More Teasers

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.

Jeffersonia diphylla (twinleaf; Berberidaceae)

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.

Packera aurea (golden ragwort; Asteraceae)

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.


Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot; Papaveraceae)

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”.*

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells; Boraginaceae)

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

On the Last Day of Winter

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.

Claytonia virginica (spring beauty; Montiaceae)

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

Our Earliest Aster

In much the same habitat as Virginia bluebells grows our earliest-blooming aster family species: Packera aurea (formerly Senecio aureus), commonly known as golden ragwort or golden groundsel. It starts blooming about the same time as the bluebells, but in the Potomac Gorge area seems to hit peak bloom just after the bluebells do.

Though they grow together, I’ve noticed that golden ragwort may have a bit more tolerance for slightly drier soils than the bluebells do. In some areas I can see that the land closest to the river is carpeted in bluebells, while a short distance away – on the other side of the trail, for example, where the land starts sloping upward – the carpet changes to ragwort.

Golden ragwort is a colony-forming perennial forb that grows to about two and a half feet tall. The flowers are borne on a corymb ( a more or less flat-topped cluster) and have the typical aster family arrangement of ray flowers and disk flowers.


The basal leaves are oval with a cordate base and have scalloped edges and long petioles.




The stem leaves are completely different: narrower, deeply lobed, and sessile or clasping.



Golden ragwort is one of 57 Packera species native to North America. Look for it growing in moist to wet woodlands in the mid-West, mid-Atlantic, New England, a few parts of the South, and eastern Canada.

The Earliest of the Asters: Golden Ragwort


Packera aurea (formerly Senecio aureus); Asteraceae

Based on a few years’ observations, I’ve concluded that about one in five flowering plants in the Potomac Gorge are in the aster family.  But most of them won’t start showing up until summer.  Golden ragwort is always the first.

It’s an interesting plant.  The basal leaves appear first: toothed, rounded to oval and indented at the base, they are totally different from the stem leaves, which are elongate and deeply lobed.


The buds are deep purple, opening to golden blossoms.

Golden ragwort forms vast stands in moist bottomlands throughout the eastern US and Canada, blooming about the same time as wild blue phlox and as the Virginia bluebells start to fade.