The stalks of Prairie Smoke are very hairy. Bees that pollinate these flowers do so by buzz pollination — vibrating their bodies to shake the pollen out of the flower. (Photo by Kelly Povo)
The stalks of Prairie Smoke are very hairy. Bees that pollinate these flowers do so by buzz pollination — vibrating their bodies to shake the pollen out of the flower. (Photo by Kelly Povo)

Once, prairie grasses and flowers bloomed for hundreds of miles in the western part of what we now call Minnesota. Once, tiny orchids grew among the roots of giant old pines, and fleeting blossoms sheltered in the shade of great maple and oak forests. These flowers that grew here for hundreds of years, though harder to find now, are still there. Together we spent ten years searching for native wildflowers, exploring Minnesota’s woods, prairies, hillsides, lakes, and bogs for wildflowers, taking pictures and notes, gathering clues, mapping the way for fellow flower hunters.


Big Woods

Flowers that grow in the Big Woods bloom early and quickly. They have only a few fleeting weeks to soak up sunshine before the leaf canopy of the trees gobbles up the sun and shades the ground.

Although some people use the term 'ephemeral' for any early-blooming forest wildflower, true ephemerals vanish completely, leaves and all. At least nine flowers in Minnesota are considered true ephemerals: snow trillium, bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, Dutchman's breeches, eastern false rue-anemone, dwarf trout lily, white trout lily, yellow trout lily, and Virginia spring beauty.

It has taken us years to see all of the ephemerals. We've waded a river to see dwarf trout lilies, which grow in only a few places in the whole world, all of them here in Minnesota. We've clung to snow-covered hillsides where snow trillium bloom. We've hiked down dry riverbeds to stumble upon tiny pink blossoms of dainty Virginia spring beauty.


Phyllis Root is a writer, Kelly Povo is a photographer, and they love searching for, learning about, and finding Minnesota's native flowers.