There are several thousand different species of beautiful wildflowers that provide color to our landscape. The 28 wildflowers listed here are native to eastern North America.
Birdfoot Violet--One of New York's two dozen native spring violets, the birdfoot occurs in dry open woods. Its name is derived from its leaves, which have five or more irregular lobes spread like bird toes. Its small, showy flowers attract bees and butterflies. Height: 3 to 5 inches.
Bloodroot--One of our earliest woodland bloomers, the bloodroot has a single large white flower and solitary lobed leaf. It gets its name from its red-sapped root. Ants carry the bloodroot's seeds to their nest, where they eat the fleshy white wrapping. Height: 3 to 6+ inches.
Closed Gentian--Also called the bottle gentian, this plant occurs in wet areas. The flower's tightly closed petals protect it from rain as well as pollen and nectar pilferers. Only the bumblebee is strong enough to separate the petals and enter the flower to take nectar and pollen. Height: 12 inches.
Buckbean--Growing in cool bogs, the buckbean has three-lobed leaves that resemble bean leaves. The flower contains five recurved, hairy-throated white petals that offer perfect landing platforms for bees and flies. According to folklore, the plant's roots are dug and eaten by deer in winter. Height: 10 inches.
Bunchberry--A member of the dogwood family, the bunchberry is a "subshrub" that grows less than a foot high. It has four to six leaves beneath a flower head of many tiny flowers surrounded by four large petal-like bracts. Flowers develop into a dense bunch of red fruit that appeals to grouse and songbirds. Height: 6 to 9 inches.
Cardinal-Flower--This brilliant red flower occurs in wetlands from tiny stream edges, wooded swamps and ponds, to shores of major rivers. It attracts the nectar-sipping ruby-throated hummingbird, as well as bumblebees and day-flying moths. Unfortunately, it also attracts human collectors, earning it protected legal status. Height: 3 to 5 ft.
Downy Rattlesnake Plantain--Found beneath oaks and pines, this orchid has a bluish-green basal rosette of beautiful white-veined leaves. Its name comes from its oval leaves shaped like lawn weed plantain with a snakeskin pattern. Tiny orchids appear midsummer atop a hairy stalk. Height: to 20 inches.
Evening Primrose--A native weed of roadsides and waste places, the evening primrose is a biennial. Its basal leaves feed a taproot the first year that shoots up a chest-high stem the second year and produces yellow flowers which open at dusk. The primrose moth is an important pollinator for this plant. The caterpillar mimics the green flower buds it eats, then the adult pollinates the flower and hides there, the exact rosy yellow color of a fading bloom. Height: to 6 ft.
Fireweed--Poets describe the fireweed's color as making hillsides look ablaze and its fluffy seeds as clouds of smoke. The silky white wind-born seed tufts enable this plant to easily colonize fire-cleared ground. In New York it occurs along roads, especially in the Adirondacks and Catskills. Height: to 8 ft.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit--A relative of skunk cabbage, this plant blooms in moist woods in the spring. Two or three, three-parted leaves nourish the plant which has a club-shaped stem (spadix) atop a cluster of either tiny pealike flowers or pollen-bearing anthers. A protective hooded pulpit (spathe) surrounds the entire flower. Fungus gnats pollinate the flowers. Wildlife feed on the scarlet berry cluster that appears once the pulpit shrivels. Height: 1 to 3 ft.
Spotted Joe-Pye Weed--Named for Joe Pye, a Native American herb doctor who used this plant to treat typhoid fever, this tall plant grows in wet meadows and thickets. A member of the Aster family, it has a purple-spotted stem, leaves in whorls of 4 or 5, and flat-topped flower clusters. Height: 7 to 10 ft.
Large Blue Flag--Either dominating wet fields or hiding among marsh cattails, this plant resembles the garden iris. The blue flowers have three petal-like sepals, each with a hanging flag. Hairy bees squeeze into the flower, picking up and depositing pollen. Height: 1 to 3 ft.
Large-Flowered Trillium--The largest of the white-flowered trilliums, it is found in limestone areas, often occurring in dense stands. The white flower attracts bees, and the petals often turn pink before the flower fades. Trillium is perfectly named with its three leaves and three-parted flowers and fruit. Height: to 16 inches.
New England Aster--Tall and robust, the New England aster often stands shoulder-to-shoulder with goldenrods in abandoned fields. Its parachuted seeds are spread by both wind and animals, and provide a winter feast for birds and small mammals. Its pretty blue flowers make this aster a popular choice for flower gardens. Height: 3 to 6 ft.
