Two-Leaf Miterwort; Ethical Considerations

On April 11 I went hunting for two-leaf miterwort in the woods near my house. I found just a few plants, perfectly in bloom. But they were up a pretty steep slope. That steep slope used to have a lot more miterwort on it, just off the trail, but for some reason it doesn’t anymore.

A lot of families were out that day; social distancing was impossible without stepping off the trail. So, it seemed best to move up the slope and set up the equipment there. On the other hand, exactly that sort of disturbance is probably why there’s less miterwort this year.

I compromised by moving just off the trail, and using my longest lens (70-200mm) with a 1.7x teleconverter. I really wanted to get right up to the plants, and use the 105mm macro lens, but I just couldn’t let myself do it.

Mitella diphylla, also known as bishop’s cap, is in the saxifrage family. A forb of moist woodlands, it can found through much of New England west to Minnesota, and south to Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s rarely found in the northernmost portions of the deep South.

These are the best pictures I could get, given the circumstances. I really wanted clear pictures of the two stem leaves and the basal leaves. Maybe next year.

actually, not bad for 340mm!—>

Do you remember the so-called Poppy Apocalypse of 2019? That was the super bloom in southern California that attracted thousands and thousands of visitors. I was one of them. I was not one of the people leaving the trail to take a selfie. At the time I probably could have written many paragraphs about observed bad behavior, and the irony of trampling over something beautiful in order to get a closer look. It’s great that so many people wanted to experience this rare miracle of nature, but they ought to show some respect.

<—there are at least 16 people in this photo, most of them off-trail

Why is this hard? Respect other people and give them at least six feet of distance during this pandemic; respect nature, don’t destroy it.

I Am So Ready

What a winter this has been! Temperatures bouncing around, crazy amounts of rain, or sleet, or snow, or any combination of the three… My favorite trails are all a mess of slick mud.

<–a single harbinger-of-spring plant emerging on March 6, 2019

blooming (February 28, 2018) –>





Nonetheless I’ve taken a few quick hikes to see if anything’s coming up yet. Last year on March 5, round-lobed hepatica was blooming on the Cabin John Trail, along with a single incredibly early Virginia bluebell. This year on March 5, I saw a single clump of hepatica leaves, without buds.

^ one spring beauty with two buds, March 6, 2019

blooming (April 10, 2018) –>



On the Billy Goat trails last year I saw the earliest harbingers-of-spring and spring beauties on February 28. This year on March 6, I saw a single harbinger plant barely up, one spring beauty with two buds, a single golden ragwort budding up, and quite a few Virginia bluebell plants poking out of the mud.

^ golden ragwort in bud, March 6, 2019

 blooming (April 5, 2017) –>




It’s going to be an interesting year. Flood damage in the Potomac Gorge is the worst I’ve seen in six years of monitoring the area. Alien invasives are starting to emerge from the mud and sand; did the floods do any real harm to those populations? Will that allow the natives a chance to grow better, or were they equally affected?

^ Virginia bluebells emerging from the mud, March 6, 2019

a stupidly early Virginia bluebell opening on March 5, 2018 –>


Hang in there, friends –spring is almost here.

Virginia bluebells carpeting the floodplain (April 10, 2017)

Waking Up

Monday, March 5 – took a quick walk on the Cabin John Trail. Most of the green forbs were aliens, though the new foliage of a few ephemerals was coming up.

There was one small clump of round-lobe hepatica (Anemone americana; Ranunculaceae) with a few buds opening. It’s early, but not too early, for this species to be flowering.

And a few clumps of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica; Boraginaceae), one of which was starting to bloom. This is quite early, but with the ephemerals I often see one or two blooming on either end of the bell curve. Peak bloom for bluebells is probably at least three weeks away.


One That Makes Me Smile

view from directly overhead

Somehow I’ve managed to miss seeing this plant in bloom for two seasons, so Sunday morning, after seeing friends posting pictures of it on various on-line forums, I took a little walk to “Erica Alley”, a rocky place on the Cabin John Trail that’s full of mountain laurels and blueberries. And sure enough, there it was, blooming among the leaf litter on a slope above the creek.

ant’s eye view: camera on the ground, lens propped up, downslope of the plants

This short, evergreen forb grows in dry to moist, rocky, acidic soils in woodlands east of the Mississippi, ranging from northern parts of the Deep South to southern Maine and Michigan, and Ontario and Quebec. (It’s also found in one county in the Florida panhandle and in southern Arizona.)

