Orchid Update

Earlier this year I was over the moon to find two native orchids in the area, puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale; fotd 5/20) and cranefly (Tipularia discolor, fotd 7/31).  These two plants have a similar, unusual life cycle: the new leaf (one per plant) emerges from the ground in autumn, persists through the winter, then dies back in spring (puttyroot) or early summer (cranefly); some time after that a single flower spike emerges, develops multiple buds, and blooms.


Last week while hiking I saw the new leaves of cranefly orchids; note the characteristic purple underside.  (Be assured no plants were harmed, nor soils disturbed, in the taking of these photos!)



Of course I then had to go hunting for puttyroot, too, and found a few of those leaves, and seedpods still on one spike.


cranefly in flower:

puttyroot in flower:




This really has been a wonderful year.

The List for October

20140728-DSC_0256eastern tiger swallowtail (male) and bumblebee on buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) in late July, banks of the Potomac River in view of the American Legion Bridge

Plants first seen blooming in the month of Octboer:

  • panicled aster
  • black-eyed Susan
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • small wood sunflower
  • wild marjoram (alien)

And since I don’t expect to find anything new in November (unless I find witch hazel; I know it’s out there), the 2014 totals are:

  • 276 native species in 77 families
  • 75 alien species in 30 families

for a grand total of 351 species in 81 families, along the Potomac River and C&O Canal from Violette’s Lock south to the American Legion Bridge, and the last mile of Cabin John Creek.  Oh, and that’s not including the 5 asters, 5 violets, 7 grasses, and a few others that I was never able to narrow down to the species level.

Not too shabby.

ps – found witch hazel (fotd yesterday), but not in the Potomac gorge area.


bumblebee crashing honeybee’s party on silver-rod

Flower of the Day: Short’s Aster

Symphyotrichum shortii; Asteraceae (aster family)


Some things to consider when trying to identify asters:

  • size of flower head
  • number of ray flowers
  • number of disk flowers
  • color of flowers (not as important as you may think)
  • shape and size of leaf, including the leaf base and leaf tip
  • leaf margin
  • arrangement of leaves on the stem and whether they’re more or less consistently sized
  • shape, size, color, and number of rows of phyllaries (bracts)
  • presence of glands
  • smoothness (or not) and color of stems

…you get the idea.  Actually this is a pretty general list, but with almost 90 species of Symphyotrichum found in the US (about two dozen in this area), you really have to pay attention to details.

All of which is to say, I’m not always sure I’ve correctly id’d all the asters I’ve been posting about.  But they sure are pretty.


Flower of the Day: Frost Aster

aka hairy aster, awl aster; Symphyotrichum pilosum; Asteraceae (aster family)


So far this year I’ve found 19 different species of aster (Symphyotrichum or Eurybia). I haven’t managed to identify them all, but they are clearly different from each other. This one, though, I’m pretty sure of.


Note the characteristically hairy stem in the photo to the right.

Frost aster is another native found in eastern North America (from Texas through Quebec). It grows up to three feet tall in full sun and moist to dry conditions.  I found this specimen growing out of the cracks along one of my favorite rocky bluffs upstream of Carderock.