Guide to Early Wildflowers
Fayette County Conservation Board
Early Spring Wildflowers have adapted to be small in size to survive adverse weather conditions.
Exchanges of information were common between the Native Americans and the Pioneers when food and medicine were scarce.
HEPATICA - (liverleaf, liverwort) Buttercup family
Round-lobed Hepatica - Hepatica amricana
Blooms March - May. Leaves and stem: rounded lobes of 3 lobed leaves. Stalks hairy. Flowers white, pink, lavender, or blue. The 6 to 10 “petals” are really sepals. There are three bracts below each flower. 4 - 6” in height. Found in leafy woods.
Sharp-lobed Hepatica - Hepatica acutiloba
Blooms March - April. Similar leaves and stems to the round-lobed hepatica but the lobes of the leaves are pointed, occasionally 5 to 7 lobes. Hybridizes. 4 - 9” in height. Found in upland woods.
During Middle Ages Hepatica was used to treat liver ailments, “Doctrine of Signatures” held that if a plant in some way resembled an organ of the human body that the plant could cure ailments of the organ. Contains tannin which is a mild astringent; Chippewas made a tea of the root for children with convulsions.
TRILLIUM - (Birthwort) Lily family
Snow or Dwarf White Trillium - Trillium nivale
Blooms March - May. Smallest and earliest blooming trillium with less than 1” long petals and narrow 1 - 2” leaves. 2 - 6” in height. Found rich woods.
Pioneers say the Native Americans used the plant to induce labor and treat other childbirth problems; Native Americans used the root to make an antiseptic for open wounds, sore eyes, ear drops, and internal bleeding.
BLOODROOT – Sanguinaria canadensis - Poppy family
Blooms March-May. The flower has 8 - 10 pedals, 6 - 12” heigh, and is white colored. The leaf unfurls after the flower appears. The root is poisonous (poppy characteristic) contains alkaloids related to morphine.
A red juice oozes from broken stem and was used as war paint; pioneers for fabric dye also mixed it with oak bark (containing tannin to set color). The Chippewas drank tea made from the root for stomach cramps; some made a tea to bathe burns; sore throat lozenge was made by squeezing juice on a lump of maple sugar; Early medical practice was used for asthma, warts, ringworm, eczema, and fungal infections.
No medicinal uses by the Native Americans or pioneers. But the clusters of tubers have been harvested for food by both. Some times the tubers are called “wild potato”.
False Rue-Anemone - Isopyrum biternatum
Blooms April - May. Growing 1 1/2 feet tall, with its erect stem and branches having a distinct green color, False rue anemone has a fibrous root system with many scattered tubers. There are 3 to 9 leaflets per leaf and each leaflet is somewhat rounded in shape, with three lobes that are more deeply cut than those of the true anemone. The flowers are among the earliest of spring and are hard to distinguish from those of true rue anemone and woodland anemone. The flowers occur in loose clusters and have 5 white petal like sepals, but no true petals.
No medicinal or food uses of this plant by Native Americans or pioneers.
Woodland Anemone - Anemone quinquefolia
Blooms April - June. Is the earliest and smallest woodland anemone. The flowering stem growing 9” tall with three deeply cut leaves about halfway up the stem. Each stem is topped with a solitary flower that can be up to 1” across, with four to nine with to purplish pedals.
The Meskwaki Indians made tee of anemone roots for headache, dizziness and even for refocusing of crossed eyes.
SPRING BEAUTY – Claytonia virginica - Purslane family
Blooms March-May. Has a pair of smooth linear leaves midway up the stem. The petals are white or pink with darker pink veins. 6 - 12” in heights. Found in moist woods.
This is an important food source for wildlife. Native Americans and pioneers ate the tubers raw or boiled in place of potatoes; the tuber or bulb tastes like chestnuts. Leaves were eaten fresh in salads and as greens. Grizzly bears like the tubers, as do rodents. Grazing animals browse the greens.
Blooms April - June. Noted for its whorl of 3 leaves, each divided into 3 narrow, sharply toothed segments. 8 - 15” in height. Found in moist woods and bottoms. The flower has four white petals which take on a pinkish cast as they get older.
