What Is That … Spring Wildflower?

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Waddells

It continues to be a great winter for cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities, but with the snow having been continuously on the ground since November, some winter fatigue is lurking.  At this time of year we find the winter ‘blahs’ threatening, especially on dull, overcast days.  To counteract their full onset we like to think about the up-coming cottage season and in particular the wonderfully colourful displays of May wildflowers there.  We thought you might enjoy some of our May photographs from previous years.  The following are just six of the many different species of wildflowers we look forward to seeing at the cottage.

The large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), also known as white trillium, is a member of the bunchflower family.  It has been the official flower of Ontario since 1937.  The trillium plant grows for six years before it flowers.  Eventually it may grow to a height of 45 centimetres and carpet woodlands with its beautiful white flowers from April to June.  While the white flower often turns pink with age, as shown below, it never darkens to the maroon colour of the red trillium (Trillium erectum).

The downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) is one of several species, members of the violet family, common in Ontario woodlands.   The plants grow to a height of 45 centimetres. The small yellow blooms can be seen from May to June.  We often find these violets and trilliums growing side-by-side at the cottage.

The yellow lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium  calcelous) is a member of the orchid family.  (The ROM Field guide indicated the scientific name is Cypripedium parviflorum.)   It grows from coarse, fibrous roots to a height of 70 centimetres.   The yellow slipper-like bloom is typically solitary at the tip of the stalk and can be observed from May to June.  After the seeds germinate it takes several years before the plant flowers.  We often find yellow lady’s-slippers growing in the company of trilliums.

Fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) is the only member of the milkwort family found in Ontario. It is sometimes mistaken for a member of the orchid family.  It is also known by the common names gaywings and flowering wintergreen. This plant grows in woodlands, to a height of 15 centimetres.  The dainty pink to purple flower can be found in May and June.

The wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), which is a member of the buttercup family, has a distinctive red flower with a yellow center.  The plant can grow to a height of 90 centimetres and flowers from April to July.  Hummingbirds and butterflies are particularly attracted by these red blossoms.   As can be seen in this photo of a plant growing in a crack of an erratic at our cottage, columbine grow in dry, rocky areas, either in the open or on the edges of woodlands.

The dandelion (Taraxacum officionale) is a well known common weed, which is a member of the family of composite flowers, a grouping of small flowers into a head which resembles a single large flower.  As every gardener knows, dandelions develop a vigorous taproot.  Their yellow blossoms can be observed on leafless stems that can grow to 50 centimetres from May to October.  We have included this much-maligned plant because it is among those wildflowers that treat us to the first refreshing splash of floral colour at the cottage in spring.  Perhaps you already know what it looks like.

Some of the key sources we used to identify spring wildflowers and provide information about them included: The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers in Ontario by T. Dickson, D. Metsger, J. Benny and R. Dickson; Wetland Plants of Ontario by S. Newmaster, A. Harris and L. Kershaw; Spring Woodland Wildflowers by The Arboretum, University of Guelph;  A Field Guide to Wildflowers, Northeastern/Northcentral North America by R.T. Peterson and M. McKenny;  and, Flower Guide for Holiday Weekends in Eastern Canada and Northeastern U.S.A. by E. Larsen and B. Roots.