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.

Triodanis perfoliata (Venus’ looking glass; Campanulaceae)

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.

Clinopodium vulgare (wild basil; Lamiaceae)

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.

Mentha arvensis (field mint; Lamiaceae)

Another mint-family plant with circumboreal distribution. Another late-summer bloomer.



Mimulus alatus (winged monkeyflower; Phrymaceae)

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.

Physostegia virginiana (obedient plant; Lamiaceae)

Yet another mint family mid summer bloomer. Watch for it on rocky outcrops and gravel bars in the Potomac.





Ruellia caroliniensis (hairy wild petunia; Acanthaceae)

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.

Trichostema dichotomum (forked bluecurls; Lamiaceae)

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.

Newfoundland: A Few More Wildflowers

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.

Rayless Beauty

Another of the fantastically showy summer-blooming wildflowers is New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), a perennial that can grow to six feet tall given the right conditions: moist to wet soils and full sun.

[right: in my garden; below: on a bedrock terrace in the Potomac]
I find them growing along the banks of the Potomac River in the area downstream of Carderock. The species ranges from southern New England south into the mid-Atlantic and upper South, with a few populations a little into the mid-West, and a single county in northern New Mexico. There are records for it in every Maryland county.

I’m drawn to this plant by the structure of the flowers. Despite being in the Asteraceae, the inflorescence has only disk flowers. If you look closely at a new head you’ll see them tightly bunched up, still unopened, surrounded by phyllaries (bracts at the base of the head).


In a head with open flowers, you can see the five petals fused into a tube, with a pair of curlique anthers on the stamen popping out. I’m not really sure if that’s a pair of anthers or a single split anther, actually. [edit: oops! that’s a stigma]



New York ironweed is great for attracting pollinators. I’ve seen several different species of butterflies and skippers on the one in my garden, as well as a variety of bees. Look closely at the top photo: there are at least eight skippers there.

One Reason to Plant Native Flowers






When I don’t have time to write meaningful content, I post pretty pictures. Here are a few of a spicebush swallowtail on Eutrochium fistulosum (joy-pye weed, Asteraceae) in my garden. The plant also attracts monarchs, eastern tiger swallowtails, and lots of skippers and bees.

I hope to get back to writing some time next week. Apologies for the lapses.

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.

My Bane: the Fleabanes

This spring I’ve spent hours and hours and hours taking pictures of fleabanes and reading about fleabanes and studying fleabanes, all with the intent of writing a detailed post with tips for field identification. It didn’t seem like I was making any progress… until I started writing this post anyway. The act of attempting to explain something forces me to think about it clearly and organize the details, and with that comes deeper understanding. Also with that came the realization that I have no pictures of Robin’s plantain, and it’s done blooming for the year probably, so gah! Maybe next year.

Erigeron flowers look like daisies, but with many more rays. Four species of them are found in the Maryland Piedmont. Here’s a brief summary of their characteristics.

Erigeron annuus (annual fleabane, daisy fleabane)

Usually the tallest of the fleabanes, though height is variable. The literature says this one grows to three and a half feet tall, but I’ve seen them much taller than that. The stem is generally sparsely hairy, and the hairs are generally spreading (but descriptions vary a lot). The stem may branch near the top; overall the plant may produce as many as 50 flower heads. The basal rosette of leaves usually withers by the time the plant flowers. The stem bears many leaves along its entire length. The lower ones are large, toothed, and have petioles, while the upper ones are a little if at all smaller, slightly toothed or maybe entire, and sessile. The leaves are lanceolate to oblong. The flowers have anywhere from 50 to 120 rays; flower buds are conspicuously hairy. They bloom from summer into fall, on and off, and like disturbed, weedy areas.

E. annuus: sparsely hairy stem, hairs spreading

E. annuus: leafy throughout

E. annuus: coarse-toothed lower stem leaf with winged petiole

E. annuus: flowerhead next to H. sapiens thumb for size

Erigeron philadelphicus (common fleabane)

This one can reach two and a half feet in height, with sparsely hairy stems that may branch near the top. The oblanceolate-to-obovate basal leaves may be present during flowering, or may have withered. The stem leaves are variously shaped, from ovate to narrowly elliptic, but they get smaller in size and fewer in number as they ascend the stem. Lower stem leaves may have a few teeth, while upper ones are entire; all leaves may be pubescent to some extent. There are single leafy bracts near the inflorescences. The plants bear from one to 35 flower heads, each with anywhere from 150 to 400 rays, from late spring to mid summer. The plants like moist, disturbed areas (think roadside depressions).

