Wildflowers Along Newfoundland’s Skerwink Trail

After two days of puffin hunting, I realized that it was fruitless to try to photograph them much before sundown, so early on day three I drove south to Skerwink Head, where a 5.3 kilometer loop trail takes you along coastal cliffs, through boreal forest and bog. Here I found flowering plant species that weren’t in the Bonavista area.

Of course balsam fir (Abies balsamea; Pinaceae) isn’t a flowering plant, but since it is the predominant species in this region, I wanted to show it. I have some sort of mental block when it comes to conifers and can never remember how to tell them apart. One clue, though, is that fir cones always stand up. Also, there’s this handy mnemonic: “Flat, friendly fir needles. Sharp, spiny spruce needles.”*

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia; Ericaceae) is a northern relative of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia); the former ranges from southern Virginia north into Newfoundland and Labrador, while the latter ranges from the Florida panhandle north through Maine. In Maryland sheep laurel is found mostly in the Coastal Plain.

Seven-angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum; Eriocaulaceae) is an aquatic plant that ranges from South Carolina north into Newfoundland and Labrador. In Maryland it’s listed S1/endangered and is a plant of the Coastal Plain.

 

Another aquatic plant, Dortmann’s cardinalflower (Lobelia dortmanna; Campanulaceae) is native to northern North America and Europe. In the US it can be found as far south as New Jersey. I don’t believe it’s found in Maryland, but there are conflicting accounts.

Twinflower (Linnaea borealis; Caprifoliaceae) is circumboreal, as the specific epithet suggests. In the US it’s found in New England, the upper Mid-West, and southwards in the Rocky Mountains. Some sources list in Maryland, , but Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records; if it’s here, it would likely be in the far western part of the state, in the Allegheny Plateau.


Dwarf cornel (also Swedish bunchberry, Lapland cornel, and many others; Cornus suecica; Cornaceae) is a circumpolar species. In North America the furthest south it gets is Nova Scotia or Quebec. A closely related species, also called bunchberry (C. canadensis), ranges much further south; in Maryland that species is found only in Garret County and is listed S1/highly state rare. In areas where both species are found, they can be distinguished by leaf venation.

There’s something really special about glancing into the dim understory and spotting an orchid. Dactylorhiza viridis (frog orchid, also placed in the genus Coeloglossum, and formerly in Platanthera) is wide-ranging in the Northern hemisphere. I saw it in Iceland and once in Maryland, where it’s listed S1/endangered.


Moneses uniflora
(Ericaceae) has many common names, including one-flower wintergreen, one-flower shinleaf, and simple delight. It’s found in much of the northern part of the northern hemisphere, including New England, the upper Mid-West, and the Rocky Mountains. In Maryland look for the closely related striped wintergreen.

Garden lupine or bigleaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus; Fabaceae) ranges from Minnesota east and north into Newfoundland (but not Labrador), and also in the western US and Canada. Various accounts claim it is native to this western region, but none say that it’s alien to the east, so I’m not sure what its “native’ status is in Newfoundland. BONAP and USDA PLANTS Database show it in Maryland, but Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records for it.

*Berkshire Environmental Action Team

One That Makes Me Smile

view from directly overhead

Somehow I’ve managed to miss seeing this plant in bloom for two seasons, so Sunday morning, after seeing friends posting pictures of it on various on-line forums, I took a little walk to “Erica Alley”, a rocky place on the Cabin John Trail that’s full of mountain laurels and blueberries. And sure enough, there it was, blooming among the leaf litter on a slope above the creek.

ant’s eye view: camera on the ground, lens propped up, downslope of the plants

This short, evergreen forb grows in dry to moist, rocky, acidic soils in woodlands east of the Mississippi, ranging from northern parts of the Deep South to southern Maine and Michigan, and Ontario and Quebec. (It’s also found in one county in the Florida panhandle and in southern Arizona.)

It’s endangered in Illinois and Maine, and exploitably vulnerable in New York.

Chimaphila maculatum goes by many common names, including spotted/striped wintergreen, spotted/striped pipsissewa, spotted/striped prince’s pine, prince’s cone, prince’s plume, dragon’s tongue, lion’s-tongue, piperidge, ratsbane, rat’s-vein, rheumatism-root, waxflower, whiteleaf, wild-arsenic, and who knows how many others.

princess pine (Dendrolycopodium obscurum, Lycopodiaceae)

In another bit of name confusion, around here I sometimes hear it called “prince’s pine”, which sounds a lot like “princess pine” – an entirely different plant, but the two are often found growing together.

Common names. What a headache.

A literal translation of Chimaphila would be “winter-loving”, referring to the evergreen habit; isn’t even closely related to that other wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens. Confusingly, maculatum means “spotted”, which clearly this plant isn’t, though it is sort of striped, what with the pale green to white coloring of the mid-vein and larger lateral veins.

Two to five flowers (usually) are borne on a cyme. Typical of plants in the Ericaceae, the flowers have five sepals, five petals (strongly reflexed), ten stamens, and one pistil. The plants spread by rhizomes, so if there’s one, there should be more a short distance away.

 

This species is currently placed in the Ericaceae (heath family), but many on-line sources and older texts still refer to it being in the Pyrolaceae. In some taxonomic systems Pyrolaceae has become Pyroloideae, a subfamily of Ericaceae.

I really can’t explain why some flowers are more aesthetically pleasing than others, but this charming little thing always makes me smile. I’m so glad I saw it this year.


some of the common names listed above were found in The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers, Timothy Coffey (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993)

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.

 

So Very…

 

 

…Pink.

 

 

 

Not my favorite color.

 

 

 

 

But how can I not love this plant?

 

 

 

 

I wrote about pinxter azalea last year and don’t have anything to add.

 

 

 

 

I just wanted to post more pictures.

 

 

 

Rhododendron periclymenoides (Ericaceae) in Rachel Carson Conservation Park, April 27. Also look for them on the lower slopes of Sugarloaf Mountain.

Two More Adorable Ericas

We were hiking on a trail south of Akureyri when threatening weather turned us around. I promised Steve I wouldn’t take as many pictures on the way back, since we would be retracing our steps while trying not to get rained on. And almost as soon as I said that, I saw these flowers blooming on the hillside.

20160620-_DSC0641

Harrimanella hypnoides
moss plant, moss bell-heather,
mossy mountain-heather
Icelandic: mosalyng

 

This tiny thing is actually a subshrub: though no more than four inches tall, it does have woody stems. In Iceland it’s a common plant in the mountains, but not in the lowlands. The species grows through much of the sub-arctic, including Russia, Fennoscandia, Greenland, Canada as far west as the Northwest Territories, and in the US in New York, New Hampshire, and Maine. It’s threatened in the latter two states.

Some sources claim Harrimanella to be a monotypic genus, but a very similar looking plant formerly known as either Andromeda stellariana or Cassiope stellariana is now called Harrimanella stellariana. That plant is found in northern North America where the other species isn’t: British Columbia, Yukon, Alaska, and Washington. H. hypnoides likes altitude: the excellent Finnish website NatureGate (luontoportti) claims that it shares the record for highest-growing vascular plant in Finland, having been found on top of Halti at 4,478 feet.

20160620-_DSC0647

Click on these pictures to get a sense of how small the plants are. The gray-green stuff nearby is lichen, and that’s a 77 millimeter lens cap in the second photo. The flowers are a little under a quarter-inch wide. I was able to shoot at this angle because the trail was going through a little hollow, and the ground where the plants were growing was about chest-high.

