16 spring-flowering perennials 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 just a welcome sight, but also provide food for wildlife at a time when food sources are scarce. By early spring, most of last year’s plant harvest has been consumed and animals must scrounge for food until summer plants kick in with their bounty. These sixteen spring-flowering plants will brighten your yard while helping to save lives. It doesn’t get better than that! 

Note that the bloom times shown below represent a broad range. Plants may bloom earlier or later within their range depending on where you live.

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)


Coral Bells with dark pink blossoms.

Coral Bells, Heuchera sanguinea. Wildlife value: nectar for hummingbirds. Blooms: May to June. Exposure: shade. (Patrick Standish / Flickr; cc by 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 (Evening Trumpetflower), 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 
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map  

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