Found Again!

It was raining, and the forecast said rain all week, but then there was a window of a few hours between downpours. Thinking about the plants that might be Scutellaria nervosa, I decided to take the camera on a quick hike to the site and check. I was sure they wouldn’t be flowering yet, since a week before they had just the tiniest little buds on them.

I was wrong: they were already flowering. But, I was right: they are S. nervosa!

Veiny skullcap is one of ten Scutellaria species found in Maryland. All are native, and half of them are on the RTE list (veiny is ranked S1S2). The species is globally secure; the only other jurisdiction listing it is Michigan, where it’s threatened. Its native range is more or less the Ohio River basin and somewhat east of that into the mid-Atlantic states.

This is a slender forb growing to about a foot tall, with a single stem. The lower stem leaves are ovate and dentate, and may have short petioles, while the upper leaves are elliptical, less dentate or almost entire, and sessile. The upper leaf surfaces are lightly covered in hairs, and the margins are more densely hairy.

The light blue, pendant flowers are borne in pairs in the upper leaf axils. They aren’t very showy, and sometimes they hide under the leaves, so they’re easy to miss.

If you find veiny skullcap in Maryland please post in the comments section! We have very few records for this species.

More RTEs

What a week I had last week! It started with orchids and ended with multiple RTE sightings. I re-found Scutellaria nervosa (S1S2/highly state rare; endangered) on the same day I pulled weeds from a stand of Valeriana pauciflora (S1/highly state rare/endangered). And not long after that, I came across the largest stand of Phacelia purshii (Miami mist, fringed phacelia) that I have ever seen.

That stand had literally dozens of star-of-Bethlehem plants all through it, so before taking pictures I weeded that patch. [important note in case you missed my previous post: I have authority to do so in that area] Actually I rather regret not taking a picture of the whole patch first, but oh well. They’ll be back…

P. purshii is listed S3/watchlist in Maryland.

Not long after that, I found a lovely and mostly weed-free patch of Phacelia dubia (small-flower phacelia), which is also S3/watchlist.

I wrote about the two species (and a third, P. covillei) in April of 2017, so won’t repeat myself. I just wanted to post these pictures.


Every spring I go looking for long-tube valerian, aka few-flowered valerian or large-flower valerian (Valeriana pauciflora), a forb of wet wooded areas that sports a stunning inflorescence. In Maryland it’s listed S1/E [see my previous post for definitions]. I know of four distinct populations in the Maryland piedmont.

Last week I was at one of those sites, setting up the camera on the tripod, and while looking around for a good candidate (since the flowers were just starting to bloom and the dappled forest light was making annoying shadows), I noticed a fair amount of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and a few star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), too.

Those two species are invasive aliens. While garlic mustard is a well-known pest, star-of-Bethlehem gets less attention. The first time I saw it in those woods, maybe seven or eight years ago, there were just a few. But every year, there are more and more.



Here’s a picture of its close cousin, nodding star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum nutans), invading a floodplain in Frederick County.




So anyway, before shooting, I donned this vest and pulled some weeds.

I don’t do this nearly as often as I should. But I took a class, was given a vest, and am therefore allowed to do a certain amount of invasive alien plant removal in a few specified areas. There are so many invasive aliens in those areas that I’ve decided to limit my efforts to places with populations of RTEs (rare, threatened, endangered species).

I’m not sure who originated the Weed Warrior concept, but Carole Bergmann of Montgomery Parks started our local  program in 1999, and there are others in the DMV. If you’re inclined to do some volunteering and make a difference, I urge you to look for a local Weed Warrior group and sign up. At the same time I strongly urge you not to just start pulling weeds. It’s illegal to do so in most public parks, unless you have permission, for a good reason: it’s easy to do real damage to native plant populations if you don’t know what you’re doing. So please, get involved, but do so responsibly.

Found Again?

I took this picture four years ago when still fairly new to photography, learning to use a new lens (105mm macro) and not sure what I was doing. Lying on my belly to get some close-up shots of miniscule blossoms on other plants, I happened to see these little pendant blue flowers and shot them, too. I had no idea what the plants were.

Later at home I keyed them out to veiny skullcap (Scutellaria nervosa). And then I learned that the species was listed S1 and endangered in Maryland!

Currently it’s listed S1/S2 endangered, with a status change to threatened pending. According to the Maryland DNR,

S1: Critically Imperiled/Highly State Rare—At very high risk of extinction or extirpation due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, very severe threats, or other factors. Typically occurring in five or fewer populations.

S2: Imperiled/State Rare—At high risk of extinction or extirpation due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors. Typically occurring in 6-20 populations.

Endangered: A species whose continued existence as a viable component of Maryland’s flora is determined to be in jeopardy.

I went back as soon as I could to get better pictures, but couldn’t find the plants, despite knowing exactly where to look (geotagged with iPhone). And I’ve hunted for them every year since, but have never found them.

Until a few days ago.

I won’t be positive until they bloom, but the appearance of the leaves and stem, coupled with flower bud location (in the upper leaf axils), leaves little doubt.

Fingers crossed.

Losing Myself

Tuesday, 8 May 2018
8:16 leave house a little later than intended
8:47 arrive at park, shoulder daypack, start hiking
9:04 find orchids, set up, start shooting; reposition tripod several times, swap lenses, try some hand-held shots – the usual. About 15 minutes later, check my phone.

It’s 9:45.  Hmm.  Just a few more shots before heading back.

10 minutes later, check the phone: it’s 10:15.

That’s pretty typical for me when I’m shooting anything, but it’s worse when the subject is orchids.

