These are only some of the native perennials you could choose for your landscape- check with local gardeners, nurseries, and other plant experts for more! See the Resources section on our
Native Plants page
for some good places to start.
As a point of interest, we also mention how Native Americans and pioneers used some of these plants for food or medicine. However, this is not meant as a promotion of their use in this way today. Historical records may be inaccurate or unclear, and the reader should not interpret this information as being an endorsement of that use being safe.
Each perennial is linked to its profile at the
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. All links will open in a new window.
Anemone, Canada (Anemone canadensis)
Canada anemone grows throughout Michigan in a wide variety of conditions such as marshes, riverbanks and meadows that offer full sun and moist soils. It blooms mid-spring to early summer with attractive white flowers that reach 1–2" across and contrast well with its deep-green leaves. Canada anemone spreads easily by horizontal roots and can become weedy in a cultivated garden. Plant it where it has room and it will form extensive, attractive colonies. Anemone roots were used in teas to treat headaches and dizziness.
Anemone, wood (Anemone quinquefolia)
Wood anemone is a low-growing spring wildflower found in remarkably diverse woodland moisture conditions from dry to swampy. Each plant blooms with a single white flower that can be up to 1" across. It should be considered part of the groundcover palette in a naturalized garden.
Aster, big-leaved (Aster macrophyllus)
This aster is found in woods ranging from the moist beech-maple to drier oak-hickory or jack-pine forests. “Petals” (ray flowers) are usually pink to blue but sometimes white. Plants bloom in late summer and favor woodland borders or openings where there is more light. Plant this aster in sun for best flowering; otherwise, it may not bloom reliably. Many non-flowering plants are noticeable in the woods because of the size of their heart-shaped leaves, which can be quite ornamental. This plant can grow aggressively through its rootstock. Fresh leaves have been used as greens by several Native American tribes.
Aster, New England (Aster novae-angliae)
New England aster grows tall in open, usually moist or wet ground. It is found in a wide variety of habitats ranging from shores, meadows, and stream edges to dryish or moist woods. The color of the “petals” (ray flowers) varies from blue to purple to occasionally rose. The “center” (disk flower) is a bright, contrasting yellow. This aster blooms in late summer and fall (Aug.–Oct.); its flowers are extremely showy because of their size (1–1½") and color. It is an outstanding wildflower for late summer color. It tends to be “leggy,” so it is best to either plant this aster with taller plants that can act as support or prune it aggressively to assure bushy growth. It is easy to grow and spreads slowly by both roots and seeds. Its purple flowers are striking when massed in the garden with some of our later-blooming goldenrods. This is a wonderful flower for fresh bouquets.
Aster, smooth (Aster laevis)
This aster, named for its smooth, almost waxy leaves, is primarily found in dry, sunny places. It is relatively drought-resistant and will handle dry summers and sandy soils well. The flowers are usually ¾ –1½" wide with light blue “petals” and darker yellow centers. This aster also blooms in late summer (Aug.–Sept.) but not in deep shade, so plant it where it gets at least dappled light for 5–6 hrs/day. It can self-sow profusely. Asters are host plants for the Pearl Crescent and Northern Crescent butterflies.
Baneberry, red; red doll's eyes (Actaea rubra)
In general, baneberries are wildflowers that like partial shade and moist, but not very wet soil. This species grows in the same woodlands as white baneberry (below) but can tolerate both wetter and dryer conditions. Small, thin-petalled, white flowers bloom in a cylindrical cluster at the end of the stem in spring. The leaves are deep green and made up of three smaller leaflets, which provide textural interest in the summer garden. The fruit of the plant matures as a cluster of red berries held on green stems: each berry has a purple-black dot on the end. The berries and rootstock of baneberry (also known as “doll’s eyes”) are poisonous. It is best to plant baneberry in woodland gardens where soils are likely to have sufficient moisture throughout the growing season.
Baneberry, white; white doll's eyes (Actaea pachypoda)
White baneberry is found throughout Michigan, typically in deciduous woods where soils tend to be moist, although neither white nor red baneberry tolerates dense shade. It flowers white in the spring and looks very similar to red baneberry, with its striking characteristic being its late-summer fruit. Each berry in the cluster is white with a deep purple-black dot at the end giving it an eye-like appearance, hence its common name. Berries are clumped together in a cylindrical shape on a long, thick stem that turns bright red as the fruits mature. The berries and rootstock of baneberry (also known as “doll’s eyes”) are poisonous. Both red and white baneberries were used medicinally by Native Americans and pioneers to treat various male (red baneberry) and female (white baneberry) ailments. Root teas were thought to ease labor pains.
Beard-tongue, foxglove (Penstemon digitalis)
Foxglove beard-tongue will grow in a wide range of soil and moisture conditions. It is a wildflower that prefers moist sites such as stream banks, wet prairies, and thickets but is also found in dry woodlands. Tall upright plants (to 4') produce loose clusters of paired, snapdragon-like flowers. The blooms are held near the top of spreading stalks. Each flower is white with thin lines of purple inside its “throat.”
Beard-tongue, hairy (Penstemon hirsutus)
Hairy beard-tongue is typically found on sandy, barren ground including prairies and old fields. This Penstemon is a delicate, summer-blooming prairie species that flowers May to July; its purple-violet flowers are similar to an elongated snapdragon but are closed. Multiple blossoms are supported on an upright flower stalk.
