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

Please Rain; More Spring Ephemerals

River levels have been pretty high, and the vernal ponds are more full than I’ve seen them in several years, but I suspect the groundwater level is still pretty low. We need rain.

Or it may be that I need rain. With this compressed season, I’ve been out almost every day shooting, which means I have a backlog of several hundred photos to process and many ideas for blog posts to write. But those things won’t happen until the weather forces me to stay inside.

Micranthes virginiana (early saxifrage)

The initial tide of spring ephemerals is ebbing: while early saxifrage, golden ragwort, and toadshade are near their peak, Virginia bluebells, toothworts, Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn are all past theirs, and it looks like bloodroot, trout lily, and harbinger of spring are done. Round-lobe hepatica seems to be done near the Potomac, but is still going strong up at Rachel Carson Conservation Park.

Obolaria virginica (pennywort)

And speaking of RCCP, pennywort is blooming there now, and the pinxter azaleas are well in bud.

 

 

The second wave of spring flowers is well under way in the greater Carderock area.

Houstonia caerulea (azure bluets)

Recently I’ve spotted blue, yellow, and white violet species, sessile bellwort, yellow corydalis, azure bluets, and wild pinks.

 

 

Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox)

 

 

Wild blue phlox is close to peak, and so is rue anemone.

 

 

 

 

Geranium maculatum (wild geranium)

Dwarf cinquefoil, plantain-leaved pussytoes, wild geranium, and jack-in-the-pulpit are blooming.

 

 

 

 

Cercis canadensis (redbud)

Trees are blooming, too. Redbud flowers are open, pawpaw buds are swelling.

 

 

Dogwood is just getting started.

 

Cornus florida (flowering dogwood)

Other species to watch for: early meadow rue, star chickweed, lyre-leaved rockcress, smooth rockcress…

 

 

 

…and always spring beauties.

Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) growing in an exposed tree root

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 linariifolia (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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