Giant White Wakerobin

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This spectacular wildflower was easy to spot in the overcast, rainy Pacific Northwest forest. This largest and showiest type of trillium is frequently cultivated in wildflower gardens.

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The species is endemic to the western United States, ranging from west central California through Oregon to Washington. It is found in diverse habitats, such as the moist slopes of mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, among shrubs, thickets and along stream banks and river beds.

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This plant has an elegant appearance in low-growing clumps of large green leaf-like bracts and brilliant white flowers. Scientifically known as Trillium albidum, this is a very long lived genus, with some species known to live for multiple decades. In the wild, most species take 7-10 years to produce flowers from seeds.

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Giant White Wakerobin’s seeds are mainly dispersed by ants, which transport the seeds to their homes in order to consume part of the seed coat. This plant also spreads underground through rhizomes.

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As its common name suggests, it is one of the earliest blooming of California native flowers and a herald of spring.

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Dutchman’s Breeches

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I recently saw this wildflower while hiking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in northeast Ohio. This native plant is common throughout the eastern United States and also occurs in the Pacific Northwest, though it is less common there.

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Dutchman’s Breeches blooms in the early Spring from March to April. Its flowers are white to pink and resemble a pair of pantaloons hanging upside down. It has one or more finely compound leaves that make the plant appear fern-like.

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The flowers are pollinated by early bumblebees, which have tongues that are long enough to tap the nectar. Unlike the closely related Squirrel Corn, its flowers lack fragrance.

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This plant’s seeds are kidney-shaped, with a faint net-like pattern. Each one has a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that attracts ants. Dutchman’s Breeches is just one of many plants whose seeds are spread by ants, a process called myrmecochory.

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The ants take the seeds to their nest, where they eat the elaiosomes and then put the seeds in their nest debris, where they are protected until they germinate.

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Dutchman’s Breechess can be found in deciduous forests, especially along gentle slopes, ravines or ledges along streams. This species most often occurs in original woodland that has never been plowed under or bulldozed over. It’s abundance in such places can be highly variable.

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It has several common names, depending on which part of the country you find it in. “Bleeding Heart” is one, due to its sometimes pink flowers. Another common name is “Little Blue Staggers,” derived from its ability to induce drunken staggering if cattle graze on it, due to the narcotic and toxic substances it contains.

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Great White Trillium

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Trillium is also a much-loved native wildflower in the United States. Its presence above ground is just for a short time each year – after the snow melts, but before the woodland trees leaf out and completely shade the forest floor.


The name “trillium” derives from the plant’s repetitions of three. Each plant produces a whorl of three broad leaves with a three-petaled blossom on a single stem.


Like many other Spring wildflowers, the seeds of the trillium are dispersed by ants. The plant’s seeds contain a food that is attractive to ants. The ants carry the seeds to their nests to feed their larvae, then discard the undamaged seeds. This allows the trillium to produce new plants in nearby locations.


This plant has a lifespan approaching that of a human – it requires some 17 years to reach maturity and may reach 70 years of age.


In 1986, Great White Trillium took its place alongside the Ohio state flower, Red Carnation, as the state’s official wildflower. Ohio’s General Assembly chose this plant because it grows in each of the state’s 88 counties.

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Yerba Mansa

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This is a neat plant native to the southwestern United States, though I’ve only seen it in Nevada. It is a perennial herb and its genus only has one species.

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Yerba Mansa, also known as Lizard Tail, prefers very wet soil or shallow water. I’ve only encountered in in areas of the desert where there are natural springs.

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This plant is showy in Spring when in bloom. It forms a compact group of tiny flowers that grow in an unusual, conical flower head and are surrounded by white petal-like leaves.

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Yerba Mansa is commonly pollinated by bees and other insect pollinators. Once it has finished blooming, the entire cone-like flower structure develops into a hard fruit that falls off the plant travels down waterways to spread the plant’s seeds.

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The leaves growing nearest to the ground have a rounded tip, and are often heart-shaped at the base, while the stem leaves are much smaller.

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Historically, Yerba Mansa was used to disinfect and treat open wounds and sores, as well as to treat colds, coughs, and ulcers. Today it is still used to treat a variety of medical ailments.

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I always enjoy coming across this odd, yet very cool plant on my hikes.

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Wild Blue Phlox

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This species of flowering plant is native to forests and fields in eastern North America. I expect to see it in my home state of Ohio in a few weeks, but for now am enjoying it on my visit to Carter Caves, Kentucky.

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Wild Blue Phlox is a woodland species that resides in forests, fields and along streams. It has loose clusters of slightly fragrant, tubular, lilac-to-rose-to-blue flowers with five, flat, notched, petal-like lobes that appear at the stem tips in Spring.

