Welcome!

Virginia Wildflowers is a natural history photo gallery and casual field guide to wildflowers and mushrooms. I live in Southwest Virginia, so most of my photos were taken in this part of the state.

I’ve been taking photos of local wildflowers for three years now. I try to capture close-ups of leaves, stems and flowers, and then I post the photos along with basic natural history information. In the spring and summer of 2015, I plan to finally get the species in order (at least roughly) by season, so they will be easier for all of us find.

My goal in making this site was to teach myself about native wildflowers in my home area.  An added benefit would be to help someone else (–maybe you?) learn the same. Drop me a note if you have a comment or question, and please feel free to correct my I.D. work if you think I’ve got something misidentified. This is a hobby for me and I’m always learning.

If you arrived here because you are looking for information about a specific plant, try using the search widget in the right sidebar. Common names and latin names can be entered there and searched. If you would just like to browse what is here, try scanning the archive in the left sidebar.

Most of the posts here contain photo gallery/slideshows, so please be sure to click on the gallery to open a larger viewer.

Welcome to Virginia Wildflowers! Enjoy your visit!

Cowbane

Members of the carrot (or parsley) family include plants we often use as spices or as vegetables.  Most have umbel-shaped flowers (think umbrella!) that are quite fascinating structurally. You are probably familiar with Queen Anne’s Lace, or dill as common examples of plants with umbel-shaped inflorescences.

Here is another member of the Carrot Family that blooms in late summer: Cowbane.

Oxypolis rigidior

Cowbane
Cowbane

Standing almost five feet tall, cowbane is sparsely branched and has just a few pinnately divided leaves that are arranged alternately.  The lance-shaped leaflets lack petioles (sessile) and can range in number from 5 to 11. The leaflets can be entire or slightly toothed. As noted above, the flowers are arranged in broad umbels (3-6 inches across!).  Each individual flower is very small, with five tiny white petals with yellow centers. The seeds are “winged”.

This plant is sometimes called Stiff Cowbane, a name that refers to the fact that the plant is poisonous to cattle and other mammals. Look for it growing in wet areas. These plants were photographed near Tom’s Creek on the Deerfield Trail in Blacksburg.

IMG_9171 IMG_9162

August Fields and Roadsides

Now is a great time to go outside for a walk and learn a bunch of new wildflowers– all at one time!  The fields and roadsides are ablaze with tall, colorful, conspicuous wildflowers. You will not have to hunt for them–many of these species grow 3 to 7 feet tall! Yellow flowers are dominating the landscape, but there are also plenty of purples and blues, whites and pinks.  Treat yourself!  Go for a walk and enjoy these last days of summer color.

Here’s a sampling of what’s flowering in my neck of the woods. Most of these flowers were taken today at the Deerfield Trail in Blacksburg:

Great Blue Lobelia
Great Blue Lobelia
Green-headed Coneflower
Green-headed Coneflower
Jewelweed
Jewelweed
Joe Pye Weed
Joe Pye Weed
Thistle
Thistle
Crownbeard
Wingstem
Butterfly Weed
Butterfly Weed
Goldenrod
Goldenrod
Meadow Parsnip
Cowbane, or Stiff Cowbane
IMG_8976
False Sunflower
blue mist flower or wild ageratum
blue mist flower or wild ageratum
ironweed
ironweed
The leaves and flowers of snakeroot
Snakeroot
Biennial Gaura or Beeblossom
Biennial Gaura or Beeblossom
Mari loves the Deerfield Trail
Mari loves the Deerfield Trail

Rare Corpse Flower To Bloom at Virginia Tech next week

From VT NEWS

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 21, 2015 – As the song goes, you were never promised a rose garden. At least not at the Jacob A. Lutz Garden Complex where all eyes and noses will be on the exotic corpse flower — a prehistoric-looking plant that will bloom early next week, releasing a primordial stench akin to rotting flesh.

