How could I have forgotten one of my favorite finds?! This is a pale violet form of Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells), that I’ve found in the same place two different years. It isn’t a trick of lighting or mis-adjusted white balance on my camera. They really are this color.
Continuing with pretty pictures during this cold season. It’s a thin line between blue and purple. Color is a continuum. Color is in the eye of the beholder. If some of these look more blue or pink than purple, well, c’est la vie.
Look for this annual forb growing in rocky places where there isn’t much competition from other plants. It generally blooms from about mid May into early June here in the Maryland piedmont.
A perennial forb with circumboreal distribution. Look for the flowers in the height of summer.
Cunila origanoides (common dittany; Lamiaceae)
A perennial native to North America, and found mostly in the mid West and mid Atlantic. It blooms in late summer.
Elephantopus caroliniana (Carolina elephant’s foot; Asteraceae)
A rather weedy-looking plant with a fascinating inflorescence. Click on the picture and look closely; you’ll see that this is actually four disk flowers, each with a five-lobed corolla. The species is native to the southeastern US (Maryland is almost as far north as it goes). It blooms in late summer.
Eutrochium purpureum (sweet joe-pye weed; Asteraceae).
The joe-pye weeds (formerly Eupatorium species) are perennials that love wet places, but this particular species tolerates drier soils and is a great native for the home garden, with dramatic heads of colorful flowers towering above most other forbs. And it attracts butterflies. Blooms in late summer.
Another mint-family plant with circumboreal distribution. Another late-summer bloomer.
Watch for this wetland plant and its almost identical cousin M. ringens var. ringens (Allegheny monkeyflower) blooming in early to mid summer.
Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot; Lamiaceae)
The mint family sure is represented well here. Look for it in mid summer, possibly covered in bees and butterflies.
Phlox divaricata (woodland phlox, wild blue phlox; Polemoniaceae)
As you can see this flower ranges from almost white through lighter and stronger shades of blue and purple. They bloom at about the same time as Virginia bluebells. Bluebells grow in the floodplain while this phlox grows just upland of the floodplain, in still moist (but not wet) woodland soils.
Yet another mint family mid summer bloomer. Watch for it on rocky outcrops and gravel bars in the Potomac.
In Maryland this species is found mostly in the Coastal Plain; in the piedmont it’s restricted to a few sites near the Potomac River (as far as I know – please leave a comment if you know otherwise). Watch for it in late spring and early summer.
Blue or purple, or splitting the difference? Whatever. This is a most striking plant, one of those OMG finds. Well it was for me, anyway. What a lurid color. Late summer, dry soils, open areas. Yow.
Verbena hastata (blue vervain, swamp verbena, Verbenaceae)
As one of the common names suggests, you’ll find this in wetlands, blooming anywhere from late June to mid August. This is an extreme closeup; the plants are rather tall but the inflorescences rather small.
Vernonia noveboracensis (New York ironweed; Asteraceae)
All ray flowers with strongly exserted stigmas, no disk flowers. Very tall plant, wispy appearance. Likes wet soils. Blooms in mid to late summer.
Viola palmata (early blue violet, three-loved violet; Violaceae)
Violet taxonomy is in flux, and violet species can be difficult to differentiate. This one is relatively easy because of the unusual leaf shape, although even that can be highly variable. Look for it in mid spring in drier woodlands.
Virginia bluebells carpeting a Potomac River floodplain last spring
Happy new year! I’m back, after a truly epic case of writer’s block. Not that there’s anything blooming to write about yet, since the local wildflower show won’t be starting until late February at the earliest, more likely mid-March if this winter stays as cold as it has been. Which has been pretty darn cold compared to the last five years or so, but not that unusual compared to, say, the past 50 years.
At any rate I’m fighting the winter blues by recalling blue flowers I found this past year. Here are a few from the Maryland Piedmont.
