Mountain Laurel and Sheep Laurel

Just was I was on a roll getting this blog going again, I had to go and break my wrist.  No more photography for awhile, but I wanted to let you know about this great stand of mountain laurel.  Two weeks ago they were budding up, so I expect they’ll be open by now.




The plants are on the Cabin John Trail, roughly midway between Bradley Boulevard and River Road. There’s a trail marker there, at the side trail that goes to Cindy Lane, and the stand starts just to the south of that and goes on for a few tenths of a mile. There must have been thousands of mountain laurels. Not all were in bud, of course, but a lot were, so it should be a good show.

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a medium-sized evergreen shrub in the heath and heather family.  Like other ericaceous plants, it prefers acidic soils that are moist and well-drained. It ranges from the Gulf of Mexico coast north all the way to Maine, and westward a little ways past the Appalachian Mountains (further west in the South).  In Maryland it can be found in every county.

If you’re exploring this segment of the Cabin John Trail, keep your eyes open for pinxterbloom azaleas (Rhododendron periclymenoides). They grow in the same area as the mountain laurels, mostly along the banks of the creek. I counted at least twenty-one of them blooming on April 27th this year. They’re almost certainly done by now.

One other species of Kalmia is found growing in Maryland: K. angustifolia, or sheep laurel.  The Coastal Plain of Maryland is almost as far south as it grows; it’s found more frequently as you go northeast, all the way into Maine and beyond, well into Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland (where I took this picture, in 2017).


Newfoundland: A Few More Wildflowers

And, back to Newfoundland, with a few more wildflowers I found in various locations,

Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea; Asteraceae) is found in Canada, New England, the northern Mid-Atlantic, the upper Mid-West, and the mountainous West; in Maryland it’s only in a few scattered locations.


Oyster plant (Mertensia maritima; Boraginaceae) is found on beaches in northern North America and parts of Europe. I found it in Iceland last summer and specifically went looking for it when driving past Birchy Cove. It’s closely related to our showy native Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

Roundleaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia; Droseraceae) is a carnivorous plant with circumboreal distribution; in the US it’s found in New England, the Appalachians, the upper Mid-West, scattered locations in the West, Canada and Greenland. In Maryland it’s found in Garret County and parts of the Coastal Plain. Look for it in sunny wetlands (bogs, fens, and so on).

Gall-of-the-earth (Prenanthes trifoliata, formerly Nabalus trifoliatus or N. trifoliolatus; Asteraceae) is found in a variety of dry habitats in eastern Canada, New England, and south through the Appalachians. It’s endangered in Ohio, and though not on the RTE list in Maryland, is only known in Talbot County. Apparently it (and/or other Prenanthes species) was used in folk medicine, and has an exceedingly bitter taste, hence the common name.

Scots lovage (Ligusticum scoticum; Apiaceae) grows in rocky areas along the coasts of northern North America and Europe. It’s endangered in Connecticut and New York and special concern in Rhode Island. Supposdely it’s edible, tasting like lovage, which is to say like really strong celery.

Striped or creeping toadflax (Linaria repens; Plantaginaceae) is an alien found in only a few spots in North America. It’s native to Europe, and closely related to the more commonly occurring alien weed known as butter-and-eggs (L. vulgaris).


I spotted this Myosotis species (Boraginaceae) and photographed it from a great distance; there was no way to get close enough for a better picture or identification. The forget-me-nots are notoriously difficult to identify, as are their close relatives the phacelias, about which I’ve complained many times in this blog. But that borage blue is a beacon.

Yellow pond lily (Nuphar variegata, sometimes N. lutea ssp. variegata; Nymphaeaceae) is widespread in ponds across the northern US and Canada; it’s endangered in Ohio. The USDA PLANTS Database shows it present in Maryland but the Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records for it. The closely related spatterdock (N. advena) is found all over Maryland, though, including water pockets in cliffs in the Potomac Gorge.

In the same family is fragrant water lily, Nymphaea odorata. As you can see from the picture, I found both species growing together in one of the inunmerable ponds in the center of the Bonavista peninsula. Frgrant water lily can be found in almost every state and province of the US and Canada.

American burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis; Rosaceae) is native to the eastern US and Canada as well as the Pacific Northwest; sadly, it’s threatened or endangered in nine states, including Maryland. It’s an eye-catching plant with its tall, fluffy spikes of flowers. Look for it growing in bogs and other wet areas (including roadsides).

Roseroot (Rhodioloa rosea, formerly Sedum rosea; Crassulaceae) is a subarctic plant found in a few parts of northern North America as well as in Iceland and Europe. I saw this one specimen flowering near Spillar’s Cove and am really kicking myself for not taking the time to get better pictures.

