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Early Spring Wildflowers

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

I love exploring woods in the spring looking for wildflowers. They bring such joy after such a long winter. Here are a few of my favorite early spring wildflowers.

One of the first woodland flowers to bloom is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Bloodroot has a solitary white flower, with a golden-orange center that grows beside a lobed leaf. Roots and stems have a red-orange juice, thus the name Bloodroot. It lasts for a short time, so scout early in the ear to find it. This plant spreads by seeds and rhizomes. Like other ephemerals I'm covering here, it goes dormant in mid-summer.

Dutchman's breeches, squirrel corn, and corydalis all delicate, deeply-cut, fern-like leaves and grow to about a foot tall. Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) are the most common. The name comes from the clusters of fragrant, white, pantaloon-shaped flowers. Look closely at the dutchman's breeches to be sure it isn't squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis). Squirrel corn has a different shaped flower and usually flowers about two weeks after Dutchman's breeches. Pale corydalis (Corydalis flavula) flowers are yellow and somewhat tubular. Each flower is less than ½" long.

The next ones have similar looking flowers at first glance. A common woodland wildflower is the spring beauty (Claytonia virginica). It is a low plant with loose clusters of pink or whitish flowers, striped with dark pink. The flowers are ½ - ¾ inch wide with five petals. Leaves are long, linear and grass-like. This spring perennial is spectacular in large patches as it naturalizes through seed and underground tubers.

False rue anemone and rue anemone look very similar at first glance. Both have small white flowers above lobed leaves. False rue anemone (Enemion biternatum) flowers have five petal-like sepals. Its compound leaf has three parts, with each lobe notched or further divided. False rue anemone grows in moister locations that the rue anemone. Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) flowers have 6-12 petal-like sepals and Small rectangular lobed leaves that resemble a ducks foot.

One of the easiest to recognize is mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum). In early spring, it sends up thick shoots with rounded heads that quickly unfold to reveal their umbrella-like leaves. Later the plant produces a white flower below the leaves, which is sometimes followed by yellow fruit. Mayapple is an aggressive growing plant that forms large colonies.

These are just a few of the flowers to look for while exploring our woodlands this spring. View them and a few more examples in my latest YouTube video at



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.