Feeling Moody

I’ve had a lot of fun the last few weeks shooting with the 70-200mm lens and the 105mm macro. A lot of pictures failed (that first lens is a beast if I’m shooting handheld in low light or a breeze), but I enjoy playing with light and shadows and I think I got some decent shots.


wild pinks (Silene caroliniana ssp. pensylvanica)





wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata)





plantain-leaved pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia)





early meadow rue (Thalictrum dioicum), staminate flowers




smooth rockcress (Boechera laevigata, formerly Arabis laevigata)





early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis, formerly Saxifraga virginiensis)





azure bluets (Houstonia caerulea)





leatherwood (Dirca palustris)





lyre-leaved rockcress (Arabidopsis lyrata)



sessile bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia)


There are a lot of pink wildflowers in the Maryland Piedmont. As with blue and purple, “pink” can vary quite a bit, from almost white to practically red.

Claytonia virginica (spring beauty; Portulacaeae)

One of our earliest ephemerals, blooming as early as late February after a warm winter, and lasting into May. In woodland soils almost everywhere. Usually white with a pink tint.

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells; Boraginaceae)

Virginia bluebell buds start violet and turn pink before opening blue, except when the flowers are pure white or pure pink. I visit this stand every year just to make sure that the flowers really are all pink from start of bloom through senescence. They are.

Cercis canadensis (redbud; Fabaceae)

Around here, this understory tree usually blooms in April, when other trees are just starting to blush green. It’s a beautiful effect, though maybe not as stunning as…


Rhododendron periclymenoides (pinxter azalea; Ericaceae)

I don’t know that we have a more stunning native shrub than this. I’ve seen it in rocky, wet areas in Rachel Carson Conservation Park and Sugarloaf Mountain; it blooms in mid spring.

Silene caroliniana ssp. pensylvanica (wild pink; Caryophyllaceae)

Look for the flowers in early April to late May. These low-growing plants are often found in dry, rocky soils in open woodlands. There are several stands near Carderock.


Valeriana pauciflora (long-tube valerian, large-flower valerian; Valerianceae)

This delicate plant (S1/endangered) has an explosive inflorescence that usually opens in May. A great photo has always eluded me, despite hours and hours and hours of trying, because the plants bloom in the deep shade of dense woods. Shade is the bane of photographers. Maybe this year.

Hibiscus laevis (halberd-leaved rosemallow; Malvaceae)

Unlike the previous species, this one likes bright, sunny riverbanks. I love how it just glows in the light! Sometimes considered a forb and sometimes as a shrub, it’s a very tall plant with stems that get somewhat woody as the season progresses; but, like a forb, it dies back to the crown in autumn. Watch for it in early to mid summer. S3 in Maryland.

Hylodesmum nudiflorum (naked-flower tick trefoil; Fabaceae)

The tick trefoils can be tricky to identify, but this one stands out because the flowers are borne on leafless stems. The genus Desmodium was recently split, with some species placed in a new genus, Hylodesmum. According to the excellent gobotany site, species in the former as sun-loving, and species in the latter are shade-loving.

Desmodium paniculatum (panicled tick-trefoil; Fabaceae)

This one blooms in mid to late summer. It grows in moist to dry soils in sun to part shade, and does well in disturbed areas.

Lespedeza virginica (Fabaceae) Not seen as often as the alien invasive L. sericea, this species grows in dry areas, blooming in mid to late summer.

Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed; Apocynaceae)

If you want to spend hours being entertained by bees and butterflies, park yourself in front of a stand of milkweeds. I’ve seen them blooming in wet soils in sunny areas from late June to late August.

Persicaria amphibia (water smartweed; Polygonaceae)

Or, as I prefer to call it, DPP (damn pink persicaria). I’m fairly certain I’ve ID’d it correctly. Sometimes I’m not particularly attracted to a species until I sit and study it awhile and try to get good close-up pictures. So it was with this one. Click on the pic to see it larger. It’s pretty up close!

Sabatia angularis (rosepink; Gentianaceae)

I’ve only seen this plant once, in the shade of a small shrub even though it’s a sun-loving species. Watch for it in dry soils in open places. What a beautiful color.

Pinks and Blues

Up near the Carderock climbing wall there’s a little rocky meadow area that has a delightful variety of wildflowers, usually starting about mid April with wild pinks and azure bluets.

Although the colors range from white through pale pink to bright, dark pink, wild pink (Silene caroliniana ssp. pensylvanica, Caryophyllaceae) is not named for the color, but for the shape of the petals (as if they been cut with pinking shears). Another common name for it is sticky catchfly.

This is a clump-forming semi-evergreen perennial that only grows about a foot tall at the most. It prefers dry to moist well-drained soils in rocky areas, with a bit of shade. It makes a great addition to the rock garden if these conditions are met, but in my garden the rabbits keep sampling it, so I have to use repellent. I don’t think the little beasts favor it, but when competition for food is high, wild pinks are vulnerable.

