Confession; Summer Bounty

Eutrochium species (purple flowers) and Eupatorium species (buds on right), both on the canal’s edge where I can’t get close enough to determine which species

I hate to admit it, but I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately. I can’t seem to take pictures of anything worth posting and writing about. Possibly my head is still stuck in the Faroe Islands. My heart is, too.

Hibiscus laevis standing in the floodwaters

I’ve been out for a few short hikes this past week, though. Flooding on the Potomac has prevented me from checking the bedrock terraces, or from taking close-up pictures of halberd-leaved rose mallow (Hibiscus laevis), a perennial favorite that’s blooming now, but is also standing in water. Which won’t hurt it, by the way – that’s its habitat. Just makes it hard for me to shoot.

Swamp rosemallow (Malvaceae)

Also blooming, and a little harder to find in the Potomac Gorge, is crimson-eyed rosemallow, aka swamp rosemallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). I’ve seen the plants on that terrace and am itching to get back there. This photo was taken at lock 8 on the C&O Canal. The whole embankment where it’s growing has been slashed back, maybe in an attempt to take care of the invasive aliens, but sadly they destroyed some nice natives in the process, including a stand of wingstem that I liked to shoot every year because of easy access. But at least the rosemallow survived.

Wild potato vine (Convolvulaceae); similar flower to the rosemallow at first glance, but entirely different family

Elsewhere on the Potomac’s banks and nearby, I’ve seen:

Heteranthera dubia growing in a rain- and flood-fed pool on a bedrock terrace

Virginia water horehound (Lycopus virginicus)
white vervain (Verbena urticifolia)
goldenrods (Solidago species)
Carolina horsenettle (Solanum carolinense)
hairy wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis)
winged sumac (Rhus copallinum)
fogfruit (Phyla lanceolata)
sweet joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum var. purpureum)
thin leaved-sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus)
various St. Johnsworts (Hypericum species)
wild potato vine (Ipomoea pandurata)
water willow (Justicia americana)

Lindernia dubia, a mudflat ephemeral

grassleaf mudplantain (Heteranthera dubia)
winged monkeyflower (Mimulus alatus)
Allegheny monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens)
false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia)
large-flowered leafcup (Smallanthus [really] uvedalia)
trumpetcreeper (Campsis radicans)
swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Virginia dayflower (Commelina virginica).

Helianthus decapetalus

Not bad for the height of summer! More on that last plant soon.

Føroysk Flora Woes; Potomac Gorge Update

Yes, I’m a book nerd: I bought reference books in a language I don’t read.

You would not believe how much time I’ve spent trying to identify the flowers I found on my trip. In most cases genus is easily determined, but getting the species requires, well, specifics, many of which can be found in the three sources pictured here.

Of course, I don’t read Faroese.

puffin (Fratercula arctica) playing peekaboo on Mykines Island

I assumed I’d be able to use google translate to look for cognates in other Nordic languages, but that hasn’t worked so well. There are a few on-line translation services, but Faroese appears to have many noun cases, and I keep running across what I assume are declined nouns and conjugated verbs. And of course there’s botanical jargon.

Hopefully now that I’m back I can use my English-language book of Icelandic flowers to solve some mysteries. We’ll see. Expect scattered posts about the Faroe Islands in the coming months.

buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) playing peekaboo yesterday morning

In the meantime I’ve gotten out to the Billy Goat C trail twice. I was afraid I’d missed a lot, but nope: lots of great flowers to see if you look in the right places. Now blooming in that area: nodding onion, swamp milkweed, buttonbush, swamp candles, fogfruit, monkeyflower, sea-oats, thin-leaved sunflower, grassleaf mudplantain, wild potato vine, common arrowhead, starry campion, horsenettle, American germander, culver’s root, jumpseed, various St. Johnsworts, St. Andrew’s cross, and water willow. Halberd-leaved rosemallow is budding up, and the joe-pye weeds are, too, and close to opening.

It’s good to be home.

This Just In – Blue Wild Indigo Now Blooming

I hope to post more pictures in a few days, when the iris series is done, but if I wait ’til then these plants will be done blooming, so go looking for them now. Baptisia australis (Fabaceae) is not often see in Maryland. It likes the bedrock terraces in the Potomac Gorge. Be careful of high, fast-moving water and poison ivy. There isn’t much else blooming now, so the color really stands out.

