When One Color Isn’t Enough (part 2)

Thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit and solid rain makes for a dreary day outside, but it’s hygge in my parlor, with a fire in the wood stove and chili on the kitchen stove, and lots of wildflower pictures on my computer. Here are some of the summer-blooming ones.

Phryma leptostachya (lopseed; Phrymaceae)

This is a very small flower – you need good eyesight or a hand lens to make out the colored structures on the upper petal – but the plants are fairly large, about two feel tall with large leaves and a long terminal flower spike (sometimes there are a few axillary spikes as well). The flowers open for a short period of time in mid July.

Polygala sanguinea (field milkwort, purple milkwort; Polygalaceae)

Most of the Maryland Biodiversity Project records for this annual species are in the piedmont and northern coastal plain. The plants seem to like dry, sunny conditions, and bloom in mid summer.

Justicia americana (water-willow; Acanthaceae)

This aquatic plant grows in large masses in shallow waters. When the river level drops in mid summer you can get close enough to see the flowers in detail. Individual flowers last only a few days, but overall a colony will flower for several months.

Lindernia dubia (false pimpernel; Linderniaceae, formerly Scrophulariaceae)

A tiny little flower on low-growing, weedy-looking plants that are mudflat ephemerals, emerging from river banks when the water level gets low at the height of summer. You have to be a real botanerd to appreciate these.

 

Liparis liliifolia (purple twayblade; Orchidaceae)
<—cleeck-ay moi!

Ah, orchids. Infinitely fascinating. This one blooms in late spring, in undisturbed forest areas. It’s listed S2S3 (state rare) in Maryland. If you find a stand be sure to report it to the Maryland Biodiversity Project!

Phyla lanceolata (fogfruit; Verbenaceae)

This sprawling perennial forms large stands in the very wet soils next to streams and ponds. As with everything else on this page, you have to get up-close to really see and appreciate how complex the colors are. Colonies will have a few flowers (or a lot of flowers) open for most of early to mid summer.

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (narrow-leaved mountain mint; Lamiaceae)

The one area where I find these tall, slender plants growing is rocky and sunny and close to the Potomac, so it seems that there is always a tiny breeze moving the plants around. One year the stand was mowed down, presumably by people clearing the trail. Another year it was flooded out. One of these years I will finally get a crystal-clear closeup of the tiny flowers.

Purpurea -> Rosea

More colorful pictures to take our minds away from winter browns and grays.

Lespedeza repens (creeping lespedeza; Fabaceae)

Watch for this low-growing vine-like forb in open rocky areas of woodlands; it blooms in mid summer.

 

 

Allium cernuum (nodding onion; Amaryllidaceae)

I find this native onion blooming in early to mid summer. It grows on rocky outcrops near rivers.

 

Polygala polygama (racemed milkwort; Polygalaceae)

This beauty may have been my find of the year: it’s S1/threatened, and even though it ended up that this population was known to the Maryland DNR, it wasn’t known to me! All I can say is keep your eyes open, because the most wonderful things can be found in unexpected places.

Geranium maculatum (wild geranium; Geraniaceae)

Look for this blooming in moist, rich woodlands in early to mid spring.

 

 

Geranium caroliniana (Carolina cranesbill; Geraniaceae)

The first time I saw this I thought it was a “weed”, since it was growing out of cracks in concrete curbing in a parking lot. Unexpected places. It’s charming when viewed up close. Or maybe I just love them all.

Geranium robertianum (herb-robert; Geraniaceae)

This species is S1 in Maryland, with only a few records of it in scattered locations. I’ve never seen it here; this one was in upstate New York.

 

Oxalis violacea (violet wood-sorrel; Oxalidaceae)

All the Maryland Oxalis species are yellow flowering, except for this one. Although not rare, I don’t see it very often; I believe it may have specific cultural requirements. Look for it in dry woodlands, blooming in early to mid spring.

Taking Flight

“Wings,” I thought, zooming in on a not-too-clear picture of tiny purple flowers. Those little flowers look like birds about to take off. Could this plant be in the pea family (Fabaceae)?

 

 

It does look a little like redbud (Cercis canadensis).
<—

 

 

 

Or naked-flower tick-trefoil (Hylodesmum nudiflorum).
—>

 

 

 

But just a little. And the leaves are all wrong for something fabaceous. Orchid? The flower is a little orchid-like, but the plant just doesn’t look orchidy.

 

 

So for the first time in many months I opened Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and used the keys to identify it. And then I went back to the site to get better pictures.

 

 

It’s Polygala polygama, commonly known as racemed milkwort, bitter milkwort, and purple milkwort.

 

 

 

Petaloid sepals, often called wings, are characteristic of flowers in the Polygalaceae. Typically the flowers have three petals and five sepals. The petals are fused, and the lower one is called the keel (as it is in fabaceous flowers), and it’s frequently fringed or lobed. Three of the five sepals look more or less like typical sepals, while two lateral ones are more petal-shaped and colored.

index finger for size

Racemed milkwort is a short biennial forb that likes full sun and sandy soils. The flowers are no more than a quarter inch across. It’s native to eastern North America, where it grows in scattered populations in the South and Mid-Atlantic; it’s more common in the upper Midwest and New England. The Maryland Biodiversity Project has records for it in Allegany, Washington, Montgomery, Prince Georges, and Charles counties. The Maryland DNR lists it as S1 (highly state rare) and threatened. It’s also threatened in Kentucky and Ohio, and endangered in Iowa and Pennsylvania.

This species is one of eleven milkworts found in Maryland. All are native, and most are found only in the coastal plain.

Got Milkwort?

And now back to my finds in Serpentine Barrens Conservation Park.

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purple milkwort, field milkwort
Polygala sanguinea
Polygalaceae

This intriguing small annual grows in moist to dry soils in sunny or partly shady sites. It’s often unbranched, with slender leaves and a tight raceme of flowers that is so dense it appears at first to be a single flower.

In Maryland purple milkwort is found in parts of the Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Appalachian Plateau. It’s also fairly widespread in eastern North America, occurring in Quebec and Ontario, New England, the mid-Atlantic, the midwest, some parts of the deep South, and into the eastern parts of the Great Plains. There are no conservation issues.

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There are about three dozen species of Polygala in various parts of the US, most with rather limited ranges.  P. sanguinea is one of the most widespread. Thirteen of these species are in Maryland, most of them in the coastal plain.

The genus name Polygala is from two Greek words meaning “many” and “milk” – there was a belief that cows grazing on pasture with Polygala species would produce more milk. Probably that’s the reason for the common name “milkwort”, too. (“Wort” is a Middle English word meaning “plant”.) The specific epithet sanguinea is a reference to blood, but I’m not sure why; possibly because of the color of the flowers?

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