More Flowers From Ferry Hill

Here are a few more photos of flowers seen in early April along the Potomac River near Sharpsburg, Maryland.



two-leaved miterwort, Mitella diphylla (Saxifragaceae) [right and below]









downy yellow violet, Viola pubescens var. scabriuscula  (Violaceae)




blue cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides  (Berberidaceae)





rue anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides (Ranunculaceae) [with a side of early saxifrage, Micranthes virginiensis]



star chickweed, Stellaria pubera (Caryophyllaceae)





toadshade, Trillium sessile (Melanthiaceae)





squirrel corn, Dicentra canadensis (Papaveraceae)




wild blue phlox, Phlox divaricata (Polemoniaceae)




spreading rockcress, Arabis patens (Brassicaceae); G3 (globally rare/local), S3 in Maryland





spring beauty, Claytonia virginica (Montiaceae)

The Spring Ephemerals, part 5

The season goes faster than I can publish blog posts. These three species in the poppy family (Papaveraceae) are likely done blooming in the southeastern part of the Maryland Piedmont, but might still be blooming in the more northern and western parts of the state.

Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn are both in the genus Dicentra. They have almost identical foliage, but the flowers are a little different: the former look like pantaloons, while the latter are more heart-shaped.

The morning of March 19 this year was overcast; nonetheless I headed to the trail early, to avoid all the people who weren’t doing social distancing. I found what I was looking for: bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis; Papaveraceae), but the blossoms weren’t yet open. When the sun started breaking through (just after lunch) I went back and spent the next hour shooting as they opened.

One More Fumitory


Monday morning I went out to shoot a very special plant (like I did with white trout lily the previous week), and was surprised to find a large number of short-spurred corydalis growing with it (more on the other plant next time).

Also known as yellow corydalis, yellow fumewort, yellow fumitory, and yellow harlequin, Corydalis flavula is a small annual forb, growing to about a foot tall and bearing flowers in racemes. The flowers are about a quarter to a half inch long.

C. flavula is in the Papaveraceae, closely related to the Dicentra species I wrote about a few days ago. Like other species in the fumitory sub-family, it has two very short sepals, two inner petals, and two outer petals. One of the outer petals is spurred and one isn’t. The leaves are typical of the fumitories as well, compound with lobed leaflets, giving a ferny look to the plant.

This might be an example of a disymmetric flower, with two perpendicular planes of symmetry. So help me I’m tempted to go find one and dissect it, because I’ve never been able to get a detailed enough photo. Disymmetric or no, it certainly is complicated.

I’m not sure how many species of Corydalis are found in Maryland. BONAP shows only C. flavula present, while Maryland Biodiversity Project lists one other but has no records for it, and USDA PLANTS shows two others. C. flavula ranges from northern Florida to New York, and west as far as the eastern Great Plains. It’s threatened in Connecticut and Michigan.


After all the research into the borage and waterleaf families I was looking forward to writing a short little something about this odd yet charming spring ephemeral. Then I went to verify a few facts and saw references to both the fumitory family (Fumariaceae) and the poppy family (Papaveraceae).

Oh, no. Not again.

Short version: pretty much the same thing happened with these two families as with the other two. The interesting thing, to me, is that fumitory-type flowers look absolutely nothing like poppy-type flowers, while the borage and waterleaf flowers (eg Phacelia and Cryptantha species) look an awful lot alike. But then, classification is based on phylogeny, not morphology.

At any rate, flowers previously placed in the fumitory family do have similar features, namely two very small sepals and four petals in two pairs, the outer pair being somewhat squashed and spread-out looking. The symmetry is either bilateral (one plane of symmetry) or disymmetric, meaning there are two planes of symmetry, perpendicular to each other.

Other flowers in the Papaveraceae look like, well, poppies, with radial symmetry.

