Another Blue Thing

Forked bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum) is a small annual forb in the Lamiaceae, easy to miss because the flowers are small, too. It’s worth stopping to take a close look, though, because the color is stunning, and mint family flowers are just nifty.




For detailed information about forked bluecurls, see this post from 2016.Many thanks to my friend B for posting about this find on social media; I hadn’t seen forked bluecurls in years, and dropped everything to go photograph them.

A Few Random Pictures

Seen recently along the C&O Canal and Potomac River in Montgomery County. I’m still posting pictures instead of writing…

Green heron (Butorides virescens). Picture taken with 24-70mm lens. I bought a 70-200mm lens a week later. But no matter how long a lens you get, it’s never enough.


Look at all the algae on the canal!





Damselfly. I’m not sure which species. Not even sure which family.





Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on a smartweed (Persicaria, species to be determined).

Reward for Rain Hiking


I was stalking irises with a friend over Memorial Day weekend when the weather turned gray, and a light rain fell, stranding most towpath users under trees for awhile. My friend unfurled his umbrella while I pulled out a poncho, and on we trekked. I hate being rained on, and was trying not to be grumpy about it, when my friend pointed to a log in the canal.

wait, what?

This is a black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), a bird that isn’t usually seen in the middle of the day, but they sometimes come out when it’s overcast and rainy. This one hung out on the log for awhile, eventually working its way down to the water. I think it was fishing.

what’s that you say?



Read more about them at the excellent All About Birds site.







I’ve never seen one before. Of course I don’t have a good (long) lens for birding, but I took what pictures I could, hurriedly, before the camera got wet.

where’s the fish?!


Speaking of long lenses, last January a friend loaned me one, and with it I was barely able to capture a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) perching in a tree, then cruising along the canal.

I hate photographers


Oh and here’s a double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) drying its wings in the middle of the Potomac.


I will not get into birding. Will not. will not. will not…

Variations on a Theme: Venus’ Pride and Longleaf Bluets


Houstonia species, Rubiaceae

Nationwide there are 18 species of Houstonia, only five of which are found in Maryland; one of those one is found only in Garret County. In the Piedmont, two of these species (azure bluet and Venus’ pride) are rather widespread, and two (longleaf bluet and small bluet) not so much.

Last June I thought I’d found both Venus’s pride and longleaf bluet along the C&O Canal near the Marsden Tract. This year, when I went in search of them I found only Venus’ pride, but I did find longleaf bluet on Sugarloaf Mountain. Here’s a little primer about the two. Their flowers are almost identical; it’s the leaves that differentiate them.

I took measurements of only a few plants, and each patch of plants contained only a few individuals, so consider this casual observation rather than proper science.

A note about color: these flowers were all vaguely purple… in the right light. In some of these photos they’ll look white, which is pretty much how they appear in strong sunlight. In shade the purple, while faint, is more apparent. Despite the moniker “bluet”, they never seem blue.

There’s a little glossary at the end.


Houstonia longifolia
common names: long-leaved bluet, longleaf summer bluet

  • perianth about 1/4″ long
  • corolla about 3/16″ wide
  • plant height estimated 4-6″
  • leaves opposite, 1/2′ to 3/4′ long, linear shape, one-nerved, margins entire, stipules present

H. longifolia is present in Maryland in parts of the Piedmont and one section of the Coastal Plain, but is found mostly in the Blue Ridge and Ridge and Valley physiographic provinces. BONAP shows it as rare where present in Maryland, but it’s not on the state DNR list of rare, threatened, and endangered plants.

Taxonomic note: MD DNR lists another species, H. tenuifolia, as S1/endangered. However that species is not recognized by ITIS, which considers is a synonym for H. longifolia. What that means for conservation efforts I have no idea.

H. longifolia grows mostly in the Appalachians and Ozarks, and in parts of the Upper Midwest. It’s endangered in Connecticut and Massachusetts, special concern in Maine, and historical in Rhode Island.








Houstonia purpurea
common names: purple bluet, Venus’ pride, woodland bluet, large bluet

  • perianth about 3/8″ long
  • corolla about 3/16″ wide
  • plant height estimated 4-6″
  • leaves opposite, 1″‘ long, oval shape, three-nerved, margins entire but ciliate, stipules present

H. purpurea is present in the Maryland Piedmont and parts of Coastal Plain. Per BONAP, it ranges through the Appalachians, the Ozarks, and much of the South, but not the Upper Midwest.

ITIS lists three varieties, two of which are endangered in New York; the third is endangered in North Carolina and Tennessee and is also on the federal endangered species list.







perianth: the sepals and petals of a flower, collectively
corolla: the petals of a flower
ciliate: fringed with hairs
stipule: small, leaf-like growth where leaf meets stem

BONAP the Biota of North America Program
ITIS the Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Maryland Biodiversity Project


The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is a large bird that lives year round in most of the continental US (excepting the desert southwest and the Rocky Mountains). It can stand up to 54 inches tall, and is most often seen wading in shallow water looking for fish, or flying low along streams, or on older Maryland license plates (“Treasure the Chesapeake”). In the air the silhouette is unmistakable.


One morning in early May I saw eight of them among the cattails in the C&O Canal. A benefit to going out in cool and misty weather is that there are fewer joggers and bikers coming along and spooking the birds. I had a good long time to watch and snap pictures of these beautiful creatures.