Superhero

Every spring I go looking for long-tube valerian, aka few-flowered valerian or large-flower valerian (Valeriana pauciflora), a forb of wet wooded areas that sports a stunning inflorescence. In Maryland it’s listed S1/E [see my previous post for definitions]. I know of four distinct populations in the Maryland piedmont.

Last week I was at one of those sites, setting up the camera on the tripod, and while looking around for a good candidate (since the flowers were just starting to bloom and the dappled forest light was making annoying shadows), I noticed a fair amount of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and a few star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), too.

Those two species are invasive aliens. While garlic mustard is a well-known pest, star-of-Bethlehem gets less attention. The first time I saw it in those woods, maybe seven or eight years ago, there were just a few. But every year, there are more and more.

 

 

Here’s a picture of its close cousin, nodding star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum nutans), invading a floodplain in Frederick County.

 

 

 

So anyway, before shooting, I donned this vest and pulled some weeds.

I don’t do this nearly as often as I should. But I took a class, was given a vest, and am therefore allowed to do a certain amount of invasive alien plant removal in a few specified areas. There are so many invasive aliens in those areas that I’ve decided to limit my efforts to places with populations of RTEs (rare, threatened, endangered species).

I’m not sure who originated the Weed Warrior concept, but Carole Bergmann of Montgomery Parks started our local  program in 1999, and there are others in the DMV. If you’re inclined to do some volunteering and make a difference, I urge you to look for a local Weed Warrior group and sign up. At the same time I strongly urge you not to just start pulling weeds. It’s illegal to do so in most public parks, unless you have permission, for a good reason: it’s easy to do real damage to native plant populations if you don’t know what you’re doing. So please, get involved, but do so responsibly.

Rosea

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.

Flower of the Day: Long-Tube Valerian

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aka few-flowered valerian
(from the specific epithet)
and large-flowered valerian
Valeriana pauciflora
Valerianaceae
(sometimes Caprifoliaceae)

 

From Florida to Alaska, there’s a valerian for almost every state (except for a few Great Plains and Midwestern ones). Fifteen native species occur across the US and Canada, plus one alien: Valeriana officinalis, the European plant used in alternative medicine.  Of the natives, only V. pauciflora is found in Maryland, and this species has a narrow range, from Pennsylvania to Illinois and south to Tennessee (with a few occurrences in northern Alabama).

The USDA site shows it in Montgomery and Frederick counties in Maryland; the Maryland Biodiversity Project shows it in Montgomery and Harford.  Either way, it’s endangered in the state.

20150514-20150514-_DSC0140That makes it even more special to stumble upon.  I’ve found five discreet stands in the Potomac Gorge; there must be more.  One of these stands comprised at least one hundred individual plants. Absolutely glorious in full bloom.

Each of these stands is located in deep woods, in low areas that are consistently moist but not wet. Not in the Potomac floodplain proper, but often along the banks of deep-cut rills just above it.

(<—– isn’t that elegant?)

 

20150507-20150507-_DSC0075Whenever I see a deep tube on a flower, I wonder who pollinates it.  Internet research got me almost no information, except this from the excellent Illinois Wildflowers site of Dr. John Hilty: “The long slender corollas suggests that the flowers are pollinated by bumblebees, butterflies, Sphinx moths, and possibly hummingbirds. The nectar of the flowers is inaccessible to most insects with short mouthparts.”

I’m not the most patient hunter.  Maybe next year, I’ll sit quietly in that hundred-plant area and see who comes visiting.

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emerging foliage, April 6

 

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budding up, May 1