Anemone americana (formerly Hepatica nobilis var obtusa; round-lobed hepatica; Ranunculaceae)
This species is hibernal – the basal rosette of leaves will be out right now, though likely hidden under leaf litter. The leaves will die back as the small flowers appear just an inch or two off the ground. In the Piedmont I’ve seen them as early as early March and as late as mid April, though they don’t bloom for long; they just seem highly variable about when they start blooming.
Baptisia australis (wild blue indigo; Fabaceae)
This species is found primarily in prairies, but also occurs in some prairie-like habitats east of the Appalachians, including bedrock terraces in the Potomac gorge. According to the Maryland DNR’s new RTE list, there are only a few populations here. It’s listed S2/Threatened. Finding it is a real treat.
Conoclinium coelestinum (formerly Eupatorium coelestinum; blue mistflower; Asteraceae)
This medium-height plant blooms from June through September in wet soils next to the Potomac River – not right on the banks, but close by.
Houstonia caeulea (azure bluet, little bluet, Quaker ladies; Rubiaceae)
These tiny flowers bloom en masse in April and May in moist, rocky soils in open wooded areas. Sometimes you’ll see only a few, but other times you may find them carpeting a meadow. They are really tricky to photograph up close, as even the slightest breeze sets them in motion.
Ionactis linariifolius (formerly Aster linariifolius; flax-leaved aster; Asteraceae)
I’ve seen this species blooming in a rocky meadow in the Carderock area in October of the last few years, but also in open, rocky areas of the Billy Goat A trail – in June!
Iris species, either I. versicolor or I. virginica (northern blue flag or southern blue flag; Iridaceae)
These flowers drove me nuts in 2017. I posted many times about my quest to determine exactly which species it is. There are scattered stands along and near the C&O Canal from the Marsden Tract upstream to Widewater; look for it in late May or early June.
Lobelia siphilitica (great blue lobelia; Campanulaceae) stands dramatically tall on riverbanks. I’ve seen two stands of them along the Potomac: one just upriver of the American Legion bridge, the other near Fletcher’s Boathouse in DC.
Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells; Boraginaceae)
This spring ephemeral often grows in large swaths in floodplains, like in the lead-in photo above. The pink buds start turning blue as they open. This species can also flower in pure white, pure pink, and pale violet; I love hunting for these variations every April.
Phacelia covillei (Coville’s phacelia, buttercup scorpionweed; Boraginaceae)
A short annual plant with tiny flowers that have to be seen up close to be appreciated. Currently listed S2/Endangered by the Maryland DNR, with a proposed change of status to Threatened.
Phacelia dubia (small-flowered phacelia or scorpionweed; Boraginaceae)
A fellow botanerd directed me to a large stand of this species last spring. Most of those flowers appeared white, but up close a few had this pale blue cast.
Phacelia purshii (fringed phacelia, Miami mist; Boraginaceae)
Listed S3 in Maryland. I’ve found only three stands of it between the Potomac and the Billy Goat B and C trails.
Scutellaria elliptica (hairy skullcap; Lamiaceae)
Look for sparse stands of these from Carderock to the Marsden Tract, in rocky soils where the woods aren’t too dense.
Tradescantia virginiana (Virginia spiderwort; Commelinaceae)
In some lighting situations this flower looks more purple than blue, but oh well. I’ll cover purple flowers in a future post. The plant has iris-like foliage: broad blades with parallel veins. The three-petaled flowers are another clue that this plant is a monocot. Which gives me an idea for another future post.
So, um, yeah, other things happened and I haven’t been out botanizing in a month, and I have a backlog of flowers to write about, even though the season is over. In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of a great egret (Ardea alba) standing in the C&O Canal in early October. Great egrets are found in every county in Maryland. You might think they’re a white form of the frequently-seen great blue heron, but no: those are found only in south Florida, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.
And, back to Newfoundland, with a few more wildflowers I found in various locations,
Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea; Asteraceae) is found in Canada, New England, the northern Mid-Atlantic, the upper Mid-West, and the mountainous West; in Maryland it’s only in a few scattered locations.
