poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is just a ground cover now, but will grow fast once the weather warms up; there’s some ground ivy in there, too
As a rule, if it’s green in winter it’s alien. In this area. Other than needled and broadleaf evergreens, of course. Walking along the towpath and the Billy Goat trails, I see assorted grasses, garlic mustard, henbit, ground ivy, English ivy, lesser celandine, poison hemlock, perwinkle… but there are native forbs hiding somewhere (I mentioned some in an earlier post).
I’ve been searching for them on recent walks. Since Flower of the Day is currently dormant, I’ll be posting about these quasi-evergreen plants during the month of February.
poison hemlock gets big, at least 7 feet; this one isn’t full-grown yet…
…but the flowers sure are pretty
(iPhone pictures from May, 2013)
Earlier this year I was over the moon to find two native orchids in the area, puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale; fotd 5/20) and cranefly (Tipularia discolor, fotd 7/31). These two plants have a similar, unusual life cycle: the new leaf (one per plant) emerges from the ground in autumn, persists through the winter, then dies back in spring (puttyroot) or early summer (cranefly); some time after that a single flower spike emerges, develops multiple buds, and blooms.
Last week while hiking I saw the new leaves of cranefly orchids; note the characteristic purple underside. (Be assured no plants were harmed, nor soils disturbed, in the taking of these photos!)
Of course I then had to go hunting for puttyroot, too, and found a few of those leaves, and seedpods still on one spike.
cranefly in flower:
puttyroot in flower:
This really has been a wonderful year.
Symphyotrichum laeve; Asteraceae (aster family)
I’m running out of things to write about asters, but I’m not running out of asters. These are all smooth aster – I think. They’re pretty, anyway. Enjoy.
Symphyotrichum shortii; Asteraceae (aster family)
Some things to consider when trying to identify asters:
- size of flower head
- number of ray flowers
- number of disk flowers
- color of flowers (not as important as you may think)
- shape and size of leaf, including the leaf base and leaf tip
- leaf margin
- arrangement of leaves on the stem and whether they’re more or less consistently sized
- shape, size, color, and number of rows of phyllaries (bracts)
- presence of glands
- smoothness (or not) and color of stems
…you get the idea. Actually this is a pretty general list, but with almost 90 species of Symphyotrichum found in the US (about two dozen in this area), you really have to pay attention to details.
All of which is to say, I’m not always sure I’ve correctly id’d all the asters I’ve been posting about. But they sure are pretty.
aka hairy aster, awl aster; Symphyotrichum pilosum; Asteraceae (aster family)
So far this year I’ve found 19 different species of aster (Symphyotrichum or Eurybia). I haven’t managed to identify them all, but they are clearly different from each other. This one, though, I’m pretty sure of.
Note the characteristically hairy stem in the photo to the right.
Frost aster is another native found in eastern North America (from Texas through Quebec). It grows up to three feet tall in full sun and moist to dry conditions. I found this specimen growing out of the cracks along one of my favorite rocky bluffs upstream of Carderock.
Ageratina aromatica; Asteraceae (aster family)
The Eupatorium-type flowers aren’t quite done yet. A. aromatica’s big brother, Ageratina altissima, dominates the scene – you can find them by the dozens along the Billy Goat trails – but tucked in little nooks on sandy soils you might find this small species, too.
As you can see, this is another one of the rayless composites, consisting only of disk flowers. It’s found throughout the eastern US as far north as New York; some sources state that it ranges further into New England, but is rare or endangered there.
Symphyotrichum lateriflorum (formerly Aster lateriflorus); Asteraceae (aster family)
Plants formerly in the genus Aster have been reclassified into more than 100 genera, based on DNA analysis (the old system of taxonomy went by flower and fruit morphology), which is only one of many factors that make these plants hard to ID if you’re an amateur enthusiast. Most of those plants found in this area are now classed as Eurybia, Symphyotrichum, or Doellingeria.
Calico aster is a common woodland plant found throughout the eastern half of the US and Canada. It grows to three feet tall and is often covered in masses of flowers, a delightful sight at a time of year when little else is blooming and leaves are falling from trees.
One thing to keep in mind: it’s entirely possible that I’ve mis-identified this plant! If you think so, please leave me a comment, and thanks.