Nature’s notebook

A brief bevy of wildflowers in our woodlands


I’ve spent time walking in the woods this spring, and I’m always excited by what I find. The other day, while evaluating a property the LandTrust for Central North Carolina is considering for protection, we found a patch of pink lady slippers with a few in bloom. Another wetland the landowner is considering protecting was a cornucopia of spring wildflowers – bloodroot, mayapple, black cohosh, trillium, fairy wand, strawberry bush, Solomon’s seal, buckeye, putty root orchid and many others. I found showy orchis there a couple of years ago but we haven’t been able to spot it again.

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) is an herbaceous perennial wildflower, one of the largest woodland wildflowers. It isn’t quite blooming yet, but you can spot the vegetation in the forest. They have serrated leaves, and blooms are on a tall, white spike. Its habitat consists of moderately moist (mesic) deciduous woodlands. The caterpillars of the Appalachian azure butterfly (Celastrina neglectamajor) feed exclusively on black cohosh. The plant has a history of medicinal uses, including treating gynecological problems, sore throats, kidney problems and depression.

Fairy wand. Photo: Crystal Cockman

Fairy wand (Chamaelirium luteum) is a member of the lily family. It is a perennial, found in rich woodlands. It has a short rhizome that grows 2-3 feet tall and a basal rosette of foliage with a central flowering stalk. It is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers grow on separate plants. The male flower is longer and whiter, and the female is shorter and greener. It’s found in temperate forests east of the Mississippi. It is known by several other names including false unicorn root, devil’s bit, blazing star, rattlesnake-root, squirrels tail, and helonias.

Strawberry bush or hearts-a-burstin (Euonymus americanus) is also blooming right now. This is a deciduous shrub that grows 6 to 12 feet tall. It has pale green flowers, which grow on top of the leaves. In the fall, bright pink fruits open to reveal orange seeds. The tender leaves and stems are a favorite food for deer. However, the bright orange berries are known to be toxic to humans.

Solomon’s seal and false Solomon’s seal are also blooming, and without the blooms they are hard to tell apart. Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) has droopy whitish green blooms that hang from various points along the stalk of the stem. They are found in rich moist forests in the eastern United States and Canada. False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) has a cluster of small white blooms at the end of the stem.

This is just a small sampling of the wildflowers blooming in our woodlands. The next time you are out in the woods, stop to look at any wildflowers you may spot. Spring goes by quickly, so don’t miss an opportunity to spot some of these flowers this season.

False Soloman's seal. Photo: Crystal Cockman
Soloman's seal. Photo: Crystal Cockman