More RTEs

What a week I had last week! It started with orchids and ended with multiple RTE sightings. I re-found Scutellaria nervosa (S1S2/highly state rare; endangered) on the same day I pulled weeds from a stand of Valeriana pauciflora (S1/highly state rare/endangered). And not long after that, I came across the largest stand of Phacelia purshii (Miami mist, fringed phacelia) that I have ever seen.

That stand had literally dozens of star-of-Bethlehem plants all through it, so before taking pictures I weeded that patch. [important note in case you missed my previous post: I have authority to do so in that area] Actually I rather regret not taking a picture of the whole patch first, but oh well. They’ll be back…

P. purshii is listed S3/watchlist in Maryland.

Not long after that, I found a lovely and mostly weed-free patch of Phacelia dubia (small-flower phacelia), which is also S3/watchlist.

I wrote about the two species (and a third, P. covillei) in April of 2017, so won’t repeat myself. I just wanted to post these pictures.

Winter Blues

Virginia bluebells carpeting a Potomac River floodplain last spring

Happy new year! I’m back, after a truly epic case of writer’s block. Not that there’s anything blooming to write about yet, since the local wildflower show won’t be starting until late February at the earliest, more likely mid-March if this winter stays as cold as it has been. Which has been pretty darn cold compared to the last five years or so, but not that unusual compared to, say, the past 50 years.

At any rate I’m fighting the winter blues by recalling blue flowers I found this past year. Here are a few from the Maryland Piedmont.

Anemone americana (formerly Hepatica nobilis var obtusa; round-lobed hepatica; Ranunculaceae)
This species is hibernal – the basal rosette of leaves will be out right now, though likely hidden under leaf litter. The leaves will die back as the small flowers appear just an inch or two off the ground. In the Piedmont I’ve seen them as early as early March and as late as mid April, though they don’t bloom for long; they just seem highly variable about when they start blooming.

Baptisia australis (wild blue indigo; Fabaceae)
This species is found primarily in prairies, but also occurs in some prairie-like habitats east of the Appalachians, including bedrock terraces in the Potomac gorge. According to the Maryland DNR’s new RTE list, there are only a few populations here. It’s listed S2/Threatened. Finding it is a real treat.

Clitoria mariana (Atlantic pigeonwings, butterfly pea; Fabaceae)
I’ve only seen this in a few places, always in rocky areas in a bit of shade, and there’s never much of it. Start looking in mid June.



Conoclinium coelestinum (formerly Eupatorium coelestinum; blue mistflower; Asteraceae)
This medium-height plant blooms from June through September in wet soils next to the Potomac River – not right on the banks, but close by.


Houstonia caeulea (azure bluet, little bluet, Quaker ladies; Rubiaceae)
These tiny flowers bloom en masse in April and May in moist, rocky soils in open wooded areas. Sometimes you’ll see only a few, but other times you may find them carpeting a meadow. They are really tricky to photograph up close, as even the slightest breeze sets them in motion.

Ionactis linariifolia (formerly Aster linariifolius; flax-leaved aster; Asteraceae)
I’ve seen this species blooming in a rocky meadow in the Carderock area in October of the last few years, but also in open, rocky areas of the Billy Goat A trail – in June!


Iris species, either I. versicolor or I. virginica (northern blue flag or southern blue flag; Iridaceae)
These flowers drove me nuts in 2017. I posted many times about my quest to determine exactly which species it is. There are scattered stands along and near the C&O Canal from the Marsden Tract upstream to Widewater; look for it in late May or early June.

Lobelia siphilitica (great blue lobelia; Campanulaceae) stands dramatically tall on riverbanks. I’ve seen two stands of them along the Potomac: one just upriver of the American Legion bridge, the other near Fletcher’s Boathouse in DC.


Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells; Boraginaceae)
This spring ephemeral often grows in large swaths in floodplains, like in the lead-in photo above. The pink buds start turning blue as they open. This species can also flower in pure white, pure pink, and pale violet; I love hunting for these variations every April.

Phacelia covillei (Coville’s phacelia, buttercup scorpionweed; Boraginaceae)
A short annual plant with tiny flowers that have to be seen up close to be appreciated. Currently listed S2/Endangered by the Maryland DNR, with a proposed change of status to Threatened.

Phacelia dubia (small-flowered phacelia or scorpionweed; Boraginaceae)
A fellow botanerd directed me to a large stand of this species last spring. Most of those flowers appeared white, but up close a few had this pale blue cast.


Phacelia purshii (fringed phacelia, Miami mist; Boraginaceae)
Listed S3 in Maryland. I’ve found only three stands of it between the Potomac and the Billy Goat B and C trails.


Scutellaria elliptica (hairy skullcap; Lamiaceae)
Look for sparse stands of these from Carderock to the Marsden Tract, in rocky soils where the woods aren’t too dense.



Tradescantia virginiana (Virginia spiderwort; Commelinaceae)
In some lighting situations this flower looks more purple than blue, but oh well. I’ll cover purple flowers in a future post. The plant has iris-like foliage: broad blades with parallel veins. The three-petaled flowers are another clue that this plant is a monocot. Which gives me an idea for another future post.

Yet Another Phacelia. Last One For Awhile. Really.

It was an overcast day, and I was working at my volunteer job downtown when I realized that rain was likely soon, and could continue for the next several days, and if I waited too long I’d miss seeing small flower phacelia blooming. Quel horreur! since this was a “new to me” species.