It’s endangered in Illinois and Maine, and exploitably vulnerable in New York.

Chimaphila maculatum goes by many common names, including spotted/striped wintergreen, spotted/striped pipsissewa, spotted/striped prince’s pine, prince’s cone, prince’s plume, dragon’s tongue, lion’s-tongue, piperidge, ratsbane, rat’s-vein, rheumatism-root, waxflower, whiteleaf, wild-arsenic, and who knows how many others.

princess pine (Dendrolycopodium obscurum, Lycopodiaceae)

In another bit of name confusion, around here I sometimes hear it called “prince’s pine”, which sounds a lot like “princess pine” – an entirely different plant, but the two are often found growing together.

Common names. What a headache.

A literal translation of Chimaphila would be “winter-loving”, referring to the evergreen habit; isn’t even closely related to that other wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens. Confusingly, maculatum means “spotted”, which clearly this plant isn’t, though it is sort of striped, what with the pale green to white coloring of the mid-vein and larger lateral veins.

Two to five flowers (usually) are borne on a cyme. Typical of plants in the Ericaceae, the flowers have five sepals, five petals (strongly reflexed), ten stamens, and one pistil. The plants spread by rhizomes, so if there’s one, there should be more a short distance away.


This species is currently placed in the Ericaceae (heath family), but many on-line sources and older texts still refer to it being in the Pyrolaceae. In some taxonomic systems Pyrolaceae has become Pyroloideae, a subfamily of Ericaceae.

I really can’t explain why some flowers are more aesthetically pleasing than others, but this charming little thing always makes me smile. I’m so glad I saw it this year.

some of the common names listed above were found in The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers, Timothy Coffey (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993)

October Report

I can hardly believe it’s been more than a month since my last post. Sadly, I’ve only been out hiking three times since then. In mid-October, there isn’t a whole lot of variety to see.

Serpentine Barrens Conservation Park, October 17:

  • asters, blue and white, unknown species
  • silver rod (Solidago bicolor)
  • tickseed sunflower (Bidens polylepis)
  • hyssop-leaved thoroughwort (Eupatorium hyssopifolium)
  • goldenrod (unknown species)

Carderock, October 17:

  • white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)
  • flax-leaved aster (Ionactis linariifolia)
  • calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum)
  • blue stem goldenrod (Solidago caesia)
  • zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)
  • silver rod (Solidago bicolor)

Cabin John Trail, October 14:

  • beech drops (Epifagus virginiana)
  • seedpods on downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens)
  • common blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)
  • white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata)
  • other white aster (unknown species)


common blue wood aster
Symphyotrichum cordifolium

Common blue wood aster, aka heart-leaved aster, is found all over the eastern US and Canada, with some occurences in the midwest, mostly between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and also in British Columbia. The taxonomy of several species closely related to this one is in flux*, so beware if you’re using an older guidebook to try to identify asters that you find. You might not be able to say for certain which species is is, only which genus. For that matter, the older guidebooks will still give the genus as Aster rather than Symphyotrichum.




white wood aster
Eurybia divaricata

White wood aster has similar leaves to common blue aster, but obviously different flowers. This species is not as widespread, occurring mostly in the greater Appalachian region, from New Hampshire to Alabama (and possibly in Quebec and Ontario).

BONAP and the Maryland Biodiversity Project agree that common blue wood aster can be found in Montgomery and Frederick Counties in Maryland, but disagree where else in the state it grows. Both sources show white wood aster growing in more counties in Maryland. Each of these species grows one to three feet tall, common blue in moist to dry woodlands, white wood in drier areas.  The patch of common blue pictured below is along the Cabin John Trail, near the southern end. It really just lights up the whole area.


*see my post last year on the subject: Are Asters Really Asters?