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 finally reordered the species found here by season (at least roughly), so hopefully they will be easier to search now. If you look at the list to the left, spring flowers are at the very bottom of the list, followed by summer flowers in the middle, and fall flowers and mushrooms are near the top.

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 my posts 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!

Seedbox

Ludwigia alternifolia

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The common name “Seedbox” refers to these unusual, cube-shaped seedpods

The cute little square seed pods of Ludwig alternifolia, or Seedbox, are drying now in winter fields along with other stars of summer, like Queen Anne’s Lace and Ironweed. When fully dry, the hard seeds inside these boxes will rattle when shaken, giving rise to another common name, Rattlebox.

This dainty member of the evening primrose family has 4-petalled, bright yellow flowers that are only a half inch in diameter and sprout from the leaf axils. Four prominent sepals are visible behind the circular petals, as you can see in the photo below.  Compare the size of this flower to the 2-inch yellow flowers of Sundrops, or Common Evening Primrose.

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Four rounded, yellow petals and four large sepals

The leaves of Seedbox are alternate, entire, narrowly lanceolate, and pointed. The plant is much-branched, and grows 3 to 4 feet in height. You’ll find it blooming summer through fall; it prefers damp habitat, like marshes, seeps, and other wet areas.

The plants in the gallery below were found growing at the base of Brush Mountain in August. The seedpods were photographed later in late November. Plants growing nearby included Cardinal Flower, Blue Lobelia, and Swamp Milkweed, all plants that prefer to keep their feet wet.

 

Horse Nettle

Solanum carolinense

Horse nettle is a perennial native that is a member of the potato family of plants. You may recognize the flower and leaves as bearing some similarities to common garden vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. The flowers are star-shaped, white to purple in color, with 5 lobes.  A prominent yellow center contains a group of long anthers.

Horse nettle has spiny stems and leaves and is therefore sometimes called “Tred-softly”.  The 3-5 inch leaves are alternately arranged and irregularly lobed and toothed. And because it bears yellow tomato-like fruits that are very poisonous,  it is sometimes called Devil’s Tomato.

You will typically find horse nettle growing in waste places or along fences rows in pastures and fields.  They reach 2-3 feet in height and can be found throughout the growing season in the South. The ripened fruit persists long after the leaves have faded and are a common site in winter fields.

Related plants include Bittersweet Nightshade and Ground Cherry.

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

Coprinus comatus

Today I spotted the largest Shaggy Mane Mushroom I have ever seen–nearly a foot tall!–so of course I have to post about it!

A very tall Shaggy Mane mushroom found growing along a trail in early November in Blacksburg.
A very tall Shaggy Mane mushroom found growing along a trail in early November in Blacksburg.

Shaggy Manes are a kind of mushroom commonly referred to as “inky caps”.  That’s because they grow quickly and then “melt” into a pool of black ooze that looks like INK.  I know, that’s a gross description, but it’s true. Believe it or not, inky caps are edible (so they say) despite this obvious shortcoming.  However, they must be collected when the mushrooms are young and the gills are still white, which means you have very little time to find them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat inky caps. I just heard you can because my husband constantly reminds me that you can. (I think this is something he learned in college 35 years ago.) He often encourages me to pick them and cook them up.

A long time ago I did succumb to his encouragement. It happened when I found an especially attractive group of Shaggies growing along a trail in Oregon. That’s them in the photos below–1st) growing in the ground and 2nd) steaming on a plate! To my recollection, they were just OK sautéed in butter…but really, I think they are just more novel than anything else. To tell you the truth, I think I was just so scared I was eating something poisonous that I probably forgot to enjoy them!

(BTW, I am required to tell you: “never eat wild mushrooms unless you consult an expert and know for sure what you are putting in your mouth”. Also, I am NOT a mushroom expert!)

Now, back to Shaggy Manes… These unique gilled-mushrooms often grow in close groups, although sometimes they grow alone. They are shaped like narrow cylinders when the first come up–sort of like a closed umbrella. They can be white or tannish in color. The exterior of the cap is flaky, or “shaggy”, and the underside of the cap bears white to pink gills on the first day.

As I said earlier, they grow very quickly and in no time at all, the closed umbrella begins to open into a bell-shape.  At this point, the mushroom will look more like the skirt of some messy prom dress (see above)–but noteworthy nonetheless.  If you turn the cap over, you will see that the white gills are now dark black.

It’s all downhill from there… the mushroom will begin to “deliquesce”, or auto-digest, into a thick black ooze.

Another name for this strange-looking mushroom–and one that is quite apt– is “lawyer’s wig”!  Look for it in the summer and fall, when it often grows in “fairy rings” (a big circle of mushrooms) on lawns and along the sides of roads where the soil has been disturbed.

Shaggy Mane mushrooms are saprobes, which means they Iive off of decaying organic matter. That’s a GOOD thing for all of us–they are nature’s recyclers!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Young Shaggy Manes
Young Shaggy Manes
Shaggy Mane Mushrooms
Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

Bittersweet

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Oriental bittersweet growing along the fence row at Smithfield Plantation

Bittersweet. Fall is rushing toward closure, and with it– the leaves are falling from the sky and stacking up like piles of newspaper around me. If you listen, you can hear it. The change of seasons: bittersweet. Fall is at once beautiful and melancholy…  the mesmerizing glory of scarlet leaves against a clear blue sky…the ominous crunch of dry brown leaves underfoot. It’s almost over. It’s bittersweet.

In the Sunday air, a note of winter. Bundled under layers, I walk our dog along farm fence rows, looking earnestly for the last doses of color on the landscape. It could be hiding anywhere. A stray pink knapweed here, a gallant goldenrod still holding up there..a fading fall aster hidden beneath a bush. But for the most part, the spectacle of virginia wildflowers is over for another season, and I’m sad to see it go.

