As saying goes, it’s important to “stop and smell the roses” or, in this case, to stop and smell Michigan wildflowers. It can be easy to overlook the colors and shapes that line Michigan’s roads, bike paths, and hiking trails as we rush to the beach, off camping, or head “Up North” to soak up the summer. Native plants play an important role in Michigan’s environment and economy through pollination, food sources, and habitats for insects and animals. Learning about these special flowers can encourage a deeper appreciation of Michigan’s natural beauty.
There are nine species of trillium native to Michigan, half of which are considered endangered or protected. The most common species of trillium in Michigan is the White Michigan trillium (Trillium Grandiflorum) which is often seen in wooded areas along biking and hiking paths. The name of this Michigan wildflower is derived from its three leaves, ‘tri,’ and similarity to a lily.
Do not pick the flowers of trillium as it can seriously injure the plant. Four species of trillium are protected in Michigan.
These clusters of bright orange flowers attract numerous butterfly species including Monarch butterflies. A type of milkweed, this plant blooms in late June through July and can grow up to 2 feet tall. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) can be found throughout North America and is most common in the Midwest and Great Plains.
During colonial times, this Michigan wildflower was dried and combined with skunk cabbage to make a tea that would reduce chest inflammation.
Often seen near roads in ditches, sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) is a climbing plant whose flowers bloom in white, red, and pink. Blooming in the early summer, this Michigan wildflower’s shape closely resembles an orchid flower. Originally known for their sweet fragrance, these plants do produce small pea pods but, be warned, they are poisonous to humans and animals.
Members of the sunflower family, these bright and happy Michigan wildflowers (Rudbeckia hirta) are hardy and long-blooming flowers. These flowers can flourish in full sun or partial shade and can bloom from June until September. They are recognized by yellow petals and large black/brown cone centers. Black-eyed Susan’s leaves and stems are covered in tiny hairs giving them a fuzzy feeling.
These Michigan wildflowers are “late bloomers” sprouting up in September to mid-October in dry open forests and thickets, in fields, alongside roads, on sandy plains and dunes, and in meadows. Smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) flowers are good pollinators for bees and adult butterflies. The purple plant also is packed with nutrients and is a favorite of white-tailed deer to graze upon.
Queen Anne’s Lace
A member of the parsnip family, and also known as wild carrot, this white detailed Michigan wildflower resembles lace and is named after Queen Anne of Great Britain. It is said the small red flower in the center represents a blood droplet from Queen Anne pricking her finger while sewing lace. Although parts of this flower are edible, it looks very similar to a deadly plant called Water Hemlock and a poisonous plant called Hogweed.
Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is often found in fields, meadows, waste areas, roadsides, and disturbed habitats. It is a very hardy plant and can thrive in a dry environment.
Originating from the continent of Asia, daylilies have been bred to adapt to a North American climate over time and can be spotted along Michigan’s roads, fields, and farms throughout the summer. Although these bright and colorful flowers resemble lilies, they are not true lilies. These flowers are part of the genus Hemerocallis which is a Greek term meaning “beautiful for one day.” Daylilies earned this name because each bloom only lasts for a day at a time.
What is your favorite Michigan wildflower? Where do you see Michigan’s wildflower wonders? How do you support Michigan’s native plants and flowers?