19 Best Spring-Flowering Ephemerals

two white trillium flowers
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  • 01 of 20

    What Are Ephemerals?

    potted trillium
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    True to their name, spring-flowering ephemerals are plants that only last a brief time. Spring ephemerals don't die, but they go dormant and disappear from view shortly after they stop flowering. The first hint of warm weather triggers spring ephemerals to grow. But once the warm weather takes hold, ephemerals usually die back on top while their roots continue growing under the soil, conserving energy for the following year. The natural habitat for most spring ephemerals is a woodland, particularly damp areas like stream banks. Here are 19 spring ephemerals to consider for your garden.

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  • 02 of 20

    Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva Pursh)

    Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva Pursh)
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    Bitterroot is a native of the western United States and features showy white or pink flowers in the spring. This petite plant forms a deep taproot that allows it to survive tough conditions. Plus, it produces tiny offset plants, which are the easiest way to propagate it. Bitterroot has low moisture needs, so you probably won't have to worry about watering. But you should make sure it's planted in fast-draining soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Part sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, rocky or gravely, well-draining
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  • 03 of 20

    Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

    Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis )
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    Bloodroot is named for the dark red sap in the leaves and stems of the plant. It produces showy white or pink blooms that are around 2 inches wide in March to April. Bloodroot loves damp soil, but it can ​be naturalized in dry areas under trees if you water it well, especially during its first year. The key to making this woodland plant happy is providing rich soil, spring moisture, and summer shade.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, moist, well-draining
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  • 04 of 20

    Calypso Orchid (Calypso bulbosa)

    Venus slipper orchid
    Mauricio Acosta / Getty Images

    Calypso orchids are most at home on the forest floor, popping out from a carpet of ferns and moss. They go by many common names, including fairy slipper, lady slipper, and Venus slipper. The flowers climb about 6 inches above the ground and come in shades of pink, white, purple, and flecked combinations of all three colors. Provide full shade and organically rich soil for best growth, and make sure the soil stays evenly moist through watering and rainfall. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink, white, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, acidic to neutral, moist
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  • 05 of 20

    Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

    Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) - IV
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    Celandine poppies, or yellow wood poppies, are relatively tall wildflowers that can grow to a height of around 2 feet. They sport bright yellow blooms, which Native Americans used for dye. They are one of the few ephemerals that start quickly from seed. And they're one of the easiest ephemerals to cultivate, as long as you have a shady site and keep the soil adequately moist.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, medium to wet
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  • 06 of 20

    Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium dens-canis)

    Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium dens-canis)
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    Dogtooth violets have no relation to the common violet. They are named for their color and their bulb, which resembles a dog's canine tooth. The large blossoms open in the morning and close as evening approaches during mid-spring. Plant them in the fall, and don’t let the soil dry out, even when the plants are dormant. However, avoid overwatering and make sure you have good drainage because this plant doesn’t like soggy soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Violet
    • Sun Exposure: Part sun
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, moist, well-draining
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  • 07 of 20

    Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

    Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
    Scott T. Smith / Getty Images

    With lacy foliage and dangling white flowers shaped like old-fashioned pantaloons, Dutchman's breeches makes a statement in the garden. Despite their delicate appearance, these plants are extremely hardy and undemanding. Give them rich soil, and they will return every year and often spread by self-seeding. Also, make sure you have well-draining soil because this plant is intolerant of wet soil, especially when it's dormant.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: White, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, medium moisture, well-draining
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  • 08 of 20

    Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

    Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
    Ronald Leunis / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Marsh marigolds are not related to common garden marigolds. They are in the Ranunculaceae family and are actually succulents. As their common name suggests, they need to be in damp soil, such as the boggy area around a pond or marsh. They require little in the way of care besides monitoring to make sure their soil doesn't dry out. They flower best in full sun but appreciate a little shade in hot climates.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, acidic, moist
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  • 09 of 20

    Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla patens)

    Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla patens)
    Aurora De Blas / EyeEm / Getty Images

    As pretty as their violet flowers and fuzzy leaves are, the silky seed heads can steal the show on pasque flowers. This plant is a grassland perennial that blooms around the same time as the crocus. Its nectar-rich blooms help to feed bees before many other flowers have opened. Pasque flowers are somewhat difficult to grow from seed, so consider purchasing a plant instead. And provide good drainage, which is key to their survival.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Violet, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy or loamy, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
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  • 10 of 20

    Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)

    Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)
    wbritten / Getty Images

    Rue anemone are small but charming spring flowers that top out at 4 to 6 inches tall. The foliage is a lovely blue-green, which makes the white flowers pop. These plants are slow to establish but will eventually spread. Add a layer of mulch or compost each year to provide essential nutrients. Otherwise, these plants are fairly hands-off.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, pale pink
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, sandy or humusy, medium moisture, well-draining
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  • 11 of 20

