Root - Sanguinaria canadensis
Bloodroot is native to the central and eastern half of North America, and is another ephemeral spring flowering plant which goes dormant and dies back by mid-summer. The plants are very short, only 6” to 9” tall. Although Bloodroot has no nectar, its yellow anthers and white petals attract pollinators nonetheless, insuring that the plant is pollinated to produce seed. The flowers are about 2” in diameter and emerge wrapped in a furled leaf; they open in sunlight and close at night. They are usually only in bloom for one or two days. The name comes from the fact that all plant parts discharge a bright reddish-orange sap when bruised.
Blue Cohosh - Caulophyllum thalictroides
Blue cohosh grows from 1 to 3’ tall. The spring flowers are inconspicuous and usually brownish or yellowish green but they are followed by unusually bright blue berries in late summer. Although blue cohosh has been used medicinally, parts of the plant (including the berries) are poisonous. In addition, the roots, leaves, and berries of the blue cohosh can cause skin irritation when touched.
Blue Flag Iris - Iris versicolor
The Blue Flag iris grows in moist, rich soil, and is found in the wild in marshes, swamps, wet meadows, forested wetlands, and on fresh-water shorelines, where the root masses of established colonies protect the shoreline from erosion. It can tolerate standing water up to 6” deep and prefers full sun, although it will grow in drier conditions if given partial shade.
Common Blue Violet - Viola sororia
The low-growing common violet blooms from April right through the summer, and will grow in a variety of conditions, although partial or light shade and moist to average conditions are the ideal. Like most woodland plants, it prefers rich, silty loam; if exposed to full sun regularly the leaves will turn yellowish, which is normal. This violet is found throughout central New York and spreads readily by reseeding, often found growing in lawns.
Cut Leaf Toothwort (ephemeral) - Cardamine concatenata
Native to the eastern half of North America, the cut leaf toothwort is seen throughout the woodlands of Clark Reservation in mid-spring. It prefers rich, loamy soil. The plant is usually about 6” tall, with flower stalks rising above the basal leaves. The delicate flowers are about 1/2” wide, usually pinkish to white in color, and very fragrant. An ephemeral, the leaves turn yellow and eventually disappear by the end of spring. The presence of cut leaf toothwort indicates that the soil in the area has been left relatively undisturbed by development or agriculture. It is one of the first plants that declines in number when an area is taken over by the invasive Garlic Mustard plant.
False Solomon’s Seal - Maianthemum racemosum
False Solomon’s Seal gets its name from its resemblance to the Solomon’s Seal plant, and prefers rich, moist soil and dappled shade. The most notable differences between the two plants are the flowers: Solomon’s Seal has small, white bell-shaped flowers which dangle along the length of the stalk underneath the plant, whereas False Solomon’s Seal blooms in feathery fronds at the very end of the leaf stalk. The flowers develop into red berries in the fall. In traditional medicine a tea of dried Solomon’s Seal root has been used to treat coughs and also constipation. and prefers rich, moist soil and dappled shade.
Foam Flower - Tiarella cordifolia
Tiarella is native to the eastern half of the United States except Florida. It blooms from May into the summer; buds are pinkish and open to white stalks of blooms. It will tolerate rabbits and deer, and is a great addition to a shade garden, growing in full to partial shade. Tiarella is a low-growing plant (under one foot tall), spreading by runners underground to form mats up to 2’ wide. The foliage is evergreen in milder winters, and often turns reddish bronze in the autumn.
Golden Alexander - Zizea aurea
Golden Alexander is a native member of the carrot/parsley family (Apiaceae), and blooms in small colonies. It is usually 1.5 to 2 feet tall, and the bright golden flowers are similar to Queen Anne’s Lace (which is not native to North America). The leaves occur three to a stem, but may be only two higher up on the plant. Golden Alexander is a hardy plant with few problems, and it provides an excellent source of pollen and nectar for insects with shorter mouth parts. Caterpillars of the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly feed on this and many other members of the carrot family, including parsley, dill, and Queen Anne’s Lace.
Large-Flowered Bellwort - Uvularia Grandiflora
The graceful large-flowered bellwort is native to the woodlands of central and eastern North America, and is one of the first flowering plants to emerge in the spring. A shorter perennial when in blooming in May (about 1’), the stems get longer after the blooms fade, and the plant will grow up to 2’ tall. It has a drooping appearance in the spring, but becomes more erect after blooming and will persist throughout the summer.
