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

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Wildflower Wednesday: Harbinger-of-Spring

I'd like to think spring has arrived at Clay and Limestone.  When I open the door on the 50˚ mornings, it smells like spring.You've smelled it! 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.

It's not just the smells, although  late winter blooming Hamamelis vernalis' clovey scent is wafting about the garden on warm days. When it's a bit chilly I have to get up close and sniff the flowers, but, it makes me long and hope for more blooms and spring. And, have you heard the birds? They sing louder and more melodious in the spring. It's not my imagination, they're singing louder!

A few of the spring ephemerals have poked up from under the leaf liter demonstrating once again that leaves on the garden don't kill our native beauties and that spring is just about to bust open.

My garden is just beginning to undergo the marvelous transformation from brown to green. Over head the elms are budding, in near by yards the maples have begun to bloom and many shrubs are starting to push out leaves. Dirca palustris' fuzzy blooms will be open before we know it.

the diminutive woodland beautyand WW star, Erigenia bulbosa

Freezing nights and pounding rain can't dim my hopes for an early spring. But, let's not rush headlong into a big spring crescendo before it's time, after all we do need to admire our wildflower of the month,  Harbinger-of-Spring/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 everywhere it blooms giving rise to its common name Harbinger of Spring. I've not seen pollinators on the sweet blooms, but, little Carpenter bees, Mason bees, and flower flies are said to visit for nectar. It grows in rich moist deciduous woodlands in dappled shade.

I love this little carrot family member (source*)

 Botanical name: Erigenia bulbosa

 Family:  Apiaceae  

Common name: Harbinger-of-Spring, Pepper and Salt

Native range: Eastern Canada, most of eastern US, including OK and AR Light: dappled shade 



Height: 2"-10" 


Photo by Chris Paccard

Flower type: Umbels, like little upside-down umbrellas

Leaf Color: green 

Bloom Color: white 

Bloom Time: Feb, Mar, Apr 

Water: moist 

Soil: acid, neutral, rich, average loam, think not picky!

Comments: The root is a small, rounded tuber

Conservation status: 


Wildlife value: Insect visitors primarily seek nectar from the flowers and include small to medium-size bees and miscellaneous flies.



 This plant is a member of a large and important Carrot (Apiaceae) family. Relatives include Queen Anne's lace, water hemlock, carrot, parsnip, parsley, celery, dill, fennel, cumin, anise, and many more. All have flowers arranged in umbels (like little upside-down umbrellas), and the seeds are structurally similar. 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.



Don't forget our Wildflower Wednesday monthly challenge!  The first part of this challenge is to do something every month during 2022 that supports native wildflowers, pollinators, and the critters that visit and rely on our gardens. The second part of the challenge is to post about it somewhere: Your blog; Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even your neighborhood listserve. 

Why post it?  Because positive publicity is needed to educate our friends, neighbors and communities about how important even the smallest changes we make as gardeners can be for pollinators, birds, insects and mammals that live all around us. 

For an incomplete list of things you might consider doing or changing in your garden follow this link!

 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 and a link in the comment section. mr Linky is no longer working on my site.


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. I'd never heard of Erigenia bulbosa, but it sounds delightful! Signs of spring are all good (not that they are signs of spring here in Quebec).

    Back in Asheville, yes. Looking forward to seeing what's happening.

  2. My area is usually a couple of weeks behind your area. I am surprised this morning that with a layer of ice on everything the Cardinals are still singing up a storm. The Red-winged Blackbirds are finally on territory. Spring will wait for no one. I am so looking foward to seeing some spring wildflower blooms.

  3. Lovely. I see that it's critically imperiled in Wisconsin. I think I've seen it at the Arboretum. Based on its growth requirements, it might grow in my garden...unless rabbits eat it. Thanks for the info!

  4. I had never heard of it, either, and it's critically imperiled in NY, too. Maybe someone will have seeds of it somewhere.

  5. I'm hearing new songs from the birds, and today, my crocus peeked out! Spring will come soon.

  6. I see that sweet plant is critically imperiled in NY. I may add it to my list to see if I can source it for my little native garden I am starting. Here we are still in winter although we had a tease of spring for a few days. Now bitter cold and snow. Spring will wait with some robins who have returned early. Hardy birds.


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