Flower of the Day: Partridgeberry. Again.


Mitchella repens

I’ve written about partridgeberry before, I know. But it’s such a neat little plant, I can’t resist posting about it. And it’s in full bloom now.


It’s a trailing vine that can grow many feet long but rarely more than an inch tall.

(<—pinkie finger shot to give sense of scale)



Amusing fact: you’ll find it in the Peterson Field Guide “Trees and Shrubs”, I suppose because it’s woody (barely) and evergreen.

Partridgeberry ranges from Quebec to Florida and west to Texas, and is threatened in Iowa.  No other species of Mitchella grow in North America. It likes moist, acidic soils and can often be found trailing along rocks.


The plants produce pairs of blossoms; if both are pollinated, the ovaries will fuse to produce a single oval, red berry with two dimples.





Other common names include squawberry, running box, twinberry, and pigeon plum.

(You know how people squeal over puppies and kittens?  I could almost squeal over partridgeberry.  I mean really, isn’t it just precious?)

Variations on a Theme: Virginia Waterleaf and Broad-Leaved Waterleaf


aka eastern waterleaf; Hydrophyllum virginianum
and aka maple-leaved waterleaf; Hydrophyllum canadense
(some authorities place in Boraginaceae)

So you might be wondering, which species is pictured above?  I know the answer, but only because I took the picture.  The flowers of both species are almost identical.  The big difference is in the leaves.



Virginia waterleaf typically has three to seven deeply cut lobes…






…while the other resembles a maple leaf, with much shallower lobes.



Virginia waterleaf starts blooming in the Potomac Gorge around mid-May; broad-leaved starts about two weeks later.

Of the nine species of Hydrophyllum found across most of the US and Canada, these are the only two in the Maryland Piedmont.

Look closely at the leaves at the bottom of the picture – see the bluish splotches? That’s why they’re called “waterleaf”.  Only the young leaves display this characteristic.


Virginia waterleaf ranges from the Great Plains east to the coast, except the extreme south and the Maritime Provinces.  It’s a plant of special concern in Connecticut and Kentucky, and is threatened in New Hampshire and Tennessee.

Maple-leaved waterleaf has a similar range, but doesn’t extend as far west. It’s endangered in Massachusetts and New Jersey, and threatened in Vermont.

Both species are plants of deep woods, liking lots of shade and moist-to-dry, high organic content soils.  And both species’ flower color ranges from white to pink to lavender.  At bloom time, they are about the same height (around a foot), though I’ve noticed that Virginia waterleaf grows much taller than that once it’s done flowering.








Flowers of the Day: Lyre-Leaved Sage and Hairy Beardtongue

I wrote about both of these plants last year, so I won’t go into details in this post. They bloom at about the same time and grow to about the same height, but they don’t enjoy the same conditions (moist and rich soils and some shade for the sage; drier soils and sunlight for the beardtongue). At first glance, from eye level, you might mistake one for the other.

But I do have better pictures this year.  Enjoy.



Salvia lyrata

(See how happy it is in the deep shade?  I was lucky to get a shaft of light on it.)






Penstemon hirsutis

(full sun on a rocky ledge)






Tree of the Day: Black Locust


Robinia pseudoacaia

Originally a tree of the central Appalachians*, black locust has become naturalized through most of the US**.  It isn’t grown commercially here, but is useful.  The wood burns hot, and the flowers provide wonderful nectar for bees. Indeed, this is the “acacia” of Europe, from which we get acacia honey.

The tree also provides good wildlife cover, as well as cavities for nesting birds. There were several in the yard of my old house; when storm-damaged (they are susceptible), I left the snags standing so I could watch pileated woodpeckers feed on them.


Oddly, it’s considered “invasive, not banned” in Connecticut, and is prohibited in Massachusetts.


As you can see, it flowers profusely, with long, crowded racemes of fragrant blossoms.

Considering that it grows quickly up to 80 feet tall, suckers, and is prone to storm damage, it probably isn’t worth seeking out for your landscape.  But if you have one already, enjoy it.  And if you’ve never had acacia honey, make an effort to get some – it’s light golden, delicately flavored, and with a high fructose content, it’s slow to crystallize.  It never lasts long enough in my house to crystallize, anyway.


*USDA Forest Service

**USDA Plants

Flower of the Day: Rattlesnake Weed


aka rattlesnake hawkweed
Hieracium venosum




This species of hawkweed is found in all US states east of Mississippi, as well as Quebec, and west of the Mississippi in Missouri and British Columbia. It’s endangered in Maine.

There are 37 native and 15 alien species of Heiracium in North America; at least one grows in every US state and Canadian province (except Nunavut).  Some of these are naturally occurring hybrids.  And several others are considered noxious weeds. And yet a few more are threatened or endangered.



This one grows up to 2 1/2 feet tall in dry, open woods and clearings, usually on rocky soils (or right on rocks).






It’s all over the Carderock area as well as the large bluff in the middle of the Billy Goat B trail.  It’s easy to distinguish from other hawkweeds: on the young plant, the basal leaves have a characteristic red venation, though that color fades as the plant ages.

20140408-rattlesnake weed foliage

Several sources state that the moniker “rattlesnake” comes from the fact that it shares habitat with actual rattlesnakes.


Flower of the Day: Long-Tube Valerian


aka few-flowered valerian
(from the specific epithet)
and large-flowered valerian
Valeriana pauciflora
(sometimes Caprifoliaceae)


From Florida to Alaska, there’s a valerian for almost every state (except for a few Great Plains and Midwestern ones). Fifteen native species occur across the US and Canada, plus one alien: Valeriana officinalis, the European plant used in alternative medicine.  Of the natives, only V. pauciflora is found in Maryland, and this species has a narrow range, from Pennsylvania to Illinois and south to Tennessee (with a few occurrences in northern Alabama).

The USDA site shows it in Montgomery and Frederick counties in Maryland; the Maryland Biodiversity Project shows it in Montgomery and Harford.  Either way, it’s endangered in the state.

20150514-20150514-_DSC0140That makes it even more special to stumble upon.  I’ve found five discreet stands in the Potomac Gorge; there must be more.  One of these stands comprised at least one hundred individual plants. Absolutely glorious in full bloom.

Each of these stands is located in deep woods, in low areas that are consistently moist but not wet. Not in the Potomac floodplain proper, but often along the banks of deep-cut rills just above it.

(<—– isn’t that elegant?)


20150507-20150507-_DSC0075Whenever I see a deep tube on a flower, I wonder who pollinates it.  Internet research got me almost no information, except this from the excellent Illinois Wildflowers site of Dr. John Hilty: “The long slender corollas suggests that the flowers are pollinated by bumblebees, butterflies, Sphinx moths, and possibly hummingbirds. The nectar of the flowers is inaccessible to most insects with short mouthparts.”

I’m not the most patient hunter.  Maybe next year, I’ll sit quietly in that hundred-plant area and see who comes visiting.




emerging foliage, April 6




budding up, May 1