E. philadelphicus: basal leaves and clasping lower stem leaves

E. philadelphicus: upper stem leaf, clasping, entire, with a secondary flowering stem branching off

E. philadelphicus: a small colony

Erigeron pulchellus (Robin’s plantain)
Usually the shortest of the fleabanes, to two feet tall, unbranched and bearing one to nine flower heads, and often described as having a “stout” appearance. The stem is conspicuously hairy along its entire length. The basal rosette of spatulate (spoon-shaped) leaves is present during flowering. The few stems leaves are dentate, somewhat hairy, oblong, and clasping. The flowers are generally the largest of these four fleabanes, up to an inch and a half across, and have 50 to 100 rays. They bloom from mid-spring to early summer, and prefer rocky, less disturbed areas.

I deeply regret that I have no photos of this plant. Having learned how to identify the fleabanes, I went back through all my photos; every one that I had thought might be Robin’s plantain has ended up being common fleabane. There are some very nice, clear pictures on this blog.

Erigeron strigosus (daisy fleabane, prairie fleabane)

This not-commonly-seen fleabane can reach three feet in height, with a stem that may branch near the top. The stem hairiness is described differently by various authorities, but the specific epithet strigosus is taken from the word strigose, which refers to hairs which are short and lie close to the stem, pointing upwards. This is one identifying characteristic of the species. Another is the stem leaves, which are much closer to linear than any of the other species’ leaves. There aren’t many of them. The larger/lower ones may have a few coarse teeth or be crenate, and have long, sometimes winged petioles, while the upper leaves are more likely to be entire and sessile or with short petioles. The basal leaves are usually present during flowering. Each plant can bear 10 to 200 flower heads, each flower with 40 to 100 rays. This species blooms at about the same time as E. philadelphicus (late spring to mid summer), but prefers higher quality habitats.

E. strigosus: mid-stem showing strigose hairs and sessile, elliptic leaf

E. strigosus: more of the mid-stem

Individual plants vary, and each of these species except the annual has 3 or 4 varieties, each with differing characteristics. Identification is not always straightforward. About color: all these species have white flowers, but some can have a pinkish or bluish tint to them. In many species color is an unreliable characteristic, and in these species it should not be considered diagnostic.

There are close to two hundred species of Erigeron in North America, almost all of which are native. E. annuus, E. philadelphicus, and E. strigosus are found in almost every state and province, while E. pulchellus is found on the eastern half of the continent.

Just for fun, here’s E. uniflorus, oneflower fleabane, spotted in Iceland last summer. It’s also found in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland.

Our Earliest Aster

In much the same habitat as Virginia bluebells grows our earliest-blooming aster family species: Packera aurea (formerly Senecio aureus), commonly known as golden ragwort or golden groundsel. It starts blooming about the same time as the bluebells, but in the Potomac Gorge area seems to hit peak bloom just after the bluebells do.

Though they grow together, I’ve noticed that golden ragwort may have a bit more tolerance for slightly drier soils than the bluebells do. In some areas I can see that the land closest to the river is carpeted in bluebells, while a short distance away – on the other side of the trail, for example, where the land starts sloping upward – the carpet changes to ragwort.

Golden ragwort is a colony-forming perennial forb that grows to about two and a half feet tall. The flowers are borne on a corymb ( a more or less flat-topped cluster) and have the typical aster family arrangement of ray flowers and disk flowers.


The basal leaves are oval with a cordate base and have scalloped edges and long petioles.




The stem leaves are completely different: narrower, deeply lobed, and sessile or clasping.



Golden ragwort is one of 57 Packera species native to North America. Look for it growing in moist to wet woodlands in the mid-West, mid-Atlantic, New England, a few parts of the South, and eastern Canada.