The end of winter, with its dreary gray skies, endless cold, ice and snow and 4:00 p.m. sunsets, leaves us craving the welcome changes that come with the beginning of spring. Somewhere around the third week of March—at least in the Northern Hemisphere—sandals begin to replace snow boots, birds start making their way back up north and heavy winter gloves are thrust aside for gardening gloves. After all, what's the start of spring without some brilliant blossoms to brighten things up?
While almost all spring flowers add cheer and a pop of glorious color, that's pretty much the only thing they have in common. Some are annuals while others are perennials; some are deciduous with broad leaves while others are evergreens that produce cones; some will grow anywhere, while others need about the same level of attention as a newborn baby; select species remain fresh for days or weeks after cutting, while others start to wilt the same day; and while most spring flower species are totally benign, a scary few hide powerful poison behind their colorful petals.
Think you can tell the difference between one species of spring flowers and another? Prove it with this quiz!
With their big, bright blooms in vibrant shades of red, pink, white and yellow, the 75+ species in the tulip family are some of the most popular spring flowers. These flowers are part of a unique phase in history—a "Tulip Mania" in the 1600s sent the price of this plant soaring. The craze was caused by a virus, which gave some tulips a variegated appearance.
Botanist Friedrich Freese lives on thanks to the Freesia—a funnel-shaped flower named in his honor. These blossoms range in color from white to purple and have a scent that resembles the smell of baby powder. Thanks to their long case life, Freesias are a popular cutting flower.
The trillium is a trio of trios thanks to its three petals, three leaves and three sepals, which form a flower with a fruity scent. Believe it or not, this flower—which is usually white with yellow stamen—is actually endangered, so picking them is illegal in some areas.
A perennial herb that can grow as tall as 4 feet, the rockrose features red or pink flowers made up of five petals. The leaves of this plant are serrated along the edges, which doesn't stop the rockrose from attracting everything from hummingbirds to livestock.
Hydrangeas represent a genus of more than 70 species of plants. Ranging from shrubs to small trees, their globe-shaped bunches of flowers are typically white—but the color can change dramatically based on aluminum ions found in the soil.
Native to the Midwestern U.S., the bluestar attracts butteries, hummingbirds and bees with its star-shaped blue flowers, which generally measure less than an inch in diameter. Its leaves are long and slender and fade from green to yellow as summer turns to fall.
The Anemone genus consists of more than 200 species. Also known as wind flowers—their name means wind in Greek—they come in vibrant shades of purple, red and pink. If you plan to grow Anemone, take caution; they fair much better if you pre-soak the bulbs before planting.
Bleeding-heart is aptly named, with its delicate heart-shaped flowers in shades of pink, red and white. The "bleeding" comes from the fact that each "heart" has a pendulous petal hanging down toward the ground. These shade lovers thrive in cool spring weather, then pop back up in fall after summer's heat has faded.
Aconite, or wolf's bane, includes more than 250 species of terribly toxic plants. Native to mountainous areas in the Northern Hemisphere, aconite has very dark leaves with serrated edges and purple or deep blue blooms. Even touching this plant can make you ill, but most deaths occur when aconite is used in herbal concoctions.
Lilac flowers are only about an inch or less in diameter, but they cluster into cones called panicles to form a dense and fragrant purple bloom. Also known as Syringa, lilac plants can grow up to 10 feet tall and tend to produce flowers starting in mid-spring.
Hyacinths features clusters of fragrant star-shaped flowers that tend to range from violet to blue in color. Their leaves are folded lengthwise, and the bulb of the plant can be toxic, even if you simply touch it with bare hands.
The Iris genus includes 300 plant species; most produce purple blooms, though select varieties are white, pink or some other hue. These perennials prefer well-drained soil and are easy to spot because they are made up of six petals—three inner ones, known as standards, and three outer ones, called falls.
Camellias grow on shrubs measuring 6 to 12 feet high. They are sometimes called tea flowers, because their petals are used to make tea, especially in some Asian countries. Camellia leaves are glossy and thick, and its flowers are large and long-blooming.
Daffodils come in cheerful spring shades like pink, orange, yellow and white. They are made up of six petal-like tepals that wrap around an inner trumpet-shaped bloom.
Part of the Asparagaceae family, Puschkinias generally grow between 4 and 6 feet in height. They produce clusters of small blueish-white flowers, each of which has delicate deeper blue stripes dividing its petals.
Part of the same genus as the hyacinth, bluebells feature up to 12 flowers per stem. Each of these bells has a strong, sweet scent and resembles a bell hanging below the stem. While most bluebells are indeed blue, you can also find varieties in shades of pink, purple or white.
Redbud blooms range from pink to red, and though they are only about half an inch in diameter, they grow in such large numbers that they create impressive-looking trees and shrubs. Also known as Cercis Canadensis, this species has heart-shaped leaves, and the bark on the redbud tree often has mauve or maroon patches.