Wildflowers Along Newfoundland’s Skerwink Trail

After two days of puffin hunting, I realized that it was fruitless to try to photograph them much before sundown, so early on day three I drove south to Skerwink Head, where a 5.3 kilometer loop trail takes you along coastal cliffs, through boreal forest and bog. Here I found flowering plant species that weren’t in the Bonavista area.

Of course balsam fir (Abies balsamea; Pinaceae) isn’t a flowering plant, but since it is the predominant species in this region, I wanted to show it. I have some sort of mental block when it comes to conifers and can never remember how to tell them apart. One clue, though, is that fir cones always stand up. Also, there’s this handy mnemonic: “Flat, friendly fir needles. Sharp, spiny spruce needles.”*

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia; Ericaceae) is a northern relative of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia); the former ranges from southern Virginia north into Newfoundland and Labrador, while the latter ranges from the Florida panhandle north through Maine. In Maryland sheep laurel is found mostly in the Coastal Plain.

Seven-angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum; Eriocaulaceae) is an aquatic plant that ranges from South Carolina north into Newfoundland and Labrador. In Maryland it’s listed S1/endangered and is a plant of the Coastal Plain.


Another aquatic plant, Dortmann’s cardinalflower (Lobelia dortmanna; Campanulaceae) is native to northern North America and Europe. In the US it can be found as far south as New Jersey. I don’t believe it’s found in Maryland, but there are conflicting accounts.

Twinflower (Linnaea borealis; Caprifoliaceae) is circumboreal, as the specific epithet suggests. In the US it’s found in New England, the upper Mid-West, and southwards in the Rocky Mountains. Some sources list in Maryland, but Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records; if it’s here, it would likely be in the far western part of the state, in the Allegheny Plateau.

Dwarf cornel (also Swedish bunchberry, Lapland cornel, and many others; Cornus suecica; Cornaceae) is a circumpolar species. In North America the furthest south it gets is Nova Scotia or Quebec. A closely related species, also called bunchberry (C. canadensis), ranges much further south; in Maryland that species is found only in Garret County and is listed S1/highly state rare. In areas where both species are found, they can be distinguished by leaf venation.

There’s something really special about glancing into the dim understory and spotting an orchid. Dactylorhiza viridis (frog orchid, also placed in the genus Coeloglossum, and formerly in Platanthera) is wide-ranging in the Northern hemisphere. I saw it in Iceland and once in Maryland, where it’s listed S1/endangered.

Moneses uniflora
(Ericaceae) has many common names, including one-flower wintergreen, one-flower shinleaf, and simple delight. It’s found in much of the northern part of the northern hemisphere, including New England, the upper Mid-West, and the Rocky Mountains. In Maryland look for the closely related striped wintergreen.

Garden lupine or bigleaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus; Fabaceae) ranges from Minnesota east and north into Newfoundland (but not Labrador), and also in the western US and Canada. Various accounts claim it is native to this western region, but none say that it’s alien to the east, so I’m not sure what its “native’ status is in Newfoundland. BONAP and USDA PLANTS Database show it in Maryland, but Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records for it.

*Berkshire Environmental Action Team

Wildflowers Along Newfoundland’s Klondike Trail

heathlands along the Klondike Trail near Cable John Cove

It’s true that I went to Newfoundland just to take pictures of puffins, but of course I couldn’t resist taking a few wildflower pictures, too.

Newfoundland is complicated, climactically speaking, and as a result the flora is complicated, too, with some (primarily Atlantic Coastal Plain) species occurring at the extreme northern edge of their range and others (subarctic and arctic species) at the southern edge of their range. The island is in the boreal forest region, with balsam fir (Abies balsamea) predominating, and has many heathlands and bogs.

The rose and heath families (Rosaceae and Ericaceae) are well represented, as is the aster family (Asteraceae), of course.

The Klondike Trail starts at Elliston, near the northern end of the Bonavista Peninsula, passing through boreal forest and a bog or two until it gets to the heathlands near Cable John Cove.

Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium, Onagraceae; aka Chamaenerion angustifolium and formerly Epilobium angustifolium, depending on the source) was the first flower I saw on the Klondike, but to be fair this plant is just about everywhere, including roadsides all through Newfoundland. It’s a circumpolar species with a confusing taxonomy. In the US it’s found in the northernmost states, southward along the Appalachians, and in the mountainous West.

Heading northwest from Elliston, the Klondike Trail quickly comes to a bog, where I saw lots of northern pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea; Sarraceniaceae). This strikingly showy carnivorous plant, the provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador, is found in most of Canada, and in the US from Minnesota east to Maine, south along the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico coasts, with a few populations in the West.