Tuber eaten raw tastes like a radish. Pioneers as an important seasoning ingredient in soups, stews, and other dishes used the tuber.
DUTCHMAN’S BREECHES – Dicentra cucullaria - Poppy family
Blooms April-May. Smooth slender stems come from a common point at around ground level to a height of 4 - 12”. Each stem is a leaf petiole that is topped with a smooth three-divided leaf. Each of these leaves is more deeply cut into linear segments. The perennial root system has a small divided bulb that is covered with scales. The flower stalks arch higher than the leaves carrying 4 - 10 flowers hanging in a one-sided cluster. The flowers are well described by their common name. The flowers are white but will sometimes be tinged with pink. There will also be a bit of yellow color where the petals of the breeches (flower) flare apart.
Native Americans did not make use of this plant this attractive and destructive plant. Early pioneers used the plant to treat urinary problems and as a poultice for treating skin diseases. This plant contains toxic alkaloids; it is sometimes eaten accidentally y cattle resulting in sickness.
Blooms April-May. Found growing in with Dutchman’s Breeches. The leaves closely resemble Dutchman’s breeches except they are finer, delicate, compact and more grayish in color. The flowers are more heart shaped and lack the spreading spur that Dutchman's breeches have. The flowers closely resemble the bleeding heart flower.
This plant is also poisonous, but less than Dutchman’s breeches. Tuber is the size of a kernel of corn is often eaten by mice that seem unaffected by the toxicity. In early European medicine this plant was used to treat menstrual complaints, skin problems, and syphilis.
Blooms April-June. Has only 1 small leaf for the first 2 -3 years, than the next 2 - 3 years it will have a 1 larger leaf, then after that two leaves are formed. The plant may not flower until it is 6 - 7 years old and only after it has two leaves. Leaves are mottled resembling a trout.
Native Americans ate the bulbs raw, boiled or roasted. Was used to treat gout.
Blooms April-May. Two large leaves growing on hairy petioles up to 6” long. At the base of the two leaf petioles, a single flower will drop. A bell shaped flower that is maroon to rich brown in color inside and lighter outside. The outside is dull, rather than shinny and covered with stiff white hairs.
Pioneers used this plant as a substitute for Jamaica ginger. Roots can be made into a hard candy. Medicinally it was used for whooping cough, upset stomach, fever, and chest complaints. Native Americans made a contraceptive tea; a poultice was made with wild ginger and plantain for skin inflammations. An antibiotic substance has been found in this plant. For Meskwaki it was the most important seasoning, they also mixed it with meat of unknown death to eliminate danger of poisoning.
Blooms April-June. One to two leaves each with three pointed oval leaflets. This leaflets growing up to 7” long. A separate stalk carries the club-like spadix (commonly called the preacher or the jack). It is usually 2 - 3” long and covered with minute yellow flowers. A leaf-like spathe wraps around the lower part of the spadix but opens to expose the upper part. The open part extends up above the spadix and curves over it to form the “pulpit”. This spathe may be green, purplish-brown or striped. The fruit is a showy cluster of scarlet berries.
Corm was eaten after it was baked or boiled, peeled and powdered, then heated again, this was done to inactivate the calcium oxalate concentrations which when eaten raw create a severe stinging sensation in the mouth. Chippewas used this plant to treat sore eyes; others used the powdered root for headaches. Also it was used for snake bites, asthma, and rheumatism. Meskwaki's mixed the fresh roots with cooked meat in hopes that opposing warriors would eat it and become ill.
Blooms May. Growing up to 18” high from large horizontal rootstock, this plant can have one or two large leaves per plant. Each leaf is broadly circular in shape and up to a foot across, has 5 - 9 deeply cut lobes. Each lob is veined and coarsely toothed. Single leafed plants do not bloom. The flower appears on a short stout stalk from the crotch of the stem. It has 6 - 9 waxy white petals.
The fruit is toxic until ripe (greenish-yellow) when it can be made into preserves or eaten raw. Native American used this plant to treat snakebites, syphilis, warts, urinary and bowel problems. The plant was boiled and the liquid poured onto potato plants as an insecticide.
I hope you are able to get out and enjoy spring and its beauty.Guide to Early Wildflowers