Gardening Blog

May days and native plants

Amid the eye-catching blooms of springtime daffodils, hyacinths and tulips, some of our indigenous spring flowers tend to get overlooked. Many are classified as “spring ephemerals”, in that they grow, flower and set seed in their native forests and woodlands before deciduous trees have leafed out, casting them into deep shade for the rest of the growing season. Perhaps more subtle than Eurasian bulbs, they are certainly no less beautiful.

A good example of this is the great white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), which was adopted as the Floral Emblem of Ontario in 1937, seen here with native Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum, Zone 4) in the background.

Hardy to Zone 3, great white trilliums grow best in part- to full-shade conditions in moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter (a mulch of shredded leaves—which mimics the forest floor—is ideal). When grown from seed, great white trilliums take about seven years to bloom, and don’t become fertile for another eight; on the other hand, their average lifespan is at least 30 years.

Because they bloom at the same time, I like to intersperse clumps of Trillium grandiflorum with the purple trillium (T. erectum, Zone 4). In this species, the three green sepals can clearly be seen between the three purple-red petals—with trilliums, everything comes in threes—leaves, petals and sepals—hence the name. They look particularly handsome together when the aging blooms of T. grandiflora begin to turn pink.

As well as Mayapples, I grow trilliums with other native species such as blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides, Zone 3), seen here with its emerging purple-grey stems and leaves, and the unfurling fronds of Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides, Zone 3). In midsummer, the Christmas ferns take over nicely once the trilliums have retreated underground to beat the heat.

Another favourite is Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisæma triphyllum, Zone 3), native from Nova Scotia to Manitoba.

Requiring the same cultural conditions as trilliums (and quite happy in full shade), just a few plants can quickly spread to form a magnificent clump. Seedlings take up to five years to flower, and I have a dozen or more seedlings ready to bloom for the first time. It is seen here under the woody branches of a mature Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pink Diamond’ together with native ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris, Zone 3), all of them rising out of a dense carpet of Canadian wild ginger (Asarum canadense, Zone 2) with its soft, heart-shaped leaves.

Of course, it’s impossible to resist having a look under the hood! For more information about our native Jack-in-the-Pulpits, check out page 25 of the current (Early Summer) issue of Canadian Gardening.

Next week, we’ll discuss the merits of Solomon’s seal and other plants that help us transition from late spring to early summer.

Note: (bottom right-hand side) how dark the maturing flowers of my unnamed hellebore seedling have become since I blogged about them two weeks ago. A very happy development!

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