Last Bittersweet Days of Winter

The ending of winter can be a bittersweet transition to spring. Maybe these days are a chance for uninterrupted reading opportunities, time to think about new season plants or time to prepare. For now, let’s think about bluebells, other blue flowers, a podcast, and bittersweet vine.

Virginia bluebells grow on the Northern Plains! The striking blue flower on an early blooming plant is its main draw. Bluebells are an early flowering plant in partial shade as trees begin to leaf out. 

This writer finds the success of these perennials has been increased by using starter plants instead of growing them from seed. Summer blooming plants integrate well with bluebells as they fade to foliage. Bluebells and other early Northern blooming plants are featured in the March/April Northern Gardener magazine, and is available for browsing at the Yankton Community Library.


As you look for flowering plants, perhaps you have noticed that blue-flowered plants are less common. An explanation comes from the December 2021 Smithsonian magazine. Nature has no blue pigment. Chlorophyll gives the appearance of green; carotene gives red or orange; and xanthophyll gives yellow. Blue is rare. Blue flowers come from shifting acidity, such as blue hydrangeas, adding molecules, or mixing pigments in plants. Blue is considered more attractive to specific pollinators.

“Let’s Argue About Plants” is a free podcast available on YouTube with over 60 topics. Fine Gardening magazine editors lead the episodes. The title of their show indicates that they understand gardeners. Issues such as “Why Am I Not Growing This?” “Listener Q & A” and “Best Small Trees” are among the choices. 

This segment of bittersweet vine lies along a trail by a clump of small sumac trees near here. Its bold colors are alluring for crafters to use the orange in dried arrangements. In the photo, red berries are missing. Wildlife likely ate them, one of their sources of fruit. Its berries are poisonous to humans.

The vines grow about 20 feet in a season. It’s harder to find vining plants that grow well in this region. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, these vines can overtake landscape in some areas. The bittersweet grows up shrubs and trees, girdle stems, and cause plants to die. Forms of Celastrus sp. were introduced in the United States in the 1860s and naturalized here. Bittersweet appears on the USDA national noxious plant list. The unusual name for a plant.

Some might say that now is a bittersweet time of year. Gardeners have some ideas about the meaning of bittersweet. Enjoy your end of winter!

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