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 linariifolius, 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.

Crowning Glory

Wednesday, May 10. Headed to Sugarloaf Mountain with two goals: get good pictures of pink lady’s slipper and mountain laurel. Failed both. Too late for the former, too early for the latter.



Monday, May 15. Headed to Rachel Carson Conservation Park with three goals: locate and photograph large twayblade; get good pictures of spotted wintergreen and mountain laurel. Failed to find the twayblade, too early for the spotted wintergreen, and the mountain laurels were still in bud, with only a few individual flowers open.

Tuesday, May 16. Headed to Carderock with one goal: photograph mountain laurel. Success! Here they were actually a little past peak bloom, but still flowering profusely.



There’s something about the flowers of plants in the Ericaceae (heath family) that I find especially compelling, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Actually it isn’t just the flowers, because I find the plants themselves intriguing and lovely.


Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a multi-stemmed shrub that grows to 15 feet tall, maybe taller in the right conditions, but it doesn’t grow straight. The stems twist and curve, and you can see that habit in the patterns of the bark. It has a tendency to drop all but the uppermost leaves. When in bloom it looks to me like the plant is crowned in flowers.

Like our garden azaleas and rhododendrons, mountain laurel flowers on old growth (which you can see in the first photo). New growth is pictured here (with spent oak catkins drooped on the petioles).



Identifying mountain laurel is easy, because little else has that open, gnarled habit. The leaves are evergreen. Flowers are borne in crowded corymbs, and each flower has five petals fused into a tube, with ten stamens that initially stick in little folds in the petals. The color ranges from nearly white to deep pink, with a red ring in the throat.

Like other ericaceous plants, mountain laurel loves moist but well-drained, acidic soils. When you see it, you’ll often see other plants in the same family nearby. In Rachel Carson Conservation Park, it grows on a bald knob with pinxter azaleas, blueberries and deerberries (Vaccinium species), and spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata). It’s also abundant on Sugarloaf Mountain, and on a few of the ridges near Carderock. There’s a section of the Cabin John Trail that I call Erica Alley, a rocky area with plenty of ericaceous species (and other neat plants, like rock polypody, ground pine, and firmosses), including dozens and dozens of mountain laurels, too, but in all the years I’ve been hiking there, I’ve never seen them bloom. I’ve never even seen buds on them.

Mountain laurel ranges from Louisiana to Maine; it’s threatened in Florida, special concern in Maine, and exploitably vulnerable in New York. In Maryland it’s found in every county except Somerset.


Carderock – Marsden Tract Report

skink posing on rockface

Plants seen on May 2; those that were flowering are probably close to done by today.






Antennaria plantaginifolia (plantain-leaved pussy toes): most in seed




Aplectrum hyemale (puttyroot orchid): one flower on one spike open
Arisaema triphyllum (jack-in-the-pulpit): flowering
Asimina triloba (pawpaw): done flowering
Boechera laevigata (smooth rock cress): in seed
Cerastium arvense (field chickweed): a few still flowering but past peak

Chionanthus virginicus (fringetree): glorious flowering; follow your nose, they’re fragrant




Claytonia virginica (spring beauty): only a handful left
Comandra umbellata (bastard toadflax):  no flowers, though there were buds 2 weeks ago; did I miss it?!
Erigeron pulchellus (Robin’s plantain): flowering
Geranium maculatum (wild geranium): done
Hesperis matronalis (dame’s rocket; alien): blooming
Heuchera americana (alumroot): flowering
Hieracium venosum (rattlesnake weed): flowering
Houstonia caerulea (azure bluets): still flowering but past peak
Hydrophyllum virginianum (Virginia waterleaf): flowering but in decline
Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel): lots of buds just ready to burst open
Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells): all done
Micranthes virginiensis (early saxifrage): saw one plant blooming; effectively done
Mitchella repens (partridgeberry): budding up
Myosotis verna (spring forget-me-not): done
Osmorhiza claytonii (sweet cicely): done
Oxalis stricta (common yellow woodsorrel): going strong
Oxalis violacea (violet woodsorrel): still blooming
Packera aurea (golden ragwort): done

Penstemon hirsutus (hairy beardtongue): peak bloom



Phacelia covillei (Coville’s phacelia): done
Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox): very few left; effectively done
Phlox subulata (moss phlox): only a few left; effectively done
Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon’s seal): blooming
Potentilla canadensis (dwarf cinquefoil): blooming
Potentilla simplex (common cinquefoil): blooming
Ranunculus repens (creeping buttercup; alien): blooming

Robinia pseudoacacia (black locust): blooming



Rosa multiflora (multiflora rose; alien): blooming
Rubus species (dewberry): blooming
Salvia lyrata (lyre-leaved sage): still blooming but past peak
Sanicula species (snakeroot): just starting to bloom
Silene caroliniana (wild pink): done
Sisyrinchium angustifolium (blue-eyed grass): blooming
Staphylea trifolia (bladdernut): mostly done
Stellaria pubera (star chickweed): just a few left, almost done
Thalictrum coriaceum (maid-of-the-mist): blooming but past peak
Thalictrum thalictroides (rue anemone): done
Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy): full bloom
Tradsecantia virginiana (Virginia spiderwort): full bloom
Trifolium repens (white clover; alien): blooming
Trillium sessile (toadshade): almost done
Vaccinium stamineum (deerberry): blooming
Valeriana pauciflora (long-tube valerian): blooming, just past peak
Valerianella species (cornsalad): blooming
Veronica serpyllifolia var. serpyllifolia (thyme-leaved speedwell): blooming
Viola palmata (early blue violet): blooming
Viola sororia (common blue violet): done

and a black rat snake

Pinks and Blues

Up near the Carderock climbing wall there’s a little rocky meadow area that has a delightful variety of wildflowers, usually starting about mid April with wild pinks and azure bluets.

