What’s Up? Yellow

Still no time to write anything substantial. Here are some yellow flowers, now (or recently) blooming in the Maryland piedmont.



a yellow haze of spicebush flowers (Lindera benzoin; Lauraceae)








another flowering shrub, leatherwood (Dirca palustris; Thymelaeaceae), S2/threatened in Maryland









trout lilies (Erythronium americanum; Liliaceae) will be blooming for another week or so in the Potomac gorge







Corydalis flavula (short-spurred corydalis or yellow fumewort; Papaveraceae)



one very early sessile bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia; Liliaceae); watch for more in the next week or so in the gorge, maybe a week after that further north and west in the piedmont



masses of golden ragwort (Packera aurea; Asteraceae) are blooming now along the Potomac; watch for them on the eastern part of Billy Goat C



smooth yellow violet, aka yellow forest violet  (Viola pubescens var. scabriuscula; Violaceae)


Four Similar-Looking Plants and How to Tell Them Apart


Since the topic keeps coming up on various internet forums, I thought I’d write a little guide about these plants, all of which are flowering or about to flower now in the Maryland piedmont.

sessile bellwort, Uvularia sessilifolia; Liliaceae or Colchicaceae
perfoliate bellwort, Uvularia perfoliata; Liliaceae or Colchicaceae
Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum; Ruscaceae or Asparagaceae or Liliaceae
Solomon’s plume aka false Solomon’s seal, Maianthemum racemosum; Ruscaceae or Asparagaceae or Liliaceae
(apologies for the family name confusion, but authorities differ)

In flower, these four species are easy to distinguish. Before they flower, they can be tricky – indeed, the old common name of M. racemosum comes from the fact that it looks a lot like P. biflorum.

So, how to tell them apart when they’re young?

I prepared this chart based on my own observations cross-referenced by information in the Flora of North America via efloras.org, the New England Wild Flower Society’s gobotany site, and Illinois Wildflowers.

Uvularia species Maianthemum racemosum Polygonatum biflorum
stem form stems simple or with 1 branch stems erect or arching, sometimes zigzag stems erect to arching
stem texture glabrous, glaucous slightly hairy glabrous, glaucous
leaf arrangement alternate alternate alternate
leaf attachment sessile or perfoliate (per species) sessile, clasping or perfoliate sessile to clasping
leaf shape oblong-linear to oblong-ovate elliptic to ovate narrowly lanceolate to elliptic or nearly ovate
leaf base rounded to cuneate rounded to cuneate cuneate to rounded
leaf tip acute to acuminate acute or caudate acute
leaf texture glabrous glabrous glabrous, sometimes with a bit of a sheen
inflorescence 1 per branch, terminal but appearing axillary terminal axillary (in several axils)
#flowers/inflorescence one 70-250 typically 2, as many as 5

The descriptions are much alike, and frankly not that useful when the specimens are still young. I don’t have all the pictures I want to illustrate this post, but study the ones below;  I think with experience you can develop an eye for identifying these species by considering the whole plant as well as the individual details.

The bellworts are overall much smaller than the other two species, with shorter stems and smaller leaves.

Start with the easy one: perfoliate bellwort. The way the stem appears to pierce the leaf is unique, so it’s hard to confuse this with the others even when a specimen is very young.



Sessile bellwort is much smaller than M. racemosum and P. biflorum. Its terminal bud develops very early, when the plant is still tiny. Especially if the other two species are nearby, it’s pretty clear from the size and general appearance if a young plant is a bellwort.

perfoliate bellwort and Solomon’s plume next to each other; note how different the stems look (click to enlarge)

Perhaps the best way to distinguish M. racemosum from P. biflorum when the plants are very young is to look at the leaf tips. When the plants are a little older, they’re very easy to tell apart by looking for buds: M. racemosum has a cluster of buds at the very end of the stem, while P. biflorum will have a few buds at many (but not all) of the leaf axils.

I love that I found these two growing right by each other, but be warned, this P. biflorum is atypical: the leaves are exceptionally narrow. Note that there’s one flower bud dangling from a leaf axil. Also, check out the leaf tips (click on the picture to zoom in), because they’re textbook examples. P. biflorum’s is acute, and M. racemosum‘s is caudate.


P. biflorum with flower buds





young M. racemosum, no buds yet





zigzag stem, caudate leaf tips, and terminal inflorescence = M. racemosum




straighter stem, narrower leaves, and axillary flowers = P. biflorum



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)