Right Under My Nose

One of my favorite places in C&O Canal NHP is the area known as Widewater, the part of the canal that lies between the Gold Mine Tract and Bear Island/Billy Goat A Trail. It’s incredibly peaceful and beautiful, with nifty rock formations and a wonderful variety of plants.


I grew up in Montgomery County, went to Great Falls often as a child, made my way there whenever I could as a teenager, always found time to hike there when back from college on short breaks… and I don’t know how many times in the past 9 years, since I started seriously hunting for wildflowers, I’ve been on that stretch of the canal. Close to a hundred, maybe? And yet it wasn’t until last year that I saw red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) there, blooming right under my nose on the banks of the canal.

Red Columbine is by far the most widespread of the twenty-two Aquilegia species native to the US and Canada, and the only one found east of the Mississippi River.  Its range includes New England, the mid-Atlantic, the upper South, the Midwest, and parts of the prairie states.  The plants like moist, rocky outcroppings or slopes in woodlands, or more open areas if they get enough water.  Obviously they love the combination of shade and water they get from growing on the steep southern bank of the canal at Widewater.


Aquilegia canadensis is in the Ranunculaceae, a family that includes many of our beloved native flowers (anemone, hepatica, meadow rue), and one spectacular flower that I saw in the wild for the first time last Friday. It’ll be the subject of my next post – come back soon!

Once Again Sans Camera


On a hazy September morning I took the kayak out onto the river at Old Angler’s Inn; the point was to enjoy the paddling and not hunt for wildflowers, for a change.  But when finished and heading back to the truck, I decided to do something I’ve been wanting to do for, oh, about 35 years, and put the kayak into the canal, and from there paddled upstream to Widewater.  (There are several places on the C&O called that, but this is the one opposite the Billy Goat A trail, just downstream from Great Falls.)


Once there, I had a lovely time exploring the rock formations on the far side, and the little islets in the middle of the lake.  And wouldn’t you know it, something caught my eye. From a distance it looked a lot like the masses of white Eupatoriums that were flowering, except shorter and pinker.  So I rowed over and thought “huh, a sedum.”  I gingerly unwrapped the iPhone and took a few quick snapshots.


It’s possibly a garden escapee – a cultivar of Hylotelephium telephium, perhaps.  But from what I could see in the pictures, I believe it to be our native Allegheny stonecrop, Hylotelephium telephioides.

The Allegheny stonecrop is found scattered across the east coast from Georgia to New York and across the upper Midwest (and also Louisiana).  As you can see, it’s a sun-loving and rock-loving plant, with light green, succulent foliage and masses of pink to white flowers.  It’s threatened in Indiana and Kentucky, endangered in New York, and rare in Pennsylvania.

The several species in the genus Hylotelephium were once placed in the genus Sedum, by the way.

I spent way too many minutes trying to translate Hylotelephium.  The root hylo means “of the woods”.  I could find nothing about telephium other than it’s an ancient Greek name for a plant.  The root oides means “resembling”.  So I suppose this species name could be translated as “Telephium of the woods that looks like Telephium”.  I really wish I’d studied Latin in school.

New (to Me)

Though by no means an expert, I have a pretty good handle on what’s to be found in the area of the Billy Goat B and C trails. So I haven’t been out there as often this year, which means I haven’t found much that’s new and exciting.


So the other day I walked upstream from Old Angler’s Inn, past Widewater, and went just a little ways up one of the Billy Goat A access trails, and partway along Billy Goat A itself.

Billy Goat A is “the” Billy Goat Trail, as popular ’round here as Old Rag Mountain is in Shenandoah National Park. On a Wednesday afternoon in August, there was no escaping the sound of people talking.  Or the sight of people (and their dogs, prohibited on BGA) walking.

The problem (other than I hike for solitude in nature, not for listening to other people prattling on) is that the Billy Goat Trail and Bear Island are being loved to death.  Have been loved to death, really, over many years. So believe it or not, I was actually pleased to see this sign


along with many signs telling people not to leave the trail. Which is a bit of a bummer for me, but if that’s what it takes, I’ll comply.

Wish everyone else would, too.  Wish people would treat the area with a little respect while using it as their playground.


At any rate, in one of the side pools along the canal at Widewater something caught my eye.

small water plantain
Alisma subcordatum


Conditions were sub-optimal for close-up photography.  It was shady, breezy, and I didn’t have the tripod along, which meant in order to get a reasonably not-blurry picture I had to increase the shutter speed, which meant I had to bump the ISO way up (the above picture was shot at ISO 1600), which means noise and not-too-clear pictures…


…and no good close-ups of the flowers, which are itty-bitty. No more than 1/8″ across. Perhaps I’ll go back soon and try again.

Small water plantain is an emergent aquatic plant that can be found across most the the US and Canada, except for a few western and northwestern states and provinces.  And there’s really not much else to say about it, except that I found something new (to me).

20150812-20150812-_DSC0017stay still, darn it!