Laurel Heaven

The stand of mountain laurel that I wrote about last time is now at glorious peak bloom. My wrist is healing well, so I was able to manage the D750 with the kit lens (24-120mm) to get a few pictures.

If you read about mountain laurel in just about any guidebook you’ll probably come across a phrase like “impenetrable thicket”, describing how they grow. Apparently in the southern Appalachian mountains these thickets are known as “laurel hells.”  I hope to find one someday, but in the meantime I’m enjoying a local laurel heaven.  Hope you are, too!


Other common names for Kalmia latifolia include spoonwood, spoon-hunt, calico-bush, big-leaved ivy, ivybush, red-stemmed ivy, clamoun, little laurel, small laurel, wood laurel, poison-laurel, sheepsbane, lambkill, and wocky*.


*The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers, Timothy Coffey, Hougton Mifflin Company, 1993

Mountain Laurel and Sheep Laurel

Just was I was on a roll getting this blog going again, I had to go and break my wrist.  No more photography for awhile, but I wanted to let you know about this great stand of mountain laurel.  Two weeks ago they were budding up, so I expect they’ll be open by now.




The plants are on the Cabin John Trail, roughly midway between Bradley Boulevard and River Road. There’s a trail marker there, at the side trail that goes to Cindy Lane, and the stand starts just to the south of that and goes on for a few tenths of a mile. There must have been thousands of mountain laurels. Not all were in bud, of course, but a lot were, so it should be a good show.

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a medium-sized evergreen shrub in the heath and heather family.  Like other ericaceous plants, it prefers acidic soils that are moist and well-drained. It ranges from the Gulf of Mexico coast north all the way to Maine, and westward a little ways past the Appalachian Mountains (further west in the South).  In Maryland it can be found in every county.

If you’re exploring this segment of the Cabin John Trail, keep your eyes open for pinxterbloom azaleas (Rhododendron periclymenoides). They grow in the same area as the mountain laurels, mostly along the banks of the creek. I counted at least twenty-one of them blooming on April 27th this year. They’re almost certainly done by now.

One other species of Kalmia is found growing in Maryland: K. angustifolia, or sheep laurel.  The Coastal Plain of Maryland is almost as far south as it grows; it’s found more frequently as you go northeast, all the way into Maine and beyond, well into Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland (where I took this picture, in 2017).


More Flowers From Ferry Hill

Here are a few more photos of flowers seen in early April along the Potomac River near Sharpsburg, Maryland.



two-leaved miterwort, Mitella diphylla (Saxifragaceae) [right and below]









downy yellow violet, Viola pubescens var. scabriuscula  (Violaceae)




blue cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides  (Berberidaceae)





rue anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides (Ranunculaceae) [with a side of early saxifrage, Micranthes virginiensis]



star chickweed, Stellaria pubera (Caryophyllaceae)





toadshade, Trillium sessile (Melanthiaceae)





squirrel corn, Dicentra canadensis (Papaveraceae)




wild blue phlox, Phlox divaricata (Polemoniaceae)




spreading rockcress, Arabis patens (Brassicaceae); G3 (globally rare/local), S3 in Maryland





spring beauty, Claytonia virginica (Montiaceae)


The third target of my Washington County foray with B was Trillium erectum (red trillium, wake robin; Melanthiaceae).

There are 38 species of Trillium native to North America; eight of these are native to Maryland. T. erectum is found throughout New England, extending south mostly in the Appalachian Mountains as far south as northern Georgia, and there are a few populations in parts of the upper Midwest. In Maryland it’s found in scattered locations (have a look at the quad data from Maryland Biodiversity Project for details).

Here you can see (from the innermost parts outward) the three stigmas, six stamens, three petals, three sepals, and three bracts. Not leaves? That’s right: technically there are no above-ground leaves on trilliums. The three large structures are bracts (like the colorful parts of flowering dogwood and poinsettias). A bract is a modified leaf, found at the base of an inflorescence.  However, the bracts of trilliums do engage in photosynthesis. I’m not clear, then, on why they aren’t considered leaves, but there it is. Botany is weird.

The taxonomy of the trilliums is a bit unsettled. At first, Trillium was in the Liliaceae; later it was placed in its own family, Trilliaceae; then it was moved to Melanthiaceae (bunchflower family). Now some taxonomists are putting it back into Trilliaceae.


I found 37 different common names for this species, among them bathflower, bloody nose, bumblebee-root, daffy-down-lily, herb-true-love, red-benjamin, rule-of-three, true love, wild-piny, and wood-lily.  Makes me appreciate the work of Carl Linnaeus.

On Ferry Hill

When B and I went hunting two weeks ago, one of our targets was Primula meadia (eastern shootingstar; Primulaceae), currently on the Maryland DNR watchlist (S3). Shootingstar likes to grow on the rocky outcroppings along the Potomac River, like on  inaccessibly high rocks above the larkspur-filled ravine (see my previous post).  We found plenty of plants nearby, though.

In general, this species likes moist to dry soils in open, rocky woodlands.  When flowering, the plants are about a foot and a half tall; when not flowering, there is only a basal rosette of rather large leaves.


Shootingstar’s range appears to be from south central Texas north to Minnesota and Wisconsin, then eastward to Florida and New York. Here’s the map from BONAP:

The taxonomy of this species seems to be unsettled. Regional authorities Alan Weakley, Wesley Knapp, and Robert Naczi are calling it Primula meadia, but I see it online and even in recently published guidebooks as Dodecatheon meadia. You’ll find the latter name in all the classic guides.



This species has many common names, including American cowslip, Virginia cowslip, gentlemen-and-ladies, pride of Ohio, Indian-chief, lamb’s-noses, rooster heads, snake-heads, mosquito-bells, and prairie pointers.