Minnesota is home to dozens of native wildflowers, some of them tiny and inconspicuous and others large and showy. Minnesota has four distinct ecosystem biomes--boreal forest in the northeast; tallgrass aspen parkland in the northwest; eastern broadleaf forest across the middle of the state; and prairie grassland along the southern and western edge.
Your location dictates what kind of native wildflowers you will find. Native wildflowers, trees, grasses and other plants benefit wildlife by providing food and shelter. Never dig wildflowers from public land, and buy seeds or transplants from reputable dealers.
The pasque flower (Anemone patens) is one of the earliest-blooming wildflowers in Minnesota. White or pale lavender flowers form on very hairy stems that reach 4 to 10 inches in height. Pasqueflowers are mostly found in the prairie regions of the state.
No butterfly garden would be complete without purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), which has purple, daisylike flowers with a spherical orange center. Gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) has similar flowers, but with yellow petals and a brown center. Many birds, including goldfinches, enjoy coneflower seeds. Coneflowers are found naturally in the southern and western parts of Minnesota, but they perform well in gardens throughout the state.
The white, three-petaled flowers of large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) grace northern forests in the late spring or early summer. There is also a purple trillium (Trillium erectum) that blooms a bit later and is found a bit further south. Trilliums take seven years or more to mature enough to produce a flower, and they can be difficult to establish in the garden.
Various milkweed species can be found throughout Minnesota, but they are more prevalent in the central part of the state. Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) produces dark pink flowers and the leaves are a vital food source for monarch butterfly larvae. Orange butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) provides nectar for many other butterflies, as well as hummingbirds, insects and other pollinators.
It may seem impossible, but there are actually two species of cacti native to Minnesota: the common prickly pear (Opuntia macrorhiza) and the brittle prickly pear (O. fragilis). Prickly pears occur on remnant native prairies in the southwest corner of the state, and they produce bright yellow flowers that are pollen-rich and popular with many insects.
Minnesota's state flower is the showy ladyslipper (Cypripedium reginae), which has large, ornate pink and white flowers. There are also yellow ladyslippers (C. calceolus), pink ladyslippers (C. acaule) and white ladyslippers (C. candidum). These orchids grow in moist, shady locations in the northern and central parts of the state. Since ladyslipper orchids depend on a mycorrhizal relationship with the soil and because the plants may take up to 20 years to mature, they are nearly impossible to grow in a garden setting and should never be dug from the wild.