michigan wildflowers

Essential Guide to Michigan Wildflowers

Michigan is a natural sanctuary, showcasing a stunning variety of plant and animal species. Among the many beautiful elements of its flora, Michigan’s wildflowers command a unique and noteworthy presence.

The dazzling diversity of Michigan’s wildflower species is truly remarkable. However, when you’re out on a hike, it can be challenging to identify the floral wonders you come across.

Without a keen eye and prior knowledge, it’s all too easy to miss some truly extraordinary, and perhaps even rare, wildflowers.

Fear not, though, as you can acquaint yourself with, identify, and admire Michigan’s wildflowers without needing a deep understanding of the intricate world of botanical science.

We’ve compiled a handy guide to assist you in recognizing these floral gems the next time you venture into Michigan’s natural landscapes for a hike and exploration.

Here’s a brief introduction to some of our favorite wildflowers native to Michigan, designed to help you locate, identify, and appreciate them.

Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris)

Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris)

No compilation of Michigan wildflowers would be complete without mentioning the state’s official wildflower, the Dwarf Lake Iris.

These delicate blue wonders are primarily found along the northern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. They are a threatened species, indicating their potential to become endangered in the near future, making them somewhat elusive.

Finding one of these flowers is akin to a mini treasure hunt. They are both rare and exceptionally small, growing only about two inches tall. However, the thrill of discovery presents a state treasure that is truly incomparable.

Fun Fact: The first recorded discovery of the Dwarf Lake Iris was on Mackinac Island.

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

The Indian Paintbrush is a widely seen wildflower in Michigan, often referred to as butterfly weed due to the number of butterflies it attracts for pollination.

Butterflies aren’t the only pollinators of the Indian Paintbrush. The unique structure of these flowers makes them an ideal nectar source for hummingbirds as well.

You can find this flower in open fields and alongside sandy roads, particularly in woodland clearings. Many sightings have been reported along the roads in the Leelanau Peninsula.

Fun Fact: The Indian Paintbrush is frequently mistaken for the cardinal flower due to their similar color and structure.

“Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan) & Rudbeckia triloba (Brown-Eyed Susan)

Black-Eyed Susan

The “Susans” are amongst the most easily identifiable summer wildflowers in the state of Michigan.

From the onset of June through the later months of August and September, these petite yellow blossoms enliven open meadows and forests across the state, mirroring their much larger kin: the sunflowers.

Distinguishing the two can be accomplished by examining the petals: the black-eyed susans typically sport longer, more slender petals compared to their brown-eyed counterparts.

Interesting Trivia: The earthy brown and gold hues of Western Michigan University are believed to have drawn inspiration from the blooming brown-eyed susans in the Kalamazoo region.

Hesperis matronalis (Dame’s Rocket)

Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

Dame’s rocket is, in fact, an alien species in Michigan. It is one of the rare wildflowers that individuals are urged to uproot, much akin to another member of the mustard family, the garlic mustard.

Despite their attractive purple and pink hues and fragile petals, they pose a challenge due to their swift propagation which disrupts the reproduction of other crucial indigenous plants and impacts the animals dependent on Michigan’s harmonious botanical ecosystem.

Interesting Trivia: Dame’s rocket is often mistaken for the endangered native species, wild blue phlox. The difference can be noted by counting petals: dame’s rocket has four petals per flower, while phloxes have five.

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

The purple coneflower is extraordinarily rare, to the extent that the last uncontested wild populations in Michigan have not been sighted since the 19th century.

Even though this flower is virtually impossible to locate in the wild, it’s still worth being aware of. With their large size and vibrant colors, they make exceptional additions to home gardens, attracting an abundance of butterflies to your yard.

Interesting Trivia: Purple coneflower possesses medicinal properties – the flowers can be utilized to brew a tea that boosts the immune system.

Lacework Orchid (Platanthera lacera)

Fringed Orchid (Platanthera lacera)

The Lacework Orchids are exclusive inhabitants of Michigan. This endangered species thrives in damp habitats, like marshlands, moist meadows, and swamps, particularly in the northern part of Michigan and its upper peninsula.

From the end of June to the beginning of July, these wildflowers display their beauty, with blooms protruding from the long grass. However, this spectacle only lasts for a brief period of 7-10 days, making their discovery a race against time.

Interesting Information: A single stalk of the Lacework Orchid can produce up to 40 individual blooms – talk about a packed schedule!

