Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday: Harbinger-of-Spring

It's spring in my garden. It matters not what the calendar says or that we can have frosts until mid-April, it's spring. The light is subtly different, it glows just a bit brighter, and have you noticed that the sky is the bi-color blue of that illusive wildflower Collinsia verna?

It's spring at Clay and Limestone. I know, because it smells like spring...You've smelled it, too, it's the fresh dirt smell that wafts on the breeze on warm spring days. Scientist call the chemical that makes dirt smell fresh geosmin,  I call it delicious. We can thank the plant munching bacteria that live in our soil for making it.

And,  have you heard the birds? They sing louder and more melodious in the spring. 

Oh, it's spring alright! The garden is undergoing a marvelous transformation from brown to green...Over head the elms are budding, the leaves on the St John's wort, Alabama snow wreath and leatherwood are beginning to push out and the spring ephemerals are just about to burst into bloom.

But, let's not rush headlong into a big spring crescendo before we take time to admire our wildflower of the month,  Harbinger-of-Spring.

the diminutive woodland beauty Erigenia bulbosa

It's the earliest and smallest of the spring flowers. So small, no more than 4 inches tall, that it is easily over looked among the brown leaves on a woodland hillside. The pure white flowers and chocolate colored anthers contrast beautifully and, are clearly, the reason for one of the common names, Pepper and Salt. It blooms early in our woodlands and I wondered if any pollinators are awake to sup on its nectar. According to research, little Carpenter bees, Mason bees, and flower flies visit. It grows in rich moist deciduous woodlands in dappled shade.

I love this little carrot family member (source*)

Hardiness Zone:5,6,7 (Eastern Canada, most of eastern US, including OK and AR)
Light: dappled shade
Height: 2"-10"
Leaf Color: green
Bloom Color:white
Bloom Time: Feb, Mar, Apr
Water: moist
Soil: acid, neutral, rich, average loam, think not picky!

It is a tiny member of the Carrot (Apiaceae) family, growing from a round tuber and I count myself fortunate when it showed up in my garden a few years back. I dearly wish it were commercially available~it's a lovely little flower and should be in more of our woodland gardens.


Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not, and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky. 

*Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 653.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Hello Gail, it is refreshing to see that sky, so lovely composition. And when i see that flower it reminds me of another wildflower in my previous file last month, oh i should have linked that here earlier. I hope i will not forget it next month. thanks.

  2. Gail the red winged blackbirds have returned so i know we are shifting no matter the weather as you say. We are still covered with snow so no blooms for a while. I had not heard of this beauty and it is native for me so I will be adding this to my garden here...what a great way to start and celebrate spring.

  3. I smell it, Gail, and hear the birds at higher volume, too! It is indeed wonderful. And how right you are, let us draw out this experience of the changing of the seasons as long as possible. There is much to be enjoyed.

  4. We found our first blooms this Monday. Aaahhhhh it truly is the harbinger of spring. I wish I had it growing in my garden.

  5. I'm just starting to smell spring and hear spring, too and it makes me very excited for when it will feel like spring (warmer temperatures). I'm thinking about wildflowers and other flowers in my lawn this month for Wildflower Wednesday.

  6. What a charming flower! I was out cleaning up the garen a bit yesterday and noticed that the birds are just crazy right now...I don't know that I've ever heard them make such a racket!

  7. What a sweet little bloom. I have not seen it in my area, though as small as it is I am not sure that I would see it.

  8. Have not the normal weather patterns been set aside? Where we, too, seem to have been experiencing abnormally mild winters, this week we're having normal Winter snowfall! Rather nice as compared to the unnatural trends. :-)
    That is not to say I'm not looking forward to Spring!! Very much enjoyed your post!

  9. Dear lovely post. A harbinger of spring. Yes, even here, the birds are singing sweetly. The wind is cold because of our latest storm, but I'm still getting ready and planting seeds. I always think of you when I do. Welcome Springtime!~~Dee

  10. Heidi/ IN Woodland GardenerFebruary 27, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    We have Harbinger-of-spring in just one place in our woods, on a east-facing steep hillside. I'll have to hike out there and take a look! As I walked our 1/4 mi. gravel lane earlier this week, I walking into a swarm of some flying insect. They were attracted to my yellow shirt peeking out from my 1/2 zipped jacket (and my mouth- ew!). I have no idea what they were, but amazingly, there does seem to be some insects about in February! They weren't anywhere near what our Harbinger-of-spring bloom, but maybe they'll find it.

  11. I didn't know they had been identified a chemical that defines that smell of fresh moist earth. I love spring ephemerals, and your little harbinger is very cute!

  12. Geosmin needs a better name and better press. If you could bottle it and sell it, you'd make a fortune. It appears it's going to be a bit of a wait yet before that fragrance hits my nose this year. Clearly, you've got spring fever. Enjoy!

  13. Geosmin! That's what gives me the headrush when I breathe in deeply during early spring. Never knew that, thanks! Still blanketed with snow here, but it's that hopeful spring snow--where it snows all day, but it melts just as fast. ;-) It's actually beautiful outside today. And there are definite signs of spring under the white blanket! Erigenia is a beauty!

  14. I have been gardening for about 3 years now so I am an amateur. I really appreciate posts like this that expand my knowledge. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Hmmm I think I need to find out if that diminutive beauty would like my garden.

    You always post about the most interesting natives.

  16. I will keep my eyes open for that, since you report it being native to my area.

  17. No moist earth smell here yet, but I did get a whiff of skunk. You can send that robin on this way in a couple of weeks. The blue sky would be nice as well!

  18. The little Spring Harbinger is cute, there seem to be so many more wildflowers native to the east coast. Here the Spring Beauty will show up eventually. I didn't see any wildflowers blooming yet but show off my new Goldenrod purchases. Thanks for hosting!

  19. Just got around to updating the link in the post I put up two weeks ago. Deepest blue Royal Cape Plumbago from my garden.

  20. We don't have any spring flowers yet...but there is a subtle difference in the air...maybe the snow melting has changed the way it smells...I don't care, just bring on spring.


  21. I take my cue from the flowering of Acer rubrum that winter is in its final stage.

  22. Finishing up my post this evening...I hope you'll keep it open for me. Sorry I'm so late.

  23. Wow! What a picture! The sky is looking so beautiful. You are a great photographer. So colorful pictures.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson