Tiny white stars dotted the forest floor. A common woodland plant, starflower, blooms in the spring. Around my house, during May, they seemed to appear together, all at once. One day, after a good rain, their star-shaped blossoms emerged, pointed petals speckled with raindrops.
Compared with the many other wildflowers in Maine, starflowers aren’t particularly flashy or celebrated. But I found myself looking forward to their arrival this year.
Starflowers are extremely common, popping up in both deciduous and coniferous woods. They grow in abundance at my home, and while their blossoms are small, they grow in colonies that add a lot of beauty to the landscape.
This spring, I’ve been keeping an eye out for wildflowers, no matter how big or small, fancy or plain. I don’t want to miss out.
Many wild blossoms, such as red trillium, come and go so quickly. So if I don’t actively look for flowers each week, I’ll have to wait until next year to see some of my favorite species in bloom.
Plus, I’m trying to learn how to identify more wild plants. Blossoms can certainly help in that process.
Coltsfoot caught my eye first this spring. Growing beside the gravel road that leads to my house, the yellow flower is an invasive plant. Its flowers are often mistaken as dandelions.
Other flowers I’ve noticed blossoming around my house in the months of April and May include wild strawberries, dandelions, white violets, blue violets and red trillium. Also known as “Stinking Benjamins,” red trilliums were by far the flashiest and largest of the bunch. The crimson, three-petaled flowers are a little smelly, but only if you give them a good sniff.
I learned it’s important to look up while searching for wildflowers. Some trees produce beautiful blossoms. Striped maple, for example, grows green-yellow flowers on long stems that drape beneath the tree’s new leaves.
I found my first bluets of the year growing in a hardware store parking lot. The dainty, pale blue flowers have four petals and a sunny center. Commonly found on Maine lawns, they’ve symbolized spring to me since I was a little girl.
While walking the Orono Bog Boardwalk with my mother, I photographed the beautiful bell-shaped blossoms of leatherleaf. And while exploring the Bangor City Forest with my 10-year-old niece, I saw wood anemones and goldthread blossoms — both small, white flowers.
A single wildflower can go by many common names, but it only has one Latin or scientific name. Wood anemones, for example, have the Latin name Anemone nemorosa. I originally assumed that the name “wood anemone” came from the center of the flower looking somewhat like a sea anemone. But according to several online sources, Latin “anemone” comes from the Greek “anemos,” which means “wind.” That’s why wood anemones are also called windflowers.
There are a few different theories about why the flowers became associated with the wind, but as it turns out, sea anemones are actually named after the flower, according to the Marine Education Society of Australia.
As my interest in plant identification has grown, I’ve realized that it’s probably best to learn the Latin names because there’s only one per species and they usually have a good backstory. I just wish they weren’t so lengthy and hard to remember.
While hiking in Acadia National Park recently, I’ve noticed blossoms on bearberry and low-bush blueberry plants. I also saw flashy, purple-pink rhodora flowers. Serviceberry trees were in bloom, their slender branches covered with white flowers.
One plant I’ve been on the lookout for is Jack-in-the-pulpit, which grows a large, cylindrical hooded flower that’s striped green and maroon. At the side of my gravel road, I found the withering remnants of the plant last autumn. So, this spring, I’ve been checking the spot frequently to see if the plant will return. On May 18, to my delight, I found it exactly where I thought it would be. The leaves were just unfurling, but the flower already stood tall.
My recent interest in wildflowers led me to purchase a small book called “Wildflowers of Maine: The Botanical Art of Kate Furbish.” With a biographical essay by Melissa Dow Cullina, the book is a collection of botanical art rendered in pencil and watercolor by Furbish (1834-1931), who observed and collected a wide variety of plants throughout Maine.
I recognize many of the flowers in the book, but there are plenty that I’ve never seen during my outdoor adventures. That tells me that there are a lot of exciting “firsts” waiting for me out there. And, since different species bloom at different times of year, my search can continue all summer and into the fall.