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.

Rosea

There are a lot of pink wildflowers in the Maryland Piedmont. As with blue and purple, “pink” can vary quite a bit, from almost white to practically red.

Claytonia virginica (spring beauty; Portulacaeae)

One of our earliest ephemerals, blooming as early as late February after a warm winter, and lasting into May. In woodland soils almost everywhere. Usually white with a pink tint.

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells; Boraginaceae)

Virginia bluebell buds start violet and turn pink before opening blue, except when the flowers are pure white or pure pink. I visit this stand every year just to make sure that the flowers really are all pink from start of bloom through senescence. They are.

Cercis canadensis (redbud; Fabaceae)

Around here, this understory tree usually blooms in April, when other trees are just starting to blush green. It’s a beautiful effect, though maybe not as stunning as…

 

Rhododendron periclymenoides (pinxter azalea; Ericaceae)

I don’t know that we have a more stunning native shrub than this. I’ve seen it in rocky, wet areas in Rachel Carson Conservation Park and Sugarloaf Mountain; it blooms in mid spring.

Silene caroliniana ssp. pensylvanica (wild pink; Caryophyllaceae)

Look for the flowers in early April to late May. These low-growing plants are often found in dry, rocky soils in open woodlands. There are several stands near Carderock.

 

Valeriana pauciflora (long-tube valerian, large-flower valerian; Valerianceae)

This delicate plant (S1/endangered) has an explosive inflorescence that usually opens in May. A great photo has always eluded me, despite hours and hours and hours of trying, because the plants bloom in the deep shade of dense woods. Shade is the bane of photographers. Maybe this year.

Hibiscus laevis (halberd-leaved rosemallow; Malvaceae)

Unlike the previous species, this one likes bright, sunny riverbanks. I love how it just glows in the light! Sometimes considered a forb and sometimes as a shrub, it’s a very tall plant with stems that get somewhat woody as the season progresses; but, like a forb, it dies back to the crown in autumn. Watch for it in early to mid summer. S3 in Maryland.

Hylodesmum nudiflorum (naked-flower tick trefoil; Fabaceae)

The tick trefoils can be tricky to identify, but this one stands out because the flowers are borne on leafless stems. The genus Desmodium was recently split, with some species placed in a new genus, Hylodesmum. According to the excellent gobotany site, species in the former as sun-loving, and species in the latter are shade-loving.

Desmodium paniculatum (panicled tick-trefoil; Fabaceae)

This one blooms in mid to late summer. It grows in moist to dry soils in sun to part shade, and does well in disturbed areas.

Lespedeza virginica (Fabaceae) Not seen as often as the alien invasive L. sericea, this species grows in dry areas, blooming in mid to late summer.

Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed; Apocynaceae)

If you want to spend hours being entertained by bees and butterflies, park yourself in front of a stand of milkweeds. I’ve seen them blooming in wet soils in sunny areas from late June to late August.

Persicaria amphibia (water smartweed; Polygonaceae)

Or, as I prefer to call it, DPP (damn pink persicaria). I’m fairly certain I’ve ID’d it correctly. Sometimes I’m not particularly attracted to a species until I sit and study it awhile and try to get good close-up pictures. So it was with this one. Click on the pic to see it larger. It’s pretty up close!

Sabatia angularis (rosepink; Gentianaceae)

I’ve only seen this plant once, in the shade of a small shrub even though it’s a sun-loving species. Watch for it in dry soils in open places. What a beautiful color.

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 linariifolius (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.

Bluebells. And Pinkbells and Whitebells and More.

As the spring ephemeral wildflower show in the Potomac gorge slowly ramps up, the most eye catching plant must be Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells, Boraginaceae). The pale green leaves pop up in floodplains and moist to wet woodlands, in clumps that stand up to two feet tall, and then flowering shoots emerge. The blooming period is three or four weeks long; the leaves last another few weeks after that, then die back and the plants are done for the season.

The inflorescence is a cyme. The flowers have five petals fused into a long, lobed tube; a much shorter corolla formed from five sepals; five stamens, and a single pistil.

Year after year, what I find fascinating is the color display. The vast majority of bluebells are an intense blue (I call it borage blue), but sometimes they will be pure white, or pure pink, or violet-tinted, or even pink and blue on the same plant. I’ve seen several possible explanations for this, but nothing definitive.

As for the pure white and pure pink bluebells, I’m going to guess that those are genetic variations. I’ve seen the same stand of pink ones three years in a row now, and the same stand of white bluebells every year since 2011. I’ve also seen the violet-tinted ones in the same place two different years.

 

 

 

violet-tinted

 

 

 

 

 

pure white (even the buds are white)

 

 

This post is dedicated to my friend Brad, who in early 2014 talked me into starting this blog, which is three years old today. 

Theme and Variations: Virginia Bluebells

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Mertensia virginica; Boraginaceae

Nothing proclaims spring’s arrival in such a gloriously gaudy way as the blossoming of Virginia bluebells.  When the foliage first emerges from the ground, it’s purplish brown in color.  As the plant grows and the inflorescence unfolds, dark pink buds turn paler pink and then finally open in bright borage blue, which fades as the flower ages.  The fully opened leaf is a pale green, with a bluish cast.

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I love the color show.  Every year I visit one particular clump of pure white Virginia bluebells.  But this year I found something new.  Apparently not unique, but fairly rare:

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That’s right – pink Virginia bluebells.  I swear to you I did not adjust the color in Lightroom.

The internet is so full of information that I can’t sift through it all to find answers to my questions.  I’ve assumed that the white-flowering plants are genetic variations, but what accounts for the pink?  Genetics, soil pH, growing conditions?  This lone clump of pink bluebells was near other (blue) bluebells, but not right in the midst of them – it was a little off by itself, further from the river.

So help me I’m tempted to pull out the old soil pH meter and go back and do some testing.

One internet site states that the pink in the buds is due to the presence of anthocyanin, but that the plant increases the flowers’ alkalinity in order to change the color to blue in order to attract pollinators.  That certainly sounds authoritative, but I’d love to know what his sources were.  Is it reasonable to assume this mechanism failed in the case of the pink flowers?

And then there’s this:

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Again, no messing with color during processing.  It’s a little hard to tell, but this clump had a distinct violet tinge to it, different from the faded blue of pollinated flowers.

If there’s such a thing as “normal” in this remarkable plant, it looks something like this:

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Virginia bluebells like wet soils – they’re found near streams, in bottomlands and floodplains where they get both sun and shade from deciduous trees.  By the time the leaf canopy is established, they’re done blooming and the foliage is dying back to the ground, leaving no trace of this woodland wonder.

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Where Virginia bluebells are found, they tend to be ubiquitous.  They range over most of the eastern US and Canada, but are missing from a few New England states.  They are threatened in Michigan and exploitably vulnerable in New York.