More Faroese Wildflowers

Here are a few of the showier, prettier, and more interesting wildflowers I saw in the Faroe Islands. Many of these have a worldwide distribution pattern known as arctic-alpine, which means exactly what you would expect: they are found at high latitudes, and at high elevation at lower latitudes.

Armeria maritima (sea thrift, Plumbaginaceae)
a circumpolar species that likes poor, salty soils; thrives on rocky coasts




Dactylorhiza maculata (heath spotted orchid, Orchidaceae)
common in mountainous areas in Europe; can vary greatly in color from dark pink-purple to almost white



Dactylorhiza purpurella (northern marsh orchid; Orchidaceae)
these two Dactylorhiza species are difficult to distinguish and it’s quite possible that I’ve mis-identified them; also Dactylorhiza is one of those “problem” genera; found in the UK and Scandanavia

Geranium sylvaticum (wood cranesbill; Geraniaceae)
found in temperate regions throughout Europe; introduced in Quebec and Greenland



Pinguicula vulgaris (butterwort; Lentibulariaceae)
found in boggy areas in the upper Mid-West, New England, Canada, and northern Europe; the plant’s leaves produce both a sticky substance and enzymes which together trap and digest insects


Polygala serpyllifolia (heath milkwort; Polygalaceae)
I can’t find much on where this species is found, other than the British Isles (and of course the Faroes)



Polygala vulgaris (common milkwort; Polygalaceae) this species has a widespread distribution in Europe and Asia; it’s introduced in Michigan and Oregon



Salix herbacea (dwarf willow, snowbed willow; Salicaceae)
a subshrub growing to only 2 inches tall, with arctic-alpine distribution in North America and Europe



Micranthes stellaris (formerly Saxifraga stellaris; starry saxifrage; Saxifragaceae)
this little charmer is found in arctic-alpine areas of Europe, and in Quebec, Labrador and Greenland in North America


Silene acaulis (moss campion; Caryophyllaceae)
arctic-alpine distribution, including the Rocky Mountains in the United States

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.

Back in the Gorge

Volunteer commitments and other activities have kept me away from my beloved Potomac gorge for an unprecedented two weeks, but I finally got a chance to go for a quick look around Carderock on Tuesday. I was hoping to find (among other things), starry campion, since I mentioned it in a post about pinks in Iceland a few weeks ago.

I knew exactly where to look, and sure enough, there it was.


Starry campion (Silene stellata, Caryophyllaceae), also known as starry catchfly, whorled catchfly, and widowsfrill, is one of four species of Silene found in the area. (Another is S. caroliniana.) It likes part shade in dry soils, and can be found from the east coast west into the Great Plains. It’s threatened in Michigan, special concern in Connecticut, and historical in Rhode Island.

This species is a perennial, standing about two feet tall,  and consists of a single stem (usually) with leaves in whorls of four (picture here) and a few terminal flowers.

The flowers are white, sometimes with a very faint bluish or purplish tinge.


The petals are really neat, aren’t they? Each flower has five petals that are so deeply dissected that from a distance they appear to be many more. If the plants receive too much sunlight, the flowers will close, then reopen in the evening and stay open until bright sunlight the next day.


I found a few other species blooming Tuesday. More about those in the next few days.

More Icelandic Pinks

In addition to the Silene species I posted about two days ago, I found three other members of the Caryophyllaceae… I think. There are two Cerastium species in Iceland that are difficult to distinguish from each other, and my photos don’t show quite enough detail. I’m fairly certain that what I found are not any of the other Icelandic Cerastiums.


Cerastium alpinum
alpine mouse-ear
Icelandic: músareyra
(literally translated: mouse ear)

seen at Húsafell


Cerastium nigrescens or C. arcticum…maybe
arctic mouse-ear
Icelandic: fjallafræhyma

seen at Sólheimajökull


With this species I’m in a taxonomic rabbit hole. If it’s fjallafræhyma and not another músareyra, then what is the correct binomial name? It’s either the one above, or C. nigrescens var. laxum, or C. arcticum. The Integrated Taxonomic Information System does not accept C. nigrescens var. laxum, yet that name shows up in a lot of sources. Other sources seem to conflate C. nigrescens and C. arcticum. The Flora of Svalbard website has a good discussion about the names and ID of Cerastium species.

Whatever it’s called, It looks like this species is found in sub-arctic Europe and North America. C. alpinum has a similar range.

field chickweed 2


For comparison, here’s a Cerastium species found in the Maryland Piedmont, C. arvense (field chickweed). —>





Arenaria norvegica
arctic sandwort
Icelandic: skeggsandi

seen at Sólheimajökull


Closely related to the mouse-ears are the sandworts. There are 60 some species worldwide, about 20 of which (but not this one) occur in North America. There is only one Arenaria species found in Maryland, and it’s an alien. This species appears to be restricted to Fennoscandia and Iceland. I love how this single plant was growing out of the rocks just beyond the end of the snout of a glacier.

Icelandic Pinks

“Pinks” in this case refers to plants in the pinks family, Caryophyllaceae, so named not for the color but for the jagged edges on the petals (in some species), which look as though they’ve been cut with pinking shears.

The Caryophyllaceae is a cosmopolitan family, and a big one, with over 2,000 species in 80 genera. The genus Silene is said to be the largest genus in the family; on-line sources list anywhere from 300 to 700 species in it.

There are five species of Silene in Iceland, though you may only find three in many sources; the two others are Lychnis species that have recently been renamed. There are about a dozen in Maryland, of which only four are native.

Silene acaulis
moss campion; cushion pink
Icelandic: lambagras


This plant grows almost everywhere in Iceland except on the glaciers. It’s similar in form to our native S. caroliniana ssp. pensylvanica (wild pink):

The flowers of the Icelandic species are smaller, and although the plant itself can be sprawling, overall the leaves and blossoms are quite compact. Wild pink is more open, and doesn’t grow as large.



Silene dioica
red campion
Icelandic: dagstjarna


Native to subarctic Fennoscandia, red campion can be found as an introduced species in both Iceland and North America (Canada and about half of the US). In Iceland it occurs in only a few lowland areas; I found it near Akureyri and Ólafsfjörður.



Silene suecica
formerly Lychnis alpina,
Viscaria alpina
alpine catchfly, alpine campion
Icelandic: ljósberi



Not quite as common as S. acaulis, but still pretty widespread. Its native range includes northeastern Canada, Greenland, and Fennoscandia. I found both the white and pink forms near Húsafell.

Silene uniflora
formerly Silene maritima ssp. islandica
sea campion
Icelandic: holurt


Although widely available in the nursery trade in the US, S. uniflora is endemic to Iceland. It’s easy to identify because there’s nothing quite like it. It’s common in the central highlands as well as much of the lowlands. I saw it near Ísafjorður, Akureyri, and Húsafell.20140702-DSC_0008


Just for fun, here’s the other Silene I’ve found in the Maryland Piedmont: S. stellata (starry campion), which should be blooming now. Maybe I’ll go hunting for it and try to get better pictures.