This subspecies of S. caroliniana is found mostly in the mid-Atlantic states and southern New England, with a few pockets in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. In Maryland look for it in the ridge and valley, Blue Ridge, and piedmont physiographic provinces, and parts of the coastal plain.

There are two other subspecies of wild pink. S. caroliniana ssp. caroliniana occurs mostly in South Carolina and surrounding areas, while subspecies wherryi is more Midwestern. S. caroliniana (subspecies not specified) is endangered in Florida, threatened in Ohio and Tennessee, and exploitably vulnerable in New York

Azure bluets (Houstonia caerulea, Rubiaceae) is one of four bluet species found in the Maryland piedmont, and can be found in most of the rest of the state, too (it’s missing from a few coastal plain areas). It’s widespread from Maine to Alabama and a few parts of the midwest.

This is a very small plant, consisting of a basal rosette of leaves and a few threadlike stems only a few inches tall, with a flower atop each. The flowers are usually light blue with a yellow throat, though they can range from almost white to moderate lavender blue. Since there can be many stems per plant and it grows en masse, it can be quite eye-catching. Other common names include little bluet, innocence, and Quaker ladies.

I have to admit, this is one of my absolute favorites. I have spent literally hours photographing azure bluets, every spring for the last few years. I can’t get enough of them.

See in the top photo the third type of flower, somewhat taller than the others? More on that next time.

Back in the Gorge

Volunteer commitments and other activities have kept me away from my beloved Potomac gorge for an unprecedented two weeks, but I finally got a chance to go for a quick look around Carderock on Tuesday. I was hoping to find (among other things), starry campion, since I mentioned it in a post about pinks in Iceland a few weeks ago.

I knew exactly where to look, and sure enough, there it was.


Starry campion (Silene stellata, Caryophyllaceae), also known as starry catchfly, whorled catchfly, and widowsfrill, is one of four species of Silene found in the area. (Another is S. caroliniana.) It likes part shade in dry soils, and can be found from the east coast west into the Great Plains. It’s threatened in Michigan, special concern in Connecticut, and historical in Rhode Island.

This species is a perennial, standing about two feet tall,  and consists of a single stem (usually) with leaves in whorls of four (picture here) and a few terminal flowers.

The flowers are white, sometimes with a very faint bluish or purplish tinge.


The petals are really neat, aren’t they? Each flower has five petals that are so deeply dissected that from a distance they appear to be many more. If the plants receive too much sunlight, the flowers will close, then reopen in the evening and stay open until bright sunlight the next day.


I found a few other species blooming Tuesday. More about those in the next few days.

Icelandic Pinks

“Pinks” in this case refers to plants in the pinks family, Caryophyllaceae, so named not for the color but for the jagged edges on the petals (in some species), which look as though they’ve been cut with pinking shears.

The Caryophyllaceae is a cosmopolitan family, and a big one, with over 2,000 species in 80 genera. The genus Silene is said to be the largest genus in the family; on-line sources list anywhere from 300 to 700 species in it.

There are five species of Silene in Iceland, though you may only find three in many sources; the two others are Lychnis species that have recently been renamed. There are about a dozen in Maryland, of which only four are native.

Silene acaulis
moss campion; cushion pink
Icelandic: lambagras


This plant grows almost everywhere in Iceland except on the glaciers. It’s similar in form to our native S. caroliniana ssp. pensylvanica (wild pink):

The flowers of the Icelandic species are smaller, and although the plant itself can be sprawling, overall the leaves and blossoms are quite compact. Wild pink is more open, and doesn’t grow as large.



Silene dioica
red campion
Icelandic: dagstjarna


Native to subarctic Fennoscandia, red campion can be found as an introduced species in both Iceland and North America (Canada and about half of the US). In Iceland it occurs in only a few lowland areas; I found it near Akureyri and Ólafsfjörður.



Silene suecica
formerly Lychnis alpina,
Viscaria alpina
alpine catchfly, alpine campion
Icelandic: ljósberi



Not quite as common as S. acaulis, but still pretty widespread. Its native range includes northeastern Canada, Greenland, and Fennoscandia. I found both the white and pink forms near Húsafell.

Silene uniflora
formerly Silene maritima ssp. islandica
sea campion
Icelandic: holurt


Although widely available in the nursery trade in the US, S. uniflora is endemic to Iceland. It’s easy to identify because there’s nothing quite like it. It’s common in the central highlands as well as much of the lowlands. I saw it near Ísafjorður, Akureyri, and Húsafell.20140702-DSC_0008


Just for fun, here’s the other Silene I’ve found in the Maryland Piedmont: S. stellata (starry campion), which should be blooming now. Maybe I’ll go hunting for it and try to get better pictures.