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.

The Spring Ephemerals, part 4: Trout Lilies and Toadshade

I love all the spring ephemerals; can’t say which are my favorites. But trout lilies are way up there.

Of the twenty some species of Erythronium, two are found in Maryland (maybe three depending on which authority you consult): E. americanum (yellow trout lily) and E. albidum (white trout lily). The latter is listed S2/threatened by the Maryland DNR. I figured I’d miss seeing both this year, but a little luck and persistence led me to a single white one blooming, and in the process I found a hillside covered in yellow ones (I stopped counting at 35). Here are a few pictures.

I know of two spots where white trout lilies grow. I spent more than an hour searching one of those areas after someone posted a picture of a white trout lily blooming. Couldn’t find it. Hiked to another area, shot the yellow trout lilies, then decided to go back for one more look. Pulled out my phone and searched for the picture, and sure enough, there were enough clues in it that I was able to narrow my search to a small area. Et voila! The one shown here in bud was from the other location, the day before.

Toadshade is a species of trillium, T. sessile (Melanthiaceae). The three maroon petals stay closed; the plants shown here are in full bloom.  

The Spring Ephemerals, part 3

Well, I’ve made the decision: no wildflower hunting for the foreseeable future. You can imagine how sad this makes me. But people just aren’t being careful about social distancing, and there isn’t enough open space for everyone who insists on going out.

In the meantime, I’ll follow the season by posting old pictures.

If I were being strictly chronological, harbinger-of spring (Erigenia bulbosa; Apiaceae) would have been the first plant in this series of posts.  It’s almost certainly done blooming by now.

These little plants bedevil me: they grow only a few inches tall, the individual flowers are tiny (notice the oak leaf in the picture below), and they’re so dainty that they’re always in motion, so they’re tricky to photograph. I do love trying, though.

 

 

Another one that’s never still is lyre-leaved rockcress (Arabidopsis lyrata; Brassicaceae). Growing right out of small depressions in rocks, these plants stand just a few inches taller than harbinger of spring. Look how slender those stems are compared to the pine needles lying nearby. I’ve seen stands of these blooming as late in the season as early June.

Here’s another diminutive plant that grows in moist, rocky areas: early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis, formerly Saxifraga virginiensis; Saxifragaceae). Its blooming period can start as early as late March and last through early May.

The Spring Ephemerals, part 1

The spring ephemerals are such a delight after a long winter. And even though it was an unusually warm winter, it seemed long to those of us who love botanizing.

The short blooming period of the spring ephemerals makes them even more special. These  are the forbs that emerge from the ground, grow a few leaves, flower, maybe grow a little more, and then die back to the ground by the time the trees under which they grow leaf out.

To be honest, after a few years writing this blog I’ve run out of things to say about most of these plants, but I still love finding and photographing them. Here’s a look at what was going on in the Potomac Gorge last week, with links to more detailed posts I’ve written in previous seasons.

One of the first to appear is harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa; Apiaceae). This year I first saw it on March 18, but they sometimes start to flower as early as late February, and may continue through mid April.

 

 

These plants are so small that they’re easy to miss, except when there’s a large stand; then it looks like a light cover of snow on the ground.

 

 

 

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica; Montiaceae) also carpet forest floors early in the season. They are much larger than harbinger-of-spring but still petite, standing only an inch or two tall. They seem to thrive in moist but not wet soils; I seldom see them adjacent to Virginia bluebells, for example, but they’ll be nearby, just upslope, often in rock crevices.

Spring beauty’s native range runs from the eastern great plains through the midwest, mid-Atlantic, the upper South and lower New England.

 

 

Cut-leaved toothwort (Cardamine concatenata; Brassicaceae) starts blooming soon after spring beauty, and stands a few inches taller. It’s found in much the same habitat but in my observations likes soils a little drier; I’ve never seen it encroaching on a floodplain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its close cousins slender toothwort (C. angustata) [left] and spring cress (C. bulbosa) [below] start blooming roughly two weeks later. Read more about the various toothwort species in this post.  Look for slender toothwort in drier, rocky areas, and spring cress in very wet areas (vernal pools, for example).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming up, more spring ephemerals, and some flowering shrubs.

What’s Up? White Flowers

White flowers recently seen in the greater Carderock area.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica; Boraginaceae) are of course normally blue, but every once in awhile you’ll see a stand of white ones. Look for them in floodplains and adjacent moist slopes.

 

 

Look for twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla; Berberidaceae) on rocky slopes along Billy Goat B; it will likely be done blooming by tomorrow.

 

 

Moss phlox (Phlox subulata; Polemoniaceae) should be blooming for at least another month. As you can see from the photo, it doesn’t need much soil. Look for in on large rock formations along the Potomac River.

 

 

Lyre-leaved rockcress (Arabidopsis lyrata; Brassicaceae) is another rock-loving species. They’re so wispy they can be hard to see, but should be blooming for at least another month.

 

 

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis; Papaveraceae) is almost done blooming. You can find it in rich woodlands, usually in colonies.

 

 

 

Early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis; Saxifragaceae) grows in thin soils in rocky woodlands. It’s one of the earliest bloomers but lasts for a fairly long time.

