Rosea

There are a lot of pink wildflowers in the Maryland Piedmont. As with blue and purple, “pink” can vary quite a bit, from almost white to practically red.

Claytonia virginica (spring beauty; Portulacaeae)

One of our earliest ephemerals, blooming as early as late February after a warm winter, and lasting into May. In woodland soils almost everywhere. Usually white with a pink tint.

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells; Boraginaceae)

Virginia bluebell buds start violet and turn pink before opening blue, except when the flowers are pure white or pure pink. I visit this stand every year just to make sure that the flowers really are all pink from start of bloom through senescence. They are.

Cercis canadensis (redbud; Fabaceae)

Around here, this understory tree usually blooms in April, when other trees are just starting to blush green. It’s a beautiful effect, though maybe not as stunning as…

 

Rhododendron periclymenoides (pinxter azalea; Ericaceae)

I don’t know that we have a more stunning native shrub than this. I’ve seen it in rocky, wet areas in Rachel Carson Conservation Park and Sugarloaf Mountain; it blooms in mid spring.

Silene caroliniana ssp. pensylvanica (wild pink; Caryophyllaceae)

Look for the flowers in early April to late May. These low-growing plants are often found in dry, rocky soils in open woodlands. There are several stands near Carderock.

 

Valeriana pauciflora (long-tube valerian, large-flower valerian; Valerianceae)

This delicate plant (S1/endangered) has an explosive inflorescence that usually opens in May. A great photo has always eluded me, despite hours and hours and hours of trying, because the plants bloom in the deep shade of dense woods. Shade is the bane of photographers. Maybe this year.

Hibiscus laevis (halberd-leaved rosemallow; Malvaceae)

Unlike the previous species, this one likes bright, sunny riverbanks. I love how it just glows in the light! Sometimes considered a forb and sometimes as a shrub, it’s a very tall plant with stems that get somewhat woody as the season progresses; but, like a forb, it dies back to the crown in autumn. Watch for it in early to mid summer. S3 in Maryland.

Hylodesmum nudiflorum (naked-flower tick trefoil; Fabaceae)

The tick trefoils can be tricky to identify, but this one stands out because the flowers are borne on leafless stems. The genus Desmodium was recently split, with some species placed in a new genus, Hylodesmum. According to the excellent gobotany site, species in the former as sun-loving, and species in the latter are shade-loving.

Desmodium paniculatum (panicled tick-trefoil; Fabaceae)

This one blooms in mid to late summer. It grows in moist to dry soils in sun to part shade, and does well in disturbed areas.

Lespedeza virginica (Fabaceae) Not seen as often as the alien invasive L. sericea, this species grows in dry areas, blooming in mid to late summer.

Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed; Apocynaceae)

If you want to spend hours being entertained by bees and butterflies, park yourself in front of a stand of milkweeds. I’ve seen them blooming in wet soils in sunny areas from late June to late August.

Persicaria amphibia (water smartweed; Polygonaceae)

Or, as I prefer to call it, DPP (damn pink persicaria). I’m fairly certain I’ve ID’d it correctly. Sometimes I’m not particularly attracted to a species until I sit and study it awhile and try to get good close-up pictures. So it was with this one. Click on the pic to see it larger. It’s pretty up close!

Sabatia angularis (rosepink; Gentianaceae)

I’ve only seen this plant once, in the shade of a small shrub even though it’s a sun-loving species. Watch for it in dry soils in open places. What a beautiful color.

Love ’em or Hate ’em: the Milkweeds

True to their name, milkweeds are both milky and weedy. “Milk” refers to the white latex found within, a chemical defense against herbivory. And the plants are weedy: some species are on US state and Canadian province weed lists. Farmers hate them because many species are tall plants with massive root systems that can out-compete crops.  But most of the rest of us love them for attracting bees and butterflies.

I love them because the flowers themselves are fantastically complex.

The inflorescence is an umbel. Each individual flower consists of five sepals and five petals, and in most species five hoods and five horns. The hoods enclose the gynostegium, a complex structure consisting of fused stamens and styles that is unique to the genus Asclepias. It gets even more complicated than that; if you’re interested in the topic, there’s a detailed but not too technical explanation at the Orbis Environmental Consulting website.

The genus Asclepias was once placed in its own family, Asclepiadaceae, which is what you’ll find in older texts. Currently it’s place in the Apocynaceae (dogbane family), subfamily Asclepiadoideae. A dozen species of Asclepias can be found in Maryland, all native and all but one occurring in the Piedmont.

Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) is found in most of the US except Alabama, Arizona, and the Pacific coast states, and in the eastern half of Canada. It prefers wet soils, and can grow two to six feet tall. The leaves are narrower than those of most other milkweed species. In the Potomac Gorge I’ve seen it blooming from late June to late August.

Asclepias quadrifolia (four-leaved milkweed) has a more limited range: it’s found in Ontario and the eastern half of the US, excepting some of the northernmost and southernmost states, and seems to be concentrated in the Appalachians and the Ozarks. It’s endangered in New Hampshire, threatened in Rhode Island, and uncommon in Vermont (per the New England Wild Flower Society). The species prefers drier soils in woodlands. The whorl of four leaves makes it easy to identify.

Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) is found in the eastern US and Canada and a few western states, generally in full sun on dry or poor soils. In the Potomac Gorge I find it in soil pockets on the bedrock near the river, blooming in mid June to mid July. It’s on several authorities’ weedy plants lists. The flowers are a dusky pink as opposed to the bright pink of swamp milkweed, and the leaves are much broader.

Asclepias verticillata (whorled milkweed) is found in most of the eastern and central US and Canada, in open areas with full sun and poor soils. It’s on several weedy plants lists, but is also threatened in Massachusetts and special concern in Rhode Island. In Maryland it’s S3/watchlist. I’ve never seen it in the wild; the plant pictured here survived the rabbit onslaught in my garden. Note how narrow the whorled leaves are.

Asclepias viridiflora (green comet milkweed) is widespread across the US and Canada, though missing from the West and most of New England. It’s endangered in Florida, threatened in New York, special concern in Connecticut. It’s uncommon in Maryland; look for it blooming from mid June to mid August in dry open areas, especially serpentine barrens.

This last one is not technically a milkweed, but it’s close. Cynanchum laeve (honeyvine) is a sprawling vine that’ll grow up and around everything, so it is weedy. And it does exude latex. And monarch caterpillars (and other milkweed butterfly caterpillars) do feed on it, so you may as well think of it as a milkweed. In Maryland it’s found in the coastal plain, and also in the Piedmont part of Montgomery County. I’ve been seeing it along the banks of the Potomac, twining ’round late-flowering thoroughwort, rosemallows, and anything else it can get to.

Breezy Monday Morning

Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) is just starting to bloom along the river

It’s ten o’clock Monday morning, and although the temperature is only about 82 °F on the Billy Goat B trail, I’m pouring sweat from the high humidity.

Verbena urticifolia (white vervain) deigned to hold still for a split second

 

 

 

 

Fortunately, there’s a nice breeze blowing to keep me cool.

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (narrow-leaved mountain mint) starting to open

 

 

 

 

 

Hiker Elizabeth with her sixteen pound daypack loves it.

Ruellia caroliniensis (hairy wild petunia) peeking through some Chasmanthium latifolium (woodoats)

 

 

 

 

 

Photographer Elizabeth, trying to get nice flower pics, is deeply annoyed.

Circaea lutetiana (enchanter’s nightshade)

 

 

 

 

 

Seemed like I couldn’t get good pictures of anything. I had gone to shoot enchanter’s nightshade, a medium-sized, shade-loving forb with a wispy stem and tiny flowers, easily moved by the breeze.

 

 

 

The flower has an unusual structure, with only two petals, so deeply cleft that they appear to be four, two sepals, two stamens, one style, and an inferior ovary.

an unusually colorful fleabane (probably Erigeron annuus)

 

Other plants currently blooming include:

  • fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata)
  • white avens (Geum canadense)
  • trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans)
  • honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis)
  • bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix)
  • water willow (Justicia americana)
  • lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus)
  • blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)
  • common cattail (Typha latifolia)
  • and even a few goldenrod! (Solidago species)

Monotropa uniflora (ghost pipes) turn fully upward towards the end of blooming

Almost Done

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A few asters, goldenrods, and eupatoriums are hanging on, but mostly the wildflower show in the Potomac Gorge is done for the year.  That means it’s time to watch for other interesting things, like autumn leaves, the shapes of bare tree branches silhouetted against the sky, foggy sunrises and clear sunsets.  And seeds.  Like these seedpods of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) that were just opening on the riverbank near Lock 8 in mid-October.

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just opening, not puffed out yet

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forming little balloons

 

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freedom!

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milkweed in early June20150610-20150610-_DSC0089

On the Asclepias Buffet

20150623-20150623-_DSC0134The milkweeds sure do attract visitors.  Pleased to discover a very small stand of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in an easily accessible area, I decided to stay awhile to see who came by. Here are some of the insects I saw on it.

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This is a pearl crescent butterfly, Phyciodes tharos, a member of the brushfoot family (Nymphalidae).  20150623-20150623-_DSC0105

See the blurry orange thing in the foreground?

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That’s an assassin bug (species unknown, family Reduviidae). They sometimes hide in flowers, but more often actively hunt their prey*.  They use their rostrums to inject prey with salvia, which then liquefies the victim’s insides so that the bug can suck them out.

I have a sudden, strange urge to watch Starship Troopers again.

In less gruesome news, the milkweeds were also attracting the bees.

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I have no way to identify the species of this bumblebee (family Bombidae).

[edited to add: see comments]

*Encyclopedia of Life

More Seeds

Milkweed (Asclepias).  Didn’t see the plant in flower, so I can’t say which species.  October 28, Shenandoah National Park, parking lot at Riprap Hollow trailhead.

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closeup of seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

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unripe pods not quite ready

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fly!  be free!

 

 

 

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I just love how they form little balloons as they’re getting ready to go…

 

 

 

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…and embrace the sky