Please Rain; More Spring Ephemerals

River levels have been pretty high, and the vernal ponds are more full than I’ve seen them in several years, but I suspect the groundwater level is still pretty low. We need rain.

Or it may be that I need rain. With this compressed season, I’ve been out almost every day shooting, which means I have a backlog of several hundred photos to process and many ideas for blog posts to write. But those things won’t happen until the weather forces me to stay inside.

Micranthes virginiana (early saxifrage)

The initial tide of spring ephemerals is ebbing: while early saxifrage, golden ragwort, and toadshade are near their peak, Virginia bluebells, toothworts, Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn are all past theirs, and it looks like bloodroot, trout lily, and harbinger of spring are done. Round-lobe hepatica seems to be done near the Potomac, but is still going strong up at Rachel Carson Conservation Park.

Obolaria virginica (pennywort)

And speaking of RCCP, pennywort is blooming there now, and the pinxter azaleas are well in bud.

 

 

The second wave of spring flowers is well under way in the greater Carderock area.

Houstonia caerulea (azure bluets)

Recently I’ve spotted blue, yellow, and white violet species, sessile bellwort, yellow corydalis, azure bluets, and wild pinks.

 

 

Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox)

 

 

Wild blue phlox is close to peak, and so is rue anemone.

 

 

 

 

Geranium maculatum (wild geranium)

Dwarf cinquefoil, plantain-leaved pussytoes, wild geranium, and jack-in-the-pulpit are blooming.

 

 

 

 

Cercis canadensis (redbud)

Trees are blooming, too. Redbud flowers are open, pawpaw buds are swelling.

 

 

Dogwood is just getting started.

 

Cornus florida (flowering dogwood)

Other species to watch for: early meadow rue, star chickweed, lyre-leaved rockcress, smooth rockcress…

 

 

 

…and always spring beauties.

Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) growing in an exposed tree root

Lucky Day

After a few years of trying, I finally caught trailing arbutus in bloom on Friday, April 13.

This is an uncommon species. Although it has a wide range (most of the US east of the Mississippi, and the upper Midwest ) it isn’t found in large numbers anywhere.


That might be because of its rather specialized growing requirements: moist but well-drained acidic soils. It likes undisturbed open woodlands, especially rocky slopes, where leaf litter doesn’t collect. Look for it whenever you see other species in the Ericaceae, like mountain laurel, blueberry and deerberry, and spotted wintergreen.

Many authors recommend against trying to grow trailing arbutus in the home garden: it is difficult to propagate, leading to poaching concerns; also, it is suspected that, like other species in the Ericaceae, it might have specific mycorrhizal associations without which it simply cannot grow.

 

It’s certainly a belly flower, but also  technically a shrub.  Epigaea repens stays low, the tough evergreen leaves lying flat along semi-woody stems that creep over the ground.

 

 

The plants are polygamo-dioecious, meaning that any given plant has two types of flowers: staminate and perfect, or pistillate and perfect. (See this post about maples for a more complete description of these terms.)

 

Also known as mayflower, this species has a delightful scent, but you have to get your schnoz right up in there to smell it.

Trailing arbutus is endangered in Florida and exploitably vulnerable in New York. It’s the state flower of Massachusetts and the provincial flower of Nova Scotia.

These pink-flowering and white-flowering specimens were blooming along a bank under mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) on Sugarloaf mountain.

Just Pictures: Trout Lillies

I spent a lot of time last week out and about, photographing flowers. Normally I’d spend more time writing meaningful comment to post, but time is in short supply just now, so for the next few days I’m just going to post pretty pictures of spring ephemerals.

Today: trout lily, both yellow (Erythronium americanum)…

…and white (Erythronium albidum).

On one of those trips I found a second population of white trout lilies, which makes me especially happy, since this species is listed S2/threatened in Maryland.

Toothworts

Forest floors in the Maryland piedmont are carpeted now in spring ephemerals. Spring beauties are everywhere, Virginia bluebells and Dutchman’s breeches seem to be confined to wetter areas, and in drier areas, you’ll see toothworts.

Formerly placed in the genus Dentaria, toothworts are now lumped with the bittercresses in the genus Cardamine. The flowers are similar on close inspection but the overall difference in appearance between toothwort and bittercress plants is pretty obvious.

