“It Sounds Seussian”

My friend P wrote that when I posted a picture of purple-headed sneezeweed (Helenium flexuosum) on social media. I included a few pictures in my August 7 post here, but want to share a few more. It’s such a photogenic flower!  That’s a pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos) sitting on the flower head.

Here are a few more pictures from my August ramblings on the banks of the Potomac.



fogfruit, aka frogfruit (Phyla lanceolata; Verbenaceae)





blue vervain (Verbena hastata; Verbenaceae)








riverbank goldenrod (Solidago racemosa; Asteraceae)




tall meadow rue (staminate flowers; Thalictrum pubescens; Ranunculaceae)




Continuing with pretty pictures during this cold season. It’s a thin line between blue and purple. Color is a continuum. Color is in the eye of the beholder. If some of these look more blue or pink than purple, well, c’est la vie.

Triodanis perfoliata (Venus’ looking glass; Campanulaceae)

Look for this annual forb growing in rocky places where there isn’t much competition from other plants. It generally blooms from about mid May into early June here in the Maryland piedmont.

Clinopodium vulgare (wild basil; Lamiaceae)

A perennial forb with circumboreal distribution. Look for the flowers in the height of summer.



Cunila origanoides (common dittany; Lamiaceae)

A perennial native to North America, and found mostly in the mid West and mid Atlantic. It blooms in late summer.


Elephantopus caroliniana (Carolina elephant’s foot; Asteraceae)

A rather weedy-looking plant with a fascinating inflorescence. Click on the picture and look closely; you’ll see that this is actually four disk flowers, each with a five-lobed corolla. The species is native to the southeastern US (Maryland is almost as far north as it goes). It blooms in late summer.


Eutrochium purpureum (sweet joe-pye weed; Asteraceae).

The joe-pye weeds (formerly Eupatorium species) are perennials that love wet places, but this particular species tolerates drier soils and is a great native for the home garden, with dramatic heads of colorful flowers towering above most other forbs. And it attracts butterflies. Blooms in late summer.

Mentha arvensis (field mint; Lamiaceae)

Another mint-family plant with circumboreal distribution. Another late-summer bloomer.



Mimulus alatus (winged monkeyflower; Phrymaceae)

Watch for this wetland plant and its almost identical cousin M. ringens var. ringens (Allegheny monkeyflower) blooming in early to mid summer.


Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot; Lamiaceae)

The mint family sure is represented well here. Look for it in mid summer, possibly covered in bees and butterflies.


Phlox divaricata (woodland phlox, wild blue phlox; Polemoniaceae)

As you can see this flower ranges from almost white through lighter and stronger shades of blue and purple. They bloom at about the same time as Virginia bluebells. Bluebells grow in the floodplain while this phlox grows just upland of the floodplain, in still moist (but not wet) woodland soils.

Physostegia virginiana (obedient plant; Lamiaceae)

Yet another mint family mid summer bloomer. Watch for it on rocky outcrops and gravel bars in the Potomac.





Ruellia caroliniensis (hairy wild petunia; Acanthaceae)

In Maryland this species is found mostly in the Coastal Plain; in the piedmont it’s restricted to a few sites near the Potomac River (as far as I know – please leave a comment if you know otherwise). Watch for it in late spring and early summer.

Trichostema dichotomum (forked bluecurls; Lamiaceae)

Blue or purple, or splitting the difference? Whatever. This is a most striking plant, one of those OMG finds. Well it was for me, anyway. What a lurid color. Late summer, dry soils, open areas. Yow.

Verbena hastata (blue vervain, swamp verbena, Verbenaceae)

As one of the common names suggests, you’ll find this in wetlands, blooming anywhere from late June to mid August. This is an extreme closeup; the plants are rather tall but the inflorescences rather small.



Vernonia noveboracensis (New York ironweed; Asteraceae)

All ray flowers with strongly exserted stigmas, no disk flowers. Very tall plant, wispy appearance. Likes wet soils. Blooms in mid to late summer.


Viola palmata (early blue violet, three-loved violet; Violaceae)

Violet taxonomy is in flux, and violet species can be difficult to differentiate. This one is relatively easy because of the unusual leaf shape, although even that can be highly variable. Look for it in mid spring in drier woodlands.


It tickles me that a bedrock terrace can maintain a pond, providing habitat for so many wetland plants. Only a few dozen feet away from that pond grow plants like big bluestem grass, that prefer much drier habitats.

And in between, there are low-growing swaths of fogfruit.

I’m not sure if technically fogfruit is a mudflat ephemeral, but the plants don’t seem to appear until river level drops, and then they pop up from the muddy shores, the rhizomes forming large mats of vegetation that stand about 12 to 18 inches tall.

Phyla lanceolata (formerly Lippia lanceolata) is in the Verbenaceae, a family of about 1,000 species in about 30 genera. Plants in this family can be found worldwide, but most of the species are tropical; P. lanceolata is one of the more northerly occurring ones. There are about a dozen species of Phyla, maybe half of which are native to North America. This one is found in much of the US, excepting New England, the northern Great Plains, and the Pacific Northwest. Populations seem to be concentrated in the Mid-West and along the Mississippi River corridor. It’s endangered in New Jersey and rare in Pennsylvania, and the only species of Phyla found in Maryland.

