Lucky Day

After a few years of trying, I finally caught trailing arbutus in bloom on Friday, April 13.

This is an uncommon species. Although it has a wide range (most of the US east of the Mississippi, and the upper Midwest ) it isn’t found in large numbers anywhere.


That might be because of its rather specialized growing requirements: moist but well-drained acidic soils. It likes undisturbed open woodlands, especially rocky slopes, where leaf litter doesn’t collect. Look for it whenever you see other species in the Ericaceae, like mountain laurel, blueberry and deerberry, and spotted wintergreen.

Many authors recommend against trying to grow trailing arbutus in the home garden: it is difficult to propagate, leading to poaching concerns; also, it is suspected that, like other species in the Ericaceae, it might have specific mycorrhizal associations without which it simply cannot grow.

 

It’s certainly a belly flower, but also  technically a shrub.  Epigaea repens stays low, the tough evergreen leaves lying flat along semi-woody stems that creep over the ground.

 

 

The plants are polygamo-dioecious, meaning that any given plant has two types of flowers: staminate and perfect, or pistillate and perfect. (See this post about maples for a more complete description of these terms.)

 

Also known as mayflower, this species has a delightful scent, but you have to get your schnoz right up in there to smell it.

Trailing arbutus is endangered in Florida and exploitably vulnerable in New York. It’s the state flower of Massachusetts and the provincial flower of Nova Scotia.

These pink-flowering and white-flowering specimens were blooming along a bank under mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) on Sugarloaf mountain.

First Up

A few days ago I headed to Sugarloaf Mountain for my first botanizing session of 2018. I found lots more trailing arbutus, but it’s still in bud. I’ll keep checking.

Some of the aliens are starting to flower (veronicas, bittercresses), but otherwise the only plant blooming is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus; Araceae). The two pointy things pictured here are spathes, modified leaves (bracts) that enclose the flowers, shown below. 

 

Skunk cabbage is a plant of wet places. When it’s not growing right in water, it’ll be in very wet soil. In a few weeks the leaves will start emerging and unfurling. A stand of bright green skunk cabbage is a cheery sight in early spring, but don’t step on them unless you want first-hand knowledge of how they got that common name.

 

Crowning Glory

Wednesday, May 10. Headed to Sugarloaf Mountain with two goals: get good pictures of pink lady’s slipper and mountain laurel. Failed both. Too late for the former, too early for the latter.

 

 

Monday, May 15. Headed to Rachel Carson Conservation Park with three goals: locate and photograph large twayblade; get good pictures of spotted wintergreen and mountain laurel. Failed to find the twayblade, too early for the spotted wintergreen, and the mountain laurels were still in bud, with only a few individual flowers open.

 

Tuesday, May 16. Headed to Carderock with one goal: photograph mountain laurel. Success! Here they were actually a little past peak bloom, but still flowering profusely.

 

There’s something about the flowers of plants in the Ericaceae (heath family) that I find especially compelling, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Actually it isn’t just the flowers, because I find the plants themselves intriguing and lovely.

 

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a multi-stemmed shrub that grows to 15 feet tall, maybe taller in the right conditions, but it doesn’t grow straight. The stems twist and curve, and you can see that habit in the patterns of the bark. It has a tendency to drop all but the uppermost leaves. When in bloom it looks to me like the plant is crowned in flowers.

Like our garden azaleas and rhododendrons, mountain laurel flowers on old growth (which you can see in the first photo). New growth is pictured here (with spent oak catkins drooped on the petioles).

 

 

Identifying mountain laurel is easy, because little else has that open, gnarled habit. The leaves are evergreen. Flowers are borne in crowded corymbs, and each flower has five petals fused into a tube, with ten stamens that initially stick in little folds in the petals. The color ranges from nearly white to deep pink, with a red ring in the throat.

Like other ericaceous plants, mountain laurel loves moist but well-drained, acidic soils. When you see it, you’ll often see other plants in the same family nearby. In Rachel Carson Conservation Park, it grows on a bald knob with pinxter azaleas, blueberries and deerberries (Vaccinium species), and spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata). It’s also abundant on Sugarloaf Mountain, and on a few of the ridges near Carderock. There’s a section of the Cabin John Trail that I call Erica Alley, a rocky area with plenty of ericaceous species (and other neat plants, like rock polypody, ground pine, and firmosses), including dozens and dozens of mountain laurels, too, but in all the years I’ve been hiking there, I’ve never seen them bloom. I’ve never even seen buds on them.

Mountain laurel ranges from Louisiana to Maine; it’s threatened in Florida, special concern in Maine, and exploitably vulnerable in New York. In Maryland it’s found in every county except Somerset.

 

Variations on a Theme: Venus’ Pride and Longleaf Bluets

20160609-_DSC0020

Houstonia species, Rubiaceae

Nationwide there are 18 species of Houstonia, only five of which are found in Maryland; one of those one is found only in Garret County. In the Piedmont, two of these species (azure bluet and Venus’ pride) are rather widespread, and two (longleaf bluet and small bluet) not so much.

Last June I thought I’d found both Venus’s pride and longleaf bluet along the C&O Canal near the Marsden Tract. This year, when I went in search of them I found only Venus’ pride, but I did find longleaf bluet on Sugarloaf Mountain. Here’s a little primer about the two. Their flowers are almost identical; it’s the leaves that differentiate them.

I took measurements of only a few plants, and each patch of plants contained only a few individuals, so consider this casual observation rather than proper science.

