Colorful wildflowers blooming in Illinois' woodlands are a delight to behold! Nearly every week of spring and summer you can observe new species.
What is a wildflower? It is a plant with an herbaceous (not woody) stem. It produces flowers that are easily seen, and it grows naturally in native habitats.
Wildflowers growing in forested areas must be able to survive changing conditions. They adapt to these changes in several ways. Some woodland wildflowers complete their life cycle in early spring. They grow quickly, flower and produce seeds in a short period of time. By doing so, they are able to take advantage of sunlight that will soon be blocked when leaves on large trees unfurl. The seeds of these wildflower species can survive until conditions for growth are favorable, most likely the next spring.
Several species grow from underground structures that store food produced during the short growing season. Other wildflowers of woodland habitats are adapted to conditions of low light, blooming later in the year and for a longer period of time. Those wildflowers growing near the edge of woodlands have access to more light than interior woodland species.
Here are some of the native woodland wildflowers that you can find in Illinois.
bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Bloodroot flowers from March through May. The white flower is born on a stalk. The petals drop from the flower after one day. The name "bloodroot" was given to the plant in recognition of the red sap in its underground stem.
bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Bluebells can be seen flowering from late March through late May. The blue flowers are produced in clusters at the stem tip. The flower petals are united into a tube for most of their length.
celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)
The flowers and sap of this plant are yellow. It is also known as wood-poppy. Flowers are produced from March through May.
cleft phlox (Phlox bifida)
Cleft phlox blooms from March through June in dry, rocky woodlands. The flowers are pale blue to nearly white. Each flower petal has a deep notch, and the petals are joined into a tube at the base.
columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
The five petals of columbine's flowers are projected backwards into five hollow spurs that are red outside and yellow inside. The spurs are said to resemble an eagle's claws. Flowers are produced from mid-April through July.
common phlox (Phlox divaricata)
The clusters of light purple to blue flowers of this plant are produced from mid-April through early June.
doll's-eyes (Actaea pachypoda)
The fruit of this plant is an oval, shiny, white berry with a purple dot on one end. It resembles a toy doll's eye. The white flowers are produced from May through June.
Dutchman's-breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
The four petals of the flower are arranged in two inflated pairs that are white except for a yellow tip. The petals spread out and have pointed spurs at the base. Flowers can be seen from mid-March through early May. This plant's common name refers to the flower shape that resembles the wide-legged pants worn by early settlers from Europe.
dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne)
The blue flowers are clustered at the end of a stalk and produced from April through June.
great waterleaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum)
The purple flowers are produced in a cluster at the stem tip and can be seen from April through July.
green dragon (Arisaema dracontium)
The flowers are produced at the base of a column that extends into a long, yellow tip or "dragon's tongue." The flower column is enclosed in a protective green covering. Flowers may be observed from mid-April through May.
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
The flower column is protected by a leaflike structure that surrounds it and arches over the top. The common name for this plant refers to this structure (the Jack, or preacher, in his covered pulpit). Flowers are produced from April through May.
Jacob's-ladder (Polemonium reptans)
The pale-blue flowers of this plant can be observed from April through June.
mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
One white flower develops per plant at the base of the leaves. Mayapple blooms from late March to June.
purple trillium (Trillium recurvatum)
One flower per plant blooms at the stem tip. The petals are maroon. The flowering period for this species covers late March to late May.
rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)
The flowers of this plant may be white, pink, lavender or a combination of these colors. Flowers are produced in clusters at the stem tip from late March through June.
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sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)
Each flower is produced on a separate stalk. The flower color ranges from white to lavender. Flowers can be observed from early March through early May.
showy orchis (Galearis spectabilis)
Showy orchis blooms from mid-April through June. The flowers are purple and white and about one inch long.
spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis)
The orange flowers, if pollinated, produce seeds in capsules. When the mature capsules are touched, they eject the seeds a distance of several feet. Flowers are produced from June through September.
spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
The pink or white flowers of spring beauty are produced from March through May. These plants often grow close together on the forest floor producing a thick, green carpet.
toothwort (Dentaria laciniata)
The petals of toothwort flowers may be white, pale purple or pink. Flowers develop in clusters at the stem tip from early March through April.
white trout lily (Erythronium albidum)
Each plant produces a single white flower with six petals that may show some purple on the back. Flowers are produced from March through May.
wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Flowering from April through June, wild geranium produces clusters of rose-purple flowers at the stem tip.
wild ginger (Asarum canadense)
A single maroon flower is produced per plant and may be observed from April through May.
woolly blue violet (Viola sororia)
This species is the State Flower of Illinois. Blue or purple flowers are produced singly on stalks from March through May.
yellow bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)
The yellow, drooping flowers of this plant are produced from mid-April through mid-May.
Classification and taxonomy are based on Mohlenbrock, Robert H. 2014. Vascular flora of Illinois: A field guide. Fourth edition. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale. 536 pp.