Spring Ephemerals

This is the time of year when we crave anything green in the garden. By late February, we are tired of the golden, bronze, and red tones. Sure, some broad-leaved shrubs and conifers are green, but we crave the lush, fresh greens that only emerging spring plants can provide. Here is where the native spring wildflowers and spring ephemerals step in.

Western North Carolina is home to an abundant diversity of spring ephemerals. Many of which can be grown in a home garden setting. The word “ephemeral” refers to the fleeting life-spans of these flowering plants. In a matter of months, an ephemeral will emerge from the ground, flower, and go to seed, completing it’s life-cycle until next spring. These ultra-hardy natives have adapted to take full advantage of the sunlight flooding the forest floor before the deciduous trees leaf out. That means if your home landscape is mostly shaded by oaks, maples, hickories or other deciduous trees, the following plants will work for you. It’s the one instance when an area that only gets “sun in the winter” is pretty useful to have.

Read on to learn about six spring wildflowers and ephemerals that we plan to carry in the perennial section of the store in the next month or two. Call the store for availability. (828-650-7300)



Uvularia grandiflora

Prefers moist, well-drained soils in part to full shade, but will tolerate some drought after established.

Can spread slowly to form dense clumps.

Blooming April to May, the yellow bell-shaped flowers with twisted petals are beneficial to several species of native bees.

Remains attractive all season.

Hardy in zones 4-9, grows 18 to 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide.

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Bleeding Hearts

Dicentra eximia

Prefer well-drained soils in part shaded areas of the garden.

Pink heart-shaped flowers bloom profusely from April to July and sometimes later.

Deeply cut, fern-like foliage does not die back by mid-summer like the old-fashioned Japanese, Dicentra spectabilis, adding much-desired texture to the shade garden.

Deer typically avoid it.

Hardy in zones 4-8, grows 12 inches tall, 18 inches wide.

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Aquilegia canadensis

Blooming April-May, this perennial is happy in full sun or part shade and is adaptable to many soil types.

Classic cottage-garden plant, see this blog post for more.

One of the first spring plants to provide nectar to pollinators and is especially loved by hummingbirds.

This species shows good resistance to leaf-miners and deer typically avoid it, but can be cut back by mid-summer if foliage declines due to stress.

Hardy in zones 3-8, grows 24” tall and wide.

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Virginia Bluebells

Mertensia virginica

Grows best in moist, well-drained shady woodlands.

Spring ephemeral, blooms in April.

Flower buds are pink, but as flowers emerge they turn blue.

Typically ignored by deer and unfazed by black walnut trees.

Plant with ferns, hostas, and astilbes or under trees and shrubs.

Hardy in zones 3-9, grows 18-24 inches tall, 24 inches wide.

shooting star

Shooting Star

Dodecatheon meadia

Grows best in part to full shade and well-drained soils.

Spring ephemeral, blooms in May.

Flower color ranges from white to pink to light purple.

The common name is derived from the reflexed petals and cluster of yellow stamens that resembles a shooting star falling to earth.

Hardy in zones 4-8, grows 12 inches tall and wide.


Birthroot or Toadshade, Trillium species

With over 30 species of native Trilliums in the US and 7 species found in WNC, it is easy to spot one during a spring hike.

Long-lived ephemeral, prefers part shade and rich, well-drained soil.

Depending on the species, white, yellow, or deep red flowers bloom from late winter to late spring.

Trilliums do not transplant well from the wild, and many are endangered in their native habitats.

Hardy in zones 4-9, grows 12-18” tall.

Written by Haley Martin, Assistant Manager of Nursery, B.B.Barns Garden Center

B.B.Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.