Found Again!

It was raining, and the forecast said rain all week, but then there was a window of a few hours between downpours. Thinking about the plants that might be Scutellaria nervosa, I decided to take the camera on a quick hike to the site and check. I was sure they wouldn’t be flowering yet, since a week before they had just the tiniest little buds on them.

I was wrong: they were already flowering. But, I was right: they are S. nervosa!

Veiny skullcap is one of ten Scutellaria species found in Maryland. All are native, and half of them are on the RTE list (veiny is ranked S1S2). The species is globally secure; the only other jurisdiction listing it is Michigan, where it’s threatened. Its native range is more or less the Ohio River basin and somewhat east of that into the mid-Atlantic states.

This is a slender forb growing to about a foot tall, with a single stem. The lower stem leaves are ovate and dentate, and may have short petioles, while the upper leaves are elliptical, less dentate or almost entire, and sessile. The upper leaf surfaces are lightly covered in hairs, and the margins are more densely hairy.

The light blue, pendant flowers are borne in pairs in the upper leaf axils. They aren’t very showy, and sometimes they hide under the leaves, so they’re easy to miss.

If you find veiny skullcap in Maryland please post in the comments section! We have very few records for this species.

Found Again?

I took this picture four years ago when still fairly new to photography, learning to use a new lens (105mm macro) and not sure what I was doing. Lying on my belly to get some close-up shots of miniscule blossoms on other plants, I happened to see these little pendant blue flowers and shot them, too. I had no idea what the plants were.

Later at home I keyed them out to veiny skullcap (Scutellaria nervosa). And then I learned that the species was listed S1 and endangered in Maryland!

Currently it’s listed S1/S2 endangered, with a status change to threatened pending. According to the Maryland DNR,

S1: Critically Imperiled/Highly State Rare—At very high risk of extinction or extirpation due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, very severe threats, or other factors. Typically occurring in five or fewer populations.

S2: Imperiled/State Rare—At high risk of extinction or extirpation due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors. Typically occurring in 6-20 populations.

Endangered: A species whose continued existence as a viable component of Maryland’s flora is determined to be in jeopardy.

I went back as soon as I could to get better pictures, but couldn’t find the plants, despite knowing exactly where to look (geotagged with iPhone). And I’ve hunted for them every year since, but have never found them.

Until a few days ago.

I won’t be positive until they bloom, but the appearance of the leaves and stem, coupled with flower bud location (in the upper leaf axils), leaves little doubt.

Fingers crossed.

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.

Blue Helmets

With a few notable exceptions (like prickly pear and the S1 plant I keep mentioning), there isn’t much blooming now in the Potomac Gorge. In the past week I’ve see a few long-leaved summer bluets and Venus’ pride, various Erigerons, and this: hairy skullcap (Scutellaria elliptica, Lamiaceae).

It’s one of nine species of skullcaps known in the Maryland piedmont, and the only one I see regularly. Look for it in dry, rocky woodland areas. This one was right along the towpath, and it may be the most perfectly-formed inflorescence I’ve ever seen on this species.

 

Flower of the Day: Hairy Skullcap

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Scutellaria elliptica
Lamiaceae

 

 

 

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Don’t you just love common names sometimes?

 

 

This woodland forb is one of only a few plants blooming now in the Gorge.  It ranges from New York and Michigan south to Florida and Texas.  There are more than 40 other native species of Scutellaria scattered throughout the US, ten of which can be found in Maryland.  With the exception of veiny skullcap last year (but not this year), I’ve never seen any of the others.  In the Gorge you’ll find hairy skullcap in the drier soils and rocky areas well above river level, especially in the vicinity of Carderock and the Marsden Tract.

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I’ve never come across it in the nursery trade and wonder why.  Although somewhat short at 2 1/2 feet tall, it would make a lovely addition to a partly shady perennial border, for the inflorescence is quite showy and lasts several weeks.  It is an inconspicuous plant without the flowers, though.  Maybe that’s why.