Flower of the Day: Dwarf Ginseng


Panax trifolius; Araliaceae

Dwarf ginseng is another of the spring ephemerals that grows in moist deciduous woodlands.  Don’t confuse it with American ginseng (P. quinquefolius).  The two are quite similar in appearance, the main difference being the length of the petiolules (the stalks of the leaflets), which are much longer in the latter species.  In dwarf ginseng, the petiolules are very short or altogether absent.  The other distinguishing feature is the berry color (yellow for dwarf, red for American).  At first glance you might think the plant pictured above has five leaves, but it doesn’t; there are three leaves in a whorl on the stem, each with five leaflets.


As far as I know this plant has no commercial value, and so is not subject to poaching, which is threatening populations of American ginseng (which is listed as threatened or vulnerable in ten states).  Still, an over-eager novice poacher could do some damage.


So could an over-eager photographer.  It was very difficult to get close to these subjects without trampling anything.  All of these pictures are Lightroom zoom-ins.

Variations on a Theme: Trout Lily



Erythronium americanum






Erythronium albidum


Both of these species are known by the common names trout lily, fawn lily, adder’s tongue, and dogtooth violet, with or without the adjectives “white” or “yellow” in front.  (Think I’ll just stay with Erythronium.)  The names trout lily and fawn lily come from the speckles on the leaves.  The name dog-tooth violet comes from a similar species native to Europe (E. dens-canis), whose bulb is said to resemble a dog’s tooth.  I have no idea if adders have speckles on their tongues, nor am I going to conduct field research to find out.


Like so many other flowering plants at this time of year, the Erythroniums are spring ephemerals found in moist, rich woods.  They grow in colonies by the hundreds, but only a few plants in a patch will flower in any year.  I’ve read that it takes 3 to 4 years, or up to 7 years, for a plant to reach maturity and flower.


E. albidum can be found over most of the eastern part of the country (not in New England or some of the southern states), and is said to be more common in some areas than E. americanum is.  It’s threatened in Maryland.

E. americanum can be found almost everywhere east of the Great Plains (except Florida), and is threatened in Iowa.

A third species, E. umbilicatum, can be found in Maryland, but I’ve never seen it.  Twenty one more species of Erythronium (all natives) are found in the midlands or west coast.


(this post is dedicated to my friend Denise, because the graceful form of trout lilies reminds me of ballerinas)

Circinate Vernation


A long time ago – maybe 20 years or so – my father called me at work one morning and asked, “do you read the comics?”  “Yes, why?”

him: did you see Zippy the Pinhead?
me: (laughing) yes…
him: well, can you explain it to me?  Your mother can’t stop laughing and I don’t get it.
me: Pop, there’s nothing to “get”.  Either you find it funny or you don’t.

The strip was three panels of Zippy walking around saying nothing but “Boutros Boutros-Ghali”.

Do you ever get a song stuck in your head?  Some of us also get a word or phrase (or name) stuck.  So it was with Zippy that morning.  So it was when my friend Linda introduced me to the phrase “circinate vernation”.  Circinate means rolled up, with the tip in the center. Vernation is the arrangement of leaves in a bud, or the formation of new leaves or fronds.  So if you’re that type of person, next time you see a fiddlehead maybe you, too, will exclaim “ooh! circinate vernation!”

You’re welcome.



Flower of the Day: Twoleaf Miterwort


aka bishop’s cap
Mitella diphylla; Saxifragaceae

Most of the time when hunting wildflowers I’m enjoying the solitude.  A smile and nod is about all I exchange with passersby, unless someone addresses me. And I can be cagey when someone asks what I’m looking for, because you never know who will end up being a collector, and I don’t want people poaching these precious plants.

But Monday on the Cabin John Trail, spying a man who was kneeling by a stand of rue anemone, consulting a guide book and making notes, I felt strangely compelled to go talk with him.  We shared pictures, made some “I found this, what did you find?” chitchat.  And then my boldness was rewarded, for he showed me where to find miterwort.  (In return I offered the location of dwarf ginseng, but he already knew about it.)

Twoleaf miterwort is in many ways an unremarkable plant, standing only a foot and a half tall, with a few basal leaves, a pair of stem leaves, and a raceme of tiny white flowers.  I’d read about it, seen pictures, but never actually encountered it.


Isn’t it fascinating?

That flower is less than a quarter inch wide.

There are eleven species of Mitella in the US and Canada, but twoleaf miterwort is the only one found in Maryland. It prefers dappled sunlight to shade in moist to dry open woods.

Thanks, Bill!  It was nice meeting you.


Variations on a Theme: Dicentras


Dicentra cucullaria
Dutchman’s breeches or britches






Dicentra canadensis




Both of these low-growing spring ephemerals can be found in rich, moist woodlands. Both have finely cut blue-green foliage, but as you can see from the pictures the leaflet lobes of Dutchman’s breeches are a little rounder and closer together, while those of squirrel-corn are more linear and open. The flower shapes are also slightly different, the former having two pointed lobes at the top, the latter having two rounded lobes.

These two plants are placed in the Fumariaceae (fumewort family) by some authorities.  Other authorities consider this group a sub-family (Fumarioideae) of the Papaveraceae (poppy family).

There are seven native species of Dicentra; three can be found on west coast and three on the east coast, while Dutchman’s breeches can be found on both (but not in the mountain states or desert southwest). Squirrel-corn is threatened in Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire and endangered in New Jersey.

Of the three east coast species, the third, called wild bleeding heart or turkey-corn, is threatened in Maryland.  I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing it in the wild.