Beebalm; wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Bee-balm can be found growing in a wide range of dry, open places. A beautiful wildflower for drier gardens and sandy soils, it also grows well in richer garden sites. It flowers in July and August in dense flower clusters of pink-pale lavender (occasionally white.) eaves are gray-green, which blend well with other pastel wildflowers. All parts of the plant are wonderfully aromatic when crushed, even long after the foliage dies. Monarda is easy to establish. It has been used to treat skin inflammations, fevers, colds, sore throats, and headaches and to flavor food. This species is popular in herb gardens as well as flower borders or planted prairies. Considered somewhat aggressive, without other plants to hold it in check, it will spread. Bee-balm is a good nectar source for butterflies.
Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)
Bellwort is an early spring-blooming woodland flower that prefers rich, moist soils but it also grows in drier woods. Before the plant reaches full growth, bright yellow, bell-shaped flowers up to 2" long appear. This causes the upper part of the stem to arch over, giving the plant a drooping look that disappears as the leaves fully expand. This plant will spread with age. All parts of the plant have been used both as food and as medicine to help stomach aches and soothe skin inflammations and canker sores. This plant works best in naturalized woodland gardens.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
This bright-gold, familiar wildflower blooms all summer and fall. In the wild, it grows in both moist and dry prairies and old fields, although it is not usually abundant. Its conspicuous 2–3" daisy-like flowers with golden yellow to yellow-orange “petals” (ray flowers) and its long bloom season have made this a garden favorite. The flower center (disk flower) is a deep-brown to purple-brown dome that, if left standing, remains ornamental through the winter. This plant is a popular food source for butterflies. It can provide a spectacular show of color in large masses and is good for both edging and as a tall backdrop in the perennial border. This Rudbeckia is a short-lived, drought-resistant perennial that readily self-sows. It may have some antibiotic properties.
Blazing star, dwarf (Liatris cylindracea)
This Liatris is typically found in dry, relatively open sites, often in sandy soils, and is a drought-resistant plant in the home garden. In fact, plants grown in very fertile soils will tend to fall over and need staking. The multiple small flowers bloom on a long, densely-flowered spike and are a distinctive purple-rose. As with all Liatris, the flowers at the top of the stem bloom before those below. It is an excellent nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds and is a good late-summer seed source for finches and juncos. With their vertical flower clusters, all blazing stars add a strong accent to any garden. Dwarf blazing-star (1½ –2') is small enough to be used in a rock garden. Dwarf blazing star is the Liatris species commonly used by florists.
Blazing-star, marsh (Liatris spicata)
This species prefers wet, marshy soils and is an excellent replacement for the invasive, non-native purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).
Blazing star, rough (Liatris aspera)
The purple-rose flowers of this showy, beautiful Liatris typically average 30 per stalk; when plants are thriving, each stalk may have 100 or more blooms in mid-summer to early autumn. A wildflower of drier places, it tolerates a broad range of soils but prefers them well-drained. This and the previous dwarf blazing star are drought-tolerant. The petals of each flower almost appear torn (hence this species common name.) Liatris grows from a form of underground stem called a corm and also spreads by seed. Pioneers stored the corms as winter food and fed them to horses to increase their endurance. As with other Liatris, the corms also had a number of uses such as a stimulant and to induce sweating. This species is an excellent nectar source for the Blazing Star Skipper butterfly. It is a spectacular accent in any sunny garden.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Bloodroot typically grows well in rich woodland soils and more slowly in clay soils. This is an absolutely beautiful, low-growing perennial that tends to cluster in small colonies in the wild. It blooms in early spring with striking, creamy-white flowers of up to 8–10 petals that are 2–3" across. The leaves of this plant are scalloped in unusual shapes and grow up to 10" across as they mature during the summer. Both leaves and flowers are distinctive and very ornamental in the naturalized garden. Roots and stems contain bright red sap for which the plant is named. The root is poisonous, although Native Americans brewed tea from it to ease stomach cramps and pain from burns. Bloodroot has also been used externally to treat skin problems such as eczema and warts, and juice from the roots has been used in fabric dye and war paint. This species spreads slowly by underground stems (rhizomes) but easily re-establishes by seed given the proper conditions. Bloodroot is wonderful when used as an eye-catching groundcover near the edge of a garden path.
Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)
A lovely, delicate wildflower of southern Michigan, blue-eyed-grass grows in a wide variety of moisture conditions in open and wooded sites. Although the flower doesn’t resemble one, this wildflower is a member of the Iris family. The leaves are grass-like, and the flower stems appear flat and winged. Blue-eyed-grass typically blooms deep purple in late spring to early summer; the small (<1") center, or eye, is bright yellow. Blue-eyed-grass is best planted in large groupings to be most effective. Consider massing it in low-lying areas.
Blue-eyed grass, white (Sisyrinchium albidum)
As blue-eyed grass, but blooms white. It is also commonly found in southeastern Michigan and grows in the same broad range of soil and moisture conditions, although it is more frequently found in drier places.
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
This wildflower is often found in moist habitats with its cousin, Joe-pye-weed, although boneset is also quite tolerant of drier soils. White flowers bloom through summer and fall with 9–23 blossoms in a “fuzzy” cluster that contrasts well with the opposite, deep green, fuzzy leaves that clasp the stem. The fusing of the leaves at the base was thought to reflect the plant’s value for mending broken bones. Boneset has been an extremely popular medicinal herb in the U.S. into the twentieth century. It has been used to treat colds, fevers, and a variety of other complaints such as rheumatism, constipation, pneumonia, and influenza. It was also given to Confederate troops instead of quinine, although its taste is described as nauseating and bitter. Boneset is an excellent nectar source for butterflies and bees. This species looks best when grown next to plants of contrasting color and texture such as Joe-pye-weed and is most appreciated when it can be viewed at closer range.
Cohosh, blue (Caulophyllum thalictroides)
Columbine, wild (Aquilegia canadensis)
Columbine is found throughout Michigan. It grows in a variety of soil and light conditions that range from woodland edges to riverbanks, and gravelly shores and ridges. Columbine is a beautiful, native wildflower that blooms in late spring with striking red and yellow flowers held on tall stems, and it is one of the few that is pollinated by hummingbirds. The compound blue-green leaf with its rounded lobes also adds a delicate texture to the spring garden. The leaves do not generally persist into summer. Winter rosettes appear later in the season. Columbine re-seeds itself readily and can be grown as a rock garden or meadow plant. The roots of columbine have been boiled and eaten during famines and used in teas to treat headaches and fever. Ground seeds were thought by Native Americans to enhance an individual’s persuasive powers both in love and with the tribal council. It is also known as American columbine.
Coneflower, yellow (Ratibida pinnata)
This is a southern Michigan native that is associated with prairie remnants and is tolerant of a wide variety of soil and moisture conditions. Long (1-3") drooping, golden yellow petals characterize the flowers of this species that blooms in summer to early autumn. The flower’s cylindrical center (< 1" tall) is purplish and aromatic when crushed. Several flowers may top a stem. This species adapts well to garden conditions and is drought-tolerant once established. Yellow coneflower can be aggressive. Its tall stems may need support unless it is planted with its common prairie grass associates. Yellow coneflower has been used in teas and to treat toothaches. It grows readily from seed and may still be found in prairie remnants where most of the native species are gone. This is a wonderful starter for a new prairie garden.
Coneflower, cut-leaved; sweet black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia laciniata)
This is one of the coneflowers that will do well in moist gardens since it is typically found in wetter places such as floodplains and low woods. The petals are golden yellow, and the center is yellow or green-yellow, turning brownish when dry. Flower color will often include some red, orange, or purple near the central disk. This wildflower grows in a wide variety of light conditions and is very shade-tolerant, making it suitable for both woodland and open gardens. However, it generally grows very tall and can appear “leggy,” so it is most effective planted in the back of the garden.
Culver’s-root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
Culver’s-root is a distinctive summer wildflower that is typically found in both wet and dry conditions including prairies, meadows, and woodlands. The flower is usually white or pink, small, and densely clustered on a long, tapering spike. The flowers bloom sequentially from the base to the top. There may be several of these spikes in flower per plant. This species tends to get tall and can fall over without support. Cutting it back to the ground early in the spring will result in a bushier plant with more flowers. Culver’s-root has been used medicinally as a liver tonic and laxative. These white spires are a striking accent in the sunny garden.
Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
Dutchman’s breeches is a wildflower of deciduous woods that will tolerate a range of moisture conditions but typically prefers evenly moist soils. Known as a “spring ephemeral,” it flowers in early spring and dies back by summer. The ½" fragrant flowers are white, with the breeches’ “waist” appearing to be dipped in bright yellow. The flowers look like pairs of pants hanging upside down on a clothesline, all in a row above the leaves. The plant’s leaves are extremely attractive in their own right: distinctive, gray blue-green, deeply and multiply lobed, and fern-like. In Victorian times, the common name of this unusual wildflower generated much discussion and indignation. Roots are toxic if eaten. The plant is called “staggerweed” by farmers because of its effect on livestock that have eaten too many bulbs and shoots. Dutchman’s breeches commonly grows together with its relative, squirrel corn. It is a beautiful plant for naturalizing in an early spring garden.
Evening-primrose, common (Oenothera biennis)
A hardy plant, common evening-primrose is well adapted to sandy, sunny locations and moist soils such as shores, wet meadows, and damp hollows where it is commonly found in Michigan. It blooms in late summer and fall with 1–2" delicate, bright yellow, four-petalled flowers that open at twilight and wilt in the hot sun late the following morning. Common evening-primrose is a good component in a wildflower meadow that will bring late summer color and attract butterflies, moths, and birds (particularly goldfinches) with its nectar and seeds. Moths are attracted to its color and lemony fragrance. It has been used to treat coughs and skin irritations, and some Native Americans thought this plant excellent for wound-healing. Its roots are edible; when boiled, they are described as sweet. New shoots have been used in salads. This species is a self-sowing biennial whose second-year flower stalk provides winter interest.
False dragonhead; obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)
False dragonhead is typically found in wetter soils in the wild and, in some cases, it has probably escaped from cultivation. The long flower head (4–8") is a tall spike of many two-lipped pink, white, or lavender flowers in marked contrast to deep green leaves. This is a welcome late bloomer that flowers mid-summer to early autumn. It is easy to grow and tolerant of poorer soil conditions. Physostegia has a spreading perennial root system that often results in dense colonies, so it is best to plant this species where its tendency to spread is an advantage. It is an excellent nectar source for bees. If pushed to either side of the spike, the flowers tend to keep their position, hence its common name, obedient plant.
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)
Foamflower is a beautiful evergreen woodland wildflower that prefers moist, humus-rich soil and shaded conditions. Tiny white flowers, often tinged pink, bloom on a tall stem above leaves and give the flower spike a fuzzy appearance. Heart-shaped leaves, also fuzzy, turn bronze in the fall. Provide shade and keep the soil evenly moist through the growing season, and this wildflower will adapt to garden conditions. This is the westernmost extent of this plant’s range in North America.
Geranium, wild (Geranium maculatum)
Wild geranium is a common woodland wildflower that prefers rich, moist soils but also tolerates drier conditions. In late spring to early summer, it blooms in clusters of 1" pink-lavender flowers that add delicate color to the woodland. A powder made from the roots was used by Native Americans to treat sore mouths. Roots were also boiled and pounded to make a tea for toothaches and dressings for burns and hemorrhoids. This species was also used by pioneers as an astringent and antidiarrhetic. Its deep-green, five-lobed leaves add texture as well as fall color to the garden when they turn deep red.