20160620-_DSC0578

Kalmia procumbens
(formerly Loiseleuria procumbens)
trailing azalea, alpine azalea
Icelandic: sauðamergur

This species is a cousin to the mid-Atlantic’s mountain laurel (K. latifolia), but much, much shorter, growing no taller than four or five inches. Its range is similar to moss plant’s, except that it grows further south in Eruope and further west in North America. It’s listed as sensitive in Washington, threatened in Maine and New Hampshire, and endangered in New York. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center site claims that it’s common above tree line on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

20160620-_DSC0630

Adorable Ericas

It’s hard to choose favorites, but I’m perennially drawn to the beautiful flowers of the Ericaceae (the heath or heather family), be they on trees, shrubs, sub-shrubs, or herbs. I’m writing this after eating a bowl of blueberries, thinking about the other edible ericaceous fruits: cranberries, bilberries, crowberries, lingonberries, huckleberries. Gardeners in the mid-Atlantic states grow azaleas and rhododendrons, Japanese andromeda, leucothoe, zenobia. Real garden geeks (e.g. me) seek out specimen plants like enkianthus. Sourwood is one of the most beautiful trees, though very difficult to grow in a home landscape.

Actually many ericaceous plants are difficult to grow. They usually require humusy, acidic soil, and are often shallow-rooted, hence easily disturbed and damaged. And quite a few of them are mycorrhizal (meaning they can only grow in symbiosis with certain soil fungi).

Then there are the wildflowers. In the mid-Atlantic we’re blessed with a good variety: Indian pipe and pinesap, spotted wintergreen, sweetbells, shinleaf, deerberry, mountain laurel, and the stunning pinxter azalea.

It’s a big family, represented in many habitats around the world. Of course Iceland has its share, too, ten species or so. I saw six, two of them not flowering but identifiable nonetheless (heather and crowberry).

20160618-_DSC0431

 

Vaccinium myrtillus
bilberry, whortleberry
Icelandic: aðalbláberjalyng

20160618-_DSC0418

 

 

 

Vaccinium uliginosum
bog bilberry
Icelandic: bláberjalyng

 

Bilberries are in the same genus as blueberries, but I can’t tell you if they taste similar. I saw both species near Akureyri, and bog bilberry also near Húsafell. Bog bilberry is very widely distributed around Iceland, bilberry less so. In Flowering Plants and Ferns of Iceland, Hörður Kristinsson states that the latter grows “where snow cover is ensured throughout winter”. Interestingly this does not include the interior highlands, presumably because the combination of windiness and lack of substantive vegetative ground cover means that fallen snow just doesn’t stay put.

Both species are sub-shrubs: they have woody stems, but never grow more than a foot tall. In North America, bilberry is found in the mountainous West from Arizona to British Columbia (but not California). Bog bilberry has a much wider range, including Greenland, all of Canada, most of the American West, parts of the upper Great Lakes States, and New England.

Both species have some interesting characteristics, including usefulness in rehabilitating disturbed areas, and bog bilberry is tolerant of high levels of heavy metals in soils. Read more about them on the USFS website: bilberry, bog bilberry.

20160621-_DSC0701

Next time, the other two ericaceous species.

Once Turned, Under the Pines

20150726-20150726-_DSC0129

pinesap
aka false beechdrops, yellow bird’s-nest
Monotropa hypopitys
Ericaceae

 

On a recent nice evening I talked Steve into going for a walk with me to look for certain ferns.  He agreed to go when I promised not to take my camera.  This is sort of a left-handed good luck tactic, as I seldom fail to find something interesting when I don’t have my camera handy.

It worked: we found this tiny stand of pinesap on a hillside above the trail.  I took a few crappy iPhone pics, which later served as a guide, since I was able to look at the geotag and find the stand again, this time with camera and tripod but sans Steve.

20150726-20150726-_DSC0127-2

As I wrote about Indian pipe last month, the Monotropas aren’t actually saprophytes; they get nutrients by parastizing certain fungi that form a symbiotic relationship with certain trees.  As such, they have very specific growing requirements, and are somewhat rare within their range.

“Once turned, under the pines” is a literal translation of the botanical name of this plant, which is found throughout the US and Canada except for four states and the extreme north.  While researching I found that ITIS* does not recognize the species name, and instead reverses the genus and specific epithet, calling it Hypopitys monotropa.  This is probably based on genetic studies, as so many recent taxonomic reclassifications are.

Pinesap is endangered in Florida and threatened in Iowa.

20150726-20150726-_DSC0126

*the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, about which I wrote yesterday