An Eastern Belly Flower

It’s March 20, the vernal equinox, and I’m sitting by the woodstove, watching the snow fall. Four to eight inches are predicted by tomorrow night, possibly more, and I just got back from a trip to the Southwest and haven’t been out botanizing at home in about two weeks. Friends are posting pictures of bloodroot and Dutchman’s breeches that are blooming nearby, but it’ll be a few days before I can go out hunting.

look how tiny it is, next to that maple leaf!

Instead I’m looking at my pictures of Erigenia bulbosa, which, other than skunk cabbage, is the earliest blooming forb in the Maryland piedmont. This diminutive perennial plant grows only about 10 centimeters tall, barely poking above the leaves on the forest flower at bloom time. It’s a true ephemeral: after blooming, the finely divided compound leaves open a little further and the plant will grow a little taller, but it dies back before spring is over.

The inflorescence is a compound umbel (an umbel of umbels). The individual flowers are minute, comprising five white petals and five stamens, whose anthers start red but quickly turn black.

I found these blooming on February 28 this year, which is about as early as I’ve seen it. The blooming period lasts about a month. Look for it in rich, moist woodlands, especially near rivers.

Erigenia means “born early”; bulbosa is for the (edible) corm from which the plant emerges. Around here it’s called harbinger-of-spring, or sometimes pepper-and-salt (for the anthers and petals); older, less common names include turkey-pea, turkey-foot, and ground-nut1. The genus is monotypic (meaning, it only has one species), and this might be the smallest plant in its family (Apiaceae).

It’s uncommon in Maryland (listed S3). The Maryland Biodiversity Project has records for it in the counties of Harford, Montgomery, and Washington. There are a few other occurrences of it east of the Appalachians (from northern North Carolina to southern New York), but mostly it’s a plant of the Midwest, where it ranges from central Alabama to central Michigan, and westward into eastern Kansas. In Wisconsin and New York it’s listed as endangered; in Pennsylvania, it’s threatened.


1The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers, Timothy Coffey

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

Teaser

The earliest ephemerals are out and blooming a few hundred miles away, in South Carolina, but it’ll be a few more weeks before they start blooming here in the mid-Atlantic. Here’s a sneak preview of what’s to come, presented more or less in the order in which they bloom. All of these should be blooming by the end of March at the latest.

Erigenia bulbosa (harbinger-of-spring, pepper and salt; Apiaceae)

One of the first up, sometimes as early as late February. Look for it in moist woods but you have to be eagle-eyed to spot it (note the dime sitting there for scale). Just as I was finishing this post, a friend reported seeing harbinger blooming here in the Maryland Piedmont today!

Anemone americana (round-lobe hepatica; Ranunculaceae)

A hibernal plant; the leaves usually wither away by the time the flowers bloom, or soon after. If you see the leaves now, note the location and check back in a few weeks for the flowers.

 

 

Lindera benzoin (spicebush; Lauraceae)

Don’t forget to look up once in awhile! This very common understory shrub is one of the first plants to bloom in our area.

 

Arabidopsis lyrata (lyre-leaved rockcress; Brassicaceae)

This plant has a long bloom period, often starting early in the season. Look for it growing right on large rocks, as the common name suggests. The sight of a mass of these delicate blossoms dancing in even the slightest breeze fills me with joy.

Cardamine concatenata (cut-leaf toothwort; Brassicaceae)

Such a dainty thing.

 

 

 

Corydalis flavula (short-spurred corydalis and many other common names; Papaveraceae)

Another petite flower, easy to miss. You have to get very close to see all the ornate details.

 

Micranthes virginiensis (early saxifrage; Saxifragaceae)

This fine specimen is one of the largest I’ve seen. I usually find them in rocky places.

 

Dicentra canadensis (squirrel corn; Papaveraceae)

The delicate, lacy, ferny foliage is almost identical to that of Dutchman’s breeches; you have to see the plants flowering to tell them apart with confidence.

