Weather & Wildflowers

The Upstate was plagued in 2016 with spring windstorms, summer drought, and an extended hot and dry autumn. Unfortunately, it looks like 2017 might prove equally unkind. A mild January and warm February stimulated an early spring that was squelched in March by the return of winter.  In the past week we’ve seen a low of 23 F (-5 C) and a high of 86 F (30 C), a difference of 63 degrees in just a few days. Then, on Tuesday evening, mighty thunderstorms swept across our region, pelting some areas with 2 inches of hail and others with nearly 4 inches of rain.

So, in my shady garden, where spring is the main event, the azaleas droop with brown flowers and there will be no blooms on the bigleaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla)  this year. (Sigh.)

Thank goodness there is joy to be found in the woodland garden, where a group of “rescued” sweet Betsy trilliums (T. cunneatum) are thriving.


Sweet Betsy trillium (T. cunneatum) moved from a nearby area.

Moved just 2 years ago from a property being bulldozed for construction,  the plants are already beginning to spread. Trilliums reproduce vegetatively from small rhizome offshoots, as well as by seeds. When seeds mature, they attract ants and yellow jackets to a lipid-rich food body (elaiosome) attached to their seed coat. Ants move the seeds short distances and yellow jackets disperse them further afield.

Here is another happy surprise.


More Sweet Betsy.

This naturally occurring patch of sweet Betsy has more than doubled in size since 2011. In fact, this group of trilliums is the very first I found here, surviving under a cloak of English ivy, which spurred our determination to clear invasive plants and reestablish natives.  Six years ago there were 18 flowers. When this photo was taken a few days ago, I counted 38!

Typically, the flowers of bloodroot are finished by now, but not this year.


Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot is one of the most cherished signs of early spring.  The flowers, partially encircled by a single unfolding leaf, appear well before the trees leaf out.  Can you see the pollen on the lower petals?  Pollen eating bees and flies are attracted to the nectarless flowers, but if cross-pollination doesn’t occur within 3-4 days, then the anthers bend toward the stigma and shower it with pollen.

Look what else is waking.


Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Burned by frost, but with a bloom in the making.  Thank goodness all parts of this plant, except its fleshy fruit, are highly poisonous.  The local deer family, a doe with twin yearlings, was back for a browse yesterday.

In the garden, we can’t predict what tomorrow might bring…but fingers crossed for more good things ahead.





32 thoughts on “Weather & Wildflowers

  1. johnvic8

    Much the same weather here. Too many new young leaves have been damaged; am worried about my hydrangeas, but Endless Summer should come through. The blossoms are dropping off the cherry…looks like snow…and spring!

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      John–My large Japanese maple took a hard hit, but seems to be recovering. The new fronds on the holly ferns were a complete loss…hope the plants have enough energy to put out again. Fingers crossed for your hydrangeas.

  2. Pauline

    So sorry your weather is misbehaving, hope you get a decent spell very soon. I have just bought my first Trillium for the woodland, I hope it spreads like yours!

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Pauline–Now would be an excellent time for a decent spell, as my garden club is hosting a flower show and regional meeting for Zone VIII clubs of GCA this coming weekend. Good luck with your first trillium. Hope to see a photo!

  3. FlowerAlley

    These are the wildflowers of my childhood. Thank you for highlighting them in a post. I do not have any Sweet Betsy. I brunched with some gardeners on Ocracoke Island last summer who said it was one of their longtime favorites.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Pat–There has been so much discouragement in the garden in the last 18 months, but at least these woodland wildflowers are thriving. Hope you get a break in the weather soon.

  4. rusty duck

    I shall forever envy your ability to grow trilliums.
    But at least I now have another reason to invest in Podophyllum. Didn’t realise they were poisonous. Our deer are back too.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Jessica–Podophyllum is a very interesting plant. Turtles, in particular, love to eat the fruit. The plants here are hanging on, but not spreading as well as the trilliums.

  5. Eliza Waters

    What a wild ride of weather you’ve had, Marian. One wonders just how much of these extreme temp swings plants can take? Kudos on your success with the spring ephemerals!

  6. germac4

    Our summer and beginning of autumn have been very similar, with fluctuating temperatures, and you wonder how plants can get the right growing signals! I love the Trilliums and will try them in our garden…good luck for the rest of spring…

  7. rickii

    I guess the slugs are immune to the poison of the Mayapple. I’m sure that is what decimated mine as soon as it peeped out of the ground. I enjoy all the notes about the habits of the plants you feature.

  8. Frogend_dweller

    I love seeing your trilliums emerge Marion and your clumps definitely look more estabilshed this year. The bloodroot pollination route sounds curious. Would it always allow self-pollination or does that change if cross-pollination fails?

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Frogend–My understanding is that bloodroot only self-pollinates when it is not cross-pollinated successfully within the period of time the stigma is viable. The bloom period of the flowers is typically less than a week.

  9. pbmgarden

    Wow. It has been bad at your place. No hail here but we won’t have hydrangeas either. Sigh. Your trilliums are amazing and love that photo of the bloodroot.

  10. Christina

    As gardeners, all we can do is take the good things and put up with the bad. As you’ve shown natives are more likely to overcome the vagaries of the weather.

  11. Mickey white

    although I used to enjoy viewing your pictures I now cannot download them Mickey White(


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