Unfortunately, I have no picture - the drought apparently killed all these
plants I had. The plant is about a foot tall, with a bright yellow flower
that looks like a large buttercup. Blooms mid-to-late spring. I bought
it at a native plant sale (I'm near Baltimore), so it's native to this
area. It spread nicely.
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Does it looks like the images at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oenothera ? The most distinctive thing
here is the cross-shaped stigma (may or may not show up well in photos
due to lighting, but it is pretty easy to spot in person).
Seems to fit all your descriptions (well, with the possible exception
of native, but most/many of the yellow evening primrose species are
native to the Baltimore area).
If this is it, look closely at where your plants had been growing.
This time of year, the flower stalks are dying (or seem to be), but
the plant is putting out small clusters of leaves (from slightly
The drought didn't get mine (near Washington, DC), so it is possible
that you just don't recognize the flower stalk and the small leaf
clusters as being the same plant (I know I didn't the first year).
Do Evening Primroses bloom as early as mid to late spring? (The ones
I've seen, don't, in the UK, but it's the annual, not the perennial,
ones that are common here.)
I'd suggest Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold). (Which as a marsh plant
might be expected to be drought sensitive.)
I'm trying to remember a specific month, but they certainly were
blooming before the black-eyed susans and other summer plants. I'm
guessing May. Maybe June.
Easy enough for the original poster to look at both photos and
distinguish between these two. The evening primrose has more of a
single vertical stem (or a few), whereas the Marsh Marigold looks like
more of a bush shape.
But there are a lot of yellow flowers that look a bit like a buttercup
(not just in one family, either, probably because the ancestor to most
of the dicots probably looked something like a buttercup).
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