Spring Flowers of the North American Prairie

Close-up of a spiderwort. Photo by Care_SMC.
Close-up of a spiderwort. Photo by Care_SMC.

Why Prairie Plants?

Prairie plants are beautiful and most are extremely easy to grow. Hardy and drought-tolerant, they need little watering or extra care once established.

Crocus, bluebells, tulips, daffodils, iris... In much of the United States, these are the flowers most commonly associated with spring. However, with a few exceptions, many of the flowers commonly associated with spring are not native to the United States. Unbeknownst to many gardeners, there are many beautiful, easy to grow native flowers that bloom in spring.

The North American prairie is the origin of many of these wildflowers. Once stretching from Ohio to Colorado, Canada to Mexico, the vast prairie has mostly been destroyed to make way for farms, ranches, and cities, but its hardy native grasses and wildflowers still cling to life along roadsides and other undeveloped areas. In recent years, there has been a great renaissance on interest in these beautiful, sturdy plants.

Here are a few native alternatives to the traditional flowers of spring:

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

Pasque Flower

Just as crocuses hail the beginning of spring in gentler lands, the Pasque Flower (Anemone patens) peeks through late snows and morning frosts on the prairies. The pasque flower, also known as the prairie crocus, is about six inches tall and ranges in color from white to deep lavender. When the blooms have passed, it produces an interesting, feathery seedhead that lingers for several weeks more.

Pasque flower prefers well-drained soil, preferably sandy or gravelly, and full sun.

Pasque flower is a medicinal plant, but should only be used by experienced foragers, because it is extremely poisonous in excessive quantities. It was used by American Indians to treat rheumatism and cataracts and bring on labor, among other uses.

Photo by tlindenbaum
Photo by tlindenbaum

Shootingstar

I've always had a soft spot for flowers that don't really look like flowers. One of my very favorite shade plants is the bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis), a native of Japan and East Asia. Fortunately, North America's native wildflowers have plenty of interesting-looking flowers, too.

One of the prime examples is the lovely Shootingstar (Dodecatheon meadia), which combines pretty pink or white petals with pointed yellow and red centers to look like a shooting star! The flowers bloom copiously from April to June, depending on where in the United States you live, and the lush green foliage remains attractive for several months longer, until the plant goes dormant in late summer.

Shootingstar likes full sun or partial shade and moist, but well-drained soil. However, it will tolerate a range of conditions.

A couple more unique looking native flowers to check out include Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria).

Prairie Smoke

The delicate bloom of Prairie Smoke. Photo by birdfreak.com
The delicate bloom of Prairie Smoke. Photo by birdfreak.com
The unique seedhead of Prairie Smoke. Photo by gmayfield10.
The unique seedhead of Prairie Smoke. Photo by gmayfield10.

One of the most unique prairie wildflowers, Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) is perfect for hot, dry spots! It blooms from late spring to midsummer with nodding pink blooms that turn into lovely and distinctive seedheads that resemble smoke drifting on the breeze.The seedheads last for much of the summer, and can be dried for flower arrangements.

Prairie Smoke prefers dry, well-drained soils in full sun. As you would expect, it's quite drought-tolerant.

Only about six inches tall, Prairie Smoke makes a great, though slow-spreading, groundcover.

Blue Flag Iris

Photo by D. Fletcher
Photo by D. Fletcher

One of our prettiest native irises, the Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor) blooms from late spring to midsummer and likes rich, wet soils. It is a perfect choice for planting in or next to ponds or other water features.

Blue Flag Iris and its relative, Wild Iris (Iris shrevei), attract hummingbirds.

Photo by tlindenbaum.
Photo by tlindenbaum.

Ohio Spiderwort

Despite its singularly unattractive name, Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) is a lovely wildflower and one of my personal favorites. Spiderwort blooms constantly and profusely from late spring through midsummer, even though each bloom lasts only a single morning.

Spiderwort prefers moist, but well-drained soil and full or partial sun, but it's not picky and tolerates a range of conditions. Spiderwort, in fact, is so absurdly easy to grow that it requires stiff competition in flower borders to prevent it from taking over. If you like ornamental grasses, consider choosing some of spiderwort's natural companions: Big Bluestem, Switchgrass, and Indiangrass, the kings of the tallgrass prairie. All are ornamental enough to do well in formal and naturalistic landscapes alike.

Although I've never tried it, spiderwort is an edible plant. Apparently the stems are similar to asparagus and the flowers can be added to salads. Birds like the seeds.

More Spring-Blooming Native Wildflowers

A selection of other wildflowers native to the prairies and woodlands of North America:

  • Wild Strawberry
  • Virginia Bluebells
  • Bishop's Cap
  • Wild Blue Phlox
  • Prairie Buttercup
  • Solomon's Plume
  • Prairie Violet
  • Golden Alexanders


  • Wild Geranium
  • Bluebonnet
  • Lupine
  • Canada Anemone
  • Wild Columbine
  • Wild Ginger
  • Cream Wild Indigo
  • Indian Paintbrush

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Comments 15 comments

Bob Ewing profile image

Bob Ewing 7 years ago from New Brunswick

Spring is a great time of the year, seeing the first plants emerge is heart warming.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America

I've never seen prairie smoke before, so thanks for an awesome Hub! Thumbs up.


Princessa profile image

Princessa 7 years ago from France

Those flowers are absolutely beautiful, the Shootingstar is amazing!


kerryg profile image

kerryg 7 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for your comments, Bob, Patty, and Princessa!


Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 7 years ago from MA, USA

I'm beginning to think spring after looking at all these beautiful spring flowers.


Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 7 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

Thank you for showing us amazing beauty of the nature. 10 thumbs up!


Netters profile image

Netters 7 years ago from Land of Enchantment - NM

Wow! Beautiful pictures. I wish I could find flowers to bloom here in the desert. Thank you.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

It's so nice to read about native plants from different parts of the country. Excellent hub!


kerryg profile image

kerryg 7 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for your comments, folks! I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

Netters, I'm afraid I know very little about desert wildflowers, but if you made a request, I bet someone around here could help. Also check out: http://www.wildflower.org/


Laila Rajaratnam profile image

Laila Rajaratnam 7 years ago from India

Lovely flowers,great pictures! Except for Iris,Tulips and Daffodils I had no idea about the others!Thanks..I loved the Prairie Smoke! :)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

I love flowers, and especially those wonderful gifts that come up of their own free will and grace us with their beauty in the wild.

In South Africa we are blessed with a huge variety of flora, the most spectacular of which are probably the spring flowers of Namaqualand, which come out after early rains in August or September.

Love and peace

Tony


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

fantastic hub, and great photos to go with it! I particularly like the Iris, they are a beautiful family of flowers.


k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California

I wish I had this hub to reference while I was in NM! I was always trying to grow flowers in the front of my home, but the sun would hit them all afternoon and they would die. I think the Prairie Smoke would have done fine.


chillingbreeze profile image

chillingbreeze 7 years ago from India

Amazing! I have never seen some of those flower. They are very beautiful.........


Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 6 years ago from Northam Western Australia

Beautiful pictures, I love spring too. We heading for winter worst luck. thanks for sharing

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