Blooming | These wildflowers can be found on Michigan preserves. ©: Jason Whalen
The blooms of blazing star standing in a field of green plants and grass at Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve, Michigan.
Blazing Star Liatris or Blazing Star can be found in Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve in southwest Michigan. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Stories in Michigan

A Walk Through Michigan’s Wildflowers

A guide to finding unique blooms across the state.

When the winter snow melts in Michigan, a variety of wildflowers begin to emerge, some of which grow nowhere else on earth. Explore this guide for the best places to view our state’s diverse plant life and learn about the role each plays in their respective habitats.


1. American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

Found in south and southeastern Michigan, the state-threatened American lotus is a stunning flower. Typically growing in areas of slow-moving water, its leaves resemble lily pads while its large, yellow-white blossoms rise high above the water’s surface. The spectacular blooms open in the morning and close in the evening for a period of about three days.

Bloom Time: Mid- to late-August
Viewing: Erie Marsh Preserve, Monroe County

The sun sets over Erie Marsh, Michigan. The area is filled with the tall white blossoms of the American lotus.
A disappearing species As a state-threatened species, the American lotus is legally protected in Michigan. © Ron Leonetti
A close up of the white-yellow petals of the American lotus in TNC's Erie Marsh Preserve, Michigan.
American Lotus TNC's Erie Marsh Preserve in southeast Michigan harbors some of the few remaining colonies of the American lotus. © Ron Leonetti
A disappearing species As a state-threatened species, the American lotus is legally protected in Michigan. © Ron Leonetti
American Lotus TNC's Erie Marsh Preserve in southeast Michigan harbors some of the few remaining colonies of the American lotus. © Ron Leonetti

2. Bladderwort (Utricularia)

Located in wetlands found among sand dunes, the bladderwort is small but mighty. On the stems of this plant are small, compressed sacs, or “bladders” that pop open when brushed by an insect. This causes water to rush inside, pulling the insect with it—with a strength up to 600 times the force of gravity. A variety of both common and threatened bladderwort species reside in Michigan.

Bloom Time: June to August
Viewing: Grass Bay Preserve, Benton Township; McMahon Lake Preserve, Luce County

An area of shallow water where bladderwort is growing along the Presque Isle, Michigan shoreline.
Carnivorous bladderwort Many species of bladderwort float freely in shallow pools, and set their trap underwater. © Matt Kleitch/TNC

3. Blazing Star (Liatris)

With a narrow spike of bright purple flowers, blazing star somewhat resembles the invasive plant, purple loosestrife, but these are all native. Several species of the showy plant occur in Michigan – some in your own garden. These colorful blooms are very popular native plants to grow at home.

Bloom Time: July to August
Viewing: Grand River Fen Preserve, Horton; Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve, Mattawan

An insect rests on the purple blooms of a blazing star while another flies closer at Paw Paw Prairie Fen in southwest Michigan..
Blazing star Bees are big fans of blazing star, especially sweat bees and bumble bees. Insects gather around a colorful bloom in Paw Paw Prairie Fen in southwest Michigan. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

4. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot begins to appear in rich deciduous forests and floodplain forests in the early spring. The plant isn’t named for its bright, white bloom but rather the red-orange sap in its stem. You can find this delicate, spring ephemeral across Michigan.

Bloom Time: Early spring
Viewing: Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow

A close up of a bloodroot with a yellow center and bright white petals. It's growing out of a forest floor covered in autumn leaves at the Nan Weston Preserve, Michigan..
Bloodroot Bloodroot is popular with a variety of pollinators including bees, flies and beetles. This delicate blossom can be found in early spring at our Nan Weston Nature Preserve in Southern Michigan. © Kim Steinberger/TNC

5. Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)

The wispy, long plumes of prairie smoke can be found in Michigan’s sandy prairies, bluffs and oak savanna as well as the limestone bedrock on Drummond Island. Its habitat has been severely degraded, resulting in its state-threatened status. Natural disturbances like prescribed fire and brush removal are used to help this species establish itself in Michigan’s prairies. 

Bloom Time: May to June
Viewing: Maxton Plains Preserve, Drummond Island

Three pink feathery seed heads with long magenta-colored stems of prairie smoke with green grasses in the background located at Maxton Plains Preserve, Michigan..
Prairie Smoke While it may be tempting, don’t pick or remove prairie smoke from its habitat at our Maxton Plains Preserve in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
Green grassy field mixed with soft pink plumes of prairie smoke with forest in the background at Maxton Plains Preserve, Michigan..
When to Visit In June, prairie smoke blankets TNC’s Maxton Plains Preserve which is home to ten different species of rare Michigan plants. © Chris Cantway/TNC
Prairie Smoke While it may be tempting, don’t pick or remove prairie smoke from its habitat at our Maxton Plains Preserve in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
When to Visit In June, prairie smoke blankets TNC’s Maxton Plains Preserve which is home to ten different species of rare Michigan plants. © Chris Cantway/TNC

6. Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris)

Endemic to Great Lakes shorelines, Dwarf lake iris grows nowhere else in the world! With its habitat reduced by a number of factors, these bright blue flowers are listed as both state and federally threatened. While spotting it is rare, it’s not impossible. Keep an eye out near the ground for its blooms near areas of thin soil over limestone, rich gravel or bedrock.

