Last week I discovered a new wildflower. It’s called Harbinger of Spring. Really, that is its name. It’s so tiny that you can easily miss it under the fallen leaves in the woods. It’s hard to understand why such a tiny flower has such a mouthful of a name.
Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) is also known as Pepper-and-Salt, for obvious reasons. Each individual bloom is very small, but they bloom in clumps of about ¾ inch wide. They are the first flowers to bloom, as early as midwinter and on into mid spring.
Since the name really attracted me, I decided to try and come up with other common names to plants that are unusual or colorful. Plant names vary from area to area, which is why, when you are buying plants for your garden, know the Latin name so you are sure to get the correct species. I’ve tried to loosely put them in the order of their bloom time. Where do these names come from? I may just do a little online research and share.
Glory of the snow – (Chionodoxa forbesii) blue and pink versions. Another very early bloomer as you can tell from its name. Originally from Turkey, this garden flower naturalizes easily and along with the siberian squill (a cousin) can cover a woodland floor with a bright blue.
Bleeding Heart-(Dicentra spectabilis) is an old fashioned garden flower originally from Asia. It prefers the cooler weather and dies back in the heat of summer. Growing it in dappled shade will prolong its growing season. It also comes in a lovely white flower as well.
Dutchman’s Breeches or Britches – (Dicentra cucullaria) is a woodland native and related to Bleeding Heart. The flowers look like little pantaloons hanging on a line. You can see the similarities between the two flowers only this wildflower isn’t as flashy as it’s cousin.
Toadshade Trillium -(Trillium Sessile ) a woodland native plant on the threatened species list from the Michigan DNR. I loved the unusual look of the plant with its mottled leaves and purple flower with no stalk and thought it would work well in my shade garden. I ordered 3 plants from a wildflower catalog – they grow the plants from seeds (legal) not digging up endangered plants to sell (illegal). I planted them 3 years ago and I still haven’t seen them come up yet. The first year I planted them, it was late enough in the spring that they had gone dormant. Last spring was a very warm, dry season, so I thought perhaps the heat kept them from blooming. I have hopes for this year. Perhaps it’s slow to establish. I planted Jack-in-the-Pulpit seeds and it took 4 years for them to become established.
Lungwort-(Pulmonaria) this plant was thought to cure lung ailments,because of the vaguely lung-shaped and spotted leaves. I like the flowers which show two colors – pink and purple at the same time. It’s a native of Western Europe, but has adapted to the U. S. readily.
Dames Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is also called spring phlox, though the two plants are not related at all. Dames Rocket has 4 flower petals and alternate leaves while phlox has 5 petals and opposite leaves. It is thought of as a native wildflower, but actually it originally came over from Europe with the immigrants and escaped the gardens and adapted to American fields and prairies. It usually blooms in May along roadsides.
Money Plant (Lunaria annua),
a biennial rather that a perennial, also looks like phlox or Dames Rocket when blooming, but the name comes from its unusual seed pods. The latin name also refers to the moon-shaped pods (luna). My plants just appeared in my garden one year so even though they are garden plants, they seem to naturalize without any difficulty.
Bouncing Bet-(Saponaria officinalis) sounds very English doesn’t it? It is listed as coming from Europe – the name is an old-fashioned slang for washerwoman.It contains alkaloid saponin, which lathers in warm water. Alkaloid saponin is a gentle cleanser sometimes used on delicate fabrics such as the very old Bayeaux tapestry in Normandy, France. Another name for this plant is soapwort. It grows wild in waste places along roadsides and railroad tracks.
Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula rubra) can get as tall as 8 feet tall. A beautiful native with fluffy pink flowers that I hope to add to my butterfly garden. It prefers the full sun and moist conditions with a clay soil. It should do great in my clay. It blooms in early to mid-summer.
Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum) has silver fuzzy leaves and white flowers. A pretty garden flower often used for groundcover. I seem to have trouble growing it in my backyard. I think my soil retains too much water. This plant seems to like soil with good drainage. I’ve heard it can be invasive – I can only wish that was a problem.
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) It is also called Touch-Me-Not because the seed pods of the plant snap open and shoot the seeds out as far as 4 feet away when the plant is disturbed. Another native that loves moist areas. I have heard that it is a natural cure for poison ivy, but I’m not sure what part of the plant is used or how it is used.
Love Lies Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus ) the opulent look of this plant just screams “Victorian” though I’ve heard it was also grown in colonial gardens. Unlike most of the other plants on this list, this is an annual.
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) a really popular garden plant right now. I don’t really see the attraction. As you can guess by the name, it goes back to the middle ages as a medicinal herb. The scalloped edges of the leaves are supposed to look like the edge of a woman’s cloak.
Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) just before the flower opens, it looks like a puffy balloon, then opens into a beautiful bell-shaped flower. I really love this garden flower. It grows in nice clumps, is not invasive, can take full sun or partial shade and I’ve grown in heavy clay soil or lighter loam. A well-behaved plant.
Toad Lily (Tricyrtis) a very delicate looking shade plant. I had seen pictures of this flower before I bought it. Because much of my yard gets a lot of shade, I am always trying to find interesting plants that will do well. I thought it looked kind of weird with the polka-dots on the flower. But then I saw the real thing and fell in love with it. It blooms in the fall. Last year, because of the drought, it bloomed so late that it got frosted out with buds still on the stems.
If you would like to see more flowers with unusual names, check out my post, What’s in a name? Don’t forget, click on the photos if you want a clearer view.