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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.