Oyster plant (Mertensia maritima; Boraginaceae) is found on beaches in northern North America and parts of Europe. I found it in Iceland last summer and specifically went looking for it when driving past Birchy Cove. It’s closely related to our showy native Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica).
Roundleaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia; Droseraceae) is a carnivorous plant with circumboreal distribution; in the US it’s found in New England, the Appalachians, the upper Mid-West, scattered locations in the West, Canada and Greenland. In Maryland it’s found in Garret County and parts of the Coastal Plain. Look for it in sunny wetlands (bogs, fens, and so on).
Gall-of-the-earth (Prenanthes trifoliata, formerly Nabalus trifoliatus or N. trifoliolatus; Asteraceae) is found in a variety of dry habitats in eastern Canada, New England, and south through the Appalachians. It’s endangered in Ohio, and though not on the RTE list in Maryland, is only known in Talbot County. Apparently it (and/or other Prenanthes species) was used in folk medicine, and has an exceedingly bitter taste, hence the common name.
Scots lovage (Ligusticum scoticum; Apiaceae) grows in rocky areas along the coasts of northern North America and Europe. It’s endangered in Connecticut and New York and special concern in Rhode Island. Supposdely it’s edible, tasting like lovage, which is to say like really strong celery.
Striped or creeping toadflax (Linaria repens; Plantaginaceae) is an alien found in only a few spots in North America. It’s native to Europe, and closely related to the more commonly occurring alien weed known as butter-and-eggs (L. vulgaris).
I spotted this Myosotis species (Boraginaceae) and photographed it from a great distance; there was no way to get close enough for a better picture or identification. The forget-me-nots are notoriously difficult to identify, as are their close relatives the phacelias, about which I’ve complained many times in this blog. But that borage blue is a beacon.
Yellow pond lily (Nuphar variegata, sometimes N. lutea ssp. variegata; Nymphaeaceae) is widespread in ponds across the northern US and Canada; it’s endangered in Ohio. The USDA PLANTS Database shows it present in Maryland but the Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records for it. The closely related spatterdock (N. advena) is found all over Maryland, though, including water pockets in cliffs in the Potomac Gorge.
In the same family is fragrant water lily, Nymphaea odorata. As you can see from the picture, I found both species growing together in one of the inunmerable ponds in the center of the Bonavista peninsula. Frgrant water lily can be found in almost every state and province of the US and Canada.
American burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis; Rosaceae) is native to the eastern US and Canada as well as the Pacific Northwest; sadly, it’s threatened or endangered in nine states, including Maryland. It’s an eye-catching plant with its tall, fluffy spikes of flowers. Look for it growing in bogs and other wet areas (including roadsides).
Roseroot (Rhodioloa rosea, formerly Sedum rosea; Crassulaceae) is a subarctic plant found in a few parts of northern North America as well as in Iceland and Europe. I saw this one specimen flowering near Spillar’s Cove and am really kicking myself for not taking the time to get better pictures.
One thing or another has kept me away from botanizing in the past few weeks, but recently I did get out for a quick photo shoot along the Billy Goat C trail. I snapped a few pictures of this flower, recognizing it right aways as something in the Onagraceae (evening primrose family), and also knowing that I was probably setting myself up for failure, since identifying plants from photos never goes smoothly.
But this one did go smoothly. After just a few minutes with Weakley’s Flora I had it identified as Ludwigia decurrens (wingleaf primrose-willow). Then I checked with a few experts on-line, just to be sure, because there are no records for this species in the area where I found it.
Two weeks later I found another stand of it about a mile away from the first stand.
Wingleaf primrose-willow is listed S2S3 (state rare) in Maryland, and despite being rare in Indiana and endangered in Pennsylvania, it’s considered weedy by some authorities. It’s a wetland species that can grow to several feet tall. The winged leaves, stem, and capsule (seedpod) distinguish it from other species of Ludwigia; indeed, the specific epithet decurrens refers to this characteristic. (In botany, “decurrent” describes leaf tissue that continues along the stem below the node where the leaf attaches.)
