Three Views

Less than a month ago, leaves were still green.  Now half of them have fallen. Recent heavy rain for a day throughout the Potomac River basin has left the river high, brown, and moving fast. Don’t forget to visit the Three Views page to see how things change month-by-month.

By the way the yellow leaves in the foreground of the first picture belong to spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

October 30
60 F at 11:36 am; mostly sunny and breezy


11:47 am EDT  24mm  f/9.0  1/800sec  ISO 200

Billy Goat B trail, east end, looking southeast across a narrow channel toward Vaso Island


12:02 pm EDT  27mm  f/9.0  1/640sec  ISO 200

Billy Goat B, mid-way between trailheads, looking upstream (more or less northwest) with Hermit Island on the left.


12:35 pm EDT  24mm  f/8.0  1/1000sec  ISO 200

boat launch ramp near Old Angers Inn, looking downstream and more or less south



aka white goldenrod
Solidago bicolor

This is one of only two species of Solidago that isn’t golden, though if you look closely you’ll see that the disk flowers are often pale yellow while the rays are white.

Confusingly, the other white flowering species is called upland white aster, but despite the common name is actually a goldenrod, Solidago ptarmicoides.

Silverrod is a plant of the eastern US and Canada that ranges as far west as Missouri, Quebec in the north, and south to the Gulf Coast (but not Florida).  It’s a low-grower, seldom exceeding two feet, and prefers drier soils in open woodlands.

I never have managed to get a really good picture of it, for some reason.


Pearl Crescent


pearl cresecent
Phyciodes tharos

The pearl crescent is a common small butterfly in the brush-foot family. They produce several broods each year; the adults can be seen flying in Maryland from early May to November. They range from the Rocky Mountains east in the US, southern Canada, and northern Mexico.

Caterpillar host plants include a large number of aster (Symphyotrichum) species. Adults feed on plants in the dogbane, aster, and mustard families (Apocynaceae, Asteraceae, and Brassicaceae).

Like many butterflies, especially brush-foots, they’re often found near puddles. The one pictured here was one of about a dozen flitting about the mud on the banks of the Potomac River one morning in mid-October. The deep depressions to the left and bottom of the picture are dogs’ pawprints.

For more information have a look at
Maryland Butterflies
Butterflies and Moths of North America
Mass Audobon

Photo Contest

Since I couldn’t post these all on Facebook, I’m posting them here for my friends to vote on.  Please pick your top three to help me decide which ones to enter in the contest.  Either comment here or via facebook/message. (People I don’t know, you can vote, too, and thanks!)

Fiji Sunset 1

Fiji Sunset 2

Clearing Storm Over Sandspit, Fiji

Sandspit Picnic, Fiji

Smithsonian Castle Reflected

Sunset, The Bubbles and Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park

Sunset, Ship Harbor, Acadia National Park

Sunrise, Acadia National Park

Trees in Morning Fog, Bar Harbor, Maine

On a Cobblestone Beach, Acadia National Park

Linear Leaf


stiff aster, aka flax-leaf aster
Ionactis linariifolia
formerly Aster linariifolius


After all the mucking about trying to identify various Symphyotrichums [see previous post], it was a relief to find this small stand of plants.  The very long, narrow, one-veined leaves on often-unbranched plants and the terminal inflorescence made for easy identification.


This eastern species ranges from Texas northeasterward to Minnesota, and further north and east into Quebec and New Brunswick.  It’s threatened in Iowa.

Four other species of Ionactis occur in North America, but they’re all found west of the Rocky Mountains.


Are Asters Really Asters?


The plants we commonly think of as asters are all over the Potomac Gorge and the mid-Atlantic Piedmont at this time of year. But, botanically speaking, they aren’t actually asters. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that they aren’t actually Asters.

20151014-_DSC0088 20151014-_DSC0089

the two photos above show adjacent leaves on the same plant

At one time the genus Aster comprised about six hundred different species in Asia, Europe, and North America, but molecular phylogeny research led to a major reclassification. As a result, only one species native to North America is left in the genus Aster. Other than that one (A. alpinus), Aster is reserved for Eurasian species. The North American aster species were placed into ten new genera.

Species in five of those genera, Doellingeria, Eurybia, Ionactis, Sericocarpus, and Symphyotrichum, are found in my geographic area of interest.


Newer guidebooks, like Clemants and Gracie’s Wildflowers in the Field and Forest, reflect these changes.

In many cases, the name change is straightforward: Aster ericoides is now known as Symphyotrichum ericoides, for example.  But in some cases – like with the flowers pictured in this post – it’s anything but straightforward.


I was studying these pictures and using the venerable Newcomb’s and Peterson’s guides to try to figure out whether they’re Aster sagittifolius, Aster lowrieanus, or Aster cordifolius (and expecting that they would likely be the Symphyotrichum equivalent). Not making much progress, I turned to the internet, and found the following:

According to USDA Plants, Aster cordifolius is now Symphyotrichum cordifolium, a name accepted by ITIS.

According to USDA Plants, Aster lowrieanus is Symphyotrichum lowrieanum, a name not accepted by ITIS, which considers S. lowrieanum to be a synonym for S. cordifolium.

And Aster sagittifolius seems not to have made the cut. Searching for it in USDA Plants leads to S. cordifolium. Searching for it in ITIS leads to both S. cordifolium and S. urophyllum.

Confused yet? So am I. And without a sample at hand I can’t really narrow them down. In order to correctly identify them, I’m going to have to either collect samples (which I won’t do, for both ethical and legal reasons), or try to use my iPhone to access a good dichotomous key on the internet while in the field. It doesn’t help that by the time I found these plants, they had lost their lowest stem leaves.  By now they might be pretty ragged.

In the meantime, I’ve decided that both common blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) and arrow-leaf aster (Symphyotrichum urophyllum) are pictured here. As always, I welcome correction. Including corrections of typos.  I’ve proofread this so many times I can no longer see straight.


Postscript: Just for fun, here’s an excerpt from the Astereae Lab overview of asters:
“…However, during the last decade analyses of morphology, chloroplast DNA restriction fragment length polymorphisms and ITS sequence data, and on going karyotype studies have all demonstrated that asters are polyphyletic and members of a number of very distinct phylads within the tribe…”
I researched the hell out of this subject, and used the following sources extensively:
USDA Plants database
Maryland Biodiversity Project
University of Waterloo Astereae Lab
Illinois Wildflowers

Blue Stem


blue-stem goldenrod, aka wreath goldenrod
Solidago caesia


As I wrote previously (and last year), goldenrod identification can get really tricky. Both zigzag goldenrod and blue-stem goldenrod have unusual characteristics, though. For one thing, they’re woodland plants (most goldenrods like full sun, or at least more sun). And they bloom relatively late. And few other goldenrod species have flower clusters in the leaf axils; most goldenrods have terminal, or at least upper-stem, inflorescences.


Whereas zigzag has big, oval, serrated mid-stem leaves, bluestem has linear, smooth-edged or serrated, one-nerved leaves that are sessile, all the way along the stem, which may or may not carry a slight blue tint. Better to rely on leaf shape and the presence of axillary flowers for identification.  As you can see from the photos, it will sometimes have an upright habit, but more often flops over under the weight of the blossoms.




The specific epithet is from the Latin caesius, meaning cutting or piercing.

Blue-stem goldenrod can be found from Texas in the south and northeastward into Quebec.  It’s endangered in Wisconsin.