Wild means wild

Erythronium americanum image courtesy of Shutterstock
Erythronium americanum image courtesy of Shutterstock

The season is almost upon us here in Western New York. Snowdrops came and went in early February, though I see just a few late bloomers emerging—they might be some fancy hybrids I put in last September. I don’t bother with crocuses, but do expect plenty of lesser-used ephemerals—like eranthis—and I would love to have some early native wildflowers. But therein lies the rub. They just don’t want to stay. I’ve tried. We have an excellent native plant nursery nearby that has supplied Central Park and others, and several area garden centers make an effort with woodland natives. So far, however, I’ve pretty much wasted my money.

I was warned about mayapple (Podophyllum), but no need—it’s been introduced into a few shady, dampish places, but it couldn’t care less. It refuses to take over my garden, as my mother-in-law said it would.

Hepatica disappeared almost immediately. Trillium struggles, and the jury’s still out on Arisaema triphyllum. I do fine with Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum), but, then, who doesn’t?

Erythronium pagoda
Erythronium pagoda (I’ve since gotten rid of this pachysandra)

The one wildflower I really love is Erythronium americanum, which is abundant throughout our local preserves and some parks. I accept that it will never thrive in my domestic landscape, and that’s actually OK. The Erythronium pagoda hybrid lasts longer, has bigger, waxier flowers and forms a beautiful glossy collar around our front cherry tree, though I’ve disturbed the bulbs many times while planting others. Pagoda is a hybrid from two Western US native erythronium, and (strangely) either of those tends to do better for me than the americanum. If the pagoda foliage lasted all summer, it would be the perfect plant.

And maybe this is the way it should be. I’ll keep my own garden in its unnaturalized splendor, with pots of tulips placed here and there and hybrids aplenty. I can always visit the wildflowers somewhere else.

Previous articleHow to Have a Flowering Lawn
Next articleWhen The Aster Hitched a Ride
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. What are those little white-flowered jobbies in your E. pagoda photo, nestled up by the cherry tree? They caught my eye.

    • Those are Pachysandra flowers, unassuming to be sure unless you look at them closely, at which point you realize that, like absolutely everything in the natural world, they are perfectly amazing.

  2. Erythronium americanum comes up in a shady corner of my garden, but it never flowers, or at least it has not in the three years we have been here. I think the previous owner’s son collected them in the wild. We have trilliums in the same area and they’re doing well. I keep throwing chopped leaves into that part of the garden, hoping to create ideal woodland conditions.

  3. Yvonne,

    It seems like, and I’m no expert, that the pH in the soil is off – have you ever tested the soil to see if adding more leaves was the right remedy?

Comments are closed.