    Sagebrush Buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus)

    Sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus)
    Murphy_Shewchuk / Getty Images

    Sagebrush buttercup is remarkably hardy. In the spring, its buds emerge with a purplish tinge and open to a cheery sunshine yellow. These are tiny plants, with most reaching only around 4 inches tall. They tend to grow in carpets, which gives them greater visual impact. They typically don't require much care and are even tolerant of drought. But make sure their soil has good drainage to prevent root rot.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy or loamy, medium moisture, well-draining
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  • 12 of 20

    Shooting Star (Dodecatheon pulchellum)

    Shootingstar (Dodecatheon pulchellum)
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    Shooting star is a short-lived perennial, but you can usually count on it to self-seed. The flowers bloom around May in shades of white and lavender. And its swept-back petals are what give it its common name of shooting star. This plant needs moist, well-draining soil during the growing season but dry conditions while it's dormant. Add a layer of compost each year to provide essential nutrients.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Purple, yellow, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part sun
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, moist, well-draining
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  • 13 of 20

    Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

    Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)
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    These delicate pink-striped flowers surrounded by grassy foliage are adaptable to woodlands, meadows, and even rock gardens. They look best in mass plantings, but you can get them started with just a few plants. Plant spring beauty bulbs about 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart in the fall, and keep the soil evenly moist during the growing season. Plus, add a layer of compost each year to promote growth and blooming.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
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  • 14 of 20

    Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis)

    Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis)
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    Squirrel corn is a diminutive relative of bleeding heart, with finely cut leaves and white flowers. It got the name squirrel corn because it has small yellow tubers that look somewhat like a kernel of corn, and squirrels (as well as other small rodents) find them tasty. It’s somewhat difficult to grow from seed, so consider purchasing a plant instead. Keep the soil evenly moist. And add a layer of compost each year, so the soil remains organically rich.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Sandy or loamy, moist, well-draining
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  • 15 of 20

    Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

    Cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)
    ErikAgar / Getty Images

    Cutleaf toothwort blooms for about two weeks in early spring. The fragrant white or pink flowers never fully open, staying in an elongated bell shape until going to seed. The pretty lobed leaves are not what gives the plant its common name. Instead, it's the leaf scars or tooth-like projections on the stems. The plant is difficult to grow from seed, so it's best to purchase plants. Once established, the plants should slowly spread on their own. Cutleaf toothwort likes organically rich soil, so add compost each year to promote growth and blooming.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, humusy, medium moisture, well-draining
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  • 16 of 20

    Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

    Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
    Michael Davis / Getty Images

    Trilliums have three leaves and three petals. There are over 40 species of trilliums, but you had better be patient if you intend to start them from seed. They can keep you waiting up to seven years before they flower. Luckily they are becoming more available as plants in nurseries. Trillium prefers organically rich soil and benefits from a layer of leaf mulch in the fall. Keep the soil evenly moist, but make sure your plants have good drainage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
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  • 17 of 20

    Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

    Trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
    Ron Erwin / Getty Images

    Thanks to their swept-back petals, trout lilies resemble their cousin, the dogtooth violet. While trout lilies are early bloomers, they are more famous for not blooming at all. Usually that is because the soil is too rich. So cut back on leaf litter and avoid feeding if you have trouble getting yours to bloom. Moreover, trout lilies generally don't like transplanting, so ideally you should leave them alone after you plant them.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, acidic, medium moisture, well-draining
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  • 18 of 20

    Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

    Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)
    Marie Iannotti

    Twinleaf's flowers resemble bloodroot, but its leaves are joined at a joint that makes them look like butterfly wings. The plant is named for Thomas Jefferson, and he did indeed grow it. Twinleaf is hardy but slow to fill out. An ideal planting site is under a large deciduous tree, where it will receive some sunlight in the spring before the tree leafs out and shades it in the summer. Moreover, make sure to keep the soil evenly moist.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, moist, well-draining
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  • 19 of 20

    Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica)

    Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica)
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    Virginia bluebells are one of the most iconic wildflowers. And they're fairly adaptable and easy to grow. They are a member of the borage family, and like borage they can have both pink and blue flowers on a plant at one time. These flowers are best when they're massed in one area and then left to grow undisturbed. Add a layer of compost to the soil each year to encourage growth and blooming.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
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  • 20 of 20

    Yellow Fritillary (Fritillaria pudica)

    Yellowbell (Fritillaria pudica)
    eff Foott / Getty Images

    Although yellow fritillary, also known as golden bells, is hardy enough to bloom through snow, it is very particular about where it grows. You might not be able to get this flower established in your garden unless you can give it conditions that mimic a grassland or ponderosa. Well-draining soil is a must. You can amend your soil with sand or perlite to improve drainage. Plus, this plant likes organically rich soil, so mix in a layer of compost each year.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, orange
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining