Sunday, February 9, 2014

Favorite Native Spring Perennials for the Garden

I love to go to natural areas to see blooming native plants in the spring. The variety of plants can be amazing. When it comes to my own garden, I have to be realistic. Not all of those plants will grow in my garden - some of them require special conditions and some are not readily available for purchase.

Columbine in the wild, easily grown in the garden too

There are some amazing plants that I can use, however, some of which might also be suitable for you. I’ll make a note of which ones are generally available so you can add some ideas to your spring “wish” list. That way when you hit the native plant sales, you’ll be ready with some good ideas.

Toothwort, Cardamine angustata
Toothwort  (Dentaria spp. now known as Cardamine spp.) blooms in mid to late March in northern Georgia. However, it is the earliest of perennials to put up new foliage. In my yard the foliage is already peeking through the leaves, unaffected by last week’s snow. I believe the one I have is slender toothwort, Cardamine angustata. It shares areas of Georgia with the more common slender toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, which is native throughout much of the Eastern U.S. I don't see this one a lot at sales, but mail order is possible.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) also has a very large native range, including parts of Georgia’s Coastal Plain. The plant is named for the red colored liquid that oozes from cuts on the rhizome.  Tiny furled leaves emerge in late February. These leaves gently wrap around a single flower stem, as if to protect it from winter’s harsh conditions. After the white flower opens, the leaves continue to expand and grow to form an attractive groundcover. In cool, moist conditions in part-shade, the leaves can persist for many months alongside the developing seed pod. Available occasionally at sales; also a good one to convince your friend to share with you.

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is relatively new to me. I had heard many people talk about it but I have only recently introduced it into my garden. It is native in scattered areas of Georgia and much of the Eastern U.S. The grass-like leaves distinguish it from Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana) which is native only to the northernmost parts of Georgia and a slightly smaller Eastern U.S. range. It blooms in early March although the leaves come up earlier. A single medium-sized bulb produces quite a few flowers. The flower color ranges from almost white to intense pink. I don't see this one a lot at sales, but mail order is possible.

Trillium cuneatum

Trilliums (Trillium spp.) are many and varied and you can read more about them at my earlier post here. I naturally have toadshade trillium (Trillium cuneatum) on my property and occasionally find new ones popping up; seedlings come up with a single leaf for several years. Other than having to provide them with some deer protection, they are easy and carefree plants. When the foliage comes up in the spring, I spray them with a bit of Liquid Fence and that seems to protect them. If it rains a lot, you might want to spray them again. Generally available at native plant sales although the species available varies.
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is one of the trickiest flowers to photograph. The white bloom is positioned under the leaves and faces downward.  It is a very easy plant to propagate, being willing to grow from root cuttings. In the wild, it creates large colonies that grow from rhizomatous roots. In the garden, the large leaves will persist in moist areas. The small green fruit is the source of the name and can be rather pleasant tasting when ripe. Generally available at sales.
A blooming mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) in a large group
Mertensia virginica

With the exception of the deep South (Texas, Florida), there are some species of bluebells native throughout the U.S. The species native to north Georgia is Mertensia virginica, known as Virginia bluebell.  I find this to be a very tricky plant to grow and I think it is due to its moisture requirements. Where it is happy, however, it can spread quite a bit. I have seen great quantities in a mesic forest (very rich and moist) in Walker County. I will keep trying; it is worth it. Available occasionally at sales in small quantities. Ask friends to share.

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is different than the previous plants; unlike those, it is not ephemeral. In fact, the leaves stay year round, even in the winter in a small way. It is a beautiful, cheerful red flower that dangles gently on slender stems. It is easy to grow and easy to share with friends. Spring plant sales usually have it in abundance due to its ability to self-propagate. I love its ability to pop up in new places. I suppose that would drive a tidy gardener nuts.

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

I love visiting native spring plant sales. There are often nice surprises - plants that I didn't think anyone would grow or which I've never heard of. Seek out local ones near you and see what you can find.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the preview of spring. We still have plenty of snow on the ground--something I've not seen for years, but remember from my childhood. Spring should be just around the corner, but it doesn't feel like it yet. Luckily, for some very strange reason, I'm fine with winter this year, so I can wait...even with the teasers you posted.

    The woodland wildflowers were probably the first natives I knew (thanks to my parents love of them and the nature walks I remember taking). I have some of what you have posted, but want to get them all and more!

    I am growing columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), but I must say mine never seem to look as delicate and beautiful as the ones found in nature--like the beautiful shot you have to introduce your post. I love that look and hope to establish some on a rocky outcrop like that.

    Thanks for sharing. I'm really going to enjoy spring when it comes!