Wildflowers are one of the wonders of our natural world. They grow, literally, everywhere (except maybe Antarctica) in mind-blowing variety.
One of my favorite things about being outdoors during the spring and summer in our climate is the beautiful blooms along trails, in the woods, near the water and at the campgrounds.
Seeing these beauties is a wonderful benefit of getting outside and moving!
Here’s a close-up look at 15 of my favorite wildflowers found in the Midwest, and especially in my home state of Minnesota:
Wild bee balm (at least in Minnesota) is always this light lilac color. Butterflies and bees love them, so if you want to photograph butterflies, find a patch of bee balm! They bloom in mid-late summer through early fall, and grow 2-3 feet tall in sunny meadows, prairies and open fields.
Blue Flag Iris
Blue Flag Irises love wet, swampy areas and lakeshores. Their graceful purple and yellow flowers bloom in mid-to-late spring and early summer on stalks a couple feet high. Their leaves are just as graceful as the flowers—long and drooped at the ends.
Bunchberry is a shady woodland lover. They’re prolific in boreal forests (pine), so thrive in acidic soil. They’re a very common and charming little flower in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region.
Just 5 or 6 inches tall, each plant has a single white 4-petaled flower in late spring and early summer. The blossoms turn into a cluster of bright red berries later in the summer that are just as distinctive. (The berries are edible, but not very tasty, I hear!)
I hate calling something this beautiful a “weed”! The bright orange flower clusters of this sun-and-prairie lover are so cheerful. They grow great in sandy soil, too, which means I should get some of this for my yard! 🙂
Butterfly Weed is a member of the milkweed family and grows 1-2 feet tall in a nice bunch of several stalks.
Another native flower that loves the shaded woods, columbine grows on stalks a couple feet tall. Their flowers look like they’re upside-down—a bright splash of red and yellow amongst the greens and browns of the forest.
Columbines aren’t as common as many of these other flowers, and they seem to grow singly rather than in bunches. It’s a treat to see one.
It seems the common field daisy can be found just about anywhere. Super adaptable, they brighten up shaded areas and add character to sunny meadows. Like harebells, daisies bloom all summer long in many areas. Even though they’re common, they’re so cheerful it’s a delight to see them!
Fireweed can be mistaken for lupine if you’re not familiar with which grows when. They like the same habitats and are both purple with tall flower spikes. The differences are: fireweed blossoms are less condensed on the stalk, and they bloom in mid-to-late summer rather than late spring.
They get their name from their ability to spring back after a forest fire. I remember seeing this first hand about 11 years ago when there was a major fire in the Boundary Waters and along the Gunflint Trail. The fire went through in May and June. By July we could see fireweed blooming against the black backdrop of the burnt trees. Amazing!
(I had a very cool photo of that, but lost it among others, in a crashed harddrive—grrr!)
Harebell is distinctive for its ability to grow right out of rocks. We commonly see them next to Lake Superior, or on the sides of cliffs. From late spring through the summer, their blue-purple color is eye-catching. The plant size ranges from about 6-20 inches.
While the Midwest is home to native wild lupine, Minnesota’s Arrowhead is also home to runaway garden lupine. They’ve naturalized and flourished along Lake Superior’s North Shore and other places where the seeds were planted once upon a time.
These lupine love northern Minnesota’s cool summer climate with lots of sun. They grow 2-3 feet tall with their striking flowers. They’re most commonly purple, but pink and white are also interspersed occasionally.
Wild lupine, interestingly, doesn’t grow up there! It’s native to southeast Minnesota and other areas of the Midwest.
Pink Lady’s Slipper
A member of the orchid family, like all the Lady’s Slippers, the Pink variety grows in various types of mixed forests. The plants are small, 6-15 inches, and with just a single flower they can be tricky to spot. And a treat when we do—they’re not common.
It takes several years for each plant to produce a flower, and they can live to be 20 years old! (source)
These showy orange flowers grow in both prairies and woodlands. In fact, it’s also known as the Wood Lily. Distinctive, upright orange flowers on 2-3 foot stalks during the summer.
Star flowers are low-growing shade lovers with tiny, delicate flowers shaped like a 7-pointed star. If you look closely, you’re likely to find these in the same places and in the same season as the bunchberry.
White Water Lily
Where there are lily pads there will be water lilies. The intricate blooms are quite large—often 3-4 inches across. These are seen best (and especially photographed) from a canoe or kayak in late spring through summer, and even into early fall.
Like mini lilac daisies, wild aster grows on stalks several feet high. Each stalk forms several clusters of these little flowers which makes them seem bigger. These are a favorite with bees and butterflies, too. They thrive in sunny meadows in mid-late summer and all the way through September.
We’ve seen these beautiful flowers grow in both sun and shade. The blooms can be anything from a delicate pink to magenta. Like any rose, they grow on bushes with thorny branches, so be careful!
Later in the summer each bloom turns into a bright red rose hip. The hips are edible (high in Vitamin C) either to eat in salads or be made into delicious jam (although it’s apparently a ton of work!).
If you’re like me and like to know what you’re looking at when you’re outdoors, I suggest picking up a wildflower field guide like Wildflowers of Minnesota by Stan Tekiela. Ours has gotten well-used over the years. (That’s where I got many of my facts for this post.)
Wildflowers are jewels of nature.They’re a wonderful display of God’s creativity and His love of beauty!
You’ll also like:
- What Does Jesus Have to Do with Nature?
- Common Plants You Didn’t Know are Medicinal
- The Many Benefits of Nature
Sharon is the founder and publisher of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other website, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails, books and other marketing tools for clients.