So I packed up, drove out to Old Anglers Inn, and hiked quickly through occasional light drizzle to the place where fellow muddy-kneed photographer and wildflower enthusiast LW directed me. (See comments in One More Phacelia for location.)


Phacelia dubia (smallflower phacelia, small-flower scorpionweed, Appalachian phacelia) is a short-growing annual forb in the Boraginaceae (currently). It’s found in parts of the Deep South but more frequently in the Mid-Atlantic states (Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and one part of New York). It’s presumed extirpated in Ohio.

Like P. purshii, P. dubia is listed as S3/watchlist in Maryland. The two species are much alike, about the same height, flowers about the same size. Based on a one-time only observation in this large patch of plants, I’d say the cauline leaves of P. dubia are a little smaller, with fewer lobes, and mostly sessile rather than almost clasping as in P. purshii; also there seem to be fewer of them.

Most of the flowers in this patch were white, though some of them had a blue-ish cast and a few were an outright light lavender. But color is seldom diagnostic. The obvious difference between small-flower and fringed phacelia is the fringed petals on the latter species. In small-flower phacelia, the petal margins are entire.

Thanks for the tip, LW!

One More Phacelia

Three of the approximately 170 North American Phacelia species can be found in Maryland: Coville’s phacelia, small-flowered phacelia (P. dubia), and Miami mist, aka fringed phacelia or purple scorpion-weed (P. purshii). The second and third of these are both classified S3/watchlist:

Vulnerable/Watchlist—At moderate risk of extinction or extirpation due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors. Typically occurring in 21-80 populations.*

P. purshii is found in Prince Geroge’s, Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, and Garret counties. P dubia has a simliar but smaller range. I haven’t seen this species myself yet, but am always watching for it at this time of year.

P. purshii, though, I see every year, along the Billy Goat B and C trails. There are a few populations in other areas east of the Appalachians, but for the most part this species is found in the Ohio River basin.

Like Coville’s phacelia, Miami mist is an annual, though it gets a little taller (maybe as tall as a foot and a half). The flowers are fairly small, but markedly larger than those of Coville’s phacelia. It has typical Phacelia traits: hairy leaves, hairy stem, hairy calyces. The five-lobed flowers are borne in a helicoid cyme, though the shape isn’t as pronounced as in some of the western Hydrophylloideae species (pictured here).

*Maryland DNR

A Special Phacelia

Last Sunday morning Steve and I headed out for a walk, and in less then an hour found Coville’s phacelia. Lots of it. So Monday I went back without Steve but with camera, tripod, and macro lens, and spent some quality time photographing this rare species.


Also known as buttercup scorpionweed, this phacelia is of course related to the phacelias in Anza-Borrego. You can see the similarities in these photos: hairy stems, hairy leaves, hairy calyces with five sepals, and corolla of five petals fused into a single, five-lobed tube.


The plants are annual forbs, growing more or less upright in a rather weak fashion. Literature describes them as up to a foot tall, but I’ve rarely seen them over six inches.



Coville’s phacelia has an odd distribution, with several disjunct populations located in Washington, DC, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, Fairfax County in Virginia, five counties in central North Carolina, and one county in southwestern Indiana.

However, according to

In addition to the Potomac River (in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) and drainages of the Cape Fear and Tar Rivers in North Carolina, the species has recently been identified from the Ohio River drainage (in Ohio and West Virginia), the Wabash River drainage (in Indiana and Illinois), and Texas County, Missouri.

Except possibly it hasn’t: apparently authorities in several midwestern states do not differentiate between P. covillei and the very similar P. ranunculacea (oceanblue phacelia).



The Virginia Plant Atlas also shows it present in Halifax County (far southern Virginia). With respect to the taxonomic uncertainty, VPA comments:

This species has often been considered an eastern cytotype of Phacelia ranunculacea (Nutt.) Constance, which occupies similar habitats of the sc. U.S. in the lower Ohio and Mississippi River drainages. Sewell and Vincent (2006, Castanea 71: 192-209) found that the two taxa differ in chromosome number, subtle but consistent morphological characters, and overall distribution. However, morphological differences are fairly minor and the geographic split isn’t as clean as one might hope, as there are populations of P. covillei in the Ohio River drainage, as well as the Atlantic Piedmont. Nevertheless, Sewell and Vincent present a reasonable case for two species, especially since the different ploidy levels would prevent interbreeding.

Coville’s phacelia has the global conservation rank G3, defined as:

Either very rare and local throughout its range or distributed locally (even abundantly at some of its locations) in a restricted range (e.g., a single western state, a physiographic region in the East) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to extinction throughout its range; typically with 21 to 100 estimated occurrences.*

Its state rank in Maryland is S2:

State rare. Imperiled in Maryland because of rarity (typically 6 to 20 estimated occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres in the State) or because of some factor(s) making it vulnerable to becoming extirpated. Species with this rank are actively tracked by the Natural Heritage Program.*

And its state status is E:

Endangered; a species whose continued existence as a viable component of the State’s flora or fauna is determined to be in jeopardy.*


Over the past few years I’ve observed that Coville’s phacelia has a bloom period of three weeks, more or less, so it should still be around. Look for it along the Billy Goat B and C trails. It is indeed locally abundant.

*definitions from “Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Plants of Maryland” (August 2016), available as a .pdf at the Maryland DNR website