The inflorescence of fogfruit is fairly typical of plants in the Verbenaceae, the individual flowers clustered together in a tight spike. (It looks to me a lot like lantana, a common garden plant.) The individual flowers have five petals, fused together into a tube with irregularly spreading lobes. Many but not all of the flower clusters I’ve seen have this wonderful arrangement: yellow-throated flowers alternating with mauve-throated flowers.

About that common name… to some it’s “fogfruit”, to others it’s “frogfruit”. Wondering if the latter was a mispronunciation of the former, I was all set to do some real book research, but looked first on the internet, where I found, unsurprisingly, that it’s already been done:

In the end though, frogfruit with its alliterative cadence may simply be easier to say than fogfruit…

Either way, it’s a charming little thing.

Variations on a Theme: Vervains


blue vervain
Verbena hastata





white vervain
Verbena urticifolia


As you can see from the pictures, these two closely related plants have similar inflorescences.  Both species can grow as much as 5 or 6 feet tall.  Authorities vary on this; I’ve seen white vervain at 5 feet and blue vervain at 4 feet.

20150728-20150728-DSC_0211Blue vervain is a plant of wet places (another common name for it is swamp vervain), and is found in every state of the US except Alaska and Hawaii, and almost every province of Canada.  It’s considered weedy by some authorities.



Its leaves are long and narrow…






…while the leaves of white vervain are more oval.






You’ll find white vervain in drier situations, usually in more shade; this small specimen was right along the Billy Goat C trail.  It was almost done blooming, so you can’t quite see the diminutive flowers*.

White vervain isn’t as widespread as blue; it can be found from the Great Plains eastward, but not in the West.  Kentucky considers it possibly weedy, while Maine considers it possibly extirpated.


There are almost 40 native species of Verbena in the US, with widely varying distribution, and about 8 alien species.  Of the native species, 7 occur in the mid-Atlantic Piedmont.  One of these, Verbena x engelmannii, appears to be a naturally-occurring cross between V. hastata and V. urticifolia.  It’s described as having bluish-purple flowers with egg-shaped leaves**.

20150730-20150730-_DSC0263(sorry, this is not V. x engelmannii, it’s V. hastata again)

*or as the Illinois Wildflowers site says, “The lanky branches of the inflorescence are rather long, however, and they sprawl in different directions. This makes the inflorescence difficult to photograph in its entirety.”

**Morton Arboretum via swbiodiversity.org

All About Lopseed


Phryma leptostachya




Here’s another of those summertime woodland plants that has tiny flowers (like vervain, enchanter’s nightshade, honewort).  The plant itself can grow to three feet tall, with leaves about five inches long and an inflorescence about one foot long, but the individual flowers are only about a quarter inch long.

From a distance the flowers appear pinkish; once you get up close, you can see that the three lower lobes are white, with a pinkish upper lobe and three pink-purple teeth on the top part of the calyx.



closeup of flower; it looks very Art Deco to me







the distinctive toothed calyx





the new flower spike; note that the flower buds are lying upright along the stem






the flowers, arranged on the stem in opposing pairs, stand out at a 90 degree angle



When the flowers are finished and starting to form their single seed each, they lie flat along the stem – hence the name “lopseed”.




spent flowers flopping down along the stem





The specific epithet is derived from the Latin “lepto”, meaning thin, fine, slight, and “stachys”, meaning ear of grain.

Once by itself in its own family, lopseed was later placed into the verbena family (Verbenaceae).  Recent molecular phylogenetic* studies have placed it back in Phrymaceae, with about 209 other species to keep it company.

While researching, I found this description from a text published in 1847:

“I. PHEYM A Zfnn. aman. 3 p. 19et gen. n. 738 . Garin, defrucl. 1 p. 3 6 3 I. 7fl. Lam. illuslr. t. 516 , non Forsh. — Leptostachy a Milch. gen. 11 . Calyx tubulosus, 5-nervis, bilabiatus, labiis post anthesin ronniventibus , superiore tripartito laciniis subulatis apice reduncis, inferiore brevissimo bifido. Corollas tubo labium calycis superius acquante, limbo bilabiato, labio superiore emarginato, inferiore majore trilobo , fauce nuda. Stamina inclusa. Ovarium oblongum. Stylus filiformis; stigma brevi ter bifidum , cruribus anguste lamellaribus. Caryopsis calyce inclusa; pericarpio membranaceo , 5-nervi, stylo persistente terminato, semini adnato. Semen cavitatemi pericarpii omnino implens. Reliqua ut in charactere ordinis. — Genus slructurà et patria perinsigne , a nonnullis cum Priva, maxime alieno, confusimi, fructu jam a Gasrlnero eximie explorato.”  [Digital Library]

Sadly, I don’t read Latin, though I’m good enough with cognates to get parts of it.

Lopseed is found from the Great Plains east to the Atlantic, in the United States and Canada, and also in California.  It is considered possibly extirpated in Maine.


*phylogeny is the evolutionary history of an organism
in molecular phylogeny DNA sequences are analyzed to determine evolutionary relationships among organisms