Spring-Blooming Prairie and Woodland Plants

Spring-blooming prairie and woodland plants are among the first to take advantage of warmer soils and days with increasing sunshine. Even though it has been a cold and slowly developing spring, the green shoots of spring bloomers are emerging and starting to produce colorful flowers that feed early pollinators and brighten sunny to partially-shaded landscapes.

The following 16 species are some of my favorite spring prairie and open woodland plants that also serve as landscaping gems, flowering in April and May:

a. Baptisia australis var. minor blue false indigo full sun
b. Callirhoe involucrata purple poppy mallow full sun
c. Clematis fremontii Fremont’s clematis full sun
d. Geum triflorum prairie smoke full sun
e. Koeleria cristata Junegrass full sun
f. Oenothera macrocarpa Missouri evening primrose full sun
g. Penstemon cobaea penstemon cobaea full sun
h. Penstemon digitalis foxglove beardtongue full sun
i. Pullsatilla patens pasque flower full sun
j. Tradescantia tharpii spiderwort full sun
k. Verbena canadensis rose verbena full sun
l. Amsonia tabernaemontana blue star part shade
m. Aquilegia canadensis columbine part shade
n. Heuchera richardsonii coral bells part shade
o. Senecio plattensis golden ragwort part shade
p. Zizia aurea golden alexander part shade


There are so many benefits to be found in landscaping with native plants. They will greatly enhance the biological diversity and ecology of your yard by providing food for insect larvae and flower nectar for pollinators. Small mammals and birds feast on the abundance of available seeds. Predatory insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles will find food in the abundance of available insects. Even the smallest of native gardens can be a mini wildlife sanctuary.


Black swallowtail butterfly (male). Golden alexander is a host plant for the black swallowtail caterpillar.

Native plant gardens connect us to our natural and cultural history and give us a sense of place. Even if you don’t use your home landscape today as your grocery store, home improvement store, and pharmacy, Plains Indians and European settlers certainly did not too long ago. The plants and animals of the prairie were critically important to human survival.

The deep roots and unique traits of native plants make them very adaptable to our Kansas climate and provide sensible and sustainable landscaping. Once established, these plants need little to no supplemental water and require no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides if properly matched to the site.

Even if you are only interested in colorful garden eye candy, this list of spring flowering native plants will provide a beautiful array of flowers to brighten your spring landscape. You can find these plants at our FloraKansas Plant Festival!

I’ll leave you  with a photo of one more bonus species that is a favorite shade-tolerant, early spring bloomer…woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata).

Photo Credits

Plant profile: Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)

Several years ago as I was preparing for our fall plant sale, I noted that I had a flat of 32 golden alexanders (Zizia aurea) ready for the sale.  I went back three days later and could not find the plants anywhere.  I thought somebody had moved them, but later discovered the flat of plants had been eaten to the soil line by Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.  They were on several other plants in the gardens as well as a few random plants within the nursery.  I was amazed at how voracious those caterpillars were. They literally ate the plants to the ground.

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The beautiful bloom of Golden Alexander


Golden alexander (Zizia aurea) is the Kansas Native Plant Society 2016 Wildflower of the Year. They are most often found in prairie savannas, woodland edges, wooded bottomlands, stream banks, moist meadows, and floodplains.  They are quite adaptable once established surviving even the driest summers.

The deep green leaves of golden alexanders are distinctly divided and tough.   This wildflower grows between 12″ to 36″ tall with yellow flowers in flat topped umbels forming in May and June.  The seeds that develop resemble dill seeds.  Be careful!  If it is happy, it will self-seed and colonize an area.

Zizia aurea is an important plant whether in bloom or not blooming.  It is a member of the parsley/carrot family, which are host plants for Swallowtail butterflies.  When in bloom, many other pollinators are attracted to the bright yellow flowers.  It is a pollinator magnet.

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Blue False Indigo with Golden Alexander in the foreground and background

This native wildflower is extremely easy to grow in either full sun or partial shade.  I tend to plant it in areas that receive morning sun and then are shaded during the hottest part of the day.  It can thrive in clay soils and the shiny foliage and vivid yellow flowers make this a welcome addition to your wildflower garden.  Plant a few as an offering to the Swallowtail butterflies.  In my opinion, this is a plant that should be in every garden.