Ginger, wild (Asarum canadense)
Wild ginger is a low-growing wildflower that prefers rich, moist, woodland soils where it can form extended colonies. The ornamental value of this plant is its satiny, deep-green, heart-shaped leaves. Each plant produces one or two red-brown, thimble-shaped flowers that are inconspicuously tucked close to the ground, well hidden beneath the leaves. They are pollinated by beetles. Wild ginger spreads by shallow underground stems that smell like ginger when they are crushed. It was used by Native Americans medicinally as a contraceptive and chopped as a wound dressing, commonly in food to treat indigestion, and as a seasoning. It was also used by pioneers as a spice substitute, boiled with sugar to make a candied spice. Additionally, it was used to treat a number of complaints including whooping cough. It can be a spectacular groundcover.
Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
This wildflower prefers wetter, even saturated soils where it grows in meadows or woodlands, though it also tolerates drier savanna-like conditions. Each plant produces golden yellow flower clusters in mid-spring that consist of many tiny individual flowers. The stems and leaves have a strong parsley odor when crushed. Early pioneers believed golden Alexanders to be a cure for syphilis.
Golden ragwort (Senecio aureus)
A spring wildflower, golden ragwort prefers permanently moist, rich places such as depressions in upland woods and wet meadows. The flower cluster is a flat-topped, branched group of 8–12" daisy-like flowers. The petals are long and typically orange-yellow. Leaves at the base of the plant are strongly heart-shaped while the stem leaves are deeply lobed and appear very different. In contrast to the flower color, the stems are often deep purple. Golden ragwort flowers in late spring and prefers moist, mildly acid soil conditions. This plant is a good choice for naturalizing damp woodlands.
Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)
In eastern North America alone, there are approximately 50 species of goldenrod, which are often regarded as weeds and falsely accused of causing hay fever. (The true culprit is ragweed, which blooms at the same time.) The heavy, sticky pollen of Solidago is not carried to an allergy sufferer’s nose on summer breezes. Rather, it is transported from flower to flower by the many insects that can be seen on a sunny summer day. Many species prefer bright open sun, blooming in masses of yellow flowers that appear in late summer or fall. Goldenrods are excellent nectar sources for butterflies and bees. Many were used by Native Americans and pioneers for teas, or medicinally to treat burns, gastrointestinal problems, lung problems, and fevers. It was a highly desired medicinal herb in medieval England, which has only one native species. The flowers produce reliable yellow cloth dyes. Goldenrods make fine border plants and are a favorite color addition to the late summer garden. They are good in cut flower arrangements. The three named here are not meant to be inclusive—others worth mention include
S. patula, and
Goldenrod, bluestem (Solidago caesia)
This goldenrod is usually found in richer, deciduous beech-maple woods, damp clearings, or sometimes in dry open woods. The small, dainty flower clusters are found in tufts where the leaf joins the plant’s main stem. The stems have a bluish or purple cast. It is best to plant this goldenrod in woodlands or afternoon shade; excessive moisture and sun can make it look “ratty.”
Goldenrod, showy (Solidago speciosa)
This is one of the goldenrods typically found in dry habitats including open, sandy ground and oak or pine savannas. It tolerates some shade. It is well-named for its showy flowers that bloom in elongated, golden-yellow, cylindrical clusters in late summer. The flowers, but not leaves, may be sticky. True to its name, this is a really spectacular goldenrod.
Goldenrod, stiff (Solidago rigida)
Found in prairies and dry fields, this is one of the goldenrod species whose flowerheads are flat-topped. It is a tall (5'), handsome, large-headed plant whose leaves are wonderfully tactile with a velvety feel. A lotion made from its flowers was once used by some Native American tribes to soothe bee stings. This species is a good choice when trying to grow goldenrod in heavier clay soils.
Hepatica, round-lobed (Hepatica americana)
This hepatica, one of the first woodland wildflowers to bloom in the spring, prefers drier soils and more acidic conditions that are often found under oaks. With its 1" blue, white, or pink flowers peeking above the dead leaves on the forest floor, this plant is a welcome sight in the naturalized garden as the bleakness of winter fades. The distinctive, mottled, three-lobed leaves mature after the plant flowers, although the previous year’s leaves still remain on the plant in early spring. Leaves up to 3" across add interesting visual texture to the garden after the plant stops blooming. Because the rounded lobes of the leaves resemble the liver, this plant was used in the Middle Ages to treat liver ailments. It has also been used to treat coughs and other lung problems. Native Americans used it to treat convulsions in children. Hepatica can be poisonous when eaten in large quantities.
Hepatica, sharp-lobed (Hepatica acutiloba)
This hepatica species is very similar to
H. americana, but the tips of the lobes of each leaf are more sharply pointed, and
H. acutiloba prefers richer, more evenly moist soils whose pH is neutral to alkaline.
Iris, southern blue flag (Iris virginica)
This is a beautiful and familiar wildflower that commonly grows in a wide variety of damp and wet places. Its erect leaves have a graceful curve that adds a strong vertical accent to the garden. Blue-violet flowers that are similar to cultivated iris have a long bloom time, and a single plant may have six or more flowers. Iris was used by Native Americans to treat a wide variety of ailments including earaches, breathing problems, liver complaints, and the pain and swelling caused by bruises. It was also used to induce vomiting. This beauty always looks lovely planted with native ferns near a naturalized pond or water feature.