This is Cypripedium acaule, pink lady’s slipper, a terrestrial orchid native to eastern North America. It ranges from the Appalachian Mountains in the south into most parts of the mid-Atlantic, New England, the upper Midwest, and Canada. In Maryland it seems to be in all the physiographic provinces but we have the most records for it in the piedmont.

It’s endangered in Illinois, unusual in Georgia, commercially exploited/ endangered in Tennessee, and exploitably vulnerable in New York. The fact that it’s exploited is particularly troublesome because, as I’ve written many times and as poachers really ought to know by now, transplanting orchids from the wild is a good way to kill them. They might survive for a little while, but without the correct fungus in the soil, they won’t reproduce and will soon die. The USDA Forest Service has a nice little article with more details.

This is what they looked like eight days earlier. —>

Although not on Maryland’s RTE list, this orchid isn’t common. If you find some, take a moment to lose yourself in the beauty.

Seven Down, Forty-some To Go

Sunday evening I’m on the computer, browsing various internet forums*, and I see a post from someone who’s found some nice flowers in a nearby park. When I read the words “large whorled pogonia,” my heart skips a beat.


So first thing Monday morning, plans to go hunting for lady’s slipper orchids are scuttled, and off I go to add another wild orchid to my life list.


Isotria verticillata (formerly Pogonia verticillata and Arethusa verticillata) ranges from eastern Texas northeast well into New England. It’s endangered in Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire; threatened in Michigan and Vermont; exploitably vulnerable in New York; and possibly extirpated in Maine. But it’s secure in Maryland, where it can be found in the piedmont and some western parts of the coastal plain.


Like most orchids found in the continental US, large whorled pogonia is terrestrial. It likes moist to dry woodland soils, and is pollinated by bees. Also as is typical of our native orchids, because of specialized cultural requirements, it isn’t very common.

I was on the same trail just five days before shooting these pictures, and didn’t see the plants. As you can see from the previous picture, they don’t exactly stand out, but they aren’t hidden, either. On the other hand, here’s a picture of one recently emerged and not yet open. I think it’s likely that five days ago there weren’t any to see.*fun for grammar nerds

Four Similar-Looking Plants and How to Tell Them Apart


Since the topic keeps coming up on various internet forums, I thought I’d write a little guide about these plants, all of which are flowering or about to flower now in the Maryland piedmont.

sessile bellwort, Uvularia sessilifolia; Liliaceae or Colchicaceae
perfoliate bellwort, Uvularia perfoliata; Liliaceae or Colchicaceae
Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum; Ruscaceae or Asparagaceae or Liliaceae
Solomon’s plume aka false Solomon’s seal, Maianthemum racemosum; Ruscaceae or Asparagaceae or Liliaceae
(apologies for the family name confusion, but authorities differ)

In flower, these four species are easy to distinguish. Before they flower, they can be tricky – indeed, the old common name of M. racemosum comes from the fact that it looks a lot like P. biflorum.

So, how to tell them apart when they’re young?

I prepared this chart based on my own observations cross-referenced by information in the Flora of North America via, the New England Wild Flower Society’s gobotany site, and Illinois Wildflowers.

Uvularia species Maianthemum racemosum Polygonatum biflorum
stem form stems simple or with 1 branch stems erect or arching, sometimes zigzag stems erect to arching
stem texture glabrous, glaucous slightly hairy glabrous, glaucous
leaf arrangement alternate alternate alternate
leaf attachment sessile or perfoliate (per species) sessile, clasping or perfoliate sessile to clasping
leaf shape oblong-linear to oblong-ovate elliptic to ovate narrowly lanceolate to elliptic or nearly ovate
leaf base rounded to cuneate rounded to cuneate cuneate to rounded
leaf tip acute to acuminate acute or caudate acute
leaf texture glabrous glabrous glabrous, sometimes with a bit of a sheen
inflorescence 1 per branch, terminal but appearing axillary terminal axillary (in several axils)
#flowers/inflorescence one 70-250 typically 2, as many as 5

The descriptions are much alike, and frankly not that useful when the specimens are still young. I don’t have all the pictures I want to illustrate this post, but study the ones below;  I think with experience you can develop an eye for identifying these species by considering the whole plant as well as the individual details.

The bellworts are overall much smaller than the other two species, with shorter stems and smaller leaves.

Start with the easy one: perfoliate bellwort. The way the stem appears to pierce the leaf is unique, so it’s hard to confuse this with the others even when a specimen is very young.



Sessile bellwort is much smaller than M. racemosum and P. biflorum. Its terminal bud develops very early, when the plant is still tiny. Especially if the other two species are nearby, it’s pretty clear from the size and general appearance if a young plant is a bellwort.

perfoliate bellwort and Solomon’s plume next to each other; note how different the stems look (click to enlarge)

Perhaps the best way to distinguish M. racemosum from P. biflorum when the plants are very young is to look at the leaf tips. When the plants are a little older, they’re very easy to tell apart by looking for buds: M. racemosum has a cluster of buds at the very end of the stem, while P. biflorum will have a few buds at many (but not all) of the leaf axils.

I love that I found these two growing right by each other, but be warned, this P. biflorum is atypical: the leaves are exceptionally narrow. Note that there’s one flower bud dangling from a leaf axil. Also, check out the leaf tips (click on the picture to zoom in), because they’re textbook examples. P. biflorum’s is acute, and M. racemosum‘s is caudate.


P. biflorum with flower buds





young M. racemosum, no buds yet





zigzag stem, caudate leaf tips, and terminal inflorescence = M. racemosum




straighter stem, narrower leaves, and axillary flowers = P. biflorum