Ephemerals: Celebrating Spring’s Fleeting Beauty

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increase and our days become longer, plants begin to wake up and exit their dormant period. Different kinds of plants experience different forms of dormancy and have different life cycles. There are many enjoyable things about spring, with a favorite being spring-blooming Wisconsin native ephemerals.

What are Spring Ephemerals?

Spring ephemerals are like limited edition perennials; they’re only viewable for a short time.

The word “ephemeral” comes from the Greek medical term ‘ephēmeros’ meaning “lasting a day,” first appearing in English print in the late 16th century. Later, it was applied to organisms such as flowers with short life spans. An ephemeral plant will appear for a relatively short time and undergo growth, flowering, and dieback, all in a few days or weeks. The entire visible portion of the plant senesces shortly after flowering, and as spring transitions into summer, their roots enter a long dormant period. Spring ephemerals grow and reproduce quickly, maximizing their limited time and taking advantage of optimal conditions such as temperature, moisture levels, and sunlight.

Do Spring Ephemerals Have Wildlife Value?

Many spring ephemerals bloom so early that most pollinators like butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds are absent. Instead, they are primarily pollinated by bees. Carpenter bees, sweat bees, and occasionally mining bees pollinate these wildflowers. The fruits and seeds of these various plants provide a valuable food source for many insects and wildlife. The fleshy appendages attached to Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Liverwort) and Large White Trillium seeds are loaded with healthy fats and proteins, a favorite among many ant species. The tiny red berries of Green Dragon and Jack In The Pulpit are enjoyed by birds such as wild turkey, wood thrush, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Avian visitors aren’t the only ones who want the fruit of spring ephemerals; the endangered Ornate Box Turtle will feed on the low-hanging fruit of Mayapple. Mammalian foragers such as squirrels, raccoons, and chipmunks also enjoy the fruit of Mayapple.

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

Where Do Ephemerals Grow?

These plants are typically found deep within our local woodlands, growing in organically rich soil fueled by annual leaf litter. The shade of the surrounding trees heavily determines their life cycle. These plants take advantage of the sunlight penetrating the bare branches of deciduous forests. Spring ephemerals are often the first plants to pop up, the first to flower, and senesce as the surrounding trees start leafing out. By growing at these times, they gain an advantage over other plants which are still dormant. They thrive on moist, rich, and undisturbed woodlands. These plants are delicate and sometimes take several years to bloom fully and produce seeds. Often, these plants are rhizomatous and spread through underground horizontal stems. If allowed to grow in peace in the wild, they can usually be found in spectacular groupings forming carpets of color when in bloom.

If you have ever witnessed an unspoiled woodland in May, you may recall seeing washes of color on the forest floor from large colonies of these ephemeral blooming wildflowers.

Find Spring Ephemerals At Johnson’s Nursery

Be sure to check our Public Availability to see inventory and pricing.

Large White Trillium

Trillium grandiflorum

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

Large White Trillium is one of the most well-known woodland spring flowers in the United States. Its elegant, wavy-edged bright white flowers shift to pink as they age. It is a sight to be bold in spring along woodland edges and in shade gardens. This plant is easily transplanted from pot to landscape, but established plants do not transplant well.

Height: 12-18 inches
Width: 6-12 inches
Flower: Bright white, ages to pink
Fruit: Berry-like capsule, pale green before darkening to red-maroon when ripe. 2.5-5 cm long
Catalog: Pint, Quart

Bloodroot

Sanguinaria canadensis

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

Bloodroot produces a solitary flower with symmetrically arranged white petals and numerous yellow stamens in the center. This Wisconsin native is nyctinastic, meaning its flower petals will close at night and on cloudy days. The flowers and leaves are produced on a single stalk from a shallow-growing rhizome. The rhizome is orange in color and branching in habit, eventually branching enough to form a large colony.

Height: 6-10 inches
Width: 3-6 inches
Flower: White with central yellow stamens
Fruit: Green, spindle-shaped capsule
Catalog: Quart

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Liverwort)

Hepatica acutiloba

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

Sharp-lobed Hepatica is a lovely, low-lying perennial with liver-shaped leaves. This wildflower has the common name liverwort and liverleaf because of the supposed resemblance of the leaves to the human liver, which has three lobes. Its flower is naturally variable in color, often appearing in white, blue-purple, and light blue-violet.

Height: 2-6 inches
Width: 8-12 inches
Flower: Variable. White, but can be blue-violet
Fruit: 2 inches long hairy, oblong achene
Catalog: Pint

Wild Hyacinth

Camassia scilloides

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

Wild Hyacinth is an endangered plant in the state of Wisconsin that produces fragrant pale blue to white flowers atop slender, light green stalks with a rosette of foliage at the base. These are great replacements for the non-native Grape Hyacinth and Siberian Squill. Full of nectar, they attract bees, flies, and the occasional early butterfly.