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Its blooms attract butterflies (Swallowtails, Grey Hairstreaks and Pygmy Blues), clearwing moths and hummingbirds.

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This plant can form large colonies as the weak stems flop over and root at the nodes. It then disappears in mid-summer after flowering dropping seeds.

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The genus name, Phlox, is derived from the Greek word for flame in reference to its bright flowers. This plant is also known as Woodland Phlox and Wild Sweet William.

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Douglas Iris

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When visiting Point Reyes National Seashore I often encounter this common wildflower of the coastal and central regions of Northern and Central California.

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The Douglas Iris was first described by 19th century botanist David Douglas Scottish who traveled through the American Northwest collecting a variety of plants. He also has the Douglas Fir named after him.

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In Spring, large clumps of iris with flowers ranging from cream to deep purple bloom in grasslands along the coast, and in the deep shade of coastal forests.

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The flowers are intricately patterned with nectar guidelines for potential pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.

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The Douglas Iris’ sword-shaped leaves overlap and can reach over one foot long, rising from underground stems called rhizomes.

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“Back in the day,” Native Americans in California extracted a single fiber from each leaf margin and used it to create strong silky fibers for fishing nets, rope and snares for catching game.

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The young shoots of snowdrops emerging from the frost-covered ground provides anticipation for the beginning of Spring.


Snowdrops are in the amaryllis family and there are only a dozen cultivated species, mostly native to the deciduous woodlands of Europe and western Asia.


Flowering from January to March, it can naturally be found growing in the woods and by streams. The plants have two linear leaves and a single small white drooping bell-shaped flower.


Snowdrops have been known since early times, being described by the classical Greek author Theophrastus in the fourth century BC.


Celebrated as a sign of Spring, Snowdrops can form impressive carpets of white in areas where they are native or have been naturalized.


I enjoy seeing them in my yard as well as when I’m out and about in late Winter and early Spring.

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Virginia Waterleaf


Hiking on the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath trail around this time of year I often encounter this Spring wildflower of low-lying damp woods, stream terraces and floodplains.

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This is a classic northwoods plant, that often look messy, growing in dense clusters of eight to twenty blossoms. This plant grows by both rhizomes (underground stems) and seeds.

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This plant’s genus, Hydrophyllum, refers to water; its early season leaves often have a bleached appearance as if they’ve been stained by water.The whitish marks on the leaves fade as Summer progresses and by mid-Summer the plant dies back to the ground and is no longer apparent.

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Virginia Waterleaf’s flower color varies from pale pink, to deep purple, to occasionally white. They are small, bell-shaped blossoms borne in clusters with stamens and pistils protruding well out of the flower.

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When young and tender, the leaves are good eating. People still gather wild Virginia Waterleaf for food. It’s other common name, John’s cabbage, also speaks to its tasty nature.

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Yellow Monkeyflower

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I sometimes come across this wildflower while visiting California. It is a member of the figwort family, the same family as Snapdragons, which I grow in my garden. The resemblance is clear.

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Yellow Monkeyflower is found in a wide range of habitats, but prefers wet places, including the splash zone of the Pacific Ocean, the chaparral of California, the geysers of Yellowstone National Park and alpine meadows. I see them the most in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where it can be quite misty.

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This plant can grow as high as three feet. The flowers have red or maroon spots on the wide, hairy throat of the lower lip petal. Its coarsely toothed leaves are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked; they are sometimes added to salads as a lettuce substitute, though they have a slight bitter taste.

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Over the years, Yellow Monkeyflower has been a model organism for studies of evolution and ecology. There may be as many as 1,000 scientific papers focused on this species.

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It’s genus, Mimulus, comes from the Latin word that refers to “mime,” a reference to the funny clown-like face the flower resembles. “Monkeyflower” is another reference to the shape of the flower.

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Funny or not, this eye-catching bright yellow-flowered plant is a welcome sight while on my travels.

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Star of Bethlehem

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Lately, when hiking on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, I’ve been seeing a lot of this plant. Star of Bethlehem belongs to the Lily Family and blooms in late spring or early summer. It is native to the Mediterranean region and is similar to wild garlic (though it does not have a garlic smell).

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The English name “Star of Bethlehem” seems to date from the Middle Ages. The bulbs were sometimes brought home as souvenirs during pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

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Its flowers are clustered at the tips of stems up to one foot tall. The three sepals and three petals form an attractive star, white on the upper surface, with green lines on the underside. It blooms from April to June; all parts of this plant are poisonous.

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The blooms open during the early morning hours and close by noon. This characteristic habit gives it the nickname “Nap By Noon.” Its leaves are grasslike, very dark green, rolled inward with a white center vein.

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Star of Bethlehem can be found in a variety of situations, including pastures, bottomland and upland forests, roadsides, suburban lawns and disturbed areas.

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