And guess what was growing in the bog along with the pitcher plants? That’s right: Iris versicolor (northern blue flag; Iridaceae). I’ve written enough about that species this year, so onward…



Foraging for berries is a popular pastime in this area. There are blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium, I think; Ericaceae) and raspberries (Rubus idaeus; Rosaceae) growing right along the trail.


Further along in the heathlands I saw a family gathering redberry, aka partridgeberry, aka lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).









The Bonavista peninsula is the windiest place in Newfoundland, and it showed in the stunted plants of the heaths along the headlands. I believe this goldenrod is Solidago hispida, but goldenrod identification is tricky when you’re working from photos, so I could be wrong.

Also stunted: New York asters (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii).





Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana) is found in Virginia, but despite the specific epithet it’s more common to the north, ranging through New England into Canada.



Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba var. latifolia, formerly Spiraea latifolia; Rosaceae) is found in the Mid-Atlantic mostly in the Appalachians, but is more common north into New England and Canada.


Here’s yet another rose family species, three-toothed cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata, formerly Potentilla tridentata).




This spectacular flower is harebell (Campanula rotundifolia; Campanulaceae), found in mountainous areas and northern areas in the US, mostly in New England and the upper Mid-West, and is all over the place in Newfoundland. In Maryland it’s listed S2 (state rare).

Guano and Feathers

If you love puffins, please visit my facebook page The Daily Puffin. You don’t need to join facebook to view it, but if you are on facebook I’d appreciate a “like” and a “follow”.

I was so taken with Atlantic puffins in the Faroe Islands that three and a half weeks after coming home, I took my camera, tripod, and two new lenses and set out solo for the Bonavista Peninsula in Newfoundland, Canada.

There are numerous puffin colonies in Newfoundland, including the well-known Puffin Viewing Site between Elliston and Maberly; the Cape Bonavista lighthouse; and Cable John Cove. At each of these locations the colony is on an islet, just a short distance from the mainland: good places for the birds, since they can’t be preyed upon by land mammals.

Also, the islets protect the birds from us. Not that Newfoundlanders hunt them (as the Faroese did traditionally), but overly enthusiastic tourists unknowingly trample their burrows, killing chicks.

Islet colonies mean you need a long lens to get good pictures. The 200mm lens I used really wasn’t quite long enough (I had to crop many of the photos).

But I read that in some of these places, if you’re still and quiet, the birds will come and land on mainland ledges, and hang out for awhile, and you can get really close to them. Which is common sense, really: don’t spook the wildlife.

Sadly most people were so caught up in the moment that they didn’t stop to think. As soon as one bird landed on a ledge, there would a rush of people with iPhones out, and the bird would take off again.

So I spent a fruitless day of multiple visits to all three sites, then decided to return to one place after dinner, a little before sunset. The weather was gray and damp, and the light frankly sucked for photography, but nobody was there. As I rounded the last little hill on the trail, I saw about 50 puffins lined up along the ledge.

I quietly dropped my pack and lay down on a little hillock (among feathers and dried guano), picked up the camera, and started shooting. Every minute or so I would scootch forward a little, until I got to about ten feet from the ledge.

Then I heard voices – human voices! Two groups of four people were approaching. Oh, no…

I’m not one to tell strangers what to do, but I waved emphatically, and when I got their attention, put a finger to my lips, then made a “slow down” motion. Thankfully they all got the hint, stopped talking, and quietly spread out at a respectful distance, allowing everyone to spend some real quality time with the little birds.

The next evening played out much the same way, except I was never alone. I lay in the grass alongside another photographer, and together we convinced people to be quiet and patient. Within five minutes the birds started arriving. The skies were mostly overcast, but in the last ten minutes before sunset the sun broke through, bathing the little spit of land in golden light while the cameras clicked away.

On the third evening first one and then another photographer joined me in the grass on the little hillock. They were both disappointed that the birds were far away on their islet. I advised them to be patient, wait for most of the people to leave, then get ready. Once again I got the remaining peoples’ attention, got them to be still and silent, and once again the puffins came and perched on the ledge.

I stayed well past sunset, and darn if some of those low-light pictures weren’t among the best I took the whole trip.

The closest I got to the birds was about four feet. Of course my inner child wanted to get closer, and maybe I could have if I’d stayed longer, but there were still other people around, and I didn’t want to ruin their experience by spooking the birds.

And really, four feet was close enough. After awhile, I stopped shooting and just watched, for a long time.(all the pictures above were shot handheld with a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens on a Nikon D750 body)