Height: 12-36 inches
Width: 12-24 inches
Flower: Light blue to white
Fruit: Tiny green capsule that matures to brown. Contains numerous tiny black seeds
Catalog: Pint

Virginia Bluebells

Mertensia virginica

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

Pink buds open to sky-blue bell-shaped flowers that have a delicate, sweet fragrance. Flowers may also be purple, to purplish-pink. Foliage will emerge a darker bluish-purple before shifting into a bluish-green.

Height: 12-24 inches
Width: 12-18 inches
Flower: Bell-shaped, sky-blue, and purple, to purple-pink
Fruit: Wrinkled nut, each with four seeds
Catalog: #1 Container

Mayapple

Podophyllum peltatum

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

Come early spring, dark green shoots emerge from the soil and will soon unfold, revealing their umbrella-like leaves. It spreads to form colonies through its rhizomes, often forming dense mats in damp, open woods.

Height: 12-18 inches
Width: 8-12 inches
Flower: White. Hidden beneath dark green, umbrella-like foliage
Fruit: Green, ovoid fruit. Ripens to a golden color. 1 ½ – 2 inches long
Catalog: Quart

Jack in the Pulpit

Arisaema triphyllum

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

Jack in the Pulpit is a highly unusual-looking wildflower with single-paired, three-lobed leaves that frame a green and purple cylindrical hooded flower. This is a superb woodland plant most visible in early autumn when its striking orange-red berries appear on a leafless stalk. Thrives in seasonally wet locations with heavy leaf litter.

Height: 12-24 inches
Width:12 inches
Flower: Cylindrical hooded flower, green-purple
Fruit: Clusters of green berries that ripen to orange-red; ¼ inches wide
Catalog: Quart

Green Dragon

Arisaema dracontium

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

Green Dragon is a unique wildflower. Its flowers first appear in tiny, yellowish clusters surrounded by a modified leaf that resembles a hood; this is known as a spathe. A long, tapering wand emerges from the top of the cluster, known as a spadix. The elongated spadix is often referred to as “the dragon’s tongue.“

Height: 18-36 inches
Width: 12-18 inches
Flower: First appears as tiny, yellowish clusters. Later extends to a long whip-like flower stalk
Fruit: Clusters of green berries which ripen to bright red
Catalog: Quart

Shooting Star

Dodecatheon meadia

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

First, a rosette of broad, long, green basal leaves appear. Flower stalks emerge in mid-spring, birthing umbels of unique white to pink flowers that hang upside down. Reflexed petals that reach straight back up toward the sky add to its charm and give the flower the appearance of its namesake, a shooting star.

Height: 12 inches
Width: 12 inches
Flower: Naturally variable. Pink, purple to nearly white.
Fruit: Capsule
Catalog: Pint, Quart

Large-flowered Bellwort

Dodecatheon meadia

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

The Large-flowered Bellwort is a clump-forming plant with an erect form that reaches up to 2-feet tall. It features 1.5 inche long, pendulous, somewhat bell-shaped, yellow blossoms with six twisted petals. Plants that flower around the same time as Large-flowered Bellwort usually only offer pollen as a reward for pollinators. However, this Bellwort offers a nectar reward which is more enticing to bees.

Height: 12-24 inches
Width: 12-24 inches
Flower: Lemony-yellow
Fruit: 3-cell seed capsule
Catalog: Pint

American Pasqueflower

Anemone patens

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

A symbol of the prosperity of spring, soft and silky, lavender-blue flowers bring delight while nourishing pollinators during a time when food is needed most, and options are limited. When you see the saucer-shaped flowers peeking out of the ground then you know warmer weather is on the way!

Height: 4-16 inches
Width: 12-16 inches
Flower: Variable. White. Bluish-white. Light Lavender
Fruit: Achenes with pink-purple silky hairs
Catalog: #1 Container

Bird-foot Violet

Viola pedata

Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increas…

This native perennial has deeply divided leaves that resemble a bird’s foot. The upper petals of this fragrant flower are typically dark purple, and the lower petals are light blue. It is a host plant to Fritillary butterflies and is a magnet for Skipper butterflies, bumblebees, and digger bees.

Height: 3-6 inches
Width: 3-6 inches
Flower: Violet
Fruit: Capsule containing numerous coppery seeds.
Catalog: Pint

Get Out And Find Spring Ephemerals

There are many other spring ephemerals native to Wisconsin. We encourage you to get out and find these limited-edition perennials. Here are some amazing resources:

Check our Public Inventory for some of these spring ephemerals. Stock is limited, and plants move fast!