Those Damned Irises

On June 29, with my collecting permit about to expire, I went one more time to visit those two stands of irises near the Marsden Tract*, and collected two more seed capsules. Took ’em home, opened ’em up, photographed, measured, examined with hand lens, etc.

And got nowhere. The seeds just weren’t ripe enough.

My gut feeling is that stand 1 is Iris virginica and stand 2 is Iris versicolor, based on the observed characteristics. The former is on the state DNR watchlist (S3), and there are records of it in Montgomery County, so this is not too far-fetched.

But I like proof, and I haven’t proven anything, except that I’m a little nuts, so I am going to conclude that both stands are probably Iris versicolor, because it’s the more common species.

However… this ain’t over yet.

*see posts from mid May into June


Føroysk Flora Woes; Potomac Gorge Update

Yes, I’m a book nerd: I bought reference books in a language I don’t read.

You would not believe how much time I’ve spent trying to identify the flowers I found on my trip. In most cases genus is easily determined, but getting the species requires, well, specifics, many of which can be found in the three sources pictured here.

Of course, I don’t read Faroese.

puffin (Fratercula arctica) playing peekaboo on Mykines Island

I assumed I’d be able to use google translate to look for cognates in other Nordic languages, but that hasn’t worked so well. There are a few on-line translation services, but Faroese appears to have many noun cases, and I keep running across what I assume are declined nouns and conjugated verbs. And of course there’s botanical jargon.

Hopefully now that I’m back I can use my English-language book of Icelandic flowers to solve some mysteries. We’ll see. Expect scattered posts about the Faroe Islands in the coming months.

buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) playing peekaboo yesterday morning

In the meantime I’ve gotten out to the Billy Goat C trail twice. I was afraid I’d missed a lot, but nope: lots of great flowers to see if you look in the right places. Now blooming in that area: nodding onion, swamp milkweed, buttonbush, swamp candles, fogfruit, monkeyflower, sea-oats, thin-leaved sunflower, grassleaf mudplantain, wild potato vine, common arrowhead, starry campion, horsenettle, American germander, culver’s root, jumpseed, various St. Johnsworts, St. Andrew’s cross, and water willow. Halberd-leaved rosemallow is budding up, and the joe-pye weeds are, too, and close to opening.

It’s good to be home.

62° North

Greetings from Føroyar! I have just a little time to kill in the airport, so here’s a picture of Armeria maritima (sea thrift), growing on a bluff in the town of Gjógv. In the distance is the island of Kalsoy.

I believe the plant is named mjátt sjógras in Føroyskt (Faroese), but info is hard to find on the internet if you don’t read Faroese. And annoyingly, the two wildflower books I purchased are in my already-checked luggage. Also those books are in Faroese, so gleaning information from them will be a challenge.

More about Faroese flora and natural history in coming days.

Føroyar means “sheep islands”.

Don’t Forget About the Grasses

Grasses are flowering plants, after all, so why not consider them wildflowers? This is the inflorescence of Elymus hystrix, which translates roughly to “covered porcupine”. The common name is eastern bottlebrush grass. It ranges from the eastern Great Plains and northern parts of the South through the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, New England, and into Canada. Look for it in woodlands and woodland edges: unlike many grasses bottlebrush likes some shade.



And with that, I’m off for two weeks, heading for a high latitude destination. If I find wildflowers I’ll post some pictures. Landscapes, too.  In the meantime, here’s a shot of my beloved Potomac River near Glen Echo, taken a few days ago in the early morning.



Ol’ Stinky’s Blooming

There aren’t many wildflowers to see at this time of year, but in a few spots the woods are bright with short, white balls-on-sticks.

I have a confession to make that some of my friends will find surprising: foodie Elizabeth does not love the taste of ramps, aka wild leek (Allium tricoccum, Liliaceae).

However, wildflower enthusiast Elizabeth loves the flowers. Or at least the look of them, because they do smell like onion.

Each flower has six tepals, six stamens, and a single style. Multiple flowers are arranged on each umbel, which tops a single leafless stalk, making the plants look like balls on sticks. They stand about a foot tall.

almost all the green in this picture is from ramp leaves



In the springtime, of course, ramps are all leaves, but the leaves die back before the flowering stalk emerges. They do light up the understory.


Ramps range from Tennessee and North Carolina in the south to Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec in the north, largely to the east of the Mississippi River, with some occurrences west of that (mostly in Minnesota). In Maryland they’re found in scattered locations in the piedmont and ridge and valley physiographic provinces. Look for them in moist, rich woodlands, where they get sun in early spring but deep shade in early summer. (And please don’t forage them, unless you find them on private land, have the landowner’s permission, and collect with sustainable practices – ie, don’t take the whole plant.)

Ramps are listed as special concern in Maine and Rhode Island, special concern commercially exploited in Tennessee, and noxious weed in Arkansas, which is interesting considering that neither USDA PLANTS Database or BONAP have records for ramps anywhere in that state.

Scavenger Hunt Denied (For Now)

Circaea lutetiana (enchanter’s nightshade)

This past Tuesday I had a great idea: go botanizing on Olmstead Island and submit photos to the Maryland Biodiversity Project and the Maryland Plant Atlas. But a bunch of signs along the last stretch of road before the visitors’ center parking lot proclaimed that the walkway to the Great Falls overlook was closed.

It won’t open until some time in July. Apparently repairs are needed. No problem, I can go back another day.

But a little more about the MBP… according to their website:

Maryland Biodiversity Project (MBP) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization focused on cataloging all the living things of Maryland.

To do this, they accept recorded sightings (preferably photographic) off animals and plants (and fungi, etc.), with specific locations: not just by county, but by USGS quad. There are 261 quads covering the state!

Click on any quad on the Maryland Plant Atlas quad map and you can see what’s already been recorded, and what the top 100 needs are. Because of the way the quads are arrayed over the state, some of them have very few or even no records.

One of those quads is Vienna, which has only a sliver of Maryland in it: part of Olmstead Island, where the Great Falls overlook is. There are only seven records for that area; I can assure you there are a lot more than seven plant species there!

So, sometime in July, when the walkway re-opens, I’m going to lead a mini bio-blitz and see if I can’t submit more photos to help fill in that quad. I’ll be posting about it on the MBP facebook page and the Maryland Native Plant Society Discussion Group, so if you want to join me, check those spaces for announcements. Or leave a message in the comments of this post.

bee on Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (narrow-leaved mountain mint)

For more information about how to get involved with MBP, visit the FAQs page.

It really is a lot of fun – like a scavenger hunt.

No, Really, It’s Still June: Knock it Off!

What is going on with the asters and sunflowers this year? It’s really too early for them to be blooming. First there was Ionactis linariifolius, then the Solidago species, and now this.

I’ve been visiting this same spot near Carderock for five years now. The earliest I’ve ever seen woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) blooming was late July.

Of the seven or so Helianthus species found in the Maryland piedmont, this is the only one with sessile, entire, opposite leaves, making identification pretty easy.