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)


Today I Am…

Random pictures of small blue things (and purple things), because once again I haven’t the time to write meaningful content.

I don’t know if this is a color variation of common blue violet (Viola sororia) or something else. There is a well-known white form, sometimes called Confederate violet, but it doesn’t look quite like this one. Violets are notoriously promiscuous so who knows. The color is remarkably consistent every year. I’ve only seen them at Rachel Carson Conservation Park.

If you see a blue violet that stands well above the level of its leaves, and if it’s growing in or very near to open water, then it’s probably marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata).



Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), also at RCCP. These two were somewhat bluer than is typical.




Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) There aren’t many three-petaled flowers around.




Only one of the seven species of Oxalis found in Maryland is an alien, but some of the others can be awfully weedy. I like them anyway. I’ve been on the hunt for Oxalis colorea, previously overlooked here until a fellow botanerd found it [hi, Bill]. If I make any progress I’ll write about it. In the meantime, though, you just can’t call violet woodsorrel (Oxalis violacea) a weed.

Even the leaves are charming.






I’m working on a very complicated post that’s already a bit late for this season, but in the meantime here are two pictures of one of my favorites, dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius). Yes, the specific epithet is misleading, since this plant sometimes has five leaflets rather than three. In the second photo you can see part of a mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum); that and the fallen leaves give you a sense of scale. Dwarf ginseng is at peak bloom now in the southern part of the Maryland piedmont.

(Click on the pictures, they’re so much more interesting when viewed larger.)





And what the heck, here’s a violet, because wow, look at that color.

Two Yellow Violets

Since violets (Viola species) hybridize so readily, they can be tricky to identify. Individual plants sometimes show characteristics intermediate between two species. Take a look at the USDA PLANTS Database page for Viola and you’ll see what I mean: of the 129 species shown there, 43 are hybrids. (Presumably these are naturally occurring hybrids, not cultivated varieties.)

Yellow violets are easier, because there are only a few species, and only three of those are found in Maryland. Right now, one of them is blooming in the Potomac gorge area: smooth yellow violet (Viola pubescens var. scabriuscula, formerly known as Viola pensylvanica). There’s a second variety of the same species that’s commonly called downy yellow violet (V. pubescens var. pubescens).

I started writing this post almost a year ago, then realized I didn’t have any good photos for it, so set it aside until now. Over the last few days I’ve examined a few dozen yellow violets, and they’ve all been the smooth variety. I hoped to have photos of both for this post, but if I wait too long I’ll have to set it aside again, so here goes.

The two varieties bloom at about the same time (April) and grow in the same habitat (moist deciduous woodlands). The main difference between the two is hinted at in the name: in botany, pubescent means covered in short hair, while scabriuscula means slightly rough.

Although this one is smooth yellow violet, you can see some pubescence on the leaf base and adjoining stem on the lower right leaf. Smooth yellow violet can have a slight pubescence but is mostly glabrous (smooth), which you can see on the rest of this plant.


Another identifying characteristic is the shape of the stipules. Those of downy yellow violet are broadly oval, with a blunt tip, while those of smooth yellow violet are narrowly oval, with a pointed tip, as shown here. (A stipule is a small, leaf-like bit of tissue found where the petiole meets the main stem; there’s one in the very center of this photo.)

Finally, look at the whole plant: downy yellow has a single flowering stem, with one basal leaf or none, while smooth yellow has two or more flowering stems and one to three basal leaves.* The plant pictured here appears to have three basal leaves (at one o’clock, six o’clock, and eleven o’clock), one flowering stem with a blossom and a bud (seven o’clock), and a second flowering stem still developing (twelve o-clock).

I’ll keep looking at yellow violets this spring, and if I find any of the the downy variety I’ll write a follow-up post.

*descriptions from the Flora Novae Angliae by way of the New England Wildflower Society’s gobotany website (which every botanerd should bookmark):

1a.  Stems solitary, with 0 or 1 basal leaves; leaf blades densely pubescent; stipules broad-ovate, with an obtuse apex … 21a. V. pubescens var. pubescens

1b.  Stems 2 or more from the apex of the rhizome, with 1–3 basal leaves; leaf blades glabrous or sparsely pubescent; stipules lanceolate to narrow-ovate, with an acute apex [Fig. 935] 
 … 21b. V. pubescens var. scabriuscula Torr. & Gray

When One Color Isn’t Enough (part one)

More pictures to keep us dreaming of warmer weather. This time, spring-blooming multi-colored flowers.

Erigenia bulbosa (harbinger-of-spring; Apiaceae)

This is one of our earliest blooming native plants (the only one I can think of that blooms earlier is skunk cabbage). These anthers turn quickly from dark red to black, giving rise to another common name, pepper-and-salt.

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells; Boraginaceae)

That’s right, bluebells again, because here they are in several different colors all in one clump. I can’t wait to see them again.

Galearis spectabilis (showy orchis; Orchidaceae)

This surprisingly common terrestrial orchid grows in all the physiographic provinces in Maryland, but we have the most records for it in the piedmont and coastal plain. Look for it blooming in April and May in rich, moist soils in wooded areas.

Viola sororia (common blue violet, white form ; Violaceae)

Common blue violets are, well, pretty common around here. They seem quite fond of edge areas and open woodlands, always in moist soils. They can be found all over Maryland, blooming from late March into early May.

Cypripedium acaule (pink lady’s slipper; Orchidaceae)

Like most orchids, pink lady’s slipper has specific growing requirements, which means you won’t find it just anywhere. But it does grow pretty much all over the state. Look for it flowering in early May, in rich, undisturbed woodland soils.

Penstemon hirsutus (hairy beardtongue; Plantaginaceae)

This bizarre-looking flower is found mostly in the northern part of Maryland, but there’s a reliable stand on the Billy Goat B trail. Look for it in lean soils (rocky areas) in full sun light, blooming from early to late May.

Mitchella repens (partridgeberry; Rubiaceae) [click on this one!]

What can I write about partridgeberry that I haven’t written before? This is one of my very favorites; I go looking for it every year at the end of May. The plants grow very long but stay very low, creeping along rocks. We have records for it in every Maryland county.

Thalictrum coriaceum (maid-of-the-mist; Ranunculaceae)

Although it isn’t on the Maryland RTE list, we only have records for it in three quads in Montgomery County. I think that’s rather odd, and suspect it’s due to misidentification (see The Botanerd’s Handy Guide to Thalictrum Species). That bright pink on the sepals and filaments turns quickly to brown.