Although I treasure the spring ephemerals, they are, literally, fleeting. That is why I also include, in my shade gardens, wildflowers that persist throughout the growing season.
My clump of Trillium is T. grandiflorum (White-Wake-Robin) is sited under old Pieris japonica. It took a few years to get established but since then the clump has enlarged each year, bearing more flowers. This is the most common species of Trillium. It is hardy to zone 5 and displays white flowers that eventually fade to pale pink but there are other species with purple, red or yellow blossoms. The foliage on all of these persists well into the fall. Unfortunately, Trillium is beloved by the deer and is disappearing from our woodlands.
Galax urceolata, formerly known as G. aphylla (Wandflower) and hardy to zone 5 is an underused wildflower. Reaching six to twelve inches tall, this plant features round, shiny evergreen leaves that are often used for floral arranging. A wand of white emerges from the foliage in May and June, and moisture is essential.
Most spring wildflowers are short, but Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ (Variegated Solomon’s Seal, hardy to zone 4) is twenty-four to thirty inches tall. Its tiny white bells dangle from arching stems in May, but the best feature of this wildflower is its white-edged foliage that lights up shadowed sites and adds additional seasons of interest. Its rhizomes slowly ramble outward to form a lovely mass. In fall, the foliage turns golden yellow.
This Polygonatum has a shorter cousin, P.humile. Like the taller Solomon’s Seals, it has a slowly spreading, pencil-sized rhizome hiding just under the ground’s surface. In early spring, dainty-looking, white bell-like flowers hang from the clustered, six inch stalks that are clothed with small leaves.
Smilacina racemosa (False Solomon’s Seal) is hardy from zones 3-7 but seems to be little known. It has a long, thick rootstock which eventually turns one plant into a sizable clump. It will spread more quickly in moist shady sites that are rich in organic matter. The two to three foot arching stem is clad in alternating ovate leaves. In May, a creamy white panicle appears at the tip of the stem. After flowering, numerous berries develop.
By August, they are pale pink but by September, they are bright red. Then in October, when temperatures drop, the foliage turns a lovely golden yellow.
Remember to purchase wildflowers from a nursery that propagates them responsibly, i.e. does not dig them from the wild and then sit back and enjoy these tiny pleasures. Don’t forget that an excellent source is the Holden Arboretum yearly plant sale (this year May 3-5).