Rubrum et Luteum

There just aren’t that many red and orange flowers native to the Maryland Piedmont, and I’ve only seen three of them. That makes me a little sad.

Campsis radicans (trumpet creeper; Bignoniaceae)

This herald of summer, with four-inch flowers on vines up to forty feet long, starts blooming in mid or late June and can go through early August. Look for it climbing up and along boulders and tree snags in open areas.

Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower; Campanulaceae)

This plant is a real showstopper, with clusters of lurid red flowers atop stems up to four feet tall. Look for it growing in very wet places, like right on river banks. It blooms from mid August into September.

Impatiens capensis (jewelweed; Balsaminaceae)

Look for the rather large yet wispy plants growing in wet places, like small seasonal streams. They bloom on and off from late spring until late summer. 

Here are links to some of the other red and orange blooming species in this area:
Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)  Beloved of gardeners everywhere. Great pollinator plant.
Lonicera sempervirens (trumpet honeysuckle) There are just a few records of this in the Piedmont; mostly it’s a plant of the Coastal Plain.
Aquilegia canadensis (wild columbine)
Lilium superbum (Turk’s cap lily)

Winter Blues

Virginia bluebells carpeting a Potomac River floodplain last spring

Happy new year! I’m back, after a truly epic case of writer’s block. Not that there’s anything blooming to write about yet, since the local wildflower show won’t be starting until late February at the earliest, more likely mid-March if this winter stays as cold as it has been. Which has been pretty darn cold compared to the last five years or so, but not that unusual compared to, say, the past 50 years.

At any rate I’m fighting the winter blues by recalling blue flowers I found this past year. Here are a few from the Maryland Piedmont.

Anemone americana (formerly Hepatica nobilis var obtusa; round-lobed hepatica; Ranunculaceae)
This species is hibernal – the basal rosette of leaves will be out right now, though likely hidden under leaf litter. The leaves will die back as the small flowers appear just an inch or two off the ground. In the Piedmont I’ve seen them as early as early March and as late as mid April, though they don’t bloom for long; they just seem highly variable about when they start blooming.

Baptisia australis (wild blue indigo; Fabaceae)
This species is found primarily in prairies, but also occurs in some prairie-like habitats east of the Appalachians, including bedrock terraces in the Potomac gorge. According to the Maryland DNR’s new RTE list, there are only a few populations here. It’s listed S2/Threatened. Finding it is a real treat.

Clitoria mariana (Atlantic pigeonwings, butterfly pea; Fabaceae)
I’ve only seen this in a few places, always in rocky areas in a bit of shade, and there’s never much of it. Start looking in mid June.

 

 

Conoclinium coelestinum (formerly Eupatorium coelestinum; blue mistflower; Asteraceae)
This medium-height plant blooms from June through September in wet soils next to the Potomac River – not right on the banks, but close by.

 

Houstonia caeulea (azure bluet, little bluet, Quaker ladies; Rubiaceae)
These tiny flowers bloom en masse in April and May in moist, rocky soils in open wooded areas. Sometimes you’ll see only a few, but other times you may find them carpeting a meadow. They are really tricky to photograph up close, as even the slightest breeze sets them in motion.

Ionactis linariifolia (formerly Aster linariifolius; flax-leaved aster; Asteraceae)
I’ve seen this species blooming in a rocky meadow in the Carderock area in October of the last few years, but also in open, rocky areas of the Billy Goat A trail – in June!

 

Iris species, either I. versicolor or I. virginica (northern blue flag or southern blue flag; Iridaceae)
These flowers drove me nuts in 2017. I posted many times about my quest to determine exactly which species it is. There are scattered stands along and near the C&O Canal from the Marsden Tract upstream to Widewater; look for it in late May or early June.

Lobelia siphilitica (great blue lobelia; Campanulaceae) stands dramatically tall on riverbanks. I’ve seen two stands of them along the Potomac: one just upriver of the American Legion bridge, the other near Fletcher’s Boathouse in DC.

 

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells; Boraginaceae)
This spring ephemeral often grows in large swaths in floodplains, like in the lead-in photo above. The pink buds start turning blue as they open. This species can also flower in pure white, pure pink, and pale violet; I love hunting for these variations every April.

Phacelia covillei (Coville’s phacelia, buttercup scorpionweed; Boraginaceae)
A short annual plant with tiny flowers that have to be seen up close to be appreciated. Currently listed S2/Endangered by the Maryland DNR, with a proposed change of status to Threatened.

Phacelia dubia (small-flowered phacelia or scorpionweed; Boraginaceae)
A fellow botanerd directed me to a large stand of this species last spring. Most of those flowers appeared white, but up close a few had this pale blue cast.

 

Phacelia purshii (fringed phacelia, Miami mist; Boraginaceae)
Listed S3 in Maryland. I’ve found only three stands of it between the Potomac and the Billy Goat B and C trails.

 

Scutellaria elliptica (hairy skullcap; Lamiaceae)
Look for sparse stands of these from Carderock to the Marsden Tract, in rocky soils where the woods aren’t too dense.

 

 

Tradescantia virginiana (Virginia spiderwort; Commelinaceae)
In some lighting situations this flower looks more purple than blue, but oh well. I’ll cover purple flowers in a future post. The plant has iris-like foliage: broad blades with parallel veins. The three-petaled flowers are another clue that this plant is a monocot. Which gives me an idea for another future post.

So Unbelievably Blue

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great blue lobelia
Lobelia siphilitica
Campanulaceae

 

Here’s a cousin of yesterday’s unbelievably red flower.  Like the cardinal flower, great blue lobelia is a plant of wet places.  This single plant was growing right at the water’s edge near Fletcher’s Clove in the lower Potomac Gorge (in Washington, DC.).  I looked all around for others, by boat and on foot, but this was the only plant I could find.

Getting good pictures of it was darn near impossible.  I could only get so close in the kayak, there was no place to land, and the sun was in a less-than-ideal position.

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seen from the water, mid afternoon

 

When I went back a few days later to try from the shore, I still couldn’t get close: the bank was too steep, I couldn’t maneuver to different positions, and the sun was, again, not cooperating.

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the very same plant, seen from the land three days later, early afternoon

 

Great blue lobelia is found in the US and Canada from the east coast to the Great Plains.  It’s listed as possibly extirpated in Maine, endangered in Massachusetts, and exploitably vulnerable in New York.

Twenty seven native species of lobelia can be found in the US, eight of which occur in Maryland*.  One of these, Indian tobacco, is fairly common in the Carderock-Marsden Tract area.

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*per the Maryland Biodiversity website

So Unbelievably Red

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cardinal flower
Lobelia cardinalis
Campanulaceae

 

Of the more than 370 different flower species I’ve seen in the last two years, this is the only one that is truly, unequivocally, red.  So very red, I practically squeaked upon seeing it.  So very red, I actually beached the kayak and got out to take some photos (in the shade, in a strong, steady breeze).

So very red, you’ll be forgiven for thinking I tinkered with the colors in processing (I didn’t).

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This stand of plants was right by the water, under the woodland canopy – exactly the habitat it prefers (wet with some shade).  I explored every little cove and rock outcrop (okay, not every one) between Fletcher’s Boathouse and Chain Bridge, on both shorelines (DC and Virginia), and saw no others.

Cardinal flower is found all over the continental US, except for parts of the northern Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest.  It’s listed as “salvage restricted” in Arizona, is threatened in Florida, and is exploitably vulnerable in New York.

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