When all is barren in our deciduous woods in the winter months, small surprises emerge in the way of herbaceous wildflowers. Being at the southern-most range for these woodland plants makes our region unique. The remnants of a beech magnolia forest, if left undisturbed for a short period of time will reveal many of these surprises.
Under a thick carpet of leaf litter and organic matter in shade, the following native perennials can be easily grown:
Trout Lily (Erythronium umbilicatum) can form vast colonies if left undisturbed. The yellow nodding bloom emerges from fleshy foliage spotted with maroon splotches. This plant is rare in Florida but can be seen at the nature park in Chattahoochee and also at the recent acquisition of Wolfe Creek Preserve in Grady County, Georgia.
Bloodroot (Sanguinar Canadensis) was given the name of bloodroot because of the red-orange rhizomes which have been used medicinally in traditional mountain medicines. Small white flowers push up thorough the first emerging leaves. Bloodroot is slow growing but will re-seed.
Ginger Root or Little Brown Jug (Hexastylis arifolia) has heart shaped leaves and is evergreen. Growing low to the ground this native has a tiny brown bloom in the shape of an oul earthen jug.
Senecio aureus, another evergreen, can cover a shady area fairly rapidly and becomes a carpet of bright green with tall yellow blooms in spring.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyluum) and its relative Dragon’s Tongue (A. dracontium) seem to pop up instantaneously, sometimes over 2 feet tall. Jack hides slyly under his hood while the Dragon waves his long tongue at the world. Both produce bright red seeds which fall to the forest floor to become new plants.
Blue Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata) does best in dappled light or on the edge of the woods with a little morning sun. This true blue flower is very showy as a border or in small groupings. It will reseed if not mulched heavily. Blooming in early spring it can be quite stunning en mass.
Trillium underwoodii – Although not out of the ground for a long period of time, Trillum’s vibrant burgundy flowers and mottled green foliage can become a thick carpet in the late winter months. This threatened species in our area is becoming increasingly rare.
Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica) emerges in late spring and presents its bright yellow stars upon scarlet red tubes for the ruby throated hummingbirds. Forming clumps of 18” foliage, this is a hardy perennial bringing attention to a shady woodland bed.
Columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis) prefers a limey soil and can tolerate less organic matter. Also red and yellow, the nodding blooms tower over delicate lacey foliage. It too welcomes back the hummingbirds in March.
All of these woodland plants combine well with our native ferns and can enliven a shaded area. Many can be seen in our nearby state parks or right here on the grounds of Native Nurseries.