By Julia Pepler
Spring has sprung, and with that come arrays of incredible blooming flowers that give us hope that summer is around the corner. This week on Backyard Species we’ll give you a rundown of some BC flowers that you might spot blooming in your neighbourhood right now!
1. Red and white clover (Trifolium pratense & Trifolium repens)
Though our first flower is not native to North America, it is one of the most common wildflowers you’ll find in your neighbourhood! Originating in parts of Europe, red and white clovers live in temperate areas, in fields and disturbed areas (for example highways or railroads). The clover flowers bloom in early summer and are perennials, which means they live for longer than 2 years. They grow up to 50 cm, and the petals of each flower are “club” shaped, which together create a spherical shape. Red clover has a distinct purplish colour, while white clover is, you guessed it, white! The leaves of clover are small and rounded, in clusters of 3, and if you’re lucky, 4.
- Clover smells sweet and can be made into a honey
- The symbolism of the lucky four-leaf clover was used by Druids (Celtic priests, pre-Christianity) as a symbol to ward off evil spirits. The four leaves are said to represent faith, hope, luck, and love.
Image: (left) Red clover, (right) White clover
2. Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus)
This flower is found in damp forests, swamps and near streams (can be seen in Pacific Spirit Park, Vancouver). It emerges in early spring, with large waxy leaves and often multiple flowers. The Skunk Cabbage, also known as a swamp lantern, is named for its strong odour that some say resembles that of a skunk. This odour is emitted from its flowers or damaged leaves.
- Bears eat the roots of the Skunk Cabbage after hibernation, using it as a laxative.
- Indigenous peoples use this plant for its medicinal qualities, though its leaves can contain calcium oxalate crystals which can irritate the mouth and throat causing severe pain and in some cases, death!
3. Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana)
The Nootka rose can be found from Alaska to the southern United States, but was named after Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, where the rose was first described. The flowers bloom in singles or sometimes pairs at the end of branches from May to July. The leaves of the Nootka rose are slightly rounded, with 5-7 “teeth”. The Nootka rose produces large purple-red fruits that are 1-2 cm that are bitter but edible. Note: never eat any fruits, flowers, or plants you find unless you are with an expert!
- The bark of the plant has been used by Indigenous people to help ease labour pains.
- Every part of the Nootka rose is used by wildlife. Deer enjoy the flower, while animals from moose, caribou, bears, coyotes, and various rodents eat the fruits. Rodents and medium sized mammals like beavers snack on the twigs and leaves, while birds and small rodents use the thick bush of the plant for nesting.
4. Pacific bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa)
This flower grows from southern BC down to California in moist woodland areas. It blooms in late spring and early summer, and is distinct for its cluster of pink and purple heart-shaped flowers. The large-feathery leaves of the Pacific bleeding heart resemble ferns and extend from thick green stems.
- All parts of the plant are toxic to humans, wildlife and other plants and can be extremely harmful if consumed in large quantities.
- Once dried out, the flower exposes a seed pod with rich oily seeds that are enjoyed by ants and therefore spread throughout the forest.
5. Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum)
The Western trillium is most commonly found in BC, but ranges south to California. The plant is found in moist forests and along mossy rocks. The Western Trillium is a perennial and it blooms in March or April with a pointed triad of faded pink petals. The large pointy leaves of the Western Trillium remain green through all seasons. The seeds of the Western Trillium are spread by ants and mice.
- Trilliums have extremely long lifespans, some can live for up to 25 years!
- The Western Trillium does not do well with urban air pollution, and so is most commonly found in sheltered and more remote areas.
6. Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)
Fireweed, also known as rosebay willowherb, is found in the temperate northern hemisphere and in some boreal forests. The flower grows in semi-shaded forests or sunny meadows, but prefers disturbed areas. The petals (in groups of 4) are individual and purple in colour and bloom throughout the summer. Fireweed can grow up to 2 metres tall and has long green leaves that often have a white vein through the centre. Some Indigenous peoples eat the shoots and stems raw, while others boil them. The leaves have also been used by Indigenous peoples externally to reduce aches and pains.
- The flower of the fireweed produces a nectar that can be used to make honey.
- The plant produces hundreds of fluffy seeds which can be swept off by the wind and spread over large areas.
There are hundreds of wildflowers to be identified in BC. If you’re looking to take a deep dive into learning about wildflowers we particularly love Wildflowers of The Pacific Northwest: Timber Press Field Guide by Mark Turner and Phyllis Gustafson, and Popular Wildflowers of Coastal British Columbia and Vancouver Island by Neil L. Jennings which you can find as an eBook.
Backyard Species Series