20 Top Spring Flowering Ephemerals

  • 01 of 20

    What Are Ephemerals?

    Potted Trillium
    Janet Johnson / Getty Images

    True to their name, spring flowering ephemerals are plants that last only a brief time. Spring ephemerals don't die, but they do go dormant and disappear from view for shortly after they stop flowering.

    Spring ephemerals are triggered to grow with the first hint of warm weather. Once warmer weather takes hold, ephemerals usually die back on top, but their roots continue growing under the soil, although there will be years when some plants that are usually ephemeral decide to surprise you and stick around.

    The natural habitat for most spring ephemerals is a woodland, particularly damp areas like stream banks. Not all ephemerals are widely dispersed and your area may have its own distinct wildflowers, but here a few popularly grown spring ephemerals to consider for your garden.

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  • 02 of 20

    Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva Pursh)

    Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva Pursh)
    Alasdair Turner / Getty Images

    Bitterroot is a native of the western United States. Named after the explorer Meriwether Lewis, Bitterroot plants form a basal rosette with a deep taproot that allows them to survive tough conditions. They produce tiny offset plants, which are the easiest way to propagate these spring bloomers.

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  • 03 of 20

    Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis )

    Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis )
    David Q. Cavagnaro / Getty Images

    Bloodroot is named for the dark red sap in the leaves and stems of the plant. Bloodroot loves damp soil, but it can ​be naturalized in the dryer areas under trees if kept well watered in its first year. The key to making these woodland plants happy is providing rich soil, spring moisture, and summer shade.

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  • 04 of 20

    Calypso Orchid (Calypso bulbosa)

    Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa)
    Stan Navratil / 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.

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  • 05 of 20

    Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

    Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) - IV
    AlpamayoPhoto / Getty Images

    Celandine poppies, or Yellow Wood poppies, are relatively tall wildflowers that can grow to a height of two feet. They are one of the few ephemerals that start quickly from seed and one of the easiest ephemerals to cultivate, as long as you have a damp, shady site.

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  • 06 of 20

    Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium dens-canis)

    Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium dens-canis)
    DAJ / Getty Imiages

    Dogtooth violets are no relation to the common violet. They are named for their color and their bulb, which resembles a dog's canine tooth. The flowers open in the morning and close as evening approaches. Although dogtooth violets love the dampness of spring, they don't like to sit in wet soil while dormant.

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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 always bring a smile to your face. Despite their delicate appearance, they are extremely hardy and undemanding. Give them a rich soil and they will return every year and probably seed themselves about.

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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 name suggests, they need to be in damp soil. The boggy area around a pond or a marsh would be perfect. for them.

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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 Easter-colored flowers and soft fuzzy leaves are, they are rivaled by the wild silky seed heads that last even longer than the flowers. Pasque flower is a grassland perennial that blooms about the same time as crocus. Thes are nectar-rich flowers that help feed the bees before many other flowers have opened. 

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  • 10 of 20

    Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)

    Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)
    wbritten / Getty Images

    These 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 even brighter. Rue anemone are slow to establish but will eventually spread to about 12 inches. Mulch or side dress annually with compost or shredded leaves.

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  • 11 of 20

    Sagebrush Buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus)

    Sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus)
    Murphy_Shewchuk / Getty Images

    Sagebrush buttercup is remarkably hardy down to USDA Zone 2. The buds emerge with a purplish tinge and open to a cheery sunshine yellow. These are tiny plants, with most reaching only 3 to 4 inches tall. They tend to grow in carpets and make a much bigger impact.

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  • 12 of 20

    Shooting Star (Dodecatheon pulchellum)

    Shootingstar (Dodecatheon pulchellum)
    Andyworks / Getty Images

    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-pink. The swept-back petals are what give it its common name of shooting star. The flower stems can lift the flowers a foot or taller above the plants.

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  • 13 of 20

    Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

    Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)
    Maria Mosolova / Getty Images

    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 a handful of plants. The tubers of Spring Beauty are edible and used like potatoes, which gives them their other common name "fairy spud".

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  • 14 of 20

    Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis)

    Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis)
    Gingerjohns / Getty Images

    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.

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  • 15 of 20

    Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

    Cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)
    ErikAgar / Getty Images

    Cutleaf toothwort blooms for about 2 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 it the name cutleaf, but rather it is the leaf scars or tooth-like projections on the stems.

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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. Trilliums can keep you waiting up to 7 years before they flower! Luckily they are becoming more available as plants in nurseries.

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  • 17 of 20

    Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

    Trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
    Ron Erwin / Getty Images

    Trout lilies very much resemble their cousin the Dogtooth violet, with their swept-back petals. While trout lilies are very early bloomers, they are more famous for not blooming. Usually, that is because the soil is too rich and they are happy to spread out and grow lush foliage. Cut back on the leaf litter, if you have trouble getting yours to bloom.

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  • 18 of 20

    Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

    Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)
    Marie Iannotti

    Twinleaf's flowers resemble bloodroot, but the 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 them. Twinleaf is hardy, but slow to fill out.

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  • 19 of 20

    Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica)

    Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica)
    MarshaWassel / Getty Images

    Virginia bluebells are one of the most iconic wildflowers and fairly easy to grow and adaptable. They are a member of the borage family and, like borage, have both pink and blue flowers on the plants at one time.

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  • 20 of 20

    Yellow Fritillary (Fritillaria pudica)

    Yellowbell (Fritillaria pudica)
    eff Foott / Getty Images

    Although yellow fritillary or "golden bells" is hardy enough to bloom through snow, it is very particular about where it grows. You may not be able to get this flower established in your garden unless you can give it conditions that mimic a grassland or ponderosa.