10 Iconic Plants and Trees That Herald Spring

Close-up of three daffodils facing the sunshine
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There's hardly a more hopeful sight than a patch of daffodils blooming after a winter you thought wouldn't end. Flowers are one of the first things we look forward to seeing after the snow melts and the temperature takes an upward swing. Some of the most iconic early bloomers include powder-pink cherry blossoms and magnolias that fill the air with their sweet champagne smell.

When you see these 10 plants and trees blooming, you know spring is coming.


Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

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Snow Crocuses (Crocus chrysanthus)

Meadow of purple crocus with snow-covered mountain in the distance

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Though some of the 80 known species of crocus don't bloom until fall, the snow crocus—aka "Goldilocks"—is one of the first flowers to pop from the cold, snowy ground, as early as February or early March.

The snow crocus is native to Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey, so you'll only find them displaying their characteristic yellow, white, or purple petals where they've been planted in the U.S. You'll know they're near by the smell of honey.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy, well-draining soil with ample organic matter.
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Snowdrops (Galanthus)

Close-up of blooming snowdrops hanging on their stems
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Although more popular in Great Britain than the U.S., these snow-white drooping bell-shaped flowers do grow in northern states, where they bloom in February and March. They're incredibly delicate and grow about six inches maximum.

There are an astonishing 2,500-plus varieties of snowdrop, all native to Europe and the Middle East. Most of the varieties, however, are hybrids of three species: Galanthus nivalis, Galanthus elwesii, and Galanthus plicatus.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Light to moderate shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained soil.
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Cherry Blossoms (Prunus serrulata)

New York City path lined with pink blooming cherry blossoms

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Japanese cherry blossoms reveal their adored pink and white blooms in mid-to-late March. These trees can wind up being between six and 35 feet tall, depending on where they're grown. Although they originated in Eurasia, these days you can find transplanted populations from Washington, D.C., to Dublin, Ireland.

Still, Japan is known as the motherland of cherry blossoms, alone boasting more than 200 varieties. Every spring, they inspire festivals around the world and make photographers swoon with their fleeting beauty. The blooming period lasts only a week or two; by early April, most of the flowers will have already dropped.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained acidic, loamy, clay, or sandy soils.
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Christmas Roses (Helleborus)

Close-up of two white Christmas roses blooming

Japan, Asia and other of the world / Getty Images

In the south, where it's warm, Christmas roses can bloom as early as January. In the north (zones 3 to 8), rather, they erupt in white, flat-faced flowers in March. Despite their name and appearance, these flowers native to the mountains of Europe and Asia are actually members of the buttercup family. They bloom in shades of green, white, pink, or ruby and keep their flowers throughout most of the season.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moisture-retentive soil rich in organic matter.
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Azaleas (Rhododendron)

Azalea bush bursting with hot-pink flowers
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Azaleas are native to Asia but are now common in the Southern United States. These members of the rhododendron genus range from low-growing groundcover varieties to 20-foot-tall trees. They bloom from late March to mid-May and keeping blooming repeatedly throughout the summer and into fall.

These beautiful flowering bushes serve as the backdrop of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. Nine species of them fill thousands of acres at Great Smoky Mountains National Park with waves of white, purple, and pink blossoms.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun, depending on region and variety.
  • Soil Needs: Nutrient-rich, acidic, well-draining soil.
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Magnolias (Magnolia)

Magnolia tree filled with pink and white flowers

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Another integral part of the Southern U.S. landscape is the fragrant magnolia tree. The popular U.S. variety (Magnolia grandiflora) doesn't actually bloom until August or sometimes even September, but other varieties like the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) start flowering in late March.

There are about 125 species of magnolia plant—ranging from tall shrubs to trees, from deciduous to evergreen—and all are native to Asia and the Americas. The average diameter of their white, pink, red, or purple flowers is about three inches, or up to 12 inches in the case of the giant Southern Magnolia, the state tree of Mississippi.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, porous, acidic, well-draining soils.
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Daffodils (Narcissus)

Yellow daffodils growing in front of rail fence at sunset

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One of the most beloved garden bulbs out there, daffodils herald spring with their sunshine-yellow flowers that burst out of the ground any time from early March to May. Daffodils are popular with gardeners because members of the 25 various species can tolerate a variety of climates and therefore be grown in almost all zones.

Their shape has been described as a "cup on a saucer," with the corona (the cup) being their most distinguishing, unique, and beautiful feature.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining organic soil.
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Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida)

white flowering dogwood tree in a spring garden

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Flowering dogwood trees are widely used in landscaping due to their gorgeous and delicate pink or white flowers that appear in April or May. These shrubs or trees can be found from Maine to Florida and as far west as Texas.

The Arbor Day Foundation says dogwoods are so popular that millions of seedlings and budded trees are produced every year for commercial nurseries around the country. After their spring flowers fade away, their foliage turns autumnal in the fall, making them a multi-season favorite.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9a.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Slightly alkaline clay, loam, or sandy well-draining soil.
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Oklahoma Redbuds (Cercis canadensis var. texensis)

Oklahoma redbud tree in full bright-pink bloom

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The deciduous Oklahoma redbud tree blooms in March or April throughout the Southern U.S. and West Coast. It can reach 30 to 40 feet in height and 15 to 20 feet across. In spring, deep pink and red flowers appear on all the branches and even the trunk before transitioning to shiny, thick, leathery, dark green leaves in the summer. Clusters of flat, purple, bean-like pods last into winter and help the tree reproduce.

The tree, named the official Oklahoma state tree in 1937, is highly drought-tolerant, which is good for gardeners. But it's susceptible to disease and may bloom for only a few decades of its life.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6b to 8a.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Clay, loam, or sandy well-draining soil.
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Texas Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis)

Field of blooming Texas bluebonnets beside a river at sunset

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This state flower of Texas usually blooms in early April and can last until early May. Entire fields full of these brilliant blue flowers can be found in the wild throughout northern Texas, where multiple towns hold festivals in their name.

There are five species of bluebonnets, which are part of the legume family, and the Texas Department of Transportation has been using them to beautify roadsides since the early 1930s.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining sandy, loamy, or clay soil.

To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.

View Article Sources
  1. "Crocus chrysanthus 'Goldilocks'." Missouri Botanical Society.

  2. "Eight Things You Probably Don’t Know About Flowering Cherry Trees." Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

  3. "Magnolia." Clemson University Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center.

  4. "Pink Dogwood." Arbor Day Foundation.

  5. Gilman, Edward F., and Dennis G. Watson. "Cercis Reniformis 'Oklahoma': Oklahoma Redbud." University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.