Pond Lily (Nymphaeaceae)

Water Lily (Nymphaeaceae)

Pond Lilies are the unsung heroes of Michigan’s wildflower kingdom.

Their common presence often leads us to take them for granted, but the next time you spot one gently resting on the water’s surface at your favorite pond, pause to admire it. You might find that you enjoy the stark contrast of its bright white or pink hue against the surrounding green.

Interesting Information: Renowned Impressionist artist, Claude Monet drew immense inspiration from the Pond Lilies in his garden in Giverny, France, which became the focal point of many of his later works.

Salmon Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

When they burst forth with their distinctive, trout-like speckled patterns in full view in April, it’s a sure sign that springtime has officially commenced. Large groups flourish in the fertile soils of Michigan’s Maple-Beech forests, such as those in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, injecting a burst of vivid, warm colors into the woodland.

This particular wildflower stands out among other lily species, offering a delightful sight.

Interesting Information: Studies have indicated that the average age of Salmon Lily colonies can reach up to 150 years, with the potential to survive over 1,000 years if left undisturbed.

Flaming Star (Liatris squarrosa)

Blazing Star (Liatris squarrosa)

Located on the arid plains of North America and select regions of southeast Michigan during midsummer, the Flaming Star is a radiant bloom among the muted hues of pine trees and open land.

This singular flower earned its name from its physical characteristics. Its petals fan out and drift downwards, reminiscent of a firework.

Interesting Information: Numerous Native American tribes have a tradition of using the Flaming Star plant for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The Cheyenne utilized the roots for pain management and as a remedy for infectious diseases, while the Montana Indians used its leaves for treating upset stomachs and as an antiseptic wash, and the Paiute tribe consumed the seeds for sustenance.

Daisy Erigeron (Erigeron annuus)

Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus)

Daisy Erigerons are hidden gems in the world of flora. These unique plants tend to prosper in disturbed areas, like well-trodden fields, roadsides, or even waste areas.

Despite being widespread across the US and found in relatively bustling locations, this charming daisy is worth a second glance on your subsequent outdoor adventure.

Interesting Information: The Daisy Erigeron, like other varieties of erigeron, derives its name from the belief that dried bundles of the plants could ward off fleas.

Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Pink Lady Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

The pink lady’s slipper, colloquially known as the moccasin flower, is a flamboyant bloom, reaching impressive heights of two to three feet with flowers spanning approximately two inches.

Although a part of the orchid family, its heavily lined and profoundly cleft pouch sets it apart as an exceptional relative.

Its capacity to grow in any location, but not all, denotes that this wildflower is adaptable to a wide variety of habitats. However, it still demands specific conditions to foster its extended life cycle.

Interesting Fact: Pollinating bees that enter this unusually shaped flower cannot retreat the way they entered. In their struggle to find an alternate exit, they inadvertently gather more pollen and nectar on their limbs and body to transport to the next bloom. It acts as a form of orchid security – ensuring all possibilities are covered, just in case.

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Among the more uniquely shaped wildflowers, Dutchman’s breeches aptly live up to their name. Upon blossoming, it’s not difficult to imagine the white blooms as miniature trousers for mythical creatures, suspended from the stem like laundry on a line.

The plant maintains a low profile, nestled close to the ground in lush woodland areas. Beyond its distinctive shape, this plant propagates in an equally unique manner, relying predominantly on ants for seed dispersal.

Interesting Fact: If the Dutchman’s breeches plant is plucked, the flowers wilt instantly. Hence, it is highly recommended to admire this plant without disturbing its natural state.

Additional Michigan Wildflowers to Look Out For:

Goats Rue (Tephrosia virginiana) Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) False Dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) Yellow Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) Blueeyed Grass Trailing Arbutus Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

Where to Discover Michigan Wildflowers

The Wildflower Association of Michigan’s website is an invaluable platform for learning more about the flora indigenous to Michigan.

A more comprehensive guide to wildflowers, inclusive of a wildflower database, can be found here.

We also endorse the Michigan Nature Guy’s blog. His website is a detailed repository of Michigan’s native wildflowers, providing useful details such as scientific names and potential sighting locations.

Michigan Wildflowers for Your Garden

If you’ve invested time in exploring the wildflower database and identified the Michigan seed needed to begin your own natural garden, wildflower seeds can be obtained here. They are a purveyor of high-quality seeds.

A seed mix is also available for purchase, which incorporates numerous native Michigan flowers for an impressive spring display.