Ironweed (Vernonia missurica)
Although it performs best in full sun, this tall, colorful bloomer can be found in a range of moisture and shade conditions. In the wild, it is found from riverbottom woodlands to wet prairies to dry, open fields. It blooms in a striking, deep purple-rose cluster of many smaller, individual flowers. Ironweed can be aggressive, so it is best planted with other prairie species that will give it competition. This species is a good butterfly plant that brings incredible color to the garden in late summer.
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
This unusual and favorite wildflower grows in a wide variety of woodland conditions. The hooded spathe, looking like an old-fashioned pulpit, protects “Jack” from the rain as he peers at his “congregation.” Technically a spadix, Jack supports the plant’s tiny, true flowers. This species blooms in early spring and produces a striking 1–3" cluster of bright red fruit in fall. The color of the spathe varies: purple or green, sometimes with white or green stripes. This plant has had many medicinal uses including treatments for headaches, snakebite, rheumatism, asthma, and stomach gas. The root, or corm, has high concentrations of calcium oxalate, a powerful, bitter chemical that can badly burn the throat, causing blisters and enough swelling to suffocate the unwary sampler. However, once roasted or dried for at least six months, it produces mild, edible flour. The three-part leaf and scarlet fruit cluster add texture and interest to the garden. This plant can be effective as an accent in a naturalized garden or near water. It is easily grown from seed on moist bare soil.
Jewelweed; spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis)
In a naturalized garden, jewelweed prefers the wetter soils and shady spots that are similar to the swamps, wet spots, and marshy areas where it is naturally found. With its distinctive tubular, bright-orange flowers, spotted with deeper orange, rose, or brown that bloom mid-summer to fall it can be a welcome addition to the summer shade garden. This is a self-sowing annual whose ripe seed pods explode if touched, hence one of its common names. Including this plant with other wet-loving woodland species such as cinnamon or ostrich fern is an effective combination. Jewelweed is also a great hummingbird plant.
Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum)
This is a showy, pale pink to reddish or purple wildflower of wet places such as marshes and wet meadows that blooms summer through fall. Each individual flower is small and part of a larger, fragrant cluster that grows up to 6" across. Each cluster is flat-topped and has an overall fuzzy appearance. Other ornamental features include the mottled or completely red-purple stem and seedheads that can persist through the winter. This wildflower can be used to create a wonderful effect when it is massed in large groupings where soil is likely to be moister; it will also thrive in drier gardens. Joe-pye weed is an excellent nectar source for butterflies and bees. It was used by Americans in the 1800s to treat kidney and urinary problems and is still used today in parts of Appalachia. This is a tall plant (4–6') and should be used as a background for other wildflowers. It is said to have been named for a traveling “Indian medicine man.”
Leek, wild (Allium tricoccum)
Wild leek grows in rich moist woodland soils and is often found in large colonies, particularly in beech-maple-hemlock forests. Its broad leaves appear in May and are gone when the round, white flower clusters bloom in June and July. The fruit capsules that develop from the flowers look like tiny ball bearings clustered on top of a stem that may reach 15" tall. There is a strong onion aroma in all parts of the plant, particularly the bulb, and both leaves and bulb are edible. As expected, this species was extensively used by Native Americans and pioneers as a food seasoning. A tea brewed from the bulb induced vomiting, and its juice soothed insect stings. A corruption of the Menomonee name for this plant, “shikako,” (meaning “skunk place”) is credited by some as part of the origin of the name Chicago, because of the plentiful wild leeks that grew there.
Lily, Michigan (Lilium michiganense)
Lobelia, great blue (Lobelia siphilitica)
This lobelia is typically found in moist sites in the wild where it grows stiffly upright with 1" bright blue flowers that bloom where the upper leaves meet the stem. Lobelias generally last well when cut but are poisonous if taken internally. It blooms late summer to early autumn and is pollinated by bees. Hardier than red lobelia, it is typically easy to start from seed and can self-sow prolifically in garden situations. Native Americans thought this plant was a cure for syphilis when used in combination with several other plants. They also used a finely ground powder made from its roots as a love potion. It has also been used to treat dropsy, diarrhea, and dysentery.
Lobelia, red; cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
This favorite wildflower prefers moist soils such as in marshy prairie depressions and open woodlands. Red lobelia is a tall plant (4') with up to 12 or more 1½" brilliant scarlet tubular flowers in a close vertical cluster on the end of the plant stem. It blooms mid-summer to early fall and is pollinated by hummingbirds. The juice of the plant is poisonous. Although relatively hardy, this lobelia is a short-lived perennial in cultivation (unlike the great blue.) Seed and/or seedlings should be saved regularly for re-planting. This is one of the most strikingly handsome wildflowers of late summer, well worth the effort.
Lupine (Lupinus perennis)
Lupine is a beautiful wildflower that is best grown in full sun and dry, sandy soils. Its roots fix soil nitrogen. Lupine may be difficult to grow in heavier soils, since it prefers well-drained conditions. The June flowers look similar to snapdragons and bloom in clusters that can include combinations of white, blue, purple, and pink. This flower is insect-pollinated. Lupine also has a beautiful, deep-green, palmately compound leaf that adds interesting texture to the garden. It is a main food plant of the federally endangered Karner Blue butterfly.
Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)
This early spring wildflower grows throughout Michigan in wet soils in full to partial sun. With its soft, “spongy” roots, it needs constantly moist soils and is therefore a perfect plant for wetter places such as streamsides or marshy areas. The plant has a pretty, rounded, rich green leaf and is covered in bright 1" golden-yellow flowers in mid-spring. The plants die back after fruiting. Marsh marigold was widely used as a folk medicine and source of greens, although the leaves are poisonous if not thoroughly cooked. Its flowers have been used in making wine and yellow dye. This plant is especially beautiful when it marks the woodland stream edge in bright yellow before the trees turn green.
