Ask a Naturalist: Wildflowers at Gateway and Beyond
Although the amazing variety of wildflowers is seen in NC throughout the year, nothing paints the landscape in beautiful colors like the spring ephemerals. These short-lived and inconspicuous spring beauties may be a little difficult to spot at first, but careful observation in woods, meadows, and the undisturbed area will easily bring them into view. And in no time, they become the favorite spring pastime as it has become for me over the years.
Some of the early spring wildflowers to emerge from the landscape are the Bluets and Sessile Trillium, with their signature sessile flower. Bluets with unmistakable yellow centers grow on wood edges and meadows, often among other grasses and moss. Trillium, a type of lily with conspicuous dark purple flowers sitting on distinct mottled leaves, is commonly found in shaded wooded areas with plenty of decaying leaf litter. The Yellow Trout Lily also utilizes the comparatively open forest of the early spring to show off its short-lived yellow blooms in woods and ravines. Then comes the time to look for white to blue flowers on a heart-shaped leaf plant we know as the Common Blue Violets, which grow in wood edges, meadows, and even lawns. Both from the Iris family, the Blue-eyed Grass and Dwarf-crested Iris are early bloomers in woods and forest edges. The Dwarf-crested Iris blooms are short-lived, while the Blue-eyed Grass may persist through the summer. Frequent outings and careful observations are the keys to enjoying these short-lived spring wildflowers.
More than 3,000 species of wildflowers grow in North Carolina and many of them are found at the Gateway site and the surrounding areas. Using apps such as iNaturalist is a convenient way to learn more about them on your hand-held device. Website such as Wildflower of the US carry a comprehensive wildflower database.
In addition to going outside and looking for wildflowers, planting a pollinator garden is a great way to enjoy wildflowers during warm months. Gateway Nature Preserve Pollinator Garden has a collection of more than thirty plant species suitable for our area. Below is the name of a handful of these native pollinator garden plants: Common Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Beebalm, Blanket Flower, Black-eyed Susan, Maximillian’s Sunflower, Scarlet Sage, Showy Primrose, Cosmos, Joe Pye Weed, Plains Coreopsis, Red Poppy, Blazing Star etc. Please visit the pollinator garden off S. Broad St. to learn about these amazing plants and perhaps also get involved. To find the native plant vendor closest to you, click the links below: