Get to Know Spring’s Native Flowers

White trilliums in bloom

One of the best things about spring is spotting the first plants of the season sprouting. Little bits of green peeking out bring the feeling of new beginnings. May is a great time to look for native wildflowers in the Credit River Watershed.

Native Wildflowers 

Here are some of our favourites.

Downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens)

Downy yellow violet flowers on forest floor
Downy yellow violet

This sweet yellow wildflower comes out in May and can be identified by the thin purple lines in the center of the flower. You can see large patches throughout the forest floor growing near large trees.

Christmas fern fiddlehead (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas fern fiddlehead
Christmas fern

Don’t be fooled by its name, the Christmas fern fiddlehead is enjoyed all year long. Fiddleheads are easy to identify because they’re tightly coiled and covered with long silvery white scales. They curl backwards and open their leaves as they unfurl.

Early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum)

Early meadow rue flowers
Early meadow rue

Early meadow-rue flowers are another easy plant species to identify because of their unique bell shape. They look similar to tiny windchimes! As a perennial plant, they return for many years and can be enjoyed year after year.

Silver maple flowers (Acer saccharinum)

Silver maple flowers
Flowers on silver maple trees

Did you know that trees have flowers too? The flowering buds on silver maple trees are easy to see from the ground because they have low branches. You can easily see the flower clusters because their branches are usually are eye level.

Leatherwood flowers (Dirca palustris)

Leatherwood flowers
Leatherwood flowers

As one of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring, tiny flowers are covered by protective hairy scales acting like little blankets. Interestingly, the twigs of this shrub are very flexible, they do not break easily.

Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Marsh marigold flowers
Yellow marsh marigold flowers add a pop of colour

The flowers of this bright spring plant are usually one of the first to bloom in spring. This plant grows along streambanks and pond edges where the soil is consistently moist to wet with part to full sun.

Red trillium (Trillium erectum)

Red trillium flower
Red trillium blooming on the forest floor

Would it be a spring plant list without Ontario’s favourite flower? Red and white trilliums can be abundant, carpeting the ground of deciduous forests in spring. Did you know that red trillium is also called “Stinking Johnny”? Some brownish-red flowers like red trilliums have a unique smell that attract pollinating insects that like stinky things (carrion). Try to catch the scent of the next red trillium that you see.

Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Jack in the pulpit flower
Jack in the pulpit

Jack in the pulpit is truly one of a kind. The blossom of this woodland perennial grows on a separate stalk at the same height as the leaves, creating a beautiful V-shape around the bloom. They prefer partial shade in moist wooded areas. Interestingly, the male Jack-in-the-pulpit plants make only one leaf. This is because they don’t have as much energy stored in their bulb and strategically use their energy to make a leaf and tiny pollen grains. Once the plant grows stronger, it switches to become a female plant and makes two leaves and bright red berries with seeds inside.

Longspur violet (Viola rostrata)

Longspur violet flowers
Delicate longspur violet flowers

The lilac-purple leaves of the longspur violet are a beautiful contrast against its deep green leaves. They’re another species that is easy to spot because it has two petals that extend up and three petals that droop down, shaped like the viola and pansies you buy for your garden. These delicate flowers prefer shade and can be seen around the trunks of trees.

Spring wildflowers are as beautiful as they are delicate. It’s important to remember to stay on marked trails and to observe plants without harming any others that are sprouting from the warm spring soil.

You can also bring the beauty of native flowers to your own garden. Plant native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and groundcovers to help manage stormwater using our new plant list, Native Plants for Rain-ready Landscapes.

Please purchase native plants and seeds from nurseries that specialize in native plants. Never remove plants from natural areas. It’s illegal to pick or remove vegetation from our conservation areas. Most wild plants do not survive replanting and removing plants can harm pollinators and other wildlife that depend on them for survival.

Want to learn more about native plant species in the Credit River Watershed? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok. Or sign up for The Garden Post.

All the beautiful photos featured in this article were taken by CVC’s Dawn Renfrew, Senior Specialist, Natural Heritage Inventory.

By Kimberley Laird, Associate, Marketing and Communications

Comments (4)

  1. At this moment we have in our woodland a lot of small white flowers with level topped jagged shape leaves. They always arrive before Trillium. I was hoping these would be in this latest CVC email but it is not included. We’d like to know what they are, please

    1. Hi there! You can see them at pretty much all of our conservation areas, including: Rattray Marsh, Silver Creek, Island Lake and Limehouse!

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