Slowly

Thanks to a heads-up from a friend, I was able to get out to Billy Goat C for a little while a few days ago and shoot harbinger-of-spring. Still not much else to report, except more spring beauties are opening. Also happy to report that parks personnel are applying herbicide to lesser celandine, a particularly nasty invasive alien that hides behind cheery yellow flowers; plants quickly form a monoculture and are difficult to eradicate.

I also hiked about 2/3 of Billy Goat B. High water made it tricky in one spot, and I bailed before getting to the area where the worst damage is, but the trail has finally reopened. I saw nothing blooming there except spring beauties. But with warm weather, plants will emerge and bloom fast.

Interested in finding bloom dates for particular species? Scroll to the top and pull down the menu for plants by either common name or binomial to see observed bloom times in past years.

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)

Compressed (part 2)

Here are some of the showier spring ephemerals to watch for in the Potomac Gorge this week.

In the floodplain close to the river, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica; left) are approaching peak bloom. Mixed in with them in a few places are Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria; below right), which you might also find on moist, rocky outcroppings.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum; above left) like moist soils, too. Generally I see them in the transition areas between floodplain and slopes.

Further upslope are cut-leaf toothworts (Cardamine concatenata; left).

 

On drier slopes watch for scattered patches of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis; below).

 

 

Look for twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla; below) in moist, rocky areas. They like limestone soils, so aren’t as widespread as these other species, but where they do grow they they tend to grow en masse.

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica; below) are just about everywhere.

 

 

 

 

More tomorrow.

On the Last Day of Winter

Today is the first day of meteorological spring* (astronomical spring is still three weeks away), but as of yesterday, the 28th of February, the wildflower show had already begun along the Potomac. Barely.

Claytonia virginica (spring beauty; Montiaceae)

Just a few dozen of these were up in sheltered locations.

This one specimen of Packera aurea (golden ragwort; Asteraceae) already had well-developed buds. Often this species will retain leaves through the winter, and many low-lying leaves were visible, but I saw none of the tall growth yet. In the same location last year just a few flowers were open on March 23, with peak bloom about April 13; in 2015, I saw the first ones March 24, with peak bloom in mid-April.

Erigenia bulbosa (harbinger-of-spring; Apiaceae)

More about this in an upcoming post. Can you see it sheltering there under the maple leaf? That’s one plant with about 14 flowers!

A few alien species are starting to bloom: Veronica hederifolia (ivy-leaved speedwell) and Cardamine hirsuta (hairy bittercress).

And, I saw one clump of Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells) foliage emerging, but that makes a boring photo.

*more on meteorological seasons from NOAA

Just Around the Corner

A few days ago a friend reported seeing spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) blooming on the Billy Goat C trail. Damn, that’s early!  Think I’ll head out tomorrow and have a look, because it has been literally months since I last photographed a wildflower.

<—not my friend’s picture; one of mine from last year

 

 

 

Except for this one: trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens), a low-growing evergreen in the Ericaceae. Please forgive the picture quality; it’s a quick iPhone snapshot to remind me to go back and look for it again, because it’s already budding up, and I’ve never seen one in bloom. If I manage to catch it flowering I will of course be writing about it here.

Nerd moment: I just realized it’s time to start my 2018 spreadsheet.

Rosea

There are a lot of pink wildflowers in the Maryland Piedmont. As with blue and purple, “pink” can vary quite a bit, from almost white to practically red.

Claytonia virginica (spring beauty; Portulacaeae)

One of our earliest ephemerals, blooming as early as late February after a warm winter, and lasting into May. In woodland soils almost everywhere. Usually white with a pink tint.

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells; Boraginaceae)

Virginia bluebell buds start violet and turn pink before opening blue, except when the flowers are pure white or pure pink. I visit this stand every year just to make sure that the flowers really are all pink from start of bloom through senescence. They are.

Cercis canadensis (redbud; Fabaceae)

Around here, this understory tree usually blooms in April, when other trees are just starting to blush green. It’s a beautiful effect, though maybe not as stunning as…

 

Rhododendron periclymenoides (pinxter azalea; Ericaceae)

I don’t know that we have a more stunning native shrub than this. I’ve seen it in rocky, wet areas in Rachel Carson Conservation Park and Sugarloaf Mountain; it blooms in mid spring.

Silene caroliniana ssp. pensylvanica (wild pink; Caryophyllaceae)

Look for the flowers in early April to late May. These low-growing plants are often found in dry, rocky soils in open woodlands. There are several stands near Carderock.

 

Valeriana pauciflora (long-tube valerian, large-flower valerian; Valerianceae)

This delicate plant (S1/endangered) has an explosive inflorescence that usually opens in May. A great photo has always eluded me, despite hours and hours and hours of trying, because the plants bloom in the deep shade of dense woods. Shade is the bane of photographers. Maybe this year.

Hibiscus laevis (halberd-leaved rosemallow; Malvaceae)

Unlike the previous species, this one likes bright, sunny riverbanks. I love how it just glows in the light! Sometimes considered a forb and sometimes as a shrub, it’s a very tall plant with stems that get somewhat woody as the season progresses; but, like a forb, it dies back to the crown in autumn. Watch for it in early to mid summer. S3 in Maryland.

Hylodesmum nudiflorum (naked-flower tick trefoil; Fabaceae)

The tick trefoils can be tricky to identify, but this one stands out because the flowers are borne on leafless stems. The genus Desmodium was recently split, with some species placed in a new genus, Hylodesmum. According to the excellent gobotany site, species in the former as sun-loving, and species in the latter are shade-loving.

Desmodium paniculatum (panicled tick-trefoil; Fabaceae)

This one blooms in mid to late summer. It grows in moist to dry soils in sun to part shade, and does well in disturbed areas.

Lespedeza virginica (Fabaceae) Not seen as often as the alien invasive L. sericea, this species grows in dry areas, blooming in mid to late summer.

Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed; Apocynaceae)

If you want to spend hours being entertained by bees and butterflies, park yourself in front of a stand of milkweeds. I’ve seen them blooming in wet soils in sunny areas from late June to late August.

Persicaria amphibia (water smartweed; Polygonaceae)

Or, as I prefer to call it, DPP (damn pink persicaria). I’m fairly certain I’ve ID’d it correctly. Sometimes I’m not particularly attracted to a species until I sit and study it awhile and try to get good close-up pictures. So it was with this one. Click on the pic to see it larger. It’s pretty up close!

Sabatia angularis (rosepink; Gentianaceae)

I’ve only seen this plant once, in the shade of a small shrub even though it’s a sun-loving species. Watch for it in dry soils in open places. What a beautiful color.