Continuing with pretty pictures during this cold season. It’s a thin line between blue and purple. Color is a continuum. Color is in the eye of the beholder. If some of these look more blue or pink than purple, well, c’est la vie.

Triodanis perfoliata (Venus’ looking glass; Campanulaceae)

Look for this annual forb growing in rocky places where there isn’t much competition from other plants. It generally blooms from about mid May into early June here in the Maryland piedmont.

Clinopodium vulgare (wild basil; Lamiaceae)

A perennial forb with circumboreal distribution. Look for the flowers in the height of summer.



Cunila origanoides (common dittany; Lamiaceae)

A perennial native to North America, and found mostly in the mid West and mid Atlantic. It blooms in late summer.


Elephantopus caroliniana (Carolina elephant’s foot; Asteraceae)

A rather weedy-looking plant with a fascinating inflorescence. Click on the picture and look closely; you’ll see that this is actually four disk flowers, each with a five-lobed corolla. The species is native to the southeastern US (Maryland is almost as far north as it goes). It blooms in late summer.


Eutrochium purpureum (sweet joe-pye weed; Asteraceae).

The joe-pye weeds (formerly Eupatorium species) are perennials that love wet places, but this particular species tolerates drier soils and is a great native for the home garden, with dramatic heads of colorful flowers towering above most other forbs. And it attracts butterflies. Blooms in late summer.

Mentha arvensis (field mint; Lamiaceae)

Another mint-family plant with circumboreal distribution. Another late-summer bloomer.



Mimulus alatus (winged monkeyflower; Phrymaceae)

Watch for this wetland plant and its almost identical cousin M. ringens var. ringens (Allegheny monkeyflower) blooming in early to mid summer.


Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot; Lamiaceae)

The mint family sure is represented well here. Look for it in mid summer, possibly covered in bees and butterflies.


Phlox divaricata (woodland phlox, wild blue phlox; Polemoniaceae)

As you can see this flower ranges from almost white through lighter and stronger shades of blue and purple. They bloom at about the same time as Virginia bluebells. Bluebells grow in the floodplain while this phlox grows just upland of the floodplain, in still moist (but not wet) woodland soils.

Physostegia virginiana (obedient plant; Lamiaceae)

Yet another mint family mid summer bloomer. Watch for it on rocky outcrops and gravel bars in the Potomac.





Ruellia caroliniensis (hairy wild petunia; Acanthaceae)

In Maryland this species is found mostly in the Coastal Plain; in the piedmont it’s restricted to a few sites near the Potomac River (as far as I know – please leave a comment if you know otherwise). Watch for it in late spring and early summer.

Trichostema dichotomum (forked bluecurls; Lamiaceae)

Blue or purple, or splitting the difference? Whatever. This is a most striking plant, one of those OMG finds. Well it was for me, anyway. What a lurid color. Late summer, dry soils, open areas. Yow.

Verbena hastata (blue vervain, swamp verbena, Verbenaceae)

As one of the common names suggests, you’ll find this in wetlands, blooming anywhere from late June to mid August. This is an extreme closeup; the plants are rather tall but the inflorescences rather small.



Vernonia noveboracensis (New York ironweed; Asteraceae)

All ray flowers with strongly exserted stigmas, no disk flowers. Very tall plant, wispy appearance. Likes wet soils. Blooms in mid to late summer.


Viola palmata (early blue violet, three-loved violet; Violaceae)

Violet taxonomy is in flux, and violet species can be difficult to differentiate. This one is relatively easy because of the unusual leaf shape, although even that can be highly variable. Look for it in mid spring in drier woodlands.

Evening Dowagers

Hesperis matronalis, right there on the trail

On the Billy Goat B Trail near the Marsden Tract, about ten days ago, there was a great stand of tall plants blooming in various shades of purple. In past years other hikers have asked me if I knew what the plants are. They’re so beautiful and eye-catching!

four-petaled flowers of Hesperis matronalis



And, guess what? As is too often the case with showy flowers, this species is an alien invasive. Its common name is dame’s rocket; the botanical name is Hesperis matronalis. The four-petaled flowers are typical of plants in the mustard family (Brassicaceae).

Phlox divaricata


Beginning wildflower enthusiasts sometimes mistake dame’s rocket for our native wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata), which has flowers in a similar range of colors. However, wild blue phlox is usually done blooming by the time dame’s rocket is starting.

alternate leaves with serrated margins on Hesperis matronalis



Also, the phlox is a shorter plant and has opposite leaves with entire margins, whereas dame’s rocket has alternate leaves with serrated margins.

range of colors in a stand of Hesperis matronalis




Dame’s rocket ranges through almost all of Canada and the US, except for the southernmost tier of states. It’s listed in Colorado as a noxious weed; is invasive, banned in Connecticut; and is prohibited in Massachusetts. The Missouri Botanical Garden website says, in bold red letters:

This plant is listed as an exotic invasive species to Missouri and the Midwest by the Midwest Invasive Plant Network. The species should not be planted in the Midwest.

It shouldn’t be planted in Maryland, either. It self-seeds like crazy. Come to think of it, wild blue phlox would make a wonderful substitute in the home garden. Unless you have rabbits. The rabbits destroyed mine within two days of planting last spring.

a single Hesperis matronalis on the other side of the trail

The generic name Hesperis is from the Greek word for evening, in reference to the pleasant fragrance the plants give at dusk.


Garden Phlox, with Very Special Guest: A Bee Mimic!


Phlox paniculata
aka fall phlox, perennial phlox


Remember the post about bees and bee mimics?  Last weekend I went on a group hike to Snyder’s Landing, on the Potomac River near Sharpsburg, MD.  We were hunting for ferns, but that didn’t keep me from photographing flowers and insects.

Not much is blooming at this time of year.  We saw some basil balm, some pale touch-me-not, and a small stand of garden phlox.


Garden phlox is native to the eastern US (and parts of the West), but is the foundation species for hundreds of cultivars.  The one pictured may be the species, or it may be a cultivar escaped from cultivation – I have no way to tell.


<—- But then, this happened.

Yes, that’s a bee mimic – in the order Diptera (flies).  Only two wings and very stubby antennae.  I believe it’s a hoverfly, family Syrphidae, though of course I could be wrong.  At any rate, I was tickled to have finally seen a bee mimic!

Variations on a Theme: Phloxes



wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata)





moss phlox (Phlox subulata)




There are 71 native species of phlox across the US and Canada.  Ten of them can be found in Maryland.  These two are the ones I see most frequently in the Potomac Gorge, though I’m always on the lookout for others.



Wild blue phlox stands one to two feet tall, and likes the moist soils near the river.  It’s often found growing near Virginia bluebells, though it seems to grow in the more uphill, drier areas as well.



Moss phlox stands only a few inches tall, and can mostly be found growing out of crevices and cascading over rocks.




As you can see, the flowers are almost identical in shape, but different colors.  Moss phlox is more often pink, according to the books, but almost all the specimens I’ve found in the gorge are white.