More pics soon.

Big Blue

big bluestem,
tall bluestem,
Andropogon gerardii


When you read the word “prairie”, what do you think of? Buffalo roaming the grasses of the Great Plains? Amber waves of grain?

Prairies are temperate grassland ecosystems, as are the pampas of South America and the steppes of Eurasia, and “prairie” is most often used to describe very large areas. But there are smaller prairies in different parts of the US, including riverside prairies and bedrock terrace prairies right here in the Potomac Gorge. And on some of those, one of the dominant forms of vegetation is big bluestem, also the dominant grass species of the tallgrass prairies of the midwest. It can be found in most of the rest of the US (except the far west) and Canada, as well.


Big bluestem is a clump forming grass, growing to six feet tall and taller when in flower. Given the right conditions (plenty of water) it can also be a sod-forming grass, but you won’t find that in the Gorge. It has blue-ish stems that turn red in autumn. Dainty yellow flowers appear in August and persist through the winter.

Big bluestem is considered weedy by some authorities, but the terrain and hydrology of the bedrock terraces in the gorge limit its growth there. Look for isolated clumps in areas of full sun well above mean water level.


Venus’ Looking Glass


Triodanis perfoliata

This beautiful little flower belongs to an annual plant that’s found all over the continental US (except Nevada), and parts of Mexico and Canada, and is considered weedy.

The plant consists of a single stem about 12 inches tall, sometimes taller, usually a little shorter, whose leaves clasp most of the way around, so that the stem appears to be piercing them. The flowers are found in the leaf axils. Only the upper ones open; the lower ones are self-pollinating.


I find it in the Potomac Gorge in dry, rocky areas, most often growing right up against a big rock.

The genus Triodanis has only five species. Of these, two are found only in Texas, and two others are found through parts on the Midwest.

Triodanis means three toothed, and may refer to either the three-lobed calyces on the lower stem flowers*, or the fact that the seed capsules open into three parts**.


*The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
** Illinois Wildflowers website

Persistence Pays Off, Part Two



Mud, rock, and poison ivy.

That’s what I stepped into and on and over and around one recent morning, down by the Potomac, while trying to photograph wild blue indigo (Baptisia australis, Fabaceae).


As I wrote around this time last year, I saw flower buds in this stand of plants in 2014, but then there was a bit of a flood and the plants were wiped out. Then, in 2015, I totally missed seeing the flowers, though I did see the seedpods.


I wasn’t going to miss it three years in a row. Despite an extraordinarily rainy May I’ve trudged out to this area about once a week, then every day or two as I saw the buds developing. The river is running really high, lapping at the rocks where the plants are growing, but it hasn’t covered them yet, though as it turns out the bedrock terraces of the Potomac gorge are exactly the habitat this species loves, so the occasional flood doesn’t bother it at all.


Wild blue indigo is listed as S2/threatened in Maryland, so finding a big, healthy stand is kinda special. (It’s also threatened in Indiana and endangered in Ohio.) Mostly wild blue indigo grows in Oklahoma and Kansas, with a few occurrences in nearby parts of Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. According to BONAP’s North American Plant Atlas, it is present but rare in about a dozen states east of the Mississippi River.



Persistence Pays Off, Part One


puttyroot; Adam and Eve
Aplectrum hyemale

In May of 2014 I saw puttyroot for the first time, two plants and one spike of flowers. After that I saw the seedheads on the spike. Every time I was in the area I’d go by the patch, and (except in summer) I’d see the plants. But in 2015 for some reason they didn’t bloom. I learned later that this is often the case with some species of orchid: if conditions aren’t just right, they won’t bloom.

A puttyroot plant has a single ground-level leaf that comes up in autumn, persists through the winter, and dies back before the plant sends up the flower spike in late spring.


A few weeks ago I saw a new spike coming up. I went back again and again, despite the miserable rainy weather we’ve been having, until finally I saw the flowers.


Puttyroot ranges from Quebec south to North Carolina, with scattered occurrences a little further south than that, and west as far as Oklahoma, Kansas, and Minnesota. It’s endangered in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, threatened in Vermont, rare in Pennsylvania, and special concern in Connecticut. In the Maryland Piedmont I’ve seen the plants in the Potomac gorge, Patapsco Valley State Park, and on Sugarloaf Mountain.