Today I Am…

Random pictures of small blue things (and purple things), because once again I haven’t the time to write meaningful content.

I don’t know if this is a color variation of common blue violet (Viola sororia) or something else. There is a well-known white form, sometimes called Confederate violet, but it doesn’t look quite like this one. Violets are notoriously promiscuous so who knows. The color is remarkably consistent every year. I’ve only seen them at Rachel Carson Conservation Park.

If you see a blue violet that stands well above the level of its leaves, and if it’s growing in or very near to open water, then it’s probably marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata).



Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), also at RCCP. These two were somewhat bluer than is typical.




Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) There aren’t many three-petaled flowers around.




Only one of the seven species of Oxalis found in Maryland is an alien, but some of the others can be awfully weedy. I like them anyway. I’ve been on the hunt for Oxalis colorea, previously overlooked here until a fellow botanerd found it [hi, Bill]. If I make any progress I’ll write about it. In the meantime, though, you just can’t call violet woodsorrel (Oxalis violacea) a weed.

Even the leaves are charming.





Purpurea -> Rosea

More colorful pictures to take our minds away from winter browns and grays.

Lespedeza repens (creeping lespedeza; Fabaceae)

Watch for this low-growing vine-like forb in open rocky areas of woodlands; it blooms in mid summer.



Allium cernuum (nodding onion; Amaryllidaceae)

I find this native onion blooming in early to mid summer. It grows on rocky outcrops near rivers.


Polygala polygama (racemed milkwort; Polygalaceae)

This beauty may have been my find of the year: it’s S1/threatened, and even though it ended up that this population was known to the Maryland DNR, it wasn’t known to me! All I can say is keep your eyes open, because the most wonderful things can be found in unexpected places.

Geranium maculatum (wild geranium; Geraniaceae)

Look for this blooming in moist, rich woodlands in early to mid spring.



Geranium caroliniana (Carolina cranesbill; Geraniaceae)

The first time I saw this I thought it was a “weed”, since it was growing out of cracks in concrete curbing in a parking lot. Unexpected places. It’s charming when viewed up close. Or maybe I just love them all.

Geranium robertianum (herb-robert; Geraniaceae)

This species is S1 in Maryland, with only a few records of it in scattered locations. I’ve never seen it here; this one was in upstate New York.


Oxalis violacea (violet wood-sorrel; Oxalidaceae)

All the Maryland Oxalis species are yellow flowering, except for this one. Although not rare, I don’t see it very often; I believe it may have specific cultural requirements. Look for it in dry woodlands, blooming in early to mid spring.

Geraniums, Native and Alien

It seems like after a slow start, everything is blooming all at once. It’s hard to keep up with it all. Last Tuesday, for example, I saw thirty species of plants flowering in a few locations from Old Anglers Inn to Lock 10. Among them were two geraniums, one native and one alien.

Geranium maculatum (wild geranium, Geraniaceae) is a clump-forming perennial forb that grows up to two and a half feet tall in moist soils. You can find it in open woodlands, meadows, and woodland edges. There’s a good amount of it growing off the Billy Goat B trail, along a footpath that leads up to the canal from about the trail midpoint, where it crosses a small stream.

Wild geranium is found in a few parts of the easternmost Great Plains and the South, but mostly in the mid-Atlantic, Midwest, New England, and eastern Canada. In Maryland look for it everywhere except the southern parts of the coastal plain. It’s a great plant for the garden: it spreads, but not aggressively, is pest-free, and rabbit-proof (my new gold standard for native forbs).

The other geranium native to the Maryland Piedmont, G. carolinianum (Carolina cranesbill) can also be found in the Carderock-Marsden Tract area, but I haven’t seen it yet this year. It usually starts blooming a few weeks after wild geranium. Note that the flowers are smaller and the foliage more finely cut.

The Maryland Biodiversity Project shows 11 species of geraniums in the state, probably seven of which can be found in the Piedmont. Five of them are aliens. This one is G. molle, which I found growing next to the parking lot at C&O Canal Lock 10. As is often the case, I was looking for something else when I found it (more on that in a future post). In a frequently-mown area this plant is quite short and branched, as you’d expect, but left to grow it still doesn’t get as tall as G. maculatum. The flowers are smaller, too, and a more lurid shade of pink, and the leaves more intricately cut.

Hey, This Looks Like a Geranium


Geranium sylvaticum
wood (or woodland) geranium
(or cranesbill)
Icelandic: blágresi


As we hiked up the lower slopes of Mount Esja in western Iceland, the vast sweeps of Nootka lupine and cow parsley started giving way to other plants. I did a double-take when we spotted this one: could it be Geranium maculatum?


The North American native G. maculatum, also sometimes called wood geranium, flowering in the Maryland Piedmont

No, but it’s close. It’s Geranium sylvaticum, a species native to northern Europe (including Iceland). It’s been introduced to North America and can be found in Quebec and Greenland, so no overlap with G. maculatum, which can be found through most of the eastern and mid-western US (with scattered occurrences in the Great Plains).


G. sylvaticum stands about 12-20″ tall (about the same size as G. maculatum), and blooms in June. It has a fairly widespread distribution in Iceland, though I never saw much of it in any one place. Look for it at lower elevations in shady or sheltered areas, especially near stands of trees and in birch scrublands. It’s showy and therefore hard to miss.

In addition to Mount Esja, I saw it blooming on the Snæfellsnes penninsula, and in a wooded vale near Ísafjörðer in the Westfjords region.

This wasn’t the only look-alike we spotted in Iceland. More on those in upcoming posts.

Two Geraniums


wild, wood, or spotted
geranium; cranesbill—>
Geranium maculatum


Carolina cranesbill
Geranium carolinianum var. carolinianum
Geraniaceae [below]

These are the only two native geraniums easily found in the Maryland piedmont. There’s a third species (G. bicknellii) that might be present, and a fourth (G. robertianum) that is listed S1, so spotting it is unlikely. There are also half a dozen or so alien geraniums present in the state.


Carolina cranesbill is found in all US states except Colorado, and most of Canada except the far north and the maritime provinces. It is listed as weedy by some authorities. It grows best in poor soils, which may explain why I first found it growing from cracks in the concrete curb in the Carderock parking lot.  [right] The other place I’ve spotted it is on the rocky promontories that jut into the Potomac downstream of Carderock.


Wild geranium is found in the the eastern US, most of the south and midwest, and somewhat into the great plains states. It prefers moister, richer soils than Carolina cranesbill; watch for it in open woodlands in the piedmont. Wild geranium is lovely in the home garden, and so far in my garden it’s been rabbit-resistant. There are native plant sellers around who carry it. The one I planted last spring has about tripled in size and is blooming profusely.