Also nicknamed the African daisy or the treasure flower, gazanias are annuals with a high tolerance to drought and a variety of soil conditions. They grow between 6 and 18 inches high and are typically a combination of orange and yellow.
Part of the olive family, forsythias include 11 species of deciduous shrubs that grow between 8 and 10 feet tall. Each spring, these shrubs explode with large numbers of bell-shaped yellow flowers to brighten up the backyard after the cold dullness of winter.
Crocus is a plant genus within the iris family. This early bloomer grows less than a foot tall and produces flowers in shades of purple, yellow and white. The stamen from one type of crocus, known as crocus sativus, are used to produce the yellow spice saffron.
The pansy is a hybrid species within the genus Viola. Stems grow to around 9 to 10 inches high, and flowers are 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The flower has a very characteristic design, with two overlapping top petals, a pair of side petals and one larger bottom petal—as well as splashes of color on each of these petals that resemble the shape of a face.
Snowdrops are aptly named: each stem carries one drooping, bell-shaped white flower. Grown from bulbs, these flowers are so eager to sprout that they often bloom before winter is even over.
Sweet pea is an annual plant that will climb as tall as 7 feet if it can find enough support nearby. With its honey-like scent and rich purple blooms that resemble butterflies, it's an easy choice for novice gardeners who need low-maintenance plants.
The beauty of the funnel-shaped azalea flower masks its toxicity—which is so well-known that these flowers are used to raise bees to produce a product known as "Mad Honey" in some areas. From a distance, however, azaleas are prized for their textured petals and cheerful range of colors.
The magnolia is a Southern classic, consisting of more than 200 species known for gorgeous white, fragrant blooms. Its leaves are large and glossy, and its very distinctive green seed pods push out dozens of bright red seeds as the summer draws to a close.
Brunnera is a low-maintenance shade plant with bright blue flowers that closely resemble the forget-me-not. They tend to be between 1 and 2 feet high—making them an ideal choice for ground cover—with heart-shaped variegated leaves and five-petal flowers.
No, it's not actually a lily, but lily of the valley does produce beautiful bell-shaped white blooms. This perennial is very poisonous if ingested, and even its scent contains a paralyzing agent that can temporarily "blind" your nose to any other smells.
Violets are actually an entire genus of more than 500 plant species. Though traditionally purple, their flowers can range from blue to cream or yellow. Each bloom is made up of five petals, with four being fan-shaped and one lobed.
The dianthus genus includes more than 300 species of flowers, and believe it or not, almost all of them are pink! The petals are frilled on the edges, and the flowers have a sweet yet spicy scent. Leaves on this perennial are distinctive because they range in color from gray to blueish-green.
The black-eyed Susan looks similar to a sunflower, and actually belongs to the same plant family, but is much smaller than the sunflower. It's typically less than 3 feet tall with thick, hair-covered leaves. Yellow florets surrounding a brown bud create a daisy-like bloom that's usually less than 4 inches across.
The perennial primrose starts to send shoots peeking out of the soil even when the ground is still frozen in February. Gardeners love this hardy plant for its delicate scent and tiny blossoms, which are usually pale yellow but can also be white or pink.
Gaillardias look a bit like daisies but are easy to distinguish thanks to their brilliant red-and-yellow hue. They are easy to care for, making them a popular choice for those with limited gardening skills, and their broad blooms look lovely when cut and arranged in a vase.
Creeping phlox only grows about 6 inches tall but can spread a few feet across the ground, covering it with tiny blossoms ranging from purple to pink or white. These perennials keep their leaves year round and are a popular choice for rock gardens or as a form of ground cover.
The hellebore genus includes 20 species of very poisonous evergreens. While they are unrelated to the rose family, some have names like winter rose, Christmas rose or Lenten rose. Hellebore blooms are velvety and measure 3 inches across on average.
Snapdragons or dragon flowers produce a stalk as tall as four feet that is loaded with colorful blossoms. They get their unusual name from the fact that if you squeeze the sides of each flower, it looks like a dragon with a wide-open mouth—as if prepared to breathe out flames.
Lupines are perennials with gray or silver-green leaves covered with fine hairs. They produce clusters of small florets that can look like much larger flowers from a distance and are very easy to grow in a variety of conditions.
Also known as ornamental onion, allium includes dozens of plants that produce generous globe-like blooms composed of clusters of flowers. Available in colors ranging from white to deep purple, allium is know for being both deer-resistant and attractive to bees, butteries and birds.
Peonies are perennials that grow as tall as 3 feet. Their large and fragrant flowers produce a rose-like scent and are full and lush thanks to compound petals. You can find peonies ranging from purple to red, white or yellow.
Bloodroot, or Sanguinaria canadensis, is so named because it released rusty orange-red sap when its stems or roots are cut. When intact, however, this spring flower produces gorgeous blooms with many yellow stamen surrounded by between 8 and 12 white petals.
Dogwoods love to show off in spring, producing huge numbers of white or pink blossoms between March and May. By fall, the flowers have faded away, and Dogwoods produce bright scarlet berries as its leaves turn from green to red or gold.