From the middle to late spring, the sweet woodland flowers are blooming in my garden. I have a high regard for these charming flowers that grow under the trees without complaint, tolerating the shade and root competition, and flourishing in the organic matter dropped by the trees. This group shows such distinctive blooms, that you have to appreciate the wonderful diversity of nature.
The Trillium grandiflorum (great white trillium) are blooming in purest white, with three petals and three leaves. I planted the bare rhizomes in the soil a few years ago, and although the whole plants skipped the first growing season, they are blooming now. My trilliums grow very close to a maple trunk, squeezed in next to a Philadelphus (mockorange) shrub. I look forward to seeing this group expand, since they remind me of the forests of Eastern Canada. Mine are about 17 cm (7 in) tall, so they are tucked behind some short Asarum (wild ginger). There is more about the slow emergence of these trilliums here.
Arisaema sikokianum (Japanese jack in the pulpit) has the most unusual flower of all. The exotic looking bloom has a cup with a pure white middle, the colour of milk, while the pure white spadix rises out of the middle of the cup. The elaborate spathe (hood) arches higher over top and is striped in purple and black. The hood is high enough to allow a good view of the spadix, unlike some jack in the pulpits. I always have to look at this one from all angles, since I find it fascinating. The back shows the elaborately striped and curved hood, and the front shows the stripes meeting the white interior.
The Arisaema sikokianum foliage dies back in summer, to reappear next spring. Because this is an ephemeral, I really have to remember where it is planted. Last Fall I accidentally dug it up when planting bulbs. It was late in the season, and I was worried that it would stress the plant as it headed into winter. Arisaema sikokianum was rated for zone 5, so digging it up in late Autumn was not going to help its survival in zone 3. Plus we had a cold winter, so I wasn’t sure if this jack in the pulpit would come back. We also had a cold May with a snow storm at the very end of the month. I was very pleased to see it doing well this spring. It is a little shorter than last year, about 18 cm (7 in), possibly because of the tough late spring. However it is flowering, so I suspect that Japanese jack in the pulpit is hardier than generally given credit for.
Another elaborately shaped flower is the Cypripedium calceolus (yellow lady slipper orchid), which has these delightful yellow flowers with a deep pouch. The distinctive flowers are endearing, while the twisted sepals and petals radiating out draw the eye inwards to the dramatic lip. It is such an amazing adaptation for insect pollination, forcing the visitor into a trap where it must crawl past the stigma to get out. No nectar for you! This lady slipper is another woodland floor plant, at about 20 cm (8 in) tall. It is tucked beside some more Asarum europaeum, in front of some Adiantum pedatum (maidenhair fern) and next to some Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss).
Polygonatum commutatum (giant solomon’s seal) rises above the other woodland perennials. Mine are 45 cm (18 in) tall, not quite giant status, but still growing. The solomon’s seal has these fabulous flowers that dangle in rows under the curved stem. The flowers are suspended in singles, pairs or triples, a highly variable plant. The stems of Polygonatum commutatum all arch in graceful curves, so they arc wonderfully over top of shorter flowers, creating a pretty effect. One group of these plants are flowering in some of my deepest shade, getting a half an hour of direct light in the earliest morning, and a smidgen of dappled light. Despite the low light, the solomon’s seal produce a multitude of the little jewelled bells hanging from the arches. At first the cream coloured bells are closed, but as they mature the bottoms flare open with a small ruffle around the edge and a hint of green. There is more to read about giant solomon’s seal in this article.
The Sanguinaria (bloodroot) bloomed a few weeks ago at the end of May, but I’m including them here because they are a classic woodland plant. Here is a previous post with more about the bloodroot. Sanguinaria canadensis produce these simple white flowers next to the beautifully lobed leaves. The flowers consist of perfect petals radiating outwards. These leaves look good all summer and contrast nicely with the feathery texture of ferns or Astilbe.
The Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex (double bloodroot) flowers are very showy, and packed with many extra petals. The double form has an extended bloom time, so you can enjoy them for longer. The flowers come up right with the leaf which has deep lobes. There are more photos of the double form of bloodroot and its hardiness in this article from the following season. I’ve now paired the Sanguinaria with some Chionodoxa that have blue flowers in spring.
The flowers of these woodland perennials are all varied in shape, making each one interesting to examine. Flowers can look gorgeous in large groups from a distance, but they can also take your breath away when you observe them closely and note the intriguing details and adaptations they have developed. The picture below shows the flower closeups, with Arisaema sikokianum on the upper left, Polygonatum commutatum on the top right, Cypripedium calceolus on the bottom left and Trillium grandiflorum on the lower right.