Titan-arum1web
Amorphophallus titanium, or corpse flower

Lucky visitors to the complex on Virginia Tech’s campus will be able get a whiff and an eyeful of the rare plant next week when it blooms for the first time in five years.

Experts estimate the flower is set to bloom and unleash its stink bomb of a scent on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of next week at the complex, located adjacent to the Hahn Horticulture Garden where visitors will be able to see the plant, affectionately called “Phil,” up close. The garden and greenhouse are run by the Department of Horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Visitors to the corpse flower can visit the greenhouse beside the Hahn Horticulture Garden in building F-2 from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the second green house in from McComas Hall, and also engage with the college on social media using the hashtag #stinkyphil to upload photos of the plant on Twitter, and post them to the college Facebook page. Think you know when the plant will be at its peak bloom? We’re also taking guesses on Facebook and in tweets sent to us as to when the public thinks the stink bomb will drop and the flower is in full bloom. Check in at the Hahn Horticulture Garden on Facebook and check back on the social media pages for daily updates and a time lapse video of the bloom in progress.

This flower is no shrinking violet. A mature bloom can reach up to 7-12 feet in height, and a diameter of 3-4 feet. Those who want the true corpse flower experience will have to keep a close eye on when the flower actually blooms, since the blooming period will last only about 48 hours and the overwhelming stench is said to occur only in the first eight hours of blooming when the flower expends a lot of energy to attract pollinators.

The plant is native to Sumatra, Indonesia and was first discovered there in 1878 by Odoardo Beccari. The first organization to cultivate the corpse flower, whose scientific name is Amorphophallus titanium, was the Royal Botanic Gardens, in Kew, England in 1887. The plant first bloomed in the United States in 1937 at the New York Botanical Garden.

Virginia Tech’s Department of Horticulture owes its odorous legacy to James Symon, a medical doctor who collected the seeds of the plants in Sumatra and shared them with John Ford, a frequent visitor to Virginia Tech and a member of the Aroid Society, an organization dedicated to the study of plants that belong to the Philodendron or Arum family.

“Phil” is an offshoot, or corm, of the original bulb that was donated by Ford.Rar

False Sunflower

Heliopsis helianthoides

Right now, in August, bold yellow flowers are lighting up our summer fields, roadsides and streambanks. Among them, Green-headed coneflower, wingstem, yellow crownbeard, and black-eyed susans, are competing for late-summer sun. A variety of sunflowers are also part of the show. July and August is the peak of their flowering period.

Heliopsis helianthoidesSunflowers are composites with yellow ray flowers and an orange-yellow, dome-shaped head of disk flowers. Unlike the giant sunflowers you are probably familiar with, the center of other sunflower species are usually less than an inch across, and the plants are not as tall as cultivated, “common” sunflowers.

There are many kinds of sunflower species in the genus Helianthus, and keying them out requires patience. I’m here to tell you– I’m not very good at it!  That said, I may have gotten lucky with this one because of one easy-to-miss feature: the ray flowers of this plant are fertile. How can you tell?  Look at the base of the ray flowers–if you see a small, forked pistil there, then what you are looking at is not a true sunflower.  It is False Sunflower, also called Oxeye. Unlike normal sunflowers, False Sunflowers produce seeds from both the disk flowers and the ray flowers!

So after all that, this is not a Helianthus species! It is Heliopsis helianthoides.

Based on the presence of fertile ray flowers, if you think you’ve found a False Sunflower, look at the leaves: are they are opposite, simple, lanceolate to ovate, and coarsely toothed or serrated? Do the leaves have petioles (not sessile)?  Do the flowers have 8-16 golden yellow ray flowers and an orange-yellow disk? If yes, then you’re done!

The plants can be found in bloom from July until September and grow about 3-5 feet in height.

False Sunflower is a gardener’s delight.  It grows well in most soils in sunny conditions, and it will tolerate some shade. It makes a great cut flower, and when planted in masses, it provides bright and cheerful color during late summer.

