Just Couldn’t Help Myself

Monday dawned sunny and cool, beautiful weather for wildflower hunting. Despite my resolution to stay put during this health crisis, I decided it might be worth trying Rachel Carson Conservation Park. It was a good call – for most of the time I was there, I had the place to myself.

That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it’s too early in the season for some of the flowers I wanted to see. But there were other things blooming, like round-lobed hepatica (Anemone americana; Ranunculaceae).The flower colors can vary from white through pale blue to a deep, almost purple blue, and sometimes even pink.

The white-flowering hepatica [right] looks a lot like another member of the same family, Thalictrum thalictroides, or rue anemone [below]. The leaves are entirely different, though. Rue anemone flowers are almost always pure white, but sometimes they can be a little pink, with reddish leaves.

The Spring Ephemerals, part 5

The season goes faster than I can publish blog posts. These three species in the poppy family (Papaveraceae) are likely done blooming in the southeastern part of the Maryland Piedmont, but might still be blooming in the more northern and western parts of the state.

Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn are both in the genus Dicentra. They have almost identical foliage, but the flowers are a little different: the former look like pantaloons, while the latter are more heart-shaped.

The morning of March 19 this year was overcast; nonetheless I headed to the trail early, to avoid all the people who weren’t doing social distancing. I found what I was looking for: bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis; Papaveraceae), but the blossoms weren’t yet open. When the sun started breaking through (just after lunch) I went back and spent the next hour shooting as they opened.

The Spring Ephemerals, part 4: Trout Lilies and Toadshade

I love all the spring ephemerals; can’t say which are my favorites. But trout lilies are way up there.

Of the twenty some species of Erythronium, two are found in Maryland (maybe three depending on which authority you consult): E. americanum (yellow trout lily) and E. albidum (white trout lily). The latter is listed S2/threatened by the Maryland DNR. I figured I’d miss seeing both this year, but a little luck and persistence led me to a single white one blooming, and in the process I found a hillside covered in yellow ones (I stopped counting at 35). Here are a few pictures.

I know of two spots where white trout lilies grow. I spent more than an hour searching one of those areas after someone posted a picture of a white trout lily blooming. Couldn’t find it. Hiked to another area, shot the yellow trout lilies, then decided to go back for one more look. Pulled out my phone and searched for the picture, and sure enough, there were enough clues in it that I was able to narrow my search to a small area. Et voila! The one shown here in bud was from the other location, the day before.

Toadshade is a species of trillium, T. sessile (Melanthiaceae). The three maroon petals stay closed; the plants shown here are in full bloom.  

The Spring Ephemerals, part 3

Well, I’ve made the decision: no wildflower hunting for the foreseeable future. You can imagine how sad this makes me. But people just aren’t being careful about social distancing, and there isn’t enough open space for everyone who insists on going out.

In the meantime, I’ll follow the season by posting old pictures.

If I were being strictly chronological, harbinger-of spring (Erigenia bulbosa; Apiaceae) would have been the first plant in this series of posts.  It’s almost certainly done blooming by now.

These little plants bedevil me: they grow only a few inches tall, the individual flowers are tiny (notice the oak leaf in the picture below), and they’re so dainty that they’re always in motion, so they’re tricky to photograph. I do love trying, though.

 

 

Another one that’s never still is lyre-leaved rockcress (Arabidopsis lyrata; Brassicaceae). Growing right out of small depressions in rocks, these plants stand just a few inches taller than harbinger of spring. Look how slender those stems are compared to the pine needles lying nearby. I’ve seen stands of these blooming as late in the season as early June.

Here’s another diminutive plant that grows in moist, rocky areas: early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis, formerly Saxifraga virginiensis; Saxifragaceae). Its blooming period can start as early as late March and last through early May.

The Spring Ephemerals, part 2

Everything is different this spring. So many more people are out enjoying the trails, which is great but for two things: overuse and poor (or no) social distancing. For these reasons I might not be going out often, but I can still blog with old pictures.

Floodplains along the river are overflowing with Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica; Boraginaceae). Usually colored a pure, intense blue (I call it borage blue), the color can be lighter, or a pale violet, or all pink, or pure white.

 

 

Mixed in with these, and also found upslope in slightly drier soils, you can see wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata; Polemoniaceae).

Moss phlox (P. subulata) might be blooming by now. If not, it will within a week or so. Look for it sprawling over rocks; the plants stand only a few inches tall. The flowers are almost identical to those of wild blue phlox, but the plants’ growth habits are completely different.

The Spring Ephemerals, part 1

The spring ephemerals are such a delight after a long winter. And even though it was an unusually warm winter, it seemed long to those of us who love botanizing.

The short blooming period of the spring ephemerals makes them even more special. These  are the forbs that emerge from the ground, grow a few leaves, flower, maybe grow a little more, and then die back to the ground by the time the trees under which they grow leaf out.

To be honest, after a few years writing this blog I’ve run out of things to say about most of these plants, but I still love finding and photographing them. Here’s a look at what was going on in the Potomac Gorge last week, with links to more detailed posts I’ve written in previous seasons.

One of the first to appear is harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa; Apiaceae). This year I first saw it on March 18, but they sometimes start to flower as early as late February, and may continue through mid April.

 

 

These plants are so small that they’re easy to miss, except when there’s a large stand; then it looks like a light cover of snow on the ground.

 

 

 

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica; Montiaceae) also carpet forest floors early in the season. They are much larger than harbinger-of-spring but still petite, standing only an inch or two tall. They seem to thrive in moist but not wet soils; I seldom see them adjacent to Virginia bluebells, for example, but they’ll be nearby, just upslope, often in rock crevices.

Spring beauty’s native range runs from the eastern great plains through the midwest, mid-Atlantic, the upper South and lower New England.

 

 

Cut-leaved toothwort (Cardamine concatenata; Brassicaceae) starts blooming soon after spring beauty, and stands a few inches taller. It’s found in much the same habitat but in my observations likes soils a little drier; I’ve never seen it encroaching on a floodplain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its close cousins slender toothwort (C. angustata) [left] and spring cress (C. bulbosa) [below] start blooming roughly two weeks later. Read more about the various toothwort species in this post.  Look for slender toothwort in drier, rocky areas, and spring cress in very wet areas (vernal pools, for example).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming up, more spring ephemerals, and some flowering shrubs.