Maybe it’s in my desperation, or maybe it is the way that the late afternoon light can turn ordinary things into extraordinary delights, but suddenly my hungry eyes are appeased by the sight of bittersweet growing along a fence. It is covering the fence completely in some places, and climbing over trees and shrubs in others. And now that I see it, it is everywhere. The vine is saturated with orange-red seeds that are surrounded by deep yellow pods. The attractive fruit literally glimmers in the late afternoon sun. I have to forget for just a moment that this beautiful spectacle is compliments of a terribly invasive plant. I have to forget, because it is SO beautiful.

Like its name, bittersweet is a bit of a blessing and a curse: the colorful, fall fruit of this vine is a favorite food of birds and small mammals. But because of this, bittersweet seeds are spread far and wide by animal droppings. This seed dispersal strategy turns out to be a strong factor in why the plant is such a successful invader. The seed germinates easily, and the aggressive vine can (and does!) crowd out native plants by forming thickets or climbing up and strangling its host.

Bittersweet leaf
Bittersweet leaf

This time of year, it is relatively easy to identify bittersweet. The fruits turn yellow at the end of the summer.  When the seed pods finally begin to open in October, the red “berries” are exposed. At any distance, the red and yellow fruits are quite distinctive in the fall. But be aware that because the plant is dioecious, the male plants do not bear fruit. That’s when it could be useful to recognize the leaves instead–but unfortunately they are quite variable in shape and size.  The leaves can be round or oblong, and the tips can taper to a point. The leaf margin is slightly toothed, and sizes vary from 2 to 5 inches. Click on any photo below to explore the gallery.

There IS a native form of bittersweet in North America called American bittersweet, or Celastrus scandens. The introduced species is known as Oriental bittersweet, or Celastrus orbiculatus. They can be hard to tell apart, but the native plant has fruit at the tips of the vines only, while the invasive form bears fruit all along the branches.

Pear-shaped Puffball

Lycoperdon pyriforme

Pear-shaped Puffballs found growing on a dead tree stump Oct. 31st at Pandapas
Pear-shaped Puffballs found growing on a dead tree stump at Pandapas Pond area in late October

On a hike to the War Spur trail in late September, and then again at Pandapas Pond in late October, I found these mushrooms growing in abundance, on decaying logs.

Although the common name of this fungus suggests a pear shape, these can also be round, as seen in the photo gallery below. When they are young, pear-shaped mushrooms have bumps on the surface (see photo above), but these disappear at maturity.  Eventually a small hole will form at the top of the mushroom and then spores can escape when the mushroom is disturbed (usually by raindrops).  See the photos below for puffballs in different stages of development –and note how they are all growing on wood!

Like the giant puffball and the gem-studded puffball, these puffballs are edible when they are new (i.e. when they are still pure white inside).  Another common name for them is wolf-fart mushroom, but I won’t attempt to explain the origin of that name.  You can just look at the “smoking mushrooms” photo at the top of this page to get your imagination working!

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Hericium erinaceus

The Lions Mane Mushroom
The Lions Mane Mushroom

Just in time for Halloween: Fungi with TEETH! This pure white mushroom is quite the rock star in the fungus world, being both an edible and medicinal fungus.  It grows on recently downed or wounded hardwood trees, which is exactly where I found these!

As a mushroom, Lion’s Mane is just a mass of white spines, or teeth, that hang downward. The spines can grow up to two inches long before slowly discoloring with age.  Another common name for it is Bearded Tooth Mushroom, which is quite appropriate for what it looks like.  The photos below show one “young” mushroom (about 5 inches in diameter) found in late October, growing near the base of a standing tree (the spines aren’t fully developed yet); the other photos show more mature specimens–one found on a downed tree last August, and one found inside the whole of an oak tree in early November.

This toothed fungus is popular in Chinese cooking and medicine, and it can be cultivated, much like shiitakes, on sawdust and logs.  Growing “kits” for Lion’s Mane mushrooms are available online. So what are you waiting for?!

Click on an photo below to open a slide viewer.

The Lions Mane Mushroom
The Lions Mane Mushroom

Fly Agaric

Amanita muscaria var. formosa 

fly agaric
Fly Agaric
Fly Agaric
Fly Agaric

It is October, and along with yellow leaves and orange pumpkins, there are large, yellowish-orange mushrooms coming up in my yard in Blacksburg! I found four or five of these mushrooms, growing under a group of hemlock trees, and a whole bunch more on my neighbor’s property, coming up under pines. As it turns out, this is not that unusual.  Fly agaric is mycorrhizal on both hardwoods and conifers.

There are a number of subspecies of Amanita muscaria, and they vary widely in color.  Locally, in Southwest Virginia,  A. muscaria var. formosa is a 2-8 inch tall mushroom distinguished by a yellow cap that is freckled with cottony warts. The gills are creamy white, as is the spore print. The bulbous stipe usually shows the remnants of an annulus (or partial veil) and appears shaggy at the bottom. In the earliest stage of development, the mushroom can appear egg-like.

Look for this common mushroom in summer or fall, growing in hardwood and mixed forests. As for edibility, it is poisonous and psychoactive! (Judging from the fact that legions of gray squirrels in my yard have left these mushrooms alone all week, the word is probably out!)

The name Fly Agaric is derived from the fact that it was once used as an insecticide. Powder made from the mushrooms was mixed with milk and left out for flies to consume. Apparently the flies died in relatively short order!

a natural history gallery of wildflowers and mushrooms

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