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)

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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.

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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.

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

Flower of the Day: Horse Balm

Collinsonia canadensis; Lamiaceae (mint family)

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The Cabin John Trail irritates me.  It’s overused and in poor condition, treacherous when wet, sometimes smelling from the sewer main it follows… and yet I’ve found some great plants there.  On August 7 I walked along the stream looking for goatsbeard (FOTD June 9), wanting to see what it looked like in seed (still pretty impressive), when I spied something else growing out of the rocks over the creek.  Something I’d never seen before, or even heard of.

I love when that happens.

Horse balm is a big plant, growing to five feet tall and three feet across.

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The leaves have a pleasant scent (as so many mints do); the plant was used medicinally by Native Americans and settlers.  It’s native to eastern US and Canada, and endangered in Wisconsin.

Here’s what the goatsbeard looked like, by the way:

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