Spring… What is spring—the end of cold and snow and the beginning of rain, snowdrops giving way to tulips and daffodils, and the robin’s return?

Spring is also an awakening and a fresh start, and it is hard to imagine the season  without its ephemerals. Like mystical woodland creatures of wisp and wonder, they appear without fanfare and often disappear before we know it, heralding the transition into the next season.

Spring ephemerals are plants that need to manifest pretty much an entire year’s life cycle in a very short period (usually 6-8 weeks).  Many are woodland plants that sprout, flower and go to seed before the woody canopy leafs out and cuts off their needed sunlight.  At the end of this cycle the plants die back beneath the soil into their storage roots and wait to start the whole short process again next year.

These are just a few of the more desirable woodland ephemerals:

  • Anemone
  • Anemonella
  • Arisaema
  • Corydalis
  • Dicentra
  • Erythronium
  • Hepatica
  • Sanguinaria
  • Trillium
anemonellaAnemonella thalictroides 'Oscar Schoaff'

WOOD ANEMONE– A dainty woodland plant that resembles a miniature Thalictrum in form, this stunning selection has fully double lavender-pink flowers from early spring into summer. A very showy addition to the woodland garden and also does exceptionally well as a container specimen.  Prefers a gritty well-drained soil in partial shade; will go dormant in high summer.  ‘Oscar Schoaff’ grows to about 20cm high by 30cm wide and is very hardy (Zone:  4). 

Many forms can be found with a little searching—these include:  ‘Alba Plena’, ‘Betty Blake’, ‘Cameo’, ‘Diamant’, ‘Jade Feather’, ‘Tairin’ and others.

Arisaema sikokianum “Silver Feathers”arisaema

COBRA LILY– An exotic and easy to grow woodland bulb from Japan that makes a dramatic impact in any garden.  “Silver Feathers” is a selection of A. sikokianum with dramatic silver feather-like patterns in the centres of the leaves.  The flower is a purple-black pitcher with white stripes and a greenish inner throat; the spadix is large, white and mushroom-like.  Arisaema prefer a deep rich soil with good drainage in partial shade. They also do very well in containers and should be kept dry and protected once they go dormant.  Plants can reach 40-60cm in height and rarely form clumps, so if you require a small cluster you will need several plants.  These bulbs are tough and can tolerate very cold winters (Zone: 4), even surviving such bitter climes as Alberta!

erythroniumErythronium spp.

FAWN LILY– A charming, lily-like woodland plants with lance-shaped leaves, often attractively mottled.  These woodlanders bloom in early spring with nodding, star-shaped flowers with reflexed petals.  Flower colour can be white, pink, purple or yellow, depending on species and variety.  Great plants for naturalizing as they eventually form small clumps if left to their own.  Erythronium do best in shade or partial shade on well drained humus-rich soil.  Plants are not large growing, ranging from 15-30cm in height, and can eventually spread to 30cm or more with time.  All available species are hardy in BC.

Hepatica spp.hepatica

LIVERLEAF– A low-growing perennial in the buttercup family with lobed green leaves often marbled and spotted with colour.   They bloom in early spring with flowers that can be shades of white, pink, purple, blue or red.  There is a plethora of species to select from, with the most unusual Hepatica hailing from Japan. These have a wickedly addictive selection of flower forms and colours, some so vivid they are electric.  Hepaticas make a wonderful groundcover for a slightly shaded garden site; they are not too fussy about soil type but do require excellent drainage.  They are superb potted plants as well.  Hepaticas are relatively short, reaching only 20cm or so with flowers, and can form clumps up to 30cm wide.  All available species will be hardy to BC.


Trillium spp.

WAKE-ROBIN– A much loved woodland perennial with its signature three-lobed flowers.  Flowers appear on tall stalks in early spring and depending upon species can be different in form and colour.  Many species also have attractive mottled foliage. which adds interest long after the flowers have faded.  Trilliums are woodland plants and do best under the shade of deciduous trees, with a deep, rich, well-drained soil.  Some can reach almost 60cm in height and slowly spread to form clumps 30cm or more wide.  Trilliums are hardy and do very well on the West Coast.

Hopefully this has given you a taste of these enchanting woodland flowers that surprise and delight us with their striking and sometimes bizarre forms.


Many of these plants and others from Lyle are available in limited quantities at Arts Nursery in the early spring. Please call ahead to special order or confirm availability of specialty varieties.

Lyle Courtice Lyle Courtice, A.H.
 Lyle is a certified Horticultural Technician (Niagara College), Landscape Designer, Nurseryman and the proprietor of HarkAway Botanicals.
Since 1980 Lyle has worked in both the retail and wholesale sectors of the horticultural trade; he operates his own wholesale nursery, which focuses on an eclectic mix of rare and choice plant material from Asia, Europe and North America.
Lyle has appeared on The Canadian Gardener and is a contributing author to A Grower’s Choice (Raincoast books 2001).  His horticultural expertise makes him sought after as a consultant, lecturer, photographer, instructor and writer.  An industry veteran, Lyle is esteemed within the horticultural community for his passionate and often humorous enthusiasm for plants.
Author: Lyle Courtice A.H. Source: Harkaway Botanicals


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