The Spring Ephemerals, part 3

Well, I’ve made the decision: no wildflower hunting for the foreseeable future. You can imagine how sad this makes me. But people just aren’t being careful about social distancing, and there isn’t enough open space for everyone who insists on going out.

In the meantime, I’ll follow the season by posting old pictures.

If I were being strictly chronological, harbinger-of spring (Erigenia bulbosa; Apiaceae) would have been the first plant in this series of posts.  It’s almost certainly done blooming by now.

These little plants bedevil me: they grow only a few inches tall, the individual flowers are tiny (notice the oak leaf in the picture below), and they’re so dainty that they’re always in motion, so they’re tricky to photograph. I do love trying, though.

 

 

Another one that’s never still is lyre-leaved rockcress (Arabidopsis lyrata; Brassicaceae). Growing right out of small depressions in rocks, these plants stand just a few inches taller than harbinger of spring. Look how slender those stems are compared to the pine needles lying nearby. I’ve seen stands of these blooming as late in the season as early June.

Here’s another diminutive plant that grows in moist, rocky areas: early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis, formerly Saxifraga virginiensis; Saxifragaceae). Its blooming period can start as early as late March and last through early May.

The Spring Ephemerals, part 2

Everything is different this spring. So many more people are out enjoying the trails, which is great but for two things: overuse and poor (or no) social distancing. For these reasons I might not be going out often, but I can still blog with old pictures.

Floodplains along the river are overflowing with Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica; Boraginaceae). Usually colored a pure, intense blue (I call it borage blue), the color can be lighter, or a pale violet, or all pink, or pure white.

 

 

Mixed in with these, and also found upslope in slightly drier soils, you can see wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata; Polemoniaceae).

Moss phlox (P. subulata) might be blooming by now. If not, it will within a week or so. Look for it sprawling over rocks; the plants stand only a few inches tall. The flowers are almost identical to those of wild blue phlox, but the plants’ growth habits are completely different.

The Spring Ephemerals, part 1

The spring ephemerals are such a delight after a long winter. And even though it was an unusually warm winter, it seemed long to those of us who love botanizing.

The short blooming period of the spring ephemerals makes them even more special. These  are the forbs that emerge from the ground, grow a few leaves, flower, maybe grow a little more, and then die back to the ground by the time the trees under which they grow leaf out.

To be honest, after a few years writing this blog I’ve run out of things to say about most of these plants, but I still love finding and photographing them. Here’s a look at what was going on in the Potomac Gorge last week, with links to more detailed posts I’ve written in previous seasons.

One of the first to appear is harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa; Apiaceae). This year I first saw it on March 18, but they sometimes start to flower as early as late February, and may continue through mid April.

 

 

These plants are so small that they’re easy to miss, except when there’s a large stand; then it looks like a light cover of snow on the ground.

 

 

 

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica; Montiaceae) also carpet forest floors early in the season. They are much larger than harbinger-of-spring but still petite, standing only an inch or two tall. They seem to thrive in moist but not wet soils; I seldom see them adjacent to Virginia bluebells, for example, but they’ll be nearby, just upslope, often in rock crevices.

Spring beauty’s native range runs from the eastern great plains through the midwest, mid-Atlantic, the upper South and lower New England.

 

 

Cut-leaved toothwort (Cardamine concatenata; Brassicaceae) starts blooming soon after spring beauty, and stands a few inches taller. It’s found in much the same habitat but in my observations likes soils a little drier; I’ve never seen it encroaching on a floodplain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its close cousins slender toothwort (C. angustata) [left] and spring cress (C. bulbosa) [below] start blooming roughly two weeks later. Read more about the various toothwort species in this post.  Look for slender toothwort in drier, rocky areas, and spring cress in very wet areas (vernal pools, for example).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming up, more spring ephemerals, and some flowering shrubs.

What’s Up? Yellow

Still no time to write anything substantial. Here are some yellow flowers, now (or recently) blooming in the Maryland piedmont.

 

 

a yellow haze of spicebush flowers (Lindera benzoin; Lauraceae)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

another flowering shrub, leatherwood (Dirca palustris; Thymelaeaceae), S2/threatened in Maryland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

trout lilies (Erythronium americanum; Liliaceae) will be blooming for another week or so in the Potomac gorge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corydalis flavula (short-spurred corydalis or yellow fumewort; Papaveraceae)

 

 

one very early sessile bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia; Liliaceae); watch for more in the next week or so in the gorge, maybe a week after that further north and west in the piedmont

 

 

masses of golden ragwort (Packera aurea; Asteraceae) are blooming now along the Potomac; watch for them on the eastern part of Billy Goat C

 

 

smooth yellow violet, aka yellow forest violet  (Viola pubescens var. scabriuscula; Violaceae)

 

What’s Up? White Flowers

White flowers recently seen in the greater Carderock area.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica; Boraginaceae) are of course normally blue, but every once in awhile you’ll see a stand of white ones. Look for them in floodplains and adjacent moist slopes.

 

 

Look for twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla; Berberidaceae) on rocky slopes along Billy Goat B; it will likely be done blooming by tomorrow.

 

 

Moss phlox (Phlox subulata; Polemoniaceae) should be blooming for at least another month. As you can see from the photo, it doesn’t need much soil. Look for in on large rock formations along the Potomac River.

 

 

Lyre-leaved rockcress (Arabidopsis lyrata; Brassicaceae) is another rock-loving species. They’re so wispy they can be hard to see, but should be blooming for at least another month.

 

 

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis; Papaveraceae) is almost done blooming. You can find it in rich woodlands, usually in colonies.

 

 

 

Early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis; Saxifragaceae) grows in thin soils in rocky woodlands. It’s one of the earliest bloomers but lasts for a fairly long time.

 

 

Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides; Ranunculaceae) is just starting to bloom. It’s common in the Maryland piedmont but for some reason there isn’t much of it in the Potomac gorge. Look for it in the very open wooded areas near the Marsden Tract. It should bloom for another month.

Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and the closely-related squirrel corn (D. canadensis; Papaveraceae) are both blooming in moist woodlands. In past years I’ve observed that the latter starts blooming a week or so after the former, so if you want to see both, go hunting soon. Neither lasts for long.

So Many Flowers, Still Not Enough Time

And here’s the report for yesterday, April 8, along Billy Goat B and the area between it and Carderock proper.

  • lyre-leaved rockcress (Arabidopsis lyrata)
  • smooth rockcress (Boechera laevigata)
  • slender toothwort (Cardamine angustata)
  • cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)
  • redbud (Cercis canadensis)
  • spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
  • short-spurred corydalis (Corydalis flavula)
  • Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
  • trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
  • twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)
  • spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
  • Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
  • early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis)
  • golden ragwort (Packera aurea)
  • wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata)
  • moss phlox (Phlox subulata)
  • littleleaf buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus)
  • bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
  • star chickweed (Stellaria pubera)
  • rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
  • toadshade (Trillium sessile)
  • sessile bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) –just one, but lots of plants; more flowers soon!
  • downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens var. scabriuscula)
  • common blue violet (Viola sororia)

So Many Flowers, So Little Time

Apologies for not posting timely updates. Pictures coming soon. Here’s the Billy Goat C report for last Thursday (April 4); many of these should still be blooming.

  • cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)
  • spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
  • Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
  • squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis)
  • harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa) –almost done
  • trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
  • spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
  • Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
  • golden ragwort (Packera aurea)
  • wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata)
  • toadshade (Trillium sessile)
  • downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens var. scabriuscula)