Back to squirrel corn. In Maryland it’s found in a few parts of the Piedmont and all the physiographic provinces to the west. It’s close relative Dutchman’s breeches is more widespread, in most of the state except parts of the Coastal Plain. A third species, D. eximina, is found in Prince George’s, Montgomery, Allegany, and Garret counties, and is listed S2/threatened. I haven’t seen it yet, but I really want to, because it, too, has funny common names: turkey corn and wild bleeding heart.

Other fumitory-type flowers found in Maryland include one species of Adlumia, three types of corydalis, and one (alien) species of Fumaria. The popular garden ornamental bleeding hearts (formerly Dicentra spectabilis, currently Lamprocapnos spectabilis) is native to Asia.

Dutchman’s breeches with green foliage

A large patch of the forest floor near the white trout lilies is carpeted in the finely dissected foliage of squirrel corn and Dutchman’s breeches. I’ve noticed that the latter species has a consistent medium green color, while the former is somewhat bluish (glaucous). But less than a mile away, near Plummer’s Island, there’s a stand of the two Dicentra species growing together where the foliage is indistinguishable. I’ve heard that other native plant enthusiasts have observed the same thing, and that some have observed the opposite. Not sure what to make of that, except that it isn’t a reliable way to distinguish the two species. You have to see the flowers. (Or the corms, but I don’t advocate digging up plants growing in public lands.)

squirrel corn with glaucous foliage

Dutchman’s breeches seems to bloom about a week or so before squirrel corn, at least in the Potomac Gorge. It’s close to done now, but squirrel corn should still be blooming.

A note about common names

Timothy Coffey in his well-researched The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994) gives common names for about 700 species of plants. Many of these names are probably historical and no longer used, but if you’re interested in such things it’s a fun resource. The following list is from the book.

Dicentra canadensis: colicweed, ghost-corn, Indian-potatoes, ladies-and-gentlemen, lyre-flower, stagger-weed, turkey-corn, turkey-pea, white-hearts, wild-hyacinth

Dicentra cucullaria: bachelor’s-breeches, boys-and-girls, breeches-flower, butterfly-banners, colicweed, dicentre à capuchon, eardrops, flyflower, girls-and-boys, Indian boys-and-girls, kitten-breeches, leather-breeches, little-blue-stagger, little-boy’s-breeches, monkshood, pearl-harlequin, soldier’s-cap, stagger-weed, turkey, white-eardrop, white-hearts.

I know one woman who calls D. cucullaria Dutchman’s-britches.


Yesterday’s post had a quote about twinleaf being distinct from Sanguinaria and Podophyllum. All three have their similarities, especially in the flower, which in each case is large and white with numerous petals. Twinleaf is in the genus Jeffersonia, which has only two species, while both Sanguinaria and Podophyllum are (currently) monotypic genera. The latter is represented by P. peltatum, mayapple or maypop, which like twinleaf is placed in the barberry family (Berberidaceae). The former is represented by S. canadensis, bloodroot, which is in the poppy family (Papaveraceae) and blooming now in the Maryland piedmont. I’ll write about maypop once they’re blooming and I can get some pictures.

Bloodroot is a perennial plant that forms colonies from the rhizome, so more likely than not if you find one, you’ll find others nearby. The roots contain a reddish-orange sap, hence the name Sanguinaria, which means bleeding. The plant stands a little less than a foot tall, with a single multi-lobed basal leaf that emerges with the single flower stalk; while still young the leaf clasps the stem, but as the flower fades it opens fully. Although it doesn’t have the mirror-image symmetry of the twinleaf, you can see why early botanists might have considered the two closely related. (Until fairly recently, taxonomy was based largely on flower and fruit morphology.)

The flower can be large (up to three inches in diameter), with eight or more petals, two sepals, numerous stamens, and a single pistil.

Bloodroot is one of the spring ephemerals, and has a wide native range, occurring in some areas to the west of the Mississippi River but primarily east of it, from northern Florida north into Canada. It’s listed as exploitably vulnerable in New York and special concern in Rhode Island.