 

 

Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides; Ranunculaceae) is just starting to bloom. It’s common in the Maryland piedmont but for some reason there isn’t much of it in the Potomac gorge. Look for it in the very open wooded areas near the Marsden Tract. It should bloom for another month.

Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and the closely-related squirrel corn (D. canadensis; Papaveraceae) are both blooming in moist woodlands. In past years I’ve observed that the latter starts blooming a week or so after the former, so if you want to see both, go hunting soon. Neither lasts for long.

Bouncing Back

large-flowered leafcup

Interrupting my series on astery things and butterflies for a quick update on the Potomac Gorge, where I went this past Tuesday. After all the flooding, many plants are coming back. They aren’t as tall as they normally would be at this time of year, and some of them are just starting to bloom or bud up, a month or two late.

On the riverbanks, large-flowered leafcup (Smallanthus uvedalia) and cut-leaved coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) are blooming. A few New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) are also growing, looking short but with lots of buds.

cut-leaved coneflower

Right by the water’s edge, a few halberd-leaved rosemallow (Hibiscus laevis) are up, at about one-third of their mature height. I found one just starting to form buds; in other years, these plants started blooming in mid July.

buttonbush

In one place I saw an exceptionally short and shrubby-looking buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) with a few flower heads just formed, one with buds that will open any day now. In this area they usually start blooming in late June or early July.

woodland sunflower

Inland where there wasn’t any flooding, some of the typical mid-to-late summer bloomers are starting: two species of thoroughworts (Eupatorium) and goldenrods (Solidago) with buds just about to burst.

Starry campion (Silene stellata) and woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) are in full bloom. There were just a few blooms left on a stand of St. Andrew’s cross (Hypericum hypericoides).

cranefly orchid

And much to my delight, cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) is out.

Devastated

the hotspot, 30 July 2015

“Please rain,” I wrote earlier this year. We got rain, alright. This past May was one of the wettest on record. The Capital Weather Gang reported more than 10 inches of rain in a 23 day period. There was a lot of flooding in the Potomac basin.

Not that I was around to witness it; I was traveling. But the clues are still there: deposits of debris, dried mud on the upslope side of the Billy Goat C trail, muddy tree leaves six feet off the ground, that sort of thing. I saw them this morning when I went out to have a look at my favorite bedrock terrace, which I call the hotspot.

the hotspot pond, 10 June 2015; note how lush, with arrowhead in the water

My usual path to it, across a narrow channel, was still underwater, so I went to another low spot and was able to get across via an islet.

The islet was almost empty: only a few plants, maybe a foot tall coming up through the freshly deposited dirt, no more than one plant per square meter. Big piles of woody material, downed trees, shrubs, and vines on the upstream side of boulders and large trees. Lumber. Plastic and glass bottles. A child’s flip-flop shoe.

jimsonweed on the islet, 10 July 2014

I’ve never gone through that area because by this time of year, it’s waist-high or taller in jimson weed.

the hotspot, 30 June 2016, with a bit of the pond in the foreground

The hotspot was almost empty, too. A few nodding onion on the higher rocks. Racemose goldenrod starting to grow. One small clump of big bluestem grass blooming. Remnants of trumpet creeper and poison ivy. A few scraggly shrubs that might be buttonbush. Very little else.

One of the delights of the hotspot is a pond that’s tucked into the rocks, well above the river. The pond supports aquatic plants, and wetland obligates grow next to it. This year, that little pond held more water than I’ve ever seen in it, but nothing green. The rocky edges were crusted in dried mud. No plants.

the hotspot, 18 July 2017; note how low the water in the pond is, but the area is still lush; zoom in to see flowers on buttonbush and milkweed

Last July in that area I saw flowers on buttonbush, wild potato vine, swamp milkweed, Carolina horsenettle, water willow, thin-leaved sunflower, swamp candles, common arrowhead, fogfruit, and nodding onion. Seedpods on wild blue indigo, and buds on Culver’s root. Halberd-leaved rose mallow taller than me and budding up. Same with joe-pye weed. And cardinal flower. And leafcup and cut-leaved coneflower. Honeyvine climbing over everything, not yet blooming. There was a middle-height forb I identified later as Ludwigia decurrens, the first report of this species in Montgomery County.

This year, on the riverbanks near the hotspot the rosemallows are starting to regrow. Leafcup, coneflower, and sunflower are as well, but they’re only about a foot tall. There’s some water willow in the river. I couldn’t find a trace of any of the other plants: no joe-pye weed or wild blue indigo or Culver’s root or cardinal flower. No honeyvine.

I’m devastated. I won’t get to see those nifty flowers this year.

the hotspot and pond, 3 July 2018

The hotspot, however, was not devastated. This sort of flooding is part of the natural rhythm of the Potomac; the river’s occasional scouring of the bedrock terraces is one of the factors that allows unusual plants, and unusual plant communities, to thrive there. I have no doubt that all the species I mentioned above will be back next year (unless it floods again), in all their glory. And maybe the river will have brought something new.

check the archives for July, 2017, for pictures of plants growing in the hotspot: Golden Glow, Bewitched by Buttonbush, Common Arrowhead, and Ribbet