White spring wildflowers grab attention at a distance
By JIMMY WILLIAMS
Special to The Messenger
Spring wildflowers will be peeping out in a few weeks, and even now nubs of potential foliage are poking up. We’re on the brink of the most exciting time of year for many of us.
White spring native plants aren’t rare, but some of them are so ephemeral it might seem they’re pretty scarce.
Take bloodroot, for instance. So named because of the red sap produced in the stems and roots, bloodroot was used for producing war paint by native Americans.
(I must digress. Speaking of native Americans, just ask them about the ills of illegal immigration.)
Anyhow, bloodroot produces the most pristine white daisies on short stems tight against the woodland floor in very early spring. These can be spotted from a distance, since they stand out from the surrounding brown of fallen leaves. The flowers are in and out within a week, or even quicker in case of a freak warm spell.
Our bloodroot plants have descended from a few collected specimens and have seeded around and become naturalized. Both the flowers and the large scalloped leaves disappear completely very soon after they appear, to lie doggo until almost another year has passed.
On a smaller scale are the flowers of spring beauty. White with a touch of pink, spring beauties crank up in early spring in sunny and lightly shaded sites, the 3/4-inch-wide little flowers prolifically produced from clumps of grass-like leaves which often appear the previous autumn. These have a reddish cast.
Our “orchard” area, so called in deference to two decrepit apples and one pear tree there, is floored with spring beauties. I don’t remember where I got the first starts, but it was certainly from some plantation of a friend. They are so prolific they can compete with vigorous lawn grasses; witness the sheets of them along Dunlap Street, particularly in Lois McLean’s front yard, in a few weeks.
The proclivity of spring beauties to seed all over the place does not make them a nuisance. They quickly go dormant after bloom and, in fact, even if they didn’t their foliage so resembles lawn grasses there would be no problem except for fastidious lawn huggers who insist on pure stands of fescue, bluegrass or bermuda.
Back to the woodland: There will be white trilliums soon, along with maroon and yellow ones. The whites are the most common in our woods.
Trilliums are slow of increase, taking up to seven years to bloom from seed, hence they are expensive at nurseries. From the standpoint of garden value, they aren’t worth the cost.
Compounding the problem, some endangered varieties should not be harvested from the wild unless the population is slated for destruction at the hands of “progress,” i.e. scraping off the flora for paving a drive or parking lot.
Collected plants, even taken while in bloom, are fairly easy to “make live,” as they say. I have moved several from vast numbers of them in the hills of Stewart County. There also are considerable populations in Henry County.
The whites show up better than the “red” (actually maroon) and yellow ones. The latter disappear amid the surrounding green leafage. Trilliums are so named because leaves and flower petals are presented in threes, hence the “tri.”
We have colored ones as well as two kinds of white. Most of them have flowers that are about two inches across, but one of our specimens has white flowers to four inches across that fade to pale pink as they age. Trillium foliage remains green most of the summer, unlike many spring ephemeral natives.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 2.26.08
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path