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 linariifolius (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.

Don’t Forget About the Grasses

Grasses are flowering plants, after all, so why not consider them wildflowers? This is the inflorescence of Elymus hystrix, which translates roughly to “covered porcupine”. The common name is eastern bottlebrush grass. It ranges from the eastern Great Plains and northern parts of the South through the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, New England, and into Canada. Look for it in woodlands and woodland edges: unlike many grasses bottlebrush likes some shade.

 

 

And with that, I’m off for two weeks, heading for a high latitude destination. If I find wildflowers I’ll post some pictures. Landscapes, too.  In the meantime, here’s a shot of my beloved Potomac River near Glen Echo, taken a few days ago in the early morning.

 

 

This is How it Should Be

I took this shot late Monday morning, on one of the many seasonal islets in the Potomac – the small spits of land that are islands when the river is running high, but connected to the mainland via channels when the river is low.

Isn’t it glorious? The entire forest floor was carpeted in Virginia bluebells, as well as significant quantities of wild blue phlox and some golden ragwort. I didn’t look hard, but there were no alien species visible.

I bet a Weed Warrior is maintaining it.

In other news, the season is moving along. Dutchman’s breeches and cut-leaved toothwort are pretty much done, and so are the trout lilies. Spicebush is leafing out. Look up and you can see bladdernut and pawpaw blooming. Look way down and you can see wild ginger. There’s also sessile bellwort, golden Alexanders, short-spurred corydalis, and Coville’s phacelia.

Three Views

And here’s the final view for 2015, after a few days of rain. Don’t forget to visit the Three Views page to see how things change month-by-month.

December 4
41 degrees F at 9:40 am; sunny 

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9: 54 am EDT  31mm  f/8.0  1/250sec  ISO 100

Billy Goat B trail, east end, looking southeast across a narrow channel toward Vaso Island


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11:11 am EDT  30mm  f/10  1/100sec  ISO 100

Billy Goat B, mid-way between trailheads, looking upstream (more or less northwest) with Hermit Island on the left.


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11:45 am EDT  28mm  f/8.0  1/640sec  ISO 100

boat launch ramp near Old Angers Inn, looking downstream and more or less south

Farewell for Now

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The weather’s getting colder [actually not, we’re having an unusual warm spell], the leaves are off the trees, the perennial wildflowers are dormant: the season is done. And so is this blog, for a little while. I’ll make an occasional post if I find something interesting or lovely while out and about, things like plants going to seed or nice landscapes. I’ll post the Three Views shots in early December. And probably some time in early March I’ll be out again looking for harbinger-of-spring to emerge, and the blog will re-emerge, too. Farewell for now!

 

above: bumblebee departing riverbank goldenrod

below: sunset on the Potomac near C&O Canal Lock 8, October 20

bottom: harbinger-of-spring last March

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Three Views

Less than a month ago, leaves were still green.  Now half of them have fallen. Recent heavy rain for a day throughout the Potomac River basin has left the river high, brown, and moving fast. Don’t forget to visit the Three Views page to see how things change month-by-month.

By the way the yellow leaves in the foreground of the first picture belong to spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

October 30
60 F at 11:36 am; mostly sunny and breezy

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11:47 am EDT  24mm  f/9.0  1/800sec  ISO 200

Billy Goat B trail, east end, looking southeast across a narrow channel toward Vaso Island


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12:02 pm EDT  27mm  f/9.0  1/640sec  ISO 200

Billy Goat B, mid-way between trailheads, looking upstream (more or less northwest) with Hermit Island on the left.


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12:35 pm EDT  24mm  f/8.0  1/1000sec  ISO 200

boat launch ramp near Old Angers Inn, looking downstream and more or less south

Three Views

Finally, we got some rain!  Though mostly not from Hurricane Joaquin, which turned east before getting as far north as the Potomac.  Regardless, the rain was quite welcome; the river is running high, brown, and fast. The asters and goldenrods are perking up, too.

Don’t forget to go to the Three Views page to see the same views in from earlier this year.  The change in river level from early September is dramatic.

October 5, 2015 
54 F at 9:17 am; partly cloudy

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9:28 am EDT  24mm  f/9.0  1/160sec  ISO 200

Billy Goat B trail, east end, looking southeast across a narrow channel toward Vaso Island


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9:39 am EDT  30mm  f/9.0  1/160 sec  ISO 200

Billy Goat B, mid-way between trailheads, looking upstream (more or less northwest) with Hermit Island on the left.


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10:12 am EDT  30mm  f/9.0  1/500 sec  ISO 200

boat launch ramp near Old Angers Inn, looking downstream and more or less south