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April 2013

Fill your Day with Spring Treasures

Leonard J. Buck Garden, Far Hills, NJ

Spring is finally here and flowers are well on their way. Here are some plants that will captivate you with their colors and shapes:

Claytonia virginica, spring beauty, has long, smooth, dark green leaves and clusters of pinkish-white flowers striped with deep pink. Plant it to disguise the yellowing foliage of snowdrops. This Northeast American native is in the purslane family, Portulacaceae. It prefers light shade and looks right at home edging a woodland path or mingling with ferns and Virginia bluebells.

Erythronium americanum, trout-lily, has distinctive shiny, mottled brown leaves resembling scales of brown trout. Its two elliptical leaves sheath the base of the stem. A single lily-like flower is yellow outside and bronze inside with backward-curving sepals and petals. Prominent anthers are yellow to brown. This North American native grows best in moist, acidic, humus soils in part to full shade and slowly colonies a large area.

Muscari botryoides, grape hyacinth, has spikes of fragrant, bright blue flowers rimmed in white. The flowers look especially great planted under trees and as drifts in a rock garden. Easy to grow, they thrive in full sun or light shade in most soils. Like crocuses and daffodils, grape hyacinth should be in every garden.

Anemone blanda, windflower, is another great perennial for naturalizing in woodland or rock gardens. Solitary two-inch, daisy-like flowers come in deep blue, pink, or white. The fern-like foliage is blue-green and arranged in whirls of three. These long-blooming anemones quickly become a colorful carpet. Anemone prefers full sun to part shade in well-drained, humus-rich to sandy soil.

Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman’s breeches, is one of the first woodland natives to flower. It mixes well with bulbs and makes a great groundcover before trees and shrubs leaf out. Its delicate, creamy white flowers resemble 4 to12 pairs of inverted trousers with a gold waistline hanging on a clothesline. Dutchman’s breeches grows 4 to 8 inches tall with feathery, six-inch basal leaves.

Sanguinaria canadensis, bloodroot, is an eastern North American native with single, white two-inch flowers. A scalloped leaf curls around the stem, protecting the flower bud. The flower closes at night and lives only a couple days. The attractive leaves continue to grow to almost nine-inches across. Bloodroot forms colonies in rich woods and along streams. It likes sun to part shade in average garden or woodsy soil yet tolerates drought. Its red juice was once used by American Indians as war paint and dye for baskets.

Mertensia virginica, Virginia bluebell, is a North American native. In nature, Virginia bluebells grow in woodland and floodplains. This two-foot perennial with clusters of nodding, blue flowers that start out pink are used in both wild and formal gardens. They grow in full sun but best in partial shade in mass in gardens with moist soil. Plant with ferns, hosta or annuals that hide the dying foliage of these summer-dormant plants.

Dodecatheon meadia, shooting star, is in the family, Primulaceae.Shooting stars are medium sized, graceful plants found in open woods, fields and meadows. The dark green, spatula-shaped leaves are sometimes tinged red toward their bases, but it’s the conspicuous flowers that grab our attention. They look like a collection of shooting stars. The white to lavender nodding petals are strongly reflexed and gathered into a loose arrangement topping an 8-24-inch stalk. A protruding yellow cone consists of united stamens, a marked characteristic of its blossoms.

Bees pollinate shooting star by “buzz pollination.” Bees buzz their wings against the petals, which shakes pollen from the anthers. After flowering, the heads turn upward while the seeds mature, then disperse by wind. Open tops of the seed capsules also resemble stars. They bloom for about a month.

Shooting star needs good drainage. Give them dry soils in summer and winter when plants are dormant, and moist soils in spring. Dodecatheon meadia is endangered in Pennsylvania and possibly extirpated in New York.

Visit the Leonard J. Buck Garden and search along the woodland paths for these treasures of spring.

- Tricia Scibilia, interpretive gardener, Leonard J. Buck Garden, Somerset County Park Commission: www.somersetcountyparks.org
**Photos by Tricia Scibilia unless otherwise noted

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