Bloom Time: Early May to early July
Viewing: This species is rare. You may be able to spot it at Grass Bay Preserve, Benton Township; Carl A Gerstacker Nature Preserve at Dudley Bay; or Maxton Plains Preserve at Drummond Island.

A close up of the purple and yellow petals of the rare dwarf lake iris.
Dwarf lake Iris Did you know the latin name lacustris translates to “of lakes.” Given this, it's not surprising that dwarf lake iris grows along Great Lakes shorelines. © Jason Whalen

7. Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

These sunshine yellow wildflowers are found blooming along streams, wet swamps and marshy hollows in the early spring. The kidney-shaped petals of the marsh marigold are often likened to large buttercups. They are widely found across Michigan.

Bloom Time: Early spring
Viewing: Ives Road Fen Preserve, Lenawee County; John Arthur Woollam Preserve, Port DolomiteNan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow

Small plant with green round leaves with clusters of yellow flowers growing among logs and green grasses and moss in the .John Arthur Woollam Preserve, Michigan.
On the forest floor Marsh Marigolds can be found growing across the forest floor in TNC's John Arthur Woollam Preserve in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. © Danielle Miller/TNC

8. Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea)

The leaves of the pitcher plant form a deep cup where water collects. Insects crawl in and drown, unable to climb back out again due to downward-pointing spines that line the inside of the cup. The easiest time to spot a pitcher plant is in the summer when it sends up a purple-red flower on a stalk as high as two feet tall. This carnivorous plant can be found in bogs and fens across the state.

Bloom Time: April or May
Viewing: Grass Bay Preserve, Benton TownshipMcMahon Lake Preserve, Luce County; Ives Road Fen Preserve, Lenawee County

Two red flower buds of the pitcher plant.
Pitcher Perfect The striking pitcher plant can be widely found across Michigan. © Crystal Silva

9. Pitcher's Thistle (Cirsium pitcheri)

Endemic to Great Lakes shorelines, the pitcher’s thistle thrives in sandy areas, using a taproot that grows up to six feet long to reach water. It is a monocarpic plant, meaning it only flowers and produces seeds one time, at the end of its 5-8 year lifespan. Like the dwarf lake iris, the species is listed as both state and federally threatened.

Bloom Time: Late July to early September
Viewing: Shoreline preserves like Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie, Carl A Gerstacker Nature Preserve at Dudley Bay and Portage Point Woods Preserve in Manistee.

A close up of the wispy head of the pitcher's thistle at Portage Point Dunes, Michigan. The strands of the flower are white and a soft purple.
Pitcher's Thistle The tiny white hairs that cover its stems and leaves give the pitcher's thistle a silvery sheen and help it retain water. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Pitcher thistle grows along the sandy shoreline of Zetterberg Preserve, Michigan on a cloudy day.
Dune Processes Pitcher’s thistle is reliant on natural dune processes to flourish. The sandy shore of Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie provides a home for this species. © Jason Whalen
Pitcher's Thistle The tiny white hairs that cover its stems and leaves give the pitcher's thistle a silvery sheen and help it retain water. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Dune Processes Pitcher’s thistle is reliant on natural dune processes to flourish. The sandy shore of Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie provides a home for this species. © Jason Whalen

10. Common Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

The many varieties of trillium, with its distinctive three-petaled blossoms, are a favorite among woodland explorers. Keep an eye out for these white blooms in moist to dry deciduous forests. Other varieties of trillium like toadshade and red prairie are threatened in Michigan.

Bloom Time: Early spring
Viewing: Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow; John Arthur Woollam Preserve, Port Dolomite; Echo Lake Nature Preserve, Marquette

Three pale pink petals of a common trillium growing in TNC's Nan Weston Nature Preserve, Michigan.
Trillium As the petals mature, some trillium begins to turn pink. This delicate blossom was photographed in the Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow. © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

Importance of Biodiversity

These are just a tiny fraction of the species that reside in Michigan. Our state and our planet are home to a vast variety of life—known as biodiversity. Many of these flowers bloom in abundance. Others, like the dwarf lake iris, are at risk of disappearing. Because the loss of one species can speed up the loss of others that depend on it, scientists say we must act urgently to help nature rebound this decade—and that will require big commitments from countries, companies and communities.

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