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
This familiar wildflower grows in a variety of woodland soil conditions, spreading and covering sizeable areas with its large, umbrella-like, deep green leaves. In the spring, the furled leaves poking up through the soil look like a stand of closed umbrellas waiting for rain. The leaves die back in mid-late summer. Mayapple flowers are white and may be up to 2½" across but are inconspicuous because they are held under the plant’s broad leaves. The fruit, a large green-yellow berry, is edible when ripe. However, all other parts of the plant are poisonous. Both flower and fruit are very fragrant. Pioneers used the fruit in preserves. It has a cathartic effect and, ironically was used in small doses as treatment for diarrhea in children. Native Americans also used mayapple to treat snakebites and disorders of the bowel, urinary-tract, and skin. They also used it as an insecticide. Mayapple can spread, so it is best to either give this plant space to expand or confine it in the small garden.
Meadow-rue, early (Thalictrum dioicum)
Early meadow-rue is an early spring woodland wildflower that grows well in both moist and dry conditions and needs both male and female plants to set seed. Subtle, green male flowers bloom April–May. Female flowers are only white stigmas that receive pollen. A lovely characteristic of this plant is its delicate, compound leaf, which gives it an airy, lacy appearance. It is a pretty sight in a woodland garden when it turns yellow in the fall.
Meadow-rue, purple or tall (Thalictrum dasycarpum)
This is a taller (3–5') meadow-rue that naturally grows in wet soils along rivers and in marshes and swamps, yet it will also grow well in rich, well-drained, loamy garden soils. It blooms in summer with masses of feathery, white, petal-less flowers that are held above the leaves at the top of the plant. The stems are green to purplish. Male and female flowers are on separate plants; the male flower is showier. This plant was used by Native Americans in tea as a stimulant and to reduce fevers. The seeds were smoked for good luck before hunting.
Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)
This genus is distinctive and familiar to many who have memories of watching the silky seeds of common milkweed being carried from its characteristic seed pod on the late summer wind. All species listed here require full to partial sun and bloom in mid-summer. The flowers of all species are a very distinctive shape and typically held on the plant in round or hemispherical clusters. They are quite fragrant. In general, milkweeds are slow-spreading and form deep taproots, so moving mature plants is difficult. However they are all easily grown from seed planted in the fall or spring. Monarch butterflies use various Aesclepias species as hosts. The plants produce a cardiac glycoside that makes the larvae that have eaten the leaves unpalatable to birds. Although only three species are discussed here, others worth mentioning for their tolerance of various soil and light conditions include
A. purpurescens, and
Milkweed, butterfly (Asclepias tuberosa)
This species is a very eye-catching plant that grows in dry, open places in full or partial sun. Most distinctive are its brilliant orange flowers that seem to glow in the light and are very attractive to numerous butterfly species and other insects. Flowers may also be clear, bright yellow or even bi-colored. This species prefers a well-drained, evenly moist, sandy, infertile soil; it is drought-tolerant once established. The root of this species was thought to cure pleurisy and was considered to be effective in treating many ailments, including indigestion, dysentery, smallpox, rheumatism, and skin ailments, among others. It was still listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1990. Butterfly milkweed is a forgotten beauty that in the 1940s was ranked as the fourth most popular wildflower among scientists and naturalists. It is a spectacular and colorful addition to the native garden.
Milkweed, common (Asclepias syriaca)
Our most common milkweed is found in a range of moisture conditions, usually in sandy and frequently disturbed areas such as along many highways. It grows well in soil of only average fertility and should not be fertilized. Unlike other Asclepias, this species may spread rapidly through horizontal underground stems, so it is best planted in open meadow conditions or with other competitive species that will hold it in check. The flowers are many, rose to purple but occasionally whitish or cream-colored. The familiar seed pods of this species are usually prominently warty. For a plant considered an unwanted weed by many today, this native wildflower has had a myriad of uses. The silk of the pods was used in thread, to fill pillows and mattresses, and as a clothes lining during World War II. Its flowers have been stewed and served like jam and its tender new shoots eaten like asparagus. (Proper cooking techniques are important in eliminating its bitter taste.)
Milkweed, swamp (Asclepias incarnata)
One of the few milkweed species that grow in wet ground, this tall Asclepias is usually found in wet prairies and meadows, woodland depressions, and stream edges where it often may stand in several inches of water. Like butterfly milkweed, this too is one of the showiest of the species with its beautiful, rich, rose-purple flower color. It tends to get tall and may need support. These flowers are less fragrant but more beautiful than the common milkweed. This is an extremely attractive wildflower that, fortunately for us, tolerates average garden moisture conditions.
Miterwort; Bishop’s cap (Mitella diphylla)
This delicate woodland wildflower typically grows in rich, wetter soils and in the wild is often found on hummocks in swampy woods; it is also tolerant of non-irrigated garden conditions. Tiny white or cream-colored, highly dissected flowers are shaped somewhat like a cap and are beautiful in their feathery detail. Miterwort blooms in the spring on a tall vertical stem above a single pair of leaves.
Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)
This plant, one of Michigan’s most common mint species, grows in wet to dry soils, usually in full sun. Like most in this family, this is a very aromatic plant whose leaves smell wonderful especially if crushed. The flowers are tiny, white, pink or purple, arranged in dense clusters at the top of the stems. The leaves have been used on foods as seasoning and in tea as a general tonic and mild treatment for indigestion and fever. Ontario’s Walpole Island Native Americans use this plant to treat colds. Mountain mint is also called mountain thyme and prairie hyssop. Like many of the aster family, the dried flowerheads add interest to the winter garden.
