Finally Hiked the Billy Goat Trail, Section A


Clitoria mariana (butterfly pea, Atlantic pigeonwings); Fabaceae

I’ve written before that I stay away from the Billy Goat A trail – haven’t been there in years, actually – mostly because it’s overused, and I like solitude in the wilderness, but also because wildflowers generally don’t grow well where there’s lots of foot traffic. So what’s the point?

Nonetheless a friend convinced me to give it a go. By 9 o’clock last Friday morning when we parked near Old Anglers Inn, the temperature was already near 90º F, and the humidity was in the 90s as well. It was brutal but hey, at least it wasn’t crowded.

Anyway I schlepped the camera along, just in case, but not the tripod (didn’t want to bore my friend to tears). We saw some expected flowers – two species of Eupatorium, some wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) just starting to open. And we saw some unexpected: a good amount of bushy St. Johnswort (Hypericum prolificum), a few Atlantic pigeonwings (Clitoria mariana), a magnificent specimen of flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), some seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia), and a single clump of purple-headed sneezeweed (Helenium flexuosum).


Helenium flexuosum (purple-headed sneezeweed); Asteraceae

And then we found two species that I’d never seen before. But of course I was just taking snapshots, and a breeze was blowing (excuses, excuses), so my pictures suck.

By the time this piece autoposts Monday morning I expect to be back on Billy Goat A, with full camera kit on my back, trying to get good photos for new blog entries in the next few days.


Radiant Trumpets

Nothing says summer quite like the hot orange-red blossoms of trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans). Although the shape is similar to flowers in the Convolvulaceae (see yesterday’s post), this plant is in a different family, the Bignoniaceae.


It’s a vigorous grower, reaching thirty feet long or more, and will grow up or along anything that its aerial rootlets can attach to: trees, boulders, cliff faces. It’s all over the rock walls along the Clara Barton Parkway in DC.

Trumpet creeper can be found in most of the eastern US except for northern New England, and in a few scattered locations in the West. It’s considered weedy by some authorities.

There’s only one other species in this genus, C. grandiflora, which is native to east Asia.

I spent some time looking on the internet for any interesting trivia. The only thing I could find is that another common name is cow-itch, a name that is applied to other species as well. Why cow-itch? No idea. Apparently some people have a mild reaction when it touches their skin, but cow-itch? Beats me.

Like a Worm, Fiddle-Shaped


That’s the literal translation of Ipomoea pandurata, a vining plant in the Convolvulaceae (from the Latin for “twining around”), the morning-glory family.

I love finding the meanings behind the botanical names of plants, so was happy to stumble on the California Plant Names site, which said:

Ipomoe’a: from the Greek ips, “a worm,” and homoios, “like,” thus “like a worm,” referring to the twining habit of the plant’s growth (ref. genus Ipomoea)

And pandurata is from an ancient Greek musical instrument, the pandura, which was somewhat fiddle-shaped. In this case it supposedly refers to the leaf, which looks heart-shaped to me.


Common names include wild potato-vine, wild sweet potato, man of the earth, and big root morning glory.

Honestly this plant is kind of weedy looking, but the blossoms are beautiful and it isn’t aggressive like the alien bindweeds (Convolvulus species) that plague so many gardens. At least, it isn’t aggressive in most of its native range (which includes the mid-Atlantic, the South, and the lower mid-west and Great Plains states), except for Arkansas, where all species of Ipomoea are considered noxious weeds. In Arizona (not part of its native range) it’s a prohibited noxious weed. Pity no one can teleport them to Michigan, where the species is threatened, or New York, where it’s endangered.

The vines can grow to 20 feet long, and usually climb up other plants. In the Potomac Gorge I’ve seen them spilling over rocks, as well. They like dry, gravelly soils according to one source I checked, which is interesting because I most often see them near the river. Maybe that’s because they want a bit of sun.



It’s Back!


Another entry to my two year saga of monitoring a perennial favorite, an unusual (but not rare, threatened or endangered) find that’s inconveniently located in an area of high human and deer activity.

Yes, cranefly orchid is back! I reported last summer that it had disappeared from this spot, but then in October I found some new leaves. And last Tuesday I saw a dozen flowering spikes.

This species is hibernal: each plant grows a single leaf in autumn. The leaf persists through the winter and into late spring, then dies. In midsummer, the plant sends up a spike, which will flower for two to three weeks and then die. The cycle begins again the following autumn.

Last year I thought that maybe deer browse had killed the plants. But I recollect that it was also a dry year, so maybe drought had something to do with it? Then a very knowledgeable and experienced acquaintance told me that cranefly orchid doesn’t necessarily bloom every year. This got me to wondering why, so I did a little research.

Studies have shown that when cranefly orchids are successfully pollinated and fruit is set, there’s a subsequent decrease in root and leaf size*. As a result, plants take a year off, so to speak, because they have insufficient energy stores for another reproductive effort. And blooming can also be affected by deer browse (herbivory) and environmental stresses.


Another interesting fact: the flowers are asymmetrical. Typically orchids show bilateral symmetry (capable of being divided along a plane into a pair of mirror images). It’s a little hard to tell from this picture, as I couldn’t get a straight-on shot of a flower, but these are not bilaterally symmetrical. (I’m going to have to go back and try shooting from a different angle.)