A note about color: these flowers were all vaguely purple… in the right light. In some of these photos they’ll look white, which is pretty much how they appear in strong sunlight. In shade the purple, while faint, is more apparent. Despite the moniker “bluet”, they never seem blue.

There’s a little glossary at the end.


20160607-_DSC0047

Houstonia longifolia
common names: long-leaved bluet, longleaf summer bluet

  • perianth about 1/4″ long
  • corolla about 3/16″ wide
  • plant height estimated 4-6″
  • leaves opposite, 1/2′ to 3/4′ long, linear shape, one-nerved, margins entire, stipules present

H. longifolia is present in Maryland in parts of the Piedmont and one section of the Coastal Plain, but is found mostly in the Blue Ridge and Ridge and Valley physiographic provinces. BONAP shows it as rare where present in Maryland, but it’s not on the state DNR list of rare, threatened, and endangered plants.

Taxonomic note: MD DNR lists another species, H. tenuifolia, as S1/endangered. However that species is not recognized by ITIS, which considers is a synonym for H. longifolia. What that means for conservation efforts I have no idea.

H. longifolia grows mostly in the Appalachians and Ozarks, and in parts of the Upper Midwest. It’s endangered in Connecticut and Massachusetts, special concern in Maine, and historical in Rhode Island.

20160607-_DSC0037

 

 

 

 

 


20160609-_DSC0021

Houstonia purpurea
common names: purple bluet, Venus’ pride, woodland bluet, large bluet

  • perianth about 3/8″ long
  • corolla about 3/16″ wide
  • plant height estimated 4-6″
  • leaves opposite, 1″‘ long, oval shape, three-nerved, margins entire but ciliate, stipules present

H. purpurea is present in the Maryland Piedmont and parts of Coastal Plain. Per BONAP, it ranges through the Appalachians, the Ozarks, and much of the South, but not the Upper Midwest.

ITIS lists three varieties, two of which are endangered in New York; the third is endangered in North Carolina and Tennessee and is also on the federal endangered species list.

20160609-_DSC0024

 

 

 

 

 


perianth: the sepals and petals of a flower, collectively
corolla: the petals of a flower
ciliate: fringed with hairs
stipule: small, leaf-like growth where leaf meets stem

sources:
BONAP the Biota of North America Program
ITIS the Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Maryland Biodiversity Project

Just Not a Whole Lot Going On

20160606-_DSC0121

hairy skullcap
Scutelleria elliptica
Lamiaceae

 

It’s not like me to go for two weeks without posting, but I just haven’t gotten out as much this year. And the times I have gotten out, I’m not seeing much.

On June 6 I hiked about two miles around Carderock. I found a few rather wan-looking blossoms on partridgeberry plants, a single hairy skullcap (in an area where there should have been a dozen or more), some shining bedstraw, and a few blue-eyed grass. A patch of Culver’s root I discovered a month ago appears to have been browsed by deer (bastards). Ramps are in bud. Honewort is blooming, but you really have to be a plant geek to find honewort interesting.

20160607-_DSC0040

 

longleaf bluets
Houstonia longifolia
Rubiaceae

 

On June 7 I hiked about three miles on Sugarloaf Mountain, and found one small patch of longleaf bluets blooming. The mountain laurel are still going, though past their peak (they are all done at Carderock). Other than those and some fleabanes, I saw nothing else blooming, though there was an inch-tall spike starting on a downy rattlesnake plantain.

Looking at notes I’ve made over the past few years, I realize there is a bit of a lull from late May to mid June. But this is pretty slim pickings. I hope to get back to the Carderock area today to look for both purple bluets and longleaf bluets, though it may be too early for them.

Persistence Pays Off, Part One

20160514-_DSC0101

puttyroot; Adam and Eve
Aplectrum hyemale
Orchidaceae

In May of 2014 I saw puttyroot for the first time, two plants and one spike of flowers. After that I saw the seedheads on the spike. Every time I was in the area I’d go by the patch, and (except in summer) I’d see the plants. But in 2015 for some reason they didn’t bloom. I learned later that this is often the case with some species of orchid: if conditions aren’t just right, they won’t bloom.

A puttyroot plant has a single ground-level leaf that comes up in autumn, persists through the winter, and dies back before the plant sends up the flower spike in late spring.

20160514-_DSC0117

A few weeks ago I saw a new spike coming up. I went back again and again, despite the miserable rainy weather we’ve been having, until finally I saw the flowers.

20160514-_DSC0112

Puttyroot ranges from Quebec south to North Carolina, with scattered occurrences a little further south than that, and west as far as Oklahoma, Kansas, and Minnesota. It’s endangered in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, threatened in Vermont, rare in Pennsylvania, and special concern in Connecticut. In the Maryland Piedmont I’ve seen the plants in the Potomac gorge, Patapsco Valley State Park, and on Sugarloaf Mountain.

Another Blue Violet

20160512-_DSC0061

three-lobe violet, wood violet,
early blue violet
Viola palmata, formerly V. triloba
Violaceae

As I’ve written before, violet ID can be tricky, because they hybridize freely and because the taxonomists are always changing the names.

20160512-_DSC0068

With leaves like this, though, it seems a safe bet to say this is three-lobe violet. The older guidebooks name it Viola triloba, and you’ll still find references to that on-line, but per ITIS it’s now considered V. palmata.

20160512-_DSC0065

USDA lists both V. triloba and a hybrid, V. x palmata, with different ranges, so it’s no use reporting on that, other than to say that this violet, whatever species it is, is found primarily in the eastern part of the country.

I found these about halfway up Sugarloaf Mountain, on the west side, growing by the ones or twos in patches of rue anemone.