Ol’ Stinky’s Blooming

There aren’t many wildflowers to see at this time of year, but in a few spots the woods are bright with short, white balls-on-sticks.

I have a confession to make that some of my friends will find surprising: foodie Elizabeth does not love the taste of ramps, aka wild leek (Allium tricoccum, Liliaceae).

However, wildflower enthusiast Elizabeth loves the flowers. Or at least the look of them, because they do smell like onion.

Each flower has six tepals, six stamens, and a single style. Multiple flowers are arranged on each umbel, which tops a single leafless stalk, making the plants look like balls on sticks. They stand about a foot tall.

almost all the green in this picture is from ramp leaves



In the springtime, of course, ramps are all leaves, but the leaves die back before the flowering stalk emerges. They do light up the understory.


Ramps range from Tennessee and North Carolina in the south to Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec in the north, largely to the east of the Mississippi River, with some occurrences west of that (mostly in Minnesota). In Maryland they’re found in scattered locations in the piedmont and ridge and valley physiographic provinces. Look for them in moist, rich woodlands, where they get sun in early spring but deep shade in early summer. (And please don’t forage them, unless you find them on private land, have the landowner’s permission, and collect with sustainable practices – ie, don’t take the whole plant.)

Ramps are listed as special concern in Maine and Rhode Island, special concern commercially exploited in Tennessee, and noxious weed in Arkansas, which is interesting considering that neither USDA PLANTS Database or BONAP have records for ramps anywhere in that state.

Scavenger Hunt Denied (For Now)

Circaea lutetiana (enchanter’s nightshade)

This past Tuesday I had a great idea: go botanizing on Olmstead Island and submit photos to the Maryland Biodiversity Project and the Maryland Plant Atlas. But a bunch of signs along the last stretch of road before the visitors’ center parking lot proclaimed that the walkway to the Great Falls overlook was closed.

It won’t open until some time in July. Apparently repairs are needed. No problem, I can go back another day.

But a little more about the MBP… according to their website:

Maryland Biodiversity Project (MBP) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization focused on cataloging all the living things of Maryland.

To do this, they accept recorded sightings (preferably photographic) off animals and plants (and fungi, etc.), with specific locations: not just by county, but by USGS quad. There are 261 quads covering the state!

Click on any quad on the Maryland Plant Atlas quad map and you can see what’s already been recorded, and what the top 100 needs are. Because of the way the quads are arrayed over the state, some of them have very few or even no records.

One of those quads is Vienna, which has only a sliver of Maryland in it: part of Olmstead Island, where the Great Falls overlook is. There are only seven records for that area; I can assure you there are a lot more than seven plant species there!

So, sometime in July, when the walkway re-opens, I’m going to lead a mini bio-blitz and see if I can’t submit more photos to help fill in that quad. I’ll be posting about it on the MBP facebook page and the Maryland Native Plant Society Discussion Group, so if you want to join me, check those spaces for announcements. Or leave a message in the comments of this post.

bee on Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (narrow-leaved mountain mint)

For more information about how to get involved with MBP, visit the FAQs page.

It really is a lot of fun – like a scavenger hunt.

No, Really, It’s Still June: Knock it Off!

What is going on with the asters and sunflowers this year? It’s really too early for them to be blooming. First there was Ionactis linariifolia, then the Solidago species, and now this.

I’ve been visiting this same spot near Carderock for five years now. The earliest I’ve ever seen woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) blooming was late July.

Of the seven or so Helianthus species found in the Maryland piedmont, this is the only one with sessile, entire, opposite leaves, making identification pretty easy.

King of the Meadow

Tuesday, June 20: a disappointing start to the day’s botanizing. The river was finally low enough to allow me to get out to my favorite bedrock terrace, but very little was actually blooming there, except an invasive alien St. John’s wort and, bizarrely, this goldenrod. Um…. it’s still June, y’all!

From there I went in search of basil balm; I found the plants, but nope, not blooming yet.

And then, walking along the towpath, I spotted this. Convenient, considering what I wrote six weeks ago: “On my to-do list for later this year is to find a stand of these and examine them more closely.”



This is Thalictrum pubescens (Ranunculaceae), commonly known as tall meadow rue or king of the meadow. It’s easily identified in Maryland, as it’s the only Thalictrum here whose stamens stand upright (other bisexual Thalictrums have drooping stamens).

It has a typical Thalictrum compound leaf.





Notice how each little subleaflet has three lobes.




Tall meadow rue is polygamo-dioecious: each plant bears either male or female flowers, except for some plants which bear both male and bisexual flowers. This is a male flower [right], consisting only of sepals and stamens (no petals). Typically there are four or five sepals, and many stamens.

Many of these [left] are bisexual flowers, with both stamens and pistils. Typically there will be anywhere from four to fifteen pistils.




Tall meadow rue grows mostly in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, and in some parts of the South and Mid-West. It’s threatened in Indiana. The Maryland Biodiversity Project has records for it in every county except Washington and Somerset. Look for it growing in wet areas, in sun or shade. Along the banks of the C&O Canal, for example.

Lizard’s Tail

One of those stands of irises that I keep writing about is in a depression in the woods that in most years is a vernal pond. Last year was dry, though, and the rain we’ve had so far this year doesn’t seem enough to bring groundwater levels back to normal.

At any rate, that sometimes-vernal pond has only a few irises, but it’s absolutely dominated by this plant.

This is Saururus cernuus, commonly known as lizard’s tail, water dragon, and breast weed. It’s a wetland obligate, meaning that it grows almost exclusively in wetlands.*

There are two other stands I know of, one near the Carderock climbing wall, and the other near the Old Angler’s Inn footbridge, which is where I took these photos. This stand seems to be in shade for much, but not all, of the day, while the other stands are pretty much in full shade, all the time.

Lizard’s tail forms large colonies by rhizomes. The plants stand up to three feet tall, with large, heart-shaped leaves and curved spikes of white flowers. Each flower consists of stamens and a single pistil, without petals or sepals.

Saururus is a genus with only two species; the other, S. chinensis, is native to Asia. The Saururaceae is a small family, with only seven species in five genera. S. cernuus ranges from Texas to Quebec, though it’s missing from much of New England. In Maryland it’s found in every county except for Frederick and Garret; I wouldn’t be surprised if it grows in those places as well, but no one’s reported it yet. It’s endangered in Connecticut and Rhode Island, but listed as weedy by the Southern Weed Science Society.

For once, the common name has some relation to the botanical name: Saururus is from the Greek words sauros (lizard) and oura (tail). The specific epithet cernuus means nodding or drooping.

*official definition: Plants that occur almost always (estimated probability >99%) in wetlands under natural conditions, but which may also occur rarely (estimated probability <1%) in non-wetlands (from forestandrange.org )