It’s time to search for signs of spring in Minnesota. And what better signs than the first native wildflowers that pop up throughout our state?
Minnesota’s flowers have already started blooming in the south and will begin blooming in the north in a few weeks. Bloom time and flower type also depend on habitat. Minnesota is home to several major habitats called biomes, including deciduous woods, prairie and coniferous woods. Here’s a guide to which flowers you can expect where, and when. (All bloom times are approximate.)
With our mild March, snow trilliums have already popped their small white, three-petaled flowers above the ground at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Also blooming now are hepatica — purple, pink or white with about six petals, a small cluster of white stamens in the center, and evergreen leaves — and delicate white rue anemone. In late May and early June, mayapples, nodding trillium, large-flowered trillium and drooping trillium appear. Several lady’s-slipper varieties bloom in late spring, including our state flower, the showy lady’s-slipper.
Skunk cabbage may be blooming now at Battle Creek Regional Park in St. Paul, in puddles along the trail from the parking lot at Point Douglas Road near Hwy. 61. Get close, and it smells like carrion! After blooming, skunk cabbage sends up huge green leaves that persist all summer. Wild ginger will bloom in swales throughout these woods, dotted with Jack-in-the-pulpit, anemones and wild geranium.
Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis’ Theodore Wirth Park has several types of trilliums, including hybrids with fascinating color combinations. You’ll also find native yellow and white trout lilies; wild ginger; bloodroot with leaves curved around its bud; white Dutchman’s breeches, like pantaloons on a laundry line; delicate pink spring beauties; and showy and yellow lady’s-slippers.
The endangered dwarf trout lily will likely bloom in May at Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park. Follow the steep trail into the ravine and Hidden Falls. The woods will soon be carpeted with yellow and white trout lilies. Look closely, and you can see the tiny white dwarf trout lily sprinkled among them. Spring beauties, anemones, hepatica, wild ginger, Jack-in-the-pulpit, toothwort, wild geranium, Dutchman’s breeches, mayapples and bloodroot will all bloom here.
Whitewater State Park is also known for its beautiful spring wildflowers, and starting mid-May will have naturalist-led walks. The park’s several habitats include bottomland forest, a Southern Oak Barrens with rare vegetation, and upland oak savanna and prairie.
Wildflowers at Itasca State Park will start blooming in late May, including hepatica, trilliums, marsh marigolds and large-flowered bellwort, followed by various lady’s-slippers and wild columbine.
At Central Park in Bloomington, which was prairie 200 years ago, follow the footpath above the south slope of Nine Mile Creek to find a hillside of pasque flowers, our first prairie flower to bloom. As soon as the pale violet petals have withered, they will start sending up beautiful, furry seedheads.
Crow-Hassan Park Reserve is perhaps the largest expanse of restored prairie near the metro area. The earliest blooms include pussytoes, buttercups and violets. Prairie smoke, so-named for the furry plume it sends up after pollination, looks just like smoke spirals from a distance. In May, you’ll see Indian paintbrush, prairie shooting star, New Jersey tea, white beardtongue, wild indigo, golden Alexander, prairie phlox … and just wait until June!
Pipestone National Monument stands on native prairie that has never been plowed. An interesting ¾-mile trail leads past prairie, the sacred pipestone quarry and quartzite cliffs. The plains prickly pear, which is a cactus, sprouts yellow flowers from May to July.
Nearby is Blue Mounds State Park, with its resident bison herd. Prairie flowers peak in late summer, but in spring native grasses will start to come up. Early blooms include prairie shooting star, golden Alexander, buttercups, cinquefoils, beardtongues, violets, fleabane, yellow star-grass, blue-eyed grass, wild indigos and more.
The Nature Conservancy’s Ordway Prairie offers dry and wet prairie as well as wetlands. Here you can see wood sorrel, prairie rose, golden Alexanders, blue-eyed grass, and the uncommon white lady’s-slipper. Come back in summer for prairie blooms!
Big Stone Lake State Park offers more than a thousand acres of prairie and 50 acres of oak basswood forest. There are three miles of trails, with field pussytoes, starry false Solomon’s seal, yellow wood sorrel, tall meadow rue, western white prairie clover, plus big bluestem and Indian grasses.
At Cascade River State Park, bluebead, northern bluebells, goldthread and bunchberry bloom in late May or early June. The breakwall in nearby Grand Marais is home to unusual arctic flora including the carnivorous butterwort. Bearberry and three-toothed cinquefoil also bloom there in early spring.
Tamarack and black spruce bogs are a special habitat at Long Lake Conservation Center. Sphagnum moss grows many feet deep. Leather-leaf, naked miterwort, dwarf mistletoe and trailing arbutus will bloom during April. In May you’ll see flowers of cotton grass, early coralroot, bluebead, trilliums, bog rosemary and our wonderful, carnivorous pitcher plants growing wild along the boardwalks.
Flowers on your phone
A great field guide for Minnesota wildflowers is minnesotawildflowers.info. And, there’s an app!
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteer. She writes nature blogs for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.