Older guidebooks frequently list two to five species of toothworts in the eastern US. Here’s a quick look at the names (it’s not my intent to provide a complete synonymy):

current name older name(s) common name(s)
Cardamine angustata Dentaria heterophylla slender toothwort

Cardamine concatenata

Dentaria laciniata
Dentaria concatenata
cut-leaf toothwort

Cardamine diphylla

Dentaria diphylla toothwort
broad-leaved toothwort crinkleroot

Cardamine dissecta

Dentaria dissecta
Dentaria multifida
fine-leaved toothwort
dissected toothwort
Cardamine maxima Dentaria maxima large toothwort

C. dissecta has a limited range, from Alabama northeast into West Virginia, and is endangered in Indiana. C. maxima seems to have disjunct populations in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and a few parts of New England; it’s threatened in Michigan, endangered in New Jersey, and possibly extirpated in Maine. Neither of these species has been reported in Maryland.

C. diphylla is found in the Appalachian South, the mid-Atlantic, New England, and upper midwest, possibly with a few occurrences farther west, from Arkansas to Minnesota. MBP has only a few records in the piedmont, and a few more in the Appalachian Plateau. One of the records is of a sample in the Norton-Brown Herbarium; it was collected in 1974 “[o]ff beltway exit to Great Falls near Seno [sic] Canal”, which is right along the Potomac gorge and my usual hunting grounds. Maybe I have a new quarry to track?

C. angustata is a southeastern species, ranging from south-central Alabama north to central Indiana and northeast into Pennsylvania. In Maryland it seems to be found mostly in the piedmont.

C. concatenata is found mostly in the mid-Atlantic and mid-west and New England, though it does range into the South and the eastern Great Plains. It’s endangered in Maine and New Hampshire. It seems to be in most of Maryland except the far west and southern Eastern Shore.

The flowers of all of these toothworts are very similar in size, shape, and color, and can’t easily be used to distinguish between the species. It’s best to look at the leaves.

C. concatenata has no basal leaves present at blooming; on the stem is a single whorl of three leaves, each leaf palmately divided, with serrated leaflets. It’s worth noting that there seems to be a wide range of morphological variation: on some plants the leaflets are quite narrow, while on others they’re rather broad; on some plants there are three leaves in a whorl, but on other plants they might be sub-opposite, or there might be only two leaves.

Be that as it may, C. angustata is pretty easy to distinguish from C. concatenata. It has two alternate or sub-opposite stem leaves, each with three leaflets (usually) that are quite narrow and serrated to some degree. The basal leaf (sometimes leaves) is large, with very broad leaflets, on a very long petiole.

Another species worth mentioning is Cardamine bulbosa, commonly called spring cress or bulbous toothwort. Although it was never a Dentaria and is more often referred to as a bittercress than a toothwort, the flowers look toothwort-y. The species is found in most of the eastern US (and most of Maryland), but not in Maine, and it’s endangered in New Hampshire.

Heart-Shaped Basal Leaves

At this time of year many plants are putting out – or have already have put out – heart-shaped leaves that stay close to the ground. Like the violets in my last post, for example. Or like these, which belong to wild ginger (Asarum canadense).  —>

I was thinking recently about two other species with similar cordate basal leaves. When young, they are easily confused with each other, at least at first glance. Luckily, I was able to find both growing right next to each other!

<—At bottom center in this photo is a particularly despised alien invasive called garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Surrounding it is a much-loved native called golden ragwort (Packera aurea, formerly Senecio aureus). Here’s a little primer on how to tell them apart.

 

These are leaves of golden ragwort. —>

Note that the leaf edges are somewhat crenate (scalloped), almost serrate, and that the leaf vein pattern is pinnate. The underside of the leaf has a purplish blush. 

 

This one belongs to garlic mustard. –>

The leaf edges are clearly scalloped rather than toothed. The leaf venation is also pinnate, but also netted, giving the leaf a bit of a crinkled appearance.

 

<— This is a stem leaf of golden ragwort. Look at how different it is from the stem leaves of garlic mustard [below], which look similar to the basal leaves. Also in this photo you can see the flower buds at top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are buds of golden ragwort. By the time the plants reach this stage, they are easy to tell apart.

 

 

 

 

And here they are in bloom.

 

 

 

Garlic mustard is in the Brassicaceae, a family which also includes several of our native spring ephemerals, like the toothworts and rockcresses. Golden ragwort is in the Asteraceae, and is by far the earliest blooming native of that family (in this region, anyway).