Spring-flowering native plants for wildlife

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Beautiful spring-flowering plants put an end to the monotony of winter with a colorful prelude to summer. Long before summer plants fully waken, spring plants have responded to the gradual change of seasons. They’re not only a welcome sight, but also provide food for wildlife at a time when food sources are scarce. Most of last year’s plant harvest is gone — consumed over the past winter. Animals must scrounge to find food until summer plants kick in with their bountiful supply. These 16 spring-blooming plants for wildlife will brighten your yard while helping to save lives. It couldn’t get better than that! 

Note that the bloom times shown below represent a range, and your region will fall somewhere within it.  

Native perennials for full sun

A garden of Blue Wild Indigo, Baptisia australis, with blooms of bluish-lavender.

Blue Wild Indigo, Baptisia australis. Wildlife value: nectar for native bees, bumblebees. Blooms: Apr to July. Exposure: full sun. (Jean-Pol Grandmont / Wiki; cc by-sa 3.0)


A garden of Purple Poppy Mallow, Callirhoe involucrata , plants with purplish-red blossoms.

Purple Poppy Mallow, Callirhoe involucrata. Wildlife value: nectar for native bees; host plant for Gray Hairstreak Butterfly. Blooms: Mar to June. Exposure: full sun. (Krzysztof Golik wiki cc by-sa 4.0)


Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum, in bloom with pinkish flowers.

Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum. Wildlife value: nectar for butterflies. Blooms: Apr to May. Exposure: full sun. (USFWS, Mountain-Prairie / Wiki cc by 2.0)


Bed of Missouri Evening Primrose, Oenothera macrocarpa, in bloom with yellow flowers.

Missouri Evening Primrose, Oenothera macrocarpa. Wildlife value: nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, nectar-moths. Blooms: Apr to Aug.  Exposure: full sun. (KM / Flickr; cc by 2.0)


Penstemon cobaea in bloom with lovely pinkish-purple flowers

Prairie Penstemon, Penstemon cobaea. Wildlife value: nectar for hummingbirds; host plant for Dotted Checkerspot Butterfly. Blooms: Apr to May. Exposure: full sun. (Peganum / Wiki; cc by-sa 2.0)


Foxglove Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis,  variety "Husker Red" in bloom.

Foxglove Penstemon, Penstemon digitalis. Wildlife value: nectar for hummingbirds, bumblebees. Blooms: May to July. Exposure: full sun. (Wendy Cutler / Flickr; cc by 2.0)


Spiderwort, Tradescantia tharpii, in bloom with purple flowers.

Spiderwort, Tradescantia tharpii. Wildlife value: nectar for native bees. Blooms: Apr to May. Exposure: full sun. (KM Flickr; cc by 2.0)


Rose verbena, Glandularia canadensis, blooming with bright pink flowers.

Rose verbena, Glandularia canadensis. Wildlife value: nectar for butterflies. Blooms: Feb to Sept. Exposure: full sun. (Carl Lewis / Flickr; cc by 2.0



Native perennials for part shade, shade

Wild Columbine, Aquilega canadensis, in bloom with red flowers.

Wild Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. Wildlife value: nectar for butterflies, hummingbirds; host plant for Columbine Duskywing Butterfly. Blooms: Feb to July. Exposure: part shade. (Joshua Mayer / Flickr cc by-sa 2.0)


Large mass of Coral Bells, Heuchera richardsonii, in bloom with white flowers.

Coral Bells, Heuchera richardsonii. Wildlife value: nectar for hummingbirds. Blooms: Apr to June. Exposure: part shade. (Buddha Dog / Flickr; cc by-sa 2.0)


Golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea, in bloom with yellow flowers.

Golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea. Wildlife value: nectar for butterflies; host plant for Black Swallowtail Butterfly. Blooms: Apr to Aug.  Exposure: sun, part shade. (Fritzflohrreynolds / Wiki; cc by-sa 3.0)


Dwarf Crested Iris, Iris cristata, blooming with lavender flowers.

Dwarf Crested Iris, Iris cristata. Wildlife value: nectar for hummingbirds, native bees. Blooms: Mar to May. Exposure: part shade, shade. (Ryan Somma / Flickr; cc by 2.0)


Bleeding Hearts, Dicentra eximia, blooming with pink flowers.

Bleeding Hearts, Dicentra eximia. Wildlife value: nectar for hummingbirds, bumblebees; host plant for Clodius Parnassian Butterfly. Blooms: Mar to Oct. Exposure: part shade, shade. (Jason Hollinger Flickr; cc by 2.0)



Native vines for sun, part shade

Crossvine, Bignonia capreolata, in bloom with red flowers.

Crossvine, Bignonia capreolata. Wildlife value: nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies. Blooms: Mar to May. Exposure: sun, part shade. (Stan Shebs / Wiki; cc by-sa 3.0)


Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, blooming with yellow flowers.

Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens. Wildlife value: nectar for hummingbirds, native bees, Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly. Blooms: Jan to May; Dec. Exposure: sun, part shade. (Kenpei / Wiki; cc by-sa 2.0)


Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, blooming with coral-colored, trumpet-shaped flowers.

Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens. Wildlife value: nectar for hummingbirds, native bees; host plant for Spring Azure Butterfly and Snowberry Clearwing Sphinx Moth. Blooms: Mar to Jun. Exposure: sun, part shade. (Peganum / Flickr; cc by-sa 2.0)


*Top photo: Coral Bells, Heuchera sanguinea (red); Golden Columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha (yellow);  Rocky Mountain Columbine, Aquilegia caerulea (purple). (Patrick Standish / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

More reading:

Attract more butterflies with native nectar plants  
Think all moths are drab? These will change your mind 

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