Although the colors range from white through pale pink to bright, dark pink, wild pink (Silene caroliniana ssp. pensylvanica, Caryophyllaceae) is not named for the color, but for the shape of the petals (as if they been cut with pinking shears). Another common name for it is sticky catchfly.

This is a clump-forming semi-evergreen perennial that only grows about a foot tall at the most. It prefers dry to moist well-drained soils in rocky areas, with a bit of shade. It makes a great addition to the rock garden if these conditions are met, but in my garden the rabbits keep sampling it, so I have to use repellent. I don’t think the little beasts favor it, but when competition for food is high, wild pinks are vulnerable.

This subspecies of S. caroliniana is found mostly in the mid-Atlantic states and southern New England, with a few pockets in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. In Maryland look for it in the ridge and valley, Blue Ridge, and piedmont physiographic provinces, and parts of the coastal plain.

There are two other subspecies of wild pink. S. caroliniana ssp. caroliniana occurs mostly in South Carolina and surrounding areas, while subspecies wherryi is more Midwestern. S. caroliniana (subspecies not specified) is endangered in Florida, threatened in Ohio and Tennessee, and exploitably vulnerable in New York

Azure bluets (Houstonia caerulea, Rubiaceae) is one of four bluet species found in the Maryland piedmont, and can be found in most of the rest of the state, too (it’s missing from a few coastal plain areas). It’s widespread from Maine to Alabama and a few parts of the midwest.

This is a very small plant, consisting of a basal rosette of leaves and a few threadlike stems only a few inches tall, with a flower atop each. The flowers are usually light blue with a yellow throat, though they can range from almost white to moderate lavender blue. Since there can be many stems per plant and it grows en masse, it can be quite eye-catching. Other common names include little bluet, innocence, and Quaker ladies.

I have to admit, this is one of my absolute favorites. I have spent literally hours photographing azure bluets, every spring for the last few years. I can’t get enough of them.

See in the top photo the third type of flower, somewhat taller than the others? More on that next time.

Mid-April Update

rue anemone blooming in a patch of violet wood sorrel leaves (no flowers yet) at Rachel Carson Conservation Park

Along the Billy Goat B trail on Tuesday, there were still plenty of spring beauties, star chickweed, and field chickweed. While Virginia bluebells are waning fast, wild blue phlox is past its peak but still going strong. Plenty of Coville’s phacelia, but I wasn’t able to find any Miami mist. In a few places along footpaths between the trail and the towpath you can find wild geranium in full bloom, too. Close to the river a few stands of golden Alexanders are open.

azure bluets, violet wood sorrel, and wild pinks in dappled shade near Carderock

Small patches of violet wood sorrel are blooming along the trail and in the greater Carderock area, which is looking great, with plenty of azure bluets and wild pinks in the rocky areas. Plantain-leaved pussytoes are blooming, too, and dwarf cinquefoil is just starting. Bastard toadflax is budding up and a few days from opening. A few days behind it, perhaps, will be rattlesnake weed, also budding up. Sessile bellwort is done already, and the yellow violets are mostly done, but there’s plenty of creamy violet still. Toadshade is hanging on, but most of the other ephemerals there are done (except spring beauty, of course).

Look up: flowering dogwood and pawpaw are in full bloom.

flower buds on pinxter azalea

Over at Rachel Carson Conservation Park, the pinxter azaleas and showy orchis are in bud; the former will be open within a few days, the orchis in maybe a week. There are a few stands of azure bluets by the river, and gobs of rue anemone and spring beauty everywhere. Look for mayapples and jack-in-the-pulpit, too. There are several nice stands of perfoliate bellwort along the Fern Valley trail.

I also found a new-to-me shrub that I haven’t identified yet. Hopefully it’s something good and interesting and I can write about it in a few days.

perfoliate bellwort at RCCP

Carderock Area Report

As of March 24, there’s still not much blooming yet. Harbinger of spring is in full bloom, or even slightly past, and round-lobed hepatica (pictured) and lyre-leaved rock cress seem to be at their peaks. Spring beauties are blooming but not en masse. Other native plants seen just starting to open:

  • Virginia bluebells
  • leatherwood
  • cut-leaved toothwort
  • star chickweed
  • wild blue phlox
  • common blue violet
  • spicebush

Golden ragwort is starting, too, well downstream of the Carderock area. Dutchman’s breeches and trout lily foliage is now visible through the leaf litter.

Until the show really gets going I’ll keep posting about Anza-Borrego.

Just Not a Whole Lot Going On


hairy skullcap
Scutelleria elliptica


It’s not like me to go for two weeks without posting, but I just haven’t gotten out as much this year. And the times I have gotten out, I’m not seeing much.

On June 6 I hiked about two miles around Carderock. I found a few rather wan-looking blossoms on partridgeberry plants, a single hairy skullcap (in an area where there should have been a dozen or more), some shining bedstraw, and a few blue-eyed grass. A patch of Culver’s root I discovered a month ago appears to have been browsed by deer (bastards). Ramps are in bud. Honewort is blooming, but you really have to be a plant geek to find honewort interesting.



longleaf bluets
Houstonia longifolia


On June 7 I hiked about three miles on Sugarloaf Mountain, and found one small patch of longleaf bluets blooming. The mountain laurel are still going, though past their peak (they are all done at Carderock). Other than those and some fleabanes, I saw nothing else blooming, though there was an inch-tall spike starting on a downy rattlesnake plantain.

Looking at notes I’ve made over the past few years, I realize there is a bit of a lull from late May to mid June. But this is pretty slim pickings. I hope to get back to the Carderock area today to look for both purple bluets and longleaf bluets, though it may be too early for them.