April is just about here, so that old saying “April showers bring May flowers” might come to mind. But we do not have to wait until May. The earliest of our flowering plants start coming into bloom in April, and Hood’s phlox is one of them.
Also known as spiny phlox or carpet phlox (and Phlox hoodii to botanists), Hood’s phlox is a diminutive member of the phlox family (Polemoniaceae). It grows in a wide variety of habitats within a range that is roughly within an area from Alaska to Manitoba southward to Nebraska, and New Mexico, then westward to California.
Hood’s phlox is among the first flowering plants to come into bloom in the spring here in North Dakota where its flowering period runs roughly from mid-April through June. To the casual observer it might look like a small patch of moss with a few white flowers stuck into it. It has a growth habit that is referred to as carpet-like or cushion-forming. It is a slow and low growing perennial that forms a moss-like loose mat or clump a few inches across on the ground with short stems and tiny leaves. It grows to only 1.5-2 inches high. The flowers are about a half-inch in diameter consisting of five white to lavender spreading petals.
Look for Hood’s phlox over much of the state on prairies and hillsides west of the Red River Valley. It can grow on a variety of soil types, but I see it most frequently on dry, thin and gravely hillsides, or what are often referred to as thin uplands.
So who was Hood? Louis Claude Marie Richard was the surgeon-naturalist and Robert Hood the primary surveyor on John Franklin’s early 1800’s overland Coppermine Expedition to chart the Coppermine River in the Northwest Territories. It was part of an effort to find the Northwest Passage. Richard named the plant in Hood’s honor. Hood also has a sedge named after him. And if you are wondering if this is the same Hood as in Mt. Hood in Oregon, it isn’t. Mt. Hood is named after Samuel Hood, an Admiral in the British Navy during the late 1700’s.
It is about time to get outdoors more often and enjoy some Natural North Dakota. Try to find some Hood’s phlox in bloom. Seeing this plant will make your day a bit brighter.