Pale Corydalis--This pale green plant with delicate cut leaves looks out of place in its rugged rocky mountainside habitat. Also called rock harlequin, its bright blossom is shaped like a clown's hat. Height: 6 to 24 inches.
Purple Trillium--Occurs in cool, moist woods. With the color and odor of rotting meat, purple trillium attracts flies as pollinators early in the spring before bees are commonly about. Height: up to 16 inches.
Round-Leaved Sundew--The most common of New York's 20 species of insectivorous plants, the roundleaved sundew has sticky glistening glands on each leaf surface that attract and capture small insects. The leaf then curls around the prey to digest it. Insects provide supplemental nutrition in nitrogen-poor bogs. Height: flower stalks to 8 inches.
Shinleaf--Once used as a "shin-plaster" for bruises, this small woodland plant bears fragrant white flowers. One of five species of Pyrola found in New York, it is recognized by its leafless flower stalks which bear drooping flowers with long protruding styles. Height: 4 to 12 inches.
Squirrel-Corn--Found in rich woods in the early spring, this plant's underground tubers resemble corn, but contain toxic alkaloids. A short-lived flower, squirrel-corn completes its annual cycle before the forest canopy emerges and casts its habitat in deep shade. Height: to 10 inches.
Trailing Arbutus--A low, creeping evergreen shrub, trailing arbutus has very fragrant white to pink flowers that appear in early spring. It is found along trails in dry open woodlands. Height: prostrate to 2 ft long.
Troutlily--Also called fawn lily because of its speckled leaves, this plant emerges in early spring in moist woods, often near streams. Like many plants growing in clumps, bulb offshoots supplement seed reproduction. Young plants often bear a single leaf for several years until enough energy is stored to develop two leaves and a flower. Height: to 10 inches.
Turk's-Cap Lily--The tallest and showiest of our native lilies, the Turk's-Cap's sepals and petals are curved backwards, resembling a turban. Generally found in wet meadows or swamps, it is popular with collectors, and so, like all the state's lilies, is protected by law. Height: to 7 ft.
Twinflower--This delicate evergreen vine creeps along the ground in cool northern forests. Its flower stalks have a pair of nodding flowers, hence its name. Height: flower stalks to 6 inches.
Virginia Cowslip--Also called bluebells, Virginia cowslip has attractive bell-shaped flowers that change from pink to blue as they mature. A popular garden flower, in the wild it grows in moist river bottom lands from central New York west and south. Height: to 2 ft.
Wild Bergamot--A member of the mint family, the wild bergamot's leaves give off an aromatic smell when crushed. It is found in dry pastures, thickets and hedgerows. Its long tubed flowers attract long-tongued butterflies and hummingbirds. Like many mints, it can be used to make a fragrant drink. Height: to 3 ft.
Wild Columbine--Attractive to hummingbirds, wild columbine has five long spurs above each of its yellow-throated scarlet flowers. This plant thrives in cool moist ravines and on wet cliff faces. Height: to 2 ft.
Wild Geranium--Large rose-pink to purple flowers make this common, long-lasting plant a springtime favorite. Also known as cranesbill, it has long thin fruit shaped like a bird's beak. The fruit split open quickly, throwing seeds some distance from the plant. Height: to 2 ft.
Yellow Lady's-Slipper--Yellow and pink lady'sslippers are New York's largest and showiest orchids. Bees pollinate these plants by pushing their way through a one-way seam in each plant's inflated slipper. Their only escape is by pushing past an anther or stigma. All native orchids are protected by law in New York. Height: to 2 ft.
anther--the part of the male stamen holding pollen
basal rosette--a stemless whorl of leaves like those of the dandelion
pistil--the female flower organ composed of three parts: ovary at the base; slender stalk (style); and sticky or frilly tip (stigma)
sepal--a small modified leaf (usually green) that surrounds and protects the flower bud
stamen--the male flower organ composed of a slender stalk with a knob-like anther
stigma--the tip of the pistil (the female flower organ)
style--the long neck of a flower's ovary supporting a sticky or feathery pollen-receptive stigma at its end
A long-time Adirondacker, publisher Timothy Colman offers this poster and many others from the Good Nature Publishing Company in Seattle, Washington. Retired environmental educator Frank Knight is a frequent contributor to the Conservationist.