Here are some of the showier spring ephemerals to watch for in the Potomac Gorge this week.
In the floodplain close to the river, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica; left) are approaching peak bloom. Mixed in with them in a few places are Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria; below right), which you might also find on moist, rocky outcroppings.
On drier slopes watch for scattered patches of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis; below).
Look for twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla; below) in moist, rocky areas. They like limestone soils, so aren’t as widespread as these other species, but where they do grow they they tend to grow en masse.
Monday, March 5 – took a quick walk on the Cabin John Trail. Most of the green forbs were aliens, though the new foliage of a few ephemerals was coming up.
And a few clumps of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica; Boraginaceae), one of which was starting to bloom. This is quite early, but with the ephemerals I often see one or two blooming on either end of the bell curve. Peak bloom for bluebells is probably at least three weeks away.
Odd weather we’ve had this winter. Unusually cold on average, but with unusually warm days. Plants are emerging and budding up and some are blooming already, as I reported in the last post. Anyway, here’s more of what we can look forward to in the next month or so.
I usually see these plants in large stands, and all the plants in a stand seem to flower at the same time, but the flowers only last a few days. I’m going to start watching for them in mid-March this year.
This is the same species I posted a picture of on Wednesday, with the purple buds. Such a perky thing. The first species in the Asteraceae to bloom ’round here.
Since bloodroot grows from rhizomes, when there’s more than one plant they’re often in a line.
Erythronium americanum (trout lily; Liliaceae)
Erythronium albidum (white trout lily; Liliaceae)
Trillium sessile (toadshade; Liliaceae)
Honestly my love for this plant comes from that common name. This is peak bloom; the flower petals don’t spread open. Yellow flowering forms can be found near Carderock.
Stellaria pubera (star chickweed; Caryophyllaceae)
It’s all about those stamens. And fun fact: each flower has five petals. The petals are so deeply cleft that a single petal appears to be two petals.
Thalictrum thalictroides (rue anemone; Ranunculaceae)
In botanical Latin the suffix “-oides” means “resembling”. So this species is “Thalictrum that looks like Thalictrum”. Thalictrum is “from thaliktron, a name used to describe a plant with divided leaves”.*
These will be carpeting floodplains and other very moist-soil areas in less than a month.
Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox; Polemoniaceae)
Wild blue phlox starts blooming at about the same time as Virginia bluebells, but they last longer. It’s a glorious sight when these two and golden ragwort fill the woods.
*California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations
A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology
Compiled by Michael L. Charters
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.
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