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. The images are organized by species and date, and usually include close-ups of leaves, stems and flowers along with basic natural history information. 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.
If you arrived here because you are looking for information about a specific plant, try using the search bar in the right sidebar. Common names and latin names can be searched. If you would just like to browse what is here, try scanning the archive in the left sidebar.
Most of these blog posts contain photo gallery/slideshows, so be sure to click on the gallery to open a larger viewer.
Welcome to Virginia Wildflowers! Enjoy your visit!
When you see the word Echinacea, you probably think “cold remedy”. Of all the native plants that have made their way from the field to the medicine cabinet, this one is probably one of the most famous. The roots and leaves of Purple Coneflower, whose genus name is Echinacea, have long been used to treat inflammation, infections, pain, and even wounds. It is said to stimulate the immune system -for instance, you might take it when you feel a cold coming on–and it is available in the supplement aisle of almost any grocery store.
As a flower, this is an aster with pinkish-purple ray flowers and orange to purple disk flowers that are often arranged in a dome (hence the name coneflower). The disk flowers are stiff and bristly, and they really resemble a sea urchin if you look close enough (in fact, “echinos” means sea urchin). The ray flowers hang downward, which accents the center beautifully. The inflorescence is borne on a tall, hairy stem (peduncle).
The leaves of this prairie species are alternate, lance-shaped, and tapering to a point; they are usually, but not always, hairy.
Although we typically think of Purple Coneflower as a garden perennial (and a fine one at that!), this species is a native on the east coast and is associated with prairies and open woodlands. It tolerates dry conditions and seems to thrive in the heat of summer. Bloom time is July-September.
Some of the photos below were taken at Brian Murphy’s farm in Craig County. He’s converting old pastures to wildlife habitat, and his wildflowers are really spectacular! Others were taken in local gardens.
Purple Coneflower and Gray-headed Coneflower at Murphy’s farm
Blooming now in mid-July: Cup Plant! The name of this sunflower-like aster comes from the manner in which the upper leaves adhere to the stem. The opposite, toothed leaves are fused at their bases, forming a completecuparound the stem. The leaves are rough and ovate to triangular. The central stem of this plant is square and mostly smooth.
But the real story here is the bright and cheerful flowers that can be up to 3-4 inches wide. Look closely and you will see that the light yellow ray flowers are fertile and the amber-colored disk flowers stick up prominently above the center, creating quite a show. Pollinators swarm to these blossoms and birds flock to eat the seeds and drink the water that sometimes stands in the leaf “cups”.
I found these specimens growing along the banks of the Little River, near Floyd, which is typical habitat for Cup flower. They are hard to miss because they are so darn tall: 4 to 8 feet high! Bloom time is July through September.
Cup Plant or Indian Cup
Cup Plant or Indian Cup: fused leaves
Cup Plant or Indian Cup
Cup Plant or Indian Cup
The cup plant’s upper leaves are fused together at the base, forming a cup (Wikipedia image)
Cup Plant in July
Cup plant habitat
Cup Plant habitat along the Little River, near Floyd, VA
Considering how long I’ve been at this flower blog, it is a wonder that I haven’t posted a portrait of yarrow yet! It is so ubiquitous that it practically goes unnoticed in summer fields and roadsides. And yet, there is something very special about this simple white flower…
Of course you know by now that plants in the Composite Family typically have two kinds of flowers: ray flowers and disk flowers. Usually the disk flowers form a flat or rounded center, and the ray flowers encircle the disk. A daisy is the classic example of a composite: it has yellow disk flowers and white ray flowers.
Yarrow is a composite too, but instead of having just one flower head per stem, this plants bears dozens of small white (sometimes pink) flower heads in a flat-topped cluster at the top of each stem. Each single “flower head” usually has 5 white rays. Look closely at the slides below to see that each ray has 3 little notches. Yarrow’s small, aromatic leaves are fern-like and much dissected. In fact, they are often described as feathery.
Yarrow varies in height from 12-36 inches tall, and is often found mixed with tall grasses and other wild, summer wildflowers like queen anne’s lace and flowering spurge. Bloom time is June-August.
Yarrow is a real rockstar in the world of herbal medicine. The plant contains a very large number of active chemicals that have been proven effective in treating everything from bleeding to fever to inflammation to toothache pain.
According to Wikipedia, common names for this historically important herb include nosebleed plant (stops bleeding), old man’s pepper (used as snuff), devil’s nettle (used in potions and spells), sanguinary (attendant at bloodshed), milfoil, soldier’s woundwort or herbal militaris (useful in times of war), thousand-leaf (describes the many-segmented leaves), and thousand-seal. Next time you see it in your travels, chew a leaf or two to see what the plant has to offer. I bet your mouth gets numb!
Early settlers brought seeds of soapwort to the U.S. from Europe. It was actively cultivated in gardens. An extract made from the juice of the plant was used to create suds when washing clothes–hence the name soapwort. The plant was also called “Bouncing Bet”, after the old-timey name for a wash woman. From a chemical point of view, soapwort contains saponins–chemicals that make a soapy lather when mixed with water.
The leaves of Bouncing Bet are opposite, elliptical, and sessile (they don’t have petioles). They can grow in size from 1 to 4 inches long. The