This violet was kind enough to stand in for an orchid to demonstrate bilateral symmetry, the yellow line showing the plane of symmetry –>


Also, check out those crazy long nectar tubes coming out the backs of the flowers! (Click on the image to see it larger.) The odd shape of the flowers allows pollinia to be deposited onto visiting moths.

Cranefly orchids are just neat.

*”Costs of Flower and Fruit Production in Tipularia discolor (Orchidaceae)” [abstract]


By my count I’ve written about 47 different plant species I found in Iceland, and guess what? There are almost 30 more. But I don’t have good pictures of most of them, and some IDs are in doubt, so I think I’ve just about exhausted my material for blog posts. And I do want to get back to posting about the Maryland piedmont.

So for all my fellow botanerds, here’s a list of my Icelandic finds, arranged by family. An asterisk (*) indicates either ID in doubt or unsure of taxonomic status.

Apiaceae (parsley family)
Angelica archangelic  garden angelica
Anthriscus sylvestris*  cow parsley


oneflower fleabane (that’s two plants)

Asteraceae (daisy family)
Achillea millefolium  yarrow
Erigeron borealis  alpine fleabane
Erigeron uniflorus  oneflower fleabane
Hieracium species  hawkweed
Hieracium thaectolepium*   hillside hawkweed
Taraxacum species  dandelion
Tripleurospermum maritima ssp. phaeocephala  sea mayweed

Boraginaceae (borage family)
Mertensia maritima  oyster plant
Myosotis arvensis  field forget-me-not


rock whitlowgrass

Brassicaceae (mustard family)
Arabidopsis lyrata ssp. petraea  northern rock-cress
Cardamine nymaii*  lady’s smock
Cardamine pratensis*  cuckoo flower
Draba nivalis  snow whitlowgrass
Draba norvegica*  rock whitlowgrass



Caryophyllaceae (pinks family)
Arenaria norvegica arctic sandwort
Cerastium alpinum  alpine mouse-ear
Cerastium nigrescens*  arctic mouse-ear
Silene acaulis  moss campion
Silene dioica  red campion
Silene suecica  alpine catchfly
Silene uniflora  sea campion

Crassulaceae (stonecrop family)
Rhodiola rosea  roseroot stonecrop
Sedum annuum  annual stonecrop
Sedum villosum  hairy stonecrop

Cyperaceae (sedge family)
Eriophorum angustifolium  cottongrass

Equisetaceae (horsetail family)
Equisteum arvense  field horsetail
Equisetum palustre  marsh horsetail
Equisteum pratense  shady horsetail
Equisetum variegatum  variegated horsetail

Ericaceae (heather family)
Calluna vulgaris  heather
Empetrum nigrum  crowberry
Harrimanella hypnoides  mossy mountain heather
Kalmia procumbens  trailing azalea
Vaccinium myrtillus  bilberry
Vaccinium uliginosum  bog bilberry

Fabaceae (pea family)
Lupinus nootkatensis  Nootka lupine

Geraniaceae (geranium family)
Geranium sylvaticum  woodland cranesbill

Juncaeae (rush family)
Juncus or Luzula species  rush

Lamiaceae (mint family)
Thymus praecox ssp. arcticus  creeping thyme

Lentibulariaceae (bladderwort family)
Pinguicula vulgaris  common butterwort

Onagraceae (evening primrose family)
Chamerion latifolium  arctic riverbeauty
Epilobium anagallidifolium  alpine willowherb

Orchidaceae (orchid family)
Dactylorhiza maculata  heath spotted orchid
Dactylorhiza viridis  frog orchid
Platanthera hyperborea  northern green orchid

Orobanchaceae (broomrape family)
Bartsia alpina  velvetbells

Papaveraceae (poppy family)
Papaver radicatum  arctic poppy

Plantaginaceae (plantain family)
Veronica fruticans  rock speedwell

Plumbaginaceae (leadwort family)
Armeria maritima  sea thrift

Polygonaceae (knotweed family)
Bistorta vivipara  alpine bistort
Oxyria digyna  mountain sorrel
Rumex acetosa  common sorrel

Ranunculaceae (buttercup family)
Caltha palustris  marsh marigold
Ranunculus acris*  meadow buttercup
Ranunculus species  buttercup

Rosaceae (rose family)
Alchemilla alpina  alpine lady’s mantle
Alchemilla glomerulans  clustered lady’s mantle
Dryas octopetala  mountain avens
Fragaria vesca  strawberry
Geum rivale  water avens
Potentilla anserina  silverweed
Potentilla crantzii  alpine cinquefoil

Rubiaceae (madder family)
Galium boreale  northern bedstraw
Galium normanii  slender bedstraw
Galium verum  lady’s bedstraw

Salicaceae (willow family)
Salix arctica  arctic willow
Salix herbacea  dwarf willow
Salix lanata  woolly willow
Salix myrsinifolia or S. phylicifolia*  boreal or teal-leaf willow

Saxifragaceae (saxifrage family)
Saxifraga cespitosa  tufted saxifrage
Saxifraga hypnoides*  mossy saxifrage
Saxifraga rosacea  Irish saxifrage

Tofieldiaceae (no common name that I could find)
Tofieldia pusilla  Scottish asphodel

Violaceae (violet family)
Viola canina  heath dog violet
Viola tricolor  wild pansy
Viola species  violet

Woodsiaceae (cliff fern family)
Gymnocarpium dryopteris  oak fern


#yowyow – street art on a building in Þingeyri

<— click on this image, it’s worth seeing it larger

nicely sums up how I feel about Iceland