They're here! Where to find spring wildflowers on P.E.I.

If you're like many Islanders, you're getting out for more walks during these COVID-19 days. Want to find the earliest spring flowers during your strolls? Here's how.

You'll smell the mayflowers before you even see them

Judy Clark of Charlottetown got her hands on this beautiful bouquet of spring mayflowers. (Submitted by Judy Clark)

If you're like many Islanders, you're getting out for more walks during these COVID-19 days.

Want to find the earliest spring wildflowers during your strolls? Here are some suggestions, from P.E.I. biologist Kate MacQuarrie.

"I love this time of year when things come out," she said. 

MacQuarrie does not encourage picking of any of the flowers — most won't last long as cut flowers anyway — but suggests people simply take photos to enjoy later.

Kate MacQuarrie is a biologist and an accomplished outdoorsperson. (Kate MacQuarrie)

Dutchman's breeches

MacQuarrie's favourite spring ephemeral — flowers that only bloom for a short time — is Dutchman's breeches. 

'The neat look of them, that's what gets me,' says MacQuarrie of her favourite spring wildflower, Dutchman's breeches. (imageBROKER/Shutterstock)

"Dutchman's breeches are beautiful. They look like little upside-down pantaloons or breeches," she said. "The neat look of them, that's what gets me."

Find them any day now along riverbanks across P.E.I., including the Dunk River, the Hunter-Clyde River, the Granville River and the Trout River, she said. 

"There's public trails in some of these areas, so I always encourage people not to trespass but to stick to public land." 

Dutchman's breeches can be found along P.E.I.'s riverbanks. (Kate MacQuarrie)

Dwarf ginseng

"People don't know we have dwarf ginseng on P.E.I.," MacQuarrie said. "It's kind of cool that we have it here."

Dwarf ginseng is one of the earliest-blooming plants on P.E.I. (Kate MacQuarrie)

The compact plants are seven to 10 centimetres tall and should also be blooming very soon. 

"They're very showy," MacQuarrie said. "Personally, I like it for how pretty it is." 

It is quite rare on P.E.I., but if you do luck into finding a patch of dwarf ginseng, there will be thousands of plants in one spot, she said.

The best place to try is Townshend Woodlot Natural Area, which is a protected area near Souris that includes old-growth forest. There are no trails there, so MacQuarrie said you should know how to use a GPS or compass.

Spring beauty

"It's a beautiful little plant. It's got white flowers and it looks like somebody's taken a little bit of violet on a paintbrush and just streaked the petals," MacQuarrie said. 

The white blooms of spring beauty look like they've been painted with a touch of violet, MacQuarrie says. (Kate MacQuarrie)

Spring beauty plants are 15 to 20 centimetres tall.

Along the Mill River is a good spot to find them, she said. 


Mayflowers are out now and are very common across P.E.I., MacQuarrie said, but asks people to be careful not to over-harvest them.

Marian White found these mayflowers in Tracadie, where she lives. (Marian White)

Over-picking can cause mayflowers to become rare, she said. 

"They smell so wonderful, you don't need a huge batch to get that wonderful smell ... there's nothing that smells better than mayflowers," she said. 

Mayflowers grow in shaded areas such as along P.E.I.'s clay roads, where the soil is acidic. Just drive slowly with the car windows down and "I guarantee you'll see some," she said. 

They'll only be flowering for another week or so. 

Lady's slippers

Lady's slipper orchids are P.E.I.'s provincial flower, and come in both pink and white varieties.

Lady's slipper orchids, P.E.I.'s provincial flower, are a later spring ephemeral on P.E.I. (Donna Martin)

MacQuarrie suggests a simple mantra to remember when they bloom — "the three L's." Lupins, lilacs, and lady's slippers bloom at the same time, usually the third or fourth week of June, although possibly earlier this year, she said.

A common misconception is that is is illegal to pick them, she said. 

"But while it's not illegal to pick them I certainly don't recommend that people pick them," she said, "Every one of those flowers have thousands and thousands of seeds in it that are going to be the next generation." 

They don't last long as cut flowers anyway, she said, plus their stems contain an irritant similar to poison ivy. Take pictures to enjoy later instead. 

Find them in mixed woodlands across the province, including along the trail at the Harvey Moore Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern P.E.I., along the trails in Strathgartney and Bonshaw in central P.E.I., and around the Foxley River Demo Woodlot up west, MacQuarrie said. 

There are two other varieties of lady's slippers that are rare and hard to find, MacQuarrie notes: yellow ones only found in cedar swamps, and showy lady's slipper, found only in a handful of locations on the Island.

More from CBC P.E.I.


Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email


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