A closely related species, Ludwigia alternifolia, has a similar looking flower, but lacks the decurrent leaves/stems. Also, the capsule is cube-shaped, a characteristic that gives the species its common name: seedbox [below right].
Most of the ten species of Ludwigia found in Maryland are plants of the Coastal Plain, but these two are also found in the Piedmont, along with two others, one of which, L. peploides (floating primrose-willow), I may have found earlier this summer [above left]. However, as the plants were in standing water in the C&O Canal, I couldn’t get close enough to make a positive identification. I couldn’t get close enough to get a decent picture, either. It’s possible that this is the alien species L. grandiflora, for which there are no records in the state of Maryland, but there are records for it in every surrounding state, so who knows.
After two days of puffin hunting, I realized that it was fruitless to try to photograph them much before sundown, so early on day three I drove south to Skerwink Head, where a 5.3 kilometer loop trail takes you along coastal cliffs, through boreal forest and bog. Here I found flowering plant species that weren’t in the Bonavista area.
Of course balsam fir (Abies balsamea; Pinaceae) isn’t a flowering plant, but since it is the predominant species in this region, I wanted to show it. I have some sort of mental block when it comes to conifers and can never remember how to tell them apart. One clue, though, is that fir cones always stand up. Also, there’s this handy mnemonic: “Flat, friendly fir needles. Sharp, spiny spruce needles.”*
Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia; Ericaceae) is a northern relative of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia); the former ranges from southern Virginia north into Newfoundland and Labrador, while the latter ranges from the Florida panhandle north through Maine. In Maryland sheep laurel is found mostly in the Coastal Plain.
Seven-angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum; Eriocaulaceae) is an aquatic plant that ranges from South Carolina north into Newfoundland and Labrador. In Maryland it’s listed S1/endangered and is a plant of the Coastal Plain.
Another aquatic plant, Dortmann’s cardinalflower (Lobelia dortmanna; Campanulaceae) is native to northern North America and Europe. In the US it can be found as far south as New Jersey. I don’t believe it’s found in Maryland, but there are conflicting accounts.
Twinflower (Linnaea borealis; Caprifoliaceae) is circumboreal, as the specific epithet suggests. In the US it’s found in New England, the upper Mid-West, and southwards in the Rocky Mountains. Some sources list in Maryland, but Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records; if it’s here, it would likely be in the far western part of the state, in the Allegheny Plateau.
Dwarf cornel (also Swedish bunchberry, Lapland cornel, and many others; Cornus suecica; Cornaceae) is a circumpolar species. In North America the furthest south it gets is Nova Scotia or Quebec. A closely related species, also called bunchberry (C. canadensis), ranges much further south; in Maryland that species is found only in Garret County and is listed S1/highly state rare. In areas where both species are found, they can be distinguished by leaf venation.
There’s something really special about glancing into the dim understory and spotting an orchid. Dactylorhiza viridis (frog orchid, also placed in the genus Coeloglossum, and formerly in Platanthera) is wide-ranging in the Northern hemisphere. I saw it in Iceland and once in Maryland, where it’s listed S1/endangered.
Moneses uniflora (Ericaceae) has many common names, including one-flower wintergreen, one-flower shinleaf, and simple delight. It’s found in much of the northern part of the northern hemisphere, including New England, the upper Mid-West, and the Rocky Mountains. In Maryland look for the closely related striped wintergreen.
Garden lupine or bigleaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus; Fabaceae) ranges from Minnesota east and north into Newfoundland (but not Labrador), and also in the western US and Canada. Various accounts claim it is native to this western region, but none say that it’s alien to the east, so I’m not sure what its “native’ status is in Newfoundland. BONAP and USDA PLANTS Database show it in Maryland, but Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records for it.