Flower of the Day: Witch Hazel

Hamamelis virginiana; Hamamelidaceae (witch hazel family)


Witch hazel is a large shrub or small tree that grows in the understory of hardwood forests in eastern North America.  It’s one of the last – maybe the last – plants to bloom in this area.  The flowers can persist through early winter, long after the leaves have fallen, and have an unusual odor that I find hard to describe.  It makes me think of my grandfather.

I know witch hazel is in the Potomac gorge area, but I took these pictures on the Riprap Hollow trail in southern Shenandoah National Park a few days ago.  I would like to have taken pictures of a whole tree, but the nature of the trail, and a gusty wind as a cold front started moving in, made that impossible.

While researching I tripped across this great article in The Atlantic.   And another interesting article in the New York Times._DSC0160

Flower of the Day: Short’s Aster

Symphyotrichum shortii; Asteraceae (aster family)


Some things to consider when trying to identify asters:

  • size of flower head
  • number of ray flowers
  • number of disk flowers
  • color of flowers (not as important as you may think)
  • shape and size of leaf, including the leaf base and leaf tip
  • leaf margin
  • arrangement of leaves on the stem and whether they’re more or less consistently sized
  • shape, size, color, and number of rows of phyllaries (bracts)
  • presence of glands
  • smoothness (or not) and color of stems

…you get the idea.  Actually this is a pretty general list, but with almost 90 species of Symphyotrichum found in the US (about two dozen in this area), you really have to pay attention to details.

All of which is to say, I’m not always sure I’ve correctly id’d all the asters I’ve been posting about.  But they sure are pretty.


Flower of the Day: Frost Aster

aka hairy aster, awl aster; Symphyotrichum pilosum; Asteraceae (aster family)


So far this year I’ve found 19 different species of aster (Symphyotrichum or Eurybia). I haven’t managed to identify them all, but they are clearly different from each other. This one, though, I’m pretty sure of.


Note the characteristically hairy stem in the photo to the right.

Frost aster is another native found in eastern North America (from Texas through Quebec). It grows up to three feet tall in full sun and moist to dry conditions.  I found this specimen growing out of the cracks along one of my favorite rocky bluffs upstream of Carderock.


Flower of the Day: Black-Eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherima (aka R. serotina); Asteraceae (aster family)


Deisgnated the “floral emblem” of the state of Maryland in 1918 by the General Assembly, this short but showy plant grows almost everywhere in the US and Canada (but not in Arizona or Nevada).  It likes sunny habitats, and is one of twenty two species of Rudbeckia native to the US.


Strangely enough, I almost never find them in my target area.  I found this one in early October, the first one I’d seen in the wild this year.

Though they look like sunflowers (and are related), the Rudbeckias tend to have reflexed ray flowers and cone-shaped disks.  See also tall coneflower (fotd Aug. 21) and purple-headed sneezeweed (fotd Aug. 25).