Onion, nodding wild (Allium cernuum)
Although this Allium prefers wet ground, it is also often found in drier prairie conditions. It flowers white to pink in nodding, fragrant flower clusters that bloom mid-summer. The leaves are grass-like. The plant has a mild onion aroma and taste and is edible. As expected, it was used as a food source by Native Americans. The flowering impact of this species is most effective when it is planted in large groups (>10). It will not compete well in dense plantings of native grasses.
Phlox, woodland; wild blue phlox; sweet William (Phlox divaricata)
This native phlox is typically found in richer soils in deciduous woodlands such as beech-maple forests. It blooms in early spring, producing simple, fragrant blue or sometimes white five-petalled flowers about 1½” across. It is a wonderful addition to the woodland garden and is attractive to hummingbirds. The leaves and roots were used in teas to treat eczema and venereal disease. Woodland phlox should not be confused with the invasive European annual,
Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), which is four-petalled, taller, and blooms at approximately the same time; another reason to use caution when buying this plant is that many growers will offer
Phlox paniculata, a species that is invasive in Michigan.
Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)
This striking wildflower is found in rich prairies and other grassy habitats. Its most conspicuous and distinguishing features are its huge, rough basal leaves that grow up to 16". These leaves are held vertically and oriented north-south on long stalks to avoid intense mid-day heat. The main flower stem is very tall (to 10') and usually leafless with large daisy-like yellow flowers in an open cluster at its top. This plant is drought-resistant once established. The rich brown color and roughened texture of the dried leaves can be very decorative and ornamental in arrangements. Deep tap roots make transplanting this species difficult.
Rue-anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)
In Michigan, this lovely wildflower is found only in the southern Lower Peninsula, usually in rich deciduous woodland soils, but it will tolerate drier conditions. It typically blooms in early spring in loose clusters of 1" white flowers. Each flower consists of petal-like sepals borne on slender stems. The leaves are whorled and compound; each leaflet is three-lobed at its tip. Double-flowered and pink forms are known. The tubers were harvested and eaten by Native Americans and pioneers. Rue-anemone is easily harmed by division of its root system, so it is best to establish this plant by seed.
Rue-anemone, false (Isopyrum biternatum)
In Michigan, false rue-anemone grows in the southern Lower Peninsula in large patches in rich deciduous woods where soils are typically evenly moist through the growing season. It resembles rue-anemone, although a number of distinguishing characteristics are clear on closer examination; blooms are in early spring forming pearl-like buds that open in clusters of several white flowers. The delicate, compound leaves are ephemeral and disappear in the summer; unlike some ephemerals, however, they reappear in the fall and remain green through the winter.
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
Sneezeweed is found in a variety of wet places such as stream banks and wet meadows, though it also tolerates drier garden soils. Golden daisy-like flowers, borne at the top of branched, winged stems in the late summer and fall, are very showy when massed. Each flower has five broad-toothed petals and a yellow domed center. The name of this flower does not come from its connection to pollen allergies but rather from the use of the pulverized dried flower head as snuff.
Solomon-seal, false; false spikenard; feathery false lily of the valley (Smilacina racemosa)
This Solomon-seal also grows in a wide variety of woodland moisture conditions and is found in beech-maple and oak-hickory forests. Gracefully arching stems resemble the true Solomon-seal. Long, oval, pointed leaves are lined along the stem parallel to the ground. A frothy, creamy-white flower cluster appears at the end of the stem in early spring which matures in the fall into a cluster of edible, purple-dotted red berries. It has been used medicinally by Native Americans as a tranquilizer, contraceptive, and blood-clotting agent. Pioneers also used this plant to treat headaches, sore throats, and scurvy. Its roots were prepared and eaten like potatoes. New shoots were used as a substitute for asparagus. This plant is a beautiful accent in the naturalized garden. Its fruit is eaten by woodland birds.
Solomon-seal, starry false;
starry false lily of the valley (Smilacina stellata)
Although it grows throughout the state, this species is often found near the dunes and ridges of the Great Lakes on sandier, well-drained soils in full sun, but it will also grow in wetter, shadier conditions. In full sun it grows in a more upright form with its leaves folded lengthwise like troughs. A number of delicate clear-white flowers, fewer than in the previous species, appear on the end of the stem in spring. The fruit of this Solomon-seal matures in a cluster of greenish or red berries, each of which has four striking dark bands from top to bottom.
Solomon’s seal, true (Polygonatum biflorum)
This subtle, woodland wildflower grows in a variety of soil and moisture conditions from dry oak-hickory to swamp forests. Its small tubular white or green-white flowers dangle from the leaf axils below the plant’s tall, arching, main stem. The number of flowers can range from one to four in each cluster. The leaves are long and deep green, turning yellow in the fall to beautiful contrast with the dark blue-black berries that replace the flowers. Not a plant for deep shade, Solomon-seal is particularly effective in a lightly shaded spot. It can take full sun if given adequate moisture. The berries, roots, and new shoots have all been used as food as well as to treat back pain and kidney trouble. This species was also thought to be useful in treating arthritis and skin irritations and was tried as a substitute for digitalis. The graceful arch of the stem is an attractive accent in the woodland garden, particularly when massed.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
This wildflower grows in southern Michigan where it prefers dry soils such as in oak savannas, but it is also found in moister conditions. Spiderwort grows upright on 3' stems and flowers all summer in a cluster of 1" wide, tri-petalled, blue-purple flowers with yellow-tipped stamens. Each individual flower opens in the morning and lasts for just a day before turning into a jelly-like mass that flows like a tear if touched. This plant looks best if given a bit of shade. It was once thought to be a cure for spider bites.
Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
Spring beauty is an early spring woodland wildflower that grows in a variety of soil and moisture conditions found in both beech-maple and oak forests. Each fragrant flower is pale pink with deeper colored veins in the petals, although the overall color may appear white. This is a low plant that looks lovely carpeting a woodland or naturalizing a lawn in April. It is a spring ephemeral wildflower that dies back completely within a month after flowering, so it is not a good all-season groundcover. Native Americans and pioneers used the tubers and leaves of this plant for food, as do bears, rodents, moose, deer, and elk.
Squirrel-corn (Dicentra canadensis)
This early spring wildflower often grows with Dutchman’s-breeches. However, it is typically less tolerant of soil moisture extremes. The leaves may be difficult to distinguish from those of Dutchman’s-breeches, but this species blooms slightly later with white flowers that closely resemble hearts. This species is also a spring ephemeral that dies back in the summer. The fragrance of the flowers is similar to hyacinth. Squirrel corn grows from a small yellow corm that resembles a kernel of corn. The plant is poisonous.
Strawberry, wild (Fragaria virginiana)
Wild strawberry grows well in a variety of soil, light, and moisture conditions. It is a ground-hugging perennial and can be a good groundcover species once established. The leaves of wild strawberry are deep green and fuzzy, often turning a beautiful red in the fall. It spreads easily by runners sent out above ground. The flower that blooms in May is white, and several blossoms usually cluster together on the same stalk. The edible fruit, which ripens in June or July, is both smaller and tastier than the commercial berry bought in local stores. It is eaten by many wildlife species. This plant is the original source of those sold in today’s markets. A leaf tea was used to treat diarrhea and dysentery.
Sunflower, rough (Helianthus strumosus)
This is an adaptable wildflower that grows to 6' in diverse moisture and light conditions. Its flowers are a golden yellow and bloom July to September. Each flower may be 2½" to 4" across. This plant can be a bright late-summer addition to the garden; however, it can be extremely aggressive if planted without competition. This species is best used as a background plant, where its height will not mask other wildflowers, or in open meadows or savannas. Seeds were used by Native Americans as a source of both food and oil. A tea from the roots was used to treat various lung problems.
Sunflower, woodland (Helianthus divaricatus)
This sunflower is found in dry, open woodlands and field edges where it provides good summer color when it blooms golden yellow in July to September. It is tolerant of partial but not full shade. The seeds of the sunflower were used as food and a source of oil. Native Americans also used various sunflower species as teas to treat lung problems, as a source of yellow dye, and as a substitute for tobacco and coffee. Woodland sunflowers are very effective massed along the woodland edge.
Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)
Thimbleweed grows in both full and partial sun in dry, sandy soils, though it will also tolerate heavier soils. Several tall flower stalks on each plant are topped by a single 1" white flower. The fruit develops from its center on a long, thimble-like cylinder that grows up to 1½" tall. When ripe, the flowerhead bursts into what looks like cascades of white cotton that often persist until late winter. If picked early, the seedhead dries well and is a good accent in dried flower arrangements. It is an interesting addition to a naturalized meadow or border.
Toothwort, cut-leaved (Dentaria laciniata)
A spring ephemeral, this toothwort prefers the rich soils typical of beech-maple forests but it also does well in drier conditions. Its leaves are dark green with deeply cut lobes that add textural contrast in the garden. Dentaria blooms white in early spring and dies back by early summer. The roots (rhizomes) are edible with a radish-like taste. They were gathered by pioneers for seasoning soups and stews.
Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
Trout-lily, yellow (Erythronium americanum)
This smaller member of the Lily family is another spring ephemeral wildflower that grows in rich, moist woodland soils. Colonies of the characteristically mottled (gray-green and deep brown-red) leaves often carpet large areas that are only dotted with blossoms. The single bright yellow flowers nod above the leaves on taller stems (4–8"). The petals curve strongly backward. This species typically blooms April–May and dies back completely by mid-summer. The bulbs were a common food source for both wildlife and Native Americans. Like all plants that start from bulbs, the leaves should be left to replenish food stores. A white flowering species,
E. albidum, is much rarer. This plant is excellent for naturalizing a woodland garden.
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
This is a lovely wildflower that is usually found in moister sites such as low ground near streams, lakes, or damp meadows and marshes, but it also tolerates normal garden conditions once established. The flowerhead consists of several individual creamy-white to green-yellow flowers, each about 1" long, that are crowded on a vertical spike at the end of the stem. Each two-lipped flower resembles a turtle’s head protruding from its shell. If grown in full sun, this plant will need lots of moisture, at least initially. It blooms late summer to early autumn (July–September.) The flowers are a good nectar source for bees and the plant is a host for the Baltimore butterfly. In the right site and given time, turtlehead spreads freely by seed and underground stem. Various parts of the plant were used by Native Americans and pioneers as a laxative and tonic for ailments such as jaundice, itching, and inflammation.
Vervain, blue (Verbena hastata)
This vervain is found in wetter areas in the wild such as marshes, stream banks, and swamp openings. Typically it is a tall, conspicuous plant (4') with a candelabra-like flowering stalk, although it may be much shorter with only a single flower spike, particularly in drier soils. It blooms from the base of the spike but is not showy. Usually there is a ring of tiny, blue flowers that blooms above new seeds and below future flowers. This species blooms blue to purple and, rarely, rose. Vervain has an extensive folklore history leading back to the druids and early Rome: vervain tea was popular as a tranquilizer and cold remedy; it was also used to relieve insomnia, to eliminate worms, and to treat open sores. It is most effective when planted with other moist prairie species such as Joe-pye weed, ironweed, boneset, and certain goldenrods or planted in large groupings that emphasize its intense blue color. This species will easily re-seed.
Vervain, hoary (Verbena stricta)
Vervain, white (Verbena urticifolia)