The photos below were taken at two different places.  The first set were growing on Virginia Tech’s campus along the roadside. The second set were taken at Murphy’s Farm in Craig County.  Those flowers were part of a mass wildflower planting that was done to attract wildlife (birds eat the seeds).

Teasel

Dipsacus

Teasel

As summer takes a curtain call, new blooming flowers are harder to come by.  But in drying fields and along fencerows and roadsides, the tall, spiny remnants of teasel delight the eye.  Earlier in the summer, teasel produces inconspicuous white, pink or purple flowers on an oval cone of spines.  The visually interesting flower heads, borne on prickly stems, will persist in their dry state through the upcoming winter.

Teasel is not native—it was originally introduced from Europe and is now considered an invasive weed in much of North America. On the plus side, seeds of teasel are a favorite food of American Goldfinches, and the plant is sometimes grown as an ornamental for use in flower arrangements.

There are several species. Historically, the dried seedheads of one variety were once used to comb or “tease” the nap on wool fabrics.

Bloom time is summer and fall. Look for teasel now in late August–in some places you can find both new blooms and drying seed heads in the same location.

Great Blue Lobelia

Lobelia siphilitica

Great Blue Lobelia
Great Blue Lobelia

It is a late summer treat to see great blue lobelia in full bloom, often alongside the fabulously red cardinal flower. Sometimes called “blue cardinal flower”, great blue lobelia resembles red cardinal flower, (Lobelia cardinalis), in stature, habitat, and structure. Both of these plants are tall wetland species with colorful flowers borne on terminal racemes. Their tube-shaped flowers have a lower lip divided into three lobes and an upper lip divided into two lobes. The large leaves of great blue lobelia are alternate, lanceolate, serrate and sessile.

Great Blue Lobelia with Cardinal Flower
Great Blue Lobelia with Cardinal Flower

If left untouched, great blue lobelia will grow unbranched and reach up to 3 or 4 feet in height.  However, if deer manage to browse them back, the flowers will be borne on shorter, branched racemes.

Great blue lobelia is not an edible plant. It is an emetic–meaning it will cause vomiting. Long ago it was thought to be medicinally useful as a cure for syphilis, hense the species name L. siphilitica.

Hummingbirds, insects and people are attracted to this beautiful flower. If you have a wet place in your yard, collect some seeds in early October and plant them right away for enjoyment next summer. Once started in the right place, the plants will self-sow.

Thistle

Circium sp.

Thistle.  Is it a beautiful purple wildflower that generously produces nectar for butterflies and seeds for small birds like the American Goldfinch? Or, is it a treacherous weed of fields and pastures that is a scourge for farmers everywhere?  Can I paint a fair portrait?

IMG_8499It is both.  This prickly plant bears plump flower heads on tall stems, in various shades of pink, lilac, and purple. Pollinators flock to the nectar-rich blooms, and a field of thistle may be one of the best places I can think of to find an assortment of bees and butterflies at work. After thistle flowers whither, the ovary swells and produces a mass of silky, feathery seeds that are carried away by the wind. This pink pincushion of a flower is morphologically fascinating at each stage of its development, and therefore I will argue, it is lovely in its own way.

This may be the world's tallest bull thistle: 10 feet, 7 inches tall!
This may be the world’s tallest bull thistle: 10 feet, 7 inches tall!

However, thistles have developed an elaborate defense system to prevent mammals from grazing on them. Practically every part of the plant is sharp and prickly. Ouch, don’t bump into one! This inconvenient feature of the plant makes it very hard to manage, especially if you have a lot of it on your property.  For farmers, thistles are simply noxious weeds that deserve eradication.

There are many species of thistles, including the locally common Bull thistle, Canada thistle, Plumeless thistle, Musk thistle, and Field thistle.  Some are native and some are introduced. You can find thistles blooming throughout the summer and they are are never hard to find! Ask any butterfly!

Click on any image for a larger view:

a natural history gallery of wildflowers and mushrooms

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