 

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches; Papaveraceae)

From my limited observation, this species is usually waning when squirrel corn is just getting started. There’s a hillside on the Cabin John Trail that’s covered in these plants.

Next time, more teasers.

When One Color Isn’t Enough (part one)

More pictures to keep us dreaming of warmer weather. This time, spring-blooming multi-colored flowers.

Erigenia bulbosa (harbinger-of-spring; Apiaceae)

This is one of our earliest blooming native plants (the only one I can think of that blooms earlier is skunk cabbage). These anthers turn quickly from dark red to black, giving rise to another common name, pepper-and-salt.

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells; Boraginaceae)

That’s right, bluebells again, because here they are in several different colors all in one clump. I can’t wait to see them again.

Galearis spectabilis (showy orchis; Orchidaceae)

This surprisingly common terrestrial orchid grows in all the physiographic provinces in Maryland, but we have the most records for it in the piedmont and coastal plain. Look for it blooming in April and May in rich, moist soils in wooded areas.

Viola sororia (common blue violet, white form ; Violaceae)

Common blue violets are, well, pretty common around here. They seem quite fond of edge areas and open woodlands, always in moist soils. They can be found all over Maryland, blooming from late March into early May.

Cypripedium acaule (pink lady’s slipper; Orchidaceae)

Like most orchids, pink lady’s slipper has specific growing requirements, which means you won’t find it just anywhere. But it does grow pretty much all over the state. Look for it flowering in early May, in rich, undisturbed woodland soils.

Penstemon hirsutus (hairy beardtongue; Plantaginaceae)

This bizarre-looking flower is found mostly in the northern part of Maryland, but there’s a reliable stand on the Billy Goat B trail. Look for it in lean soils (rocky areas) in full sun light, blooming from early to late May.

Mitchella repens (partridgeberry; Rubiaceae) [click on this one!]

What can I write about partridgeberry that I haven’t written before? This is one of my very favorites; I go looking for it every year at the end of May. The plants grow very long but stay very low, creeping along rocks. We have records for it in every Maryland county.

Thalictrum coriaceum (maid-of-the-mist; Ranunculaceae)

Although it isn’t on the Maryland RTE list, we only have records for it in three quads in Montgomery County. I think that’s rather odd, and suspect it’s due to misidentification (see The Botanerd’s Handy Guide to Thalictrum Species). That bright pink on the sepals and filaments turns quickly to brown.

Not Quite Yet

A quick stroll around the Carderock area and Billy Goat B up to the Marsden Tract on March 9 showed that the flowers are only just starting. I saw a fair number of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), a few cut-leaved toothworts (Cardamine concatenata), and one clump of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in bloom.

Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa) looks like it’s at its peak, though. There are a few really solid stands of it near the river, but they are hard to find if you aren’t looking closely, since an entire plant is about the width of a nickel.

 

I was a bit surprised to find lyre-leaved rock cress (Arabidopsis lyrata) open already, though most plants had more buds than blossoms. Look for it growing right out of rocks near Carderock.

Back in the Potomac Gorge

20160316-_DSC0037

harbinger-of-spring
aka pepper-and-salt
Erigenia bulbosa
Apiaceae

 

Yesterday I finally got back out to Carderock after a two-week absence, and was delighted to find that rumors of harbinger-of-spring in bloom were true. And there were spring beauties, of course, though not many yet.  20160316-_DSC0053

dime shot for scale

 

 

 

Other plants seen:

  • a single, precocious star chickweed flower
  • a single, precocious early saxifrage flower
  • spicebush in bloom
  • new growth of Virginia bluebells, one mound with buds just visible
  • two cutleaf toothworts in bud
  • trout lily foliage
  • long-tube valerian foliage
  • early meadow rue foliage
  • Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn foliage

20160316-_DSC0084

 

 

spicebush
Lindera benzoin
Lauraceae