It’s finally spring! After bearing through the brutality that is a Michigan winter, I think everyone deserves congratulations and a green, sunny day. The weather (although inconsistent) is starting to feel warm and refreshing, but final exam season might be bringing back feelings of bitter cold, so practicing self-care and resilience are more important than ever!
To help you in identifying some fun outdoor activities that can let you recharge and step away from your computer screen, I’ve compiled a list of plants that are blooming that you can find in Southeast Michigan as well as foraging opportunities. And in a separate post, I am sharing some green spaces as well as upcoming local events this Spring and Summer!
One of my favorite parts about the transition to springtime is spotting different spring ephemerals and other native plants as the weather warms up. Seeing these different plants and identifying them on a relaxing walk always brightens up my day; I hope some of these flower friends can bring you joy as well!
Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
This beautiful purple flower typically blooms from mid-May into June in Southeast Michigan. This plant was one of the first native flowers I recognized as a kid since it would always pop up around the wooded area behind my neighborhood. Geraniums are happiest in wetter conditions like rich forests or near bodies of water.
Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
Such a fitting name! This charming little flower is white with streaks of pink and can be found in wooded areas through the months of March to May. I spotted this particular spring beauty while walking through Horner Woods last spring.
Common Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
This gorgeous flower can be found in colonies along the forest floor in the months of April and May (and in our website banner!). They can vary in color, but are most commonly white and pink. Some flowers may even be a darker magenta or a variegated mix of a couple of different colors. A great spot for finding Trillium in the spring time is LeFurge Woods Nature Preserve.
Early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum)
This native plant can bloom in the months of April and May. The flowers will look different based on the sex, but they commonly appear in dangling clusters of yellow stamens or white pistils. The flowers are a beautiful sight on this plant, but what first caught my attention was the arrangement of the leaves and leaflets. The stems appear so delicate and the individual leaves remind me of mini floating clouds or cartoon hands. Early meadow-rue can be found in sloping forests (especially Oak and Hickory) and alongside rivers. I often see this plant in Bird Hills Nature Area and in Nichols Arboretum!
Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
This beautiful native plant can be seen blooming in the months of May and June. The flowers are just enchanting! I have seen this plant growing in a number of places and even wedged between cement bricks. They can be found in forests, along rivers, and on road sides. The flowers are red and yellow (although many garden cultivars feature a variety of colors) and dangle downwards like small chandeliers– perfect for hummingbirds! I’ve spotted a fair number of wild columbine in Nichols Arboretum and at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Common blue violet (Viola sororia)
It’s always a joy when you first spot these little flowers pop up in various lawns and garden beds around Ann Arbor neighborhoods. There are a number of different violets that you might see growing, but the most common one is the blue violet. I really like to gather just a couple to use as a cake decoration.
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)
There’s a fair chance that you’ve already seen some of these guys popping up around campus. Snowdrops are known for their very early blooms and are commonly growing near forest edges, alongside rivers, and even on roadsides. I spotted this particular bunch of snowdrops a couple of weeks ago while walking to the Arboretum.
Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)
This spring ephemeral can typically be seen growing in rich forested areas from the months of March to May. Right now is a great time to spot it! Yellow Trout Lilies get their name from their beautiful yellow blooms and speckled leaves (like the spots on a Trout). Here is a picture I took a few days ago of a small Trout Lily just beginning to emerge from the ground.
Foraging can be a fun and refreshing way to interact with nature and experience some new and interesting flavors. I am by no means a foraging expert, but I am always looking to learn more, especially in the springtime. But be careful! Before biting into any plant you find outside, make sure you can positively identify it and have researched it beforehand. That being said, the descriptions below are just general overviews of each plant, so if you’re not an experienced forager, I recommend exploring some other online or physical resources! I really like the book Midwest Foraging by Lisa M. Rose and videos from Alexis Nikole (aka @blackforager on instagram and @alexisnikole on tiktok). So, here are some plants that I have tried or am excited to try this spring and summer!
Magnolias (Magnolia spp.)
Magnolia blooms are absolutely gorgeous and truly signify the height of spring! These eye-catching pink flowers are also edible. The blooms typically occur in April and can be quite delicate– a momentary frost can cause these flowers to brown. The flavor can be described as “gingery” and the flavor varies depending on the color. Lighter flowers will typically have a more subtle flavor. These flowers can be munched on as-is, pickled, or eaten raw in a salad.
Yellow wood-sorrel (Oxalis stricta)
Commonly mistaken for a type of clover, this garden weed can be a great refreshing snack while working outside or just going on a walk. The flavor is incredibly citrusy from the oxalic acid, and it’s nice to just eat raw. Wood-sorrel is high in vitamin C, but should not be consumed in excessive quantities; in high amounts, it can potentially impact calcium absorption. People who experience gout, rheumatism, or kidney stones are recommended against eating anything with high levels of oxalic acid. You should also try to avoid areas that use pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Garlic mustard is a nasty invasive in the midwest and starts to pop up around April to June. You may not want this in your garden, but maybe you’ll want it in your kitchen! Garlic mustard can make for a tasty pesto and salad ingredient. Even if you’re not planning on eating this plant, it can’t hurt to be able to identify it and weed it out.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
To say this plant can cause stinging is an understatement. If you’ve ever walked through a dense covering of stinging nettle with exposed legs I think you’ll know what I mean. Despite this plant’s radiating stings, it can be cooked down to a quite subtle leafy green. The flavor of stinging nettle has been compared to spinach and can be used very similarly as long as you cook away its stinging properties. You can typically start to find stinging nettle near the end of spring in wetter, forested areas.
Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)
Dead nettle is one of the first plants I learned to forage! Chances are, you’ve seen this weed growing in clumps along lawns, between cracks, and really anywhere it can get its seeds to. Dead nettle is in the mint family and can be identified with its square stem.
I like to use dead nettle as a supplement to my green tea. I rinse it very well and then lay it out to dry for a few days. The plant can also be consumed raw, but beware– the leaves are quite fuzzy so the texture might not be so pleasant. You should also be cautious of eating these plants from an area that uses fertilizers and pesticides. The dead nettle I have pictured was growing in one of the campus farm hoop houses besides some spinach and chickweed (another edible “weed”). If you’re a fan of animal crossing, this plant is also in the game! (too bad you can’t virtually eat it).
Hopefully some of these plants have inspired you to take a closer look at what’s growing and sparked some excitement for the incoming bursts of spring vegetation.
We would also love to hear about some of your favorite plants to admire and forage. Please feel free to comment below on some of your favorites that were missed. Happy botanizing!