Northern Shade Gardening

Woodland Flowers in the Garden

Friday, June 11, 2010 Category: Perennials

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.

Trillium grandiflorum two white flowers

Trillium grandiflorum two white flowers

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 woodland flower

Arisaema sikokianum woodland flower

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.

Cypripedium calceolus lady's slipper flower

Cypripedium calceolus lady’s slipper flower

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 dangling flowers

Polygonatum commutatum dangling flowers

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.

Sanguinaria canadensis single white flowers

Sanguinaria canadensis single white flowers

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.

Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex double flower

Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex double flower

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.

Arisaema Cypripedium Polygonatum Trillium flowers

Arisaema Cypripedium Polygonatum Trillium flowers

18 Responses to “Woodland Flowers in the Garden” »

  1. Marnie :
    June 11, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Your woodland garden is so lovely. I picked up a few of these plants at a local fund raising sale this spring. I’m not sure which solomon’s seal I got.

    I really like that Japanese jack in the pulpit, very striking.
    Marnie

  2. Lisa at Greenbow :
    June 11, 2010 at 10:51 am

    That yellow lady’s slipper is just brilliant. I love the way they look. I would like to get them started in my garden.

  3. Rebecca @ In The Garden :
    June 11, 2010 at 10:54 am

    What an incredible collection, trilliums are so lovely and remind me of childhood walks in the woods. I have never seen a Japanese jack in the pulpit, it is so dramatic and interesting. :)

  4. Diane :
    June 11, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Your trilliums are just perfect. I bet you can’t wait until the clumps expand. Your ladyslippers are particularily nice as well. My brother lives in The Pas, and he has lovely ladyslippers as well.

  5. Northern Shade :
    June 11, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Marnie, you were fortunate to get such a nice plant at the fund raiser. Mine are supposed to be the giant form, but they are not yet showing their height potential. Perhaps it will take more years.

    Lisa, the lady’s slipper really do look sweet with the inflated pouch. I have them near the front of the garden to get a glimpse of yellow from a distance, too.

    Rebecca, the trilliums look right at home under the trees. I love the Japanese jack in the pulpit for it’s unique flower. It is so exotic looking, that it just doesn’t seem like it would grow in my garden. Now that I know it is winter hardy, I would like to add more.

  6. Northern Shade :
    June 11, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Diane, I have 4 trillium plants, but I’ve left room for them to colonize, so I hope they appreciate it. The ladyslipper is another plant that is deceptively delicate looking, but actually hardy.

  7. Laura :
    June 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    I’ve been trying to plant more woodland native species this year. I dug in some trillium & Jack & the Pulpit and love them both! Solomon’s seal is on my list!

  8. Northern Shade :
    June 11, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Laura, the solomon’s seal are great, because they have such a distinct outline to the arching plants. They add variety and interest when most of the other plants are erect. Plus, they look good behind the shorter woodland plants, if you are looking for more height.

  9. The Garden Ms. S :
    June 11, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    I love this collection. It also reminds me of childhood excursions into the woods in eastern Canada. I just love the leaves of the bloodroot. I have been doing some botanical sketching lately for fun and it would be a perfect subject. What a wonderful woodsy feel these must bring to your garden. :)

  10. Marit :
    June 12, 2010 at 2:43 am

    Your woodland plants are so beautiful. Cypripedium calceolus is a rare plant. But they do not thrive everywhere. Your woodland must be a lovely sight!

  11. Northern Shade :
    June 12, 2010 at 7:35 am

    The Garden Ms. S, I really like the shape of the bloodroot leaves, too. They don’t die back for the summer like the jack in the pulpit foliage.

    Marit, my garden is in a suburb in a city, but there are large trees, and the fallen leaves help make the soil suitable for them.

  12. Rose :
    June 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Your woodland plants are so lovely! I’ve never tried to grow any of these, so I appreciate all the information about each one. I have lots of shady area where they would do well and am thinking about starting a small woodland area under some of the trees. The jack in the pulpit is especially eye-catching.

  13. Swimray :
    June 12, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    I too am looking into trying trilliums, and wonder if the leaves hang around during the summer. From one photo, it looks like you have a bit of planting to do, – bloodroot still in a pot.

  14. Northern Shade :
    June 12, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Rose, I was pleased that the Japanese jack in the pulpit came back and flowered, as it was an experiment. It survived with only the dropped leaf mulch. I didn’t do it any favours by not marking it before it died back in the summer last year, and carelessly digging it up.

    Swimray, the bloodroot flowers are finished now, so I used a photo of the double bloodroot flower from earlier, when it was new. I planted the doubles next to the singles already in my garden. Once the flowers have gone, the foliage of both looks the same.

  15. Shady Gardener :
    June 12, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Northern, You are so fortunate to have such a beautiful variety of native woodland flowers!!! I hope Mr. Shady takes me out to find Jack in the Pulpit seeds soon!! :-)

    How are you? Hope you’re having a Great Spring!!

  16. Northern Shade :
    June 12, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    Shady Gardener, I appreciate these plants that enjoy life under the trees. It’s fun to walk along and see the variety of unusual flower shapes tucked in here and there in the garden. I hope you find some seeds to start some jack in the pulpits.

  17. Linda :
    June 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Your photos are very inspirational and “more-ish”! I particularly like the giant solomon’s seal photos; don’t think I’ve ever really seen the flowers in such a beautiful light.

  18. Northern Shade :
    June 17, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Linda, the solomon’s seal flowers have a little glow in the shadier area of the garden.

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