Mayapple - Podophyllum peltatum
The large, umbrella-like leaves of the mayapple are showy and easy to distinguish. The leaves rise up and remain folded until they reached about 12” in height, after which they unfurl to about 6 – 8” across. Like wild ginger, the flowers form under the leaves, and so are often unnoticed unless the leaves are moved. Eventually the flowers form fleshy apple-like fruits in May. The leaves, seeds, and roots are all poisonous, but the fruit is used to make a jam after proper preparation.
Red Baneberry - Actaea rubra
Another woodland plant, the red baneberry prefers light to moderate shade and moist to moderate soil. It reaches 1 - 2’ in height, and has small white flowers in round clusters on the stalks in May and June. The bright-red berries appear in mid-summer, and are highly poisonous. Native Americans used the prepared roots to treat colds, sores, hemorrhages, stomachaches, and syphilis.
Red Columbine - Aquilegia canadensis
Red Columbine is a short-lived woodland plant and grows best in moist, rich, well-drained soil under light dappled shade. It is deer-resistant and reseeds very readily. It begins blooming in early to mid-May, but may continue blooming right into summer. It is not as susceptible to leaf-miners as are non-native columbine species, and is a favorite of hummingbirds, as its flowers are the perfect size and shape for them to collect the nectar
Red Twig Dogwood, Red Osier Dogwood - Cornus sericea
The red twig dogwood is another dogwood native to New York. It is multistemmed and reaches 6 - 12’ tall. The leaves are colorful in autumn and the twigs remain bright red throughout the winter, making it a popular landscaping shrub. It prefers light shade and moist conditions, but will tolerate sun. Native Americans used the inner bark of the red twig dogwood as a tobacco substitute. It is a larval host to the Spring Azure butterfly.
Serviceberry - Amelanchier canadensis (shadbush, shadblow, sarvice, Juneberry, wild currant)
The serviceberry is a woody shrub that can grow to 25’ tall and 15 – 20’ wide. Naturally it grows as a clump of stems; it is one of the earliest blooming shrubs in the spring, and as such is an important source of nectar for pollinators. It is drought and salt tolerant, and will also tolerate a wide variety of soils. The berries ripen in June and are popular with birds and wildlife, and are eaten by by orioles, cardinals, thrushes, catbirds, woodpeckers, waxwings, robins, squirrels, and chipmunks. It is also a host plant for the tiger swallowtail, viceroy, admiral, and striped hairstreak butterflies. The foliage turns orange-red in the fall.
Sharp-Lobed Hepatica - Hepatica acutiloba
One of the first spring plants to bloom at Clark Reservation is Sharp Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis), which you can look for right after the last of the snow has melted. Native to eastern North America, this low-growing plant does best in the rich soil of the northeastern woodlands in full dappled shade. The flowers can be any shade of white to pink to lavender and purple, and bloom before the leaves.
Spice Bush - Lindera benzoin
The Spice Bush is named for the spicy smell it gives off when the leaves are crushed. The leaves can also be used as a tea, and the dried, powered fruit has been used as a spice as well. It blooms with yellow or white flowers in April, and prefers places that are moist and somewhat shady, although it will tolerate full sun. It prefers a limestone-based soil like that found in Clark Reservation, and is a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies and the Promethea silk moth.
White Trillium (ephemeral) - Trillium grandiflorum
A carpet of White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) is a welcome sight in the forests of eastern North America in mid-spring, but the sight is becoming more rare. Although these plants can still be found in a number of areas locally, they are considered to be 'exploitably vulnerable' in New York state. People tend to dig them up, and even picking them can kill the plant because it removes the 'bract', which is necessary to produce nourishment for the plant for the following year. Trillium do not reestablish easily, either; once a forest has been leveled for farming or other development, trillium do not usually return on their own, even if the forest reestablishes itself to full maturity. Trillium are very slow to germinate and establish, and take about 17 years to mature.
(photos by Dean Kolts)
Wild Ginger - Asarum canadense (spring ephemeral)
Wild Ginger is a very low, hairy native plant which prefers rich soil that does not dry out. It is usually found in woodland areas in dappled shade. Its leaves like those of the wild violet, but larger. It spreads primarily by rhizomes underground, often forming large patches. The unusual dark red flowers appear in April or May, and they bloom at the very base of the stems, usually hidden by leaves. Because of this, ants are its primary pollinators, and so once the plant has been eliminated from an area it is not likely to return on its own. Wild Ginger has long been used in food preparation, and has also been used medicinally by a number of Native American tribes for stomach and digestive issues, coughs, colds, heart trouble, and topically for earaches.