Home to over twenty-five hundred plant species, Kentucky is a veritable wildflower garden. Kentucky native spring flowers include bloodroot, spring beauty, and Virginia bluebells.
Spring Kentucky Native Flower
One of the earliest blooming wildflowers in Kentucky, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) appears in the late winter and early spring. This native wildflower gets its name from its red-orange rhizome and the red juice that can be squeezed from it. Native Americans used bloodroot to treat fever, ulcers, ringworm, and skin infections. It finds use in dye-making and is also being studied for possible anti-cancer properties. Bloodroot, however, is toxic when ingested, causing vomiting and loss of consciousness.
Bloodroot can be planted from seed or through root division. It can grow in sun or shade as long as rich, moist soil is available. You will find this short wildflower in both Kentucky’s woodlands and open fields. Bloodroot’s white flowers, yellow stamens at the center, are about an inch and a half to two inches across. A single round leaf accompanies each flower.
Kentucky Spring Wildflower
Spring beauty (Claytonia Virginica) is another of Kentucky’s early spring wildflowers. Less than a foot in height, the small white to pink flowers emerge before the trees begin to leaf out. Spring beauty opens in the morning to take in the sun’s warmth and closes again each evening. Its inconspicuous leaves blend in with surrounding grasses. Like many wildflowers, its loveliness is fading, blooms lasting only a couple weeks.
Claytonia readily reseeds itself and can be found soaking up the sun across the eastern United States. Gardeners can collect the seeds to bring a little spring beauty to their own gardens.
Spring beauty owes its name to John Clayton, an eighteenth century naturalist who so impressed Benjamin Franklin that the founding father “granted him free mail privileges for shipping his plants and letters.”
Ephemeral KY Native Wildflower
When traversing Kentucky’s woodlands in the early spring, you may encounter Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), also called cowslip or mertensia. Virginia bluebells flourish in sandy and loamy soil and can often be found along creeks and other waterways. Nurseries and seed catalogs also carry these spring beauties. The nodding, bell-shaped wildflowers vary from blue to purple to pink. The inch-long trumpets bloom in clusters. Bluebells grow to a height of one to two feet, and if the growing conditions are right, they may quickly spread and naturalize. Bees, butterflies, and moths all pollinate them.
This Kentucky native wildflower springs up after the last hard frost in March or April. A spring ephemeral, Virginia bluebells only bloom for two to three weeks before going to seed. The foliage dies back by early summer. Mass plantings are breath-taking while Virginia bluebells are in bloom, but they are short-lived and may leave a “hole” in your landscape once they have died back. Keep this transience in mind when planting bluebells in your garden.
Virginia bluebells were a favorite of Thomas Jefferson’s and still grow at the Monticello today.
Native Plants Attract Butterflies and Bees
Interested in planting wildflowers for pollinators? Bloodroot, spring beauty, and Virginia bluebells all attract butterflies and bees.
For more information on using native plants to attract butterflies, check out the following resources:
- Attracting Butterflies with Native Plants
- Native Wildflowers at the Arboretum
- Planning a Native Habitat Garden
- Plant Life of Kentucky: An Illustrated Guide to the Vascular Flora by Ronald L. Jones is published by the University Press of Kentucky.
- Wild About Wildflowers
- Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians by Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart. An award-winning writer, Tavia shares her wealth of native plant knowledge through programming at the Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve in Goshen, Kentucky.
Oldham County Gardening
Upcoming Gardening Classes
Oldham County Extension offers educational classes, the following of which are free and open to the public. RSVP for an upcoming gardening class in Oldham County, Kentucky via (502) 222-9453 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To get notifications of upcoming gardening classes, contact the Oldham County Extension office.
Friday, March 24, 6:30 p.m.
Biologist Anne Cartwright of the American Hosta Society discusses another of her favorite flowers: hellebores. This gardening class is sponsored by the Oldham County Master Gardener Association.
Wildflower Walks With Tavia
Saturday, March 25
Woodland Garden Walk: 10:15 a.m.
Forest Trails Wildflower Walk: 12:15 p.m.
March is a marvelous time to rediscover our scenic landscape and its many inhabitants. Tavia will share share medicinal uses of plants, how they got their names, any fun strategies of how they reproduce, and “flora-lore” and stories that have been told by Native Americans.
Tuesday, April 11, 6:30 p.m.
Horticulturist Michael Boice will share tips on establishing and maintaining a successful home vegetable garden.
Gardening for Wildlife
Thursday, May 4, 6:30 p.m.
Master Gardener Mike Guelda discusses using native plants to draw in birds, bees, and butterflies. This gardening class is sponsored by the Oldham County Master Gardener Association.
Thursday, May 11, 10:00 a.m.
Bob Strohman, author of the recently published Iris Red, Iris Dead and member of the Louisville Iris Society, shows how to have irises in bloom all twelve months of the year. This gardening class is sponsored by the Oldham County Master Gardener Association.
Photographs by Jennifer Anderson (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database), Paul Henjum, Christian Hummert, SB Johnny, Ryan Kaldari, Nicholas A. Tonelli, Sudhir Viswarajan. Used under the Creative Commons License.