Everything is different this spring. So many more people are out enjoying the trails, which is great but for two things: overuse and poor (or no) social distancing. For these reasons I might not be going out often, but I can still blog with old pictures.
Floodplains along the river are overflowing with Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica; Boraginaceae). Usually colored a pure, intense blue (I call it borage blue), the color can be lighter, or a pale violet, or all pink, or pure white.
Mixed in with these, and also found upslope in slightly drier soils, you can see wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata; Polemoniaceae).
Moss phlox (P. subulata) might be blooming by now. If not, it will within a week or so. Look for it sprawling over rocks; the plants stand only a few inches tall. The flowers are almost identical to those of wild blue phlox, but the plants’ growth habits are completely different.
wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata)
moss phlox (Phlox subulata)
There are 71 native species of phlox across the US and Canada. Ten of them can be found in Maryland. These two are the ones I see most frequently in the Potomac Gorge, though I’m always on the lookout for others.
Wild blue phlox stands one to two feet tall, and likes the moist soils near the river. It’s often found growing near Virginia bluebells, though it seems to grow in the more uphill, drier areas as well.
Moss phlox stands only a few inches tall, and can mostly be found growing out of crevices and cascading over rocks.
As you can see, the flowers are almost identical in shape, but different colors. Moss phlox is more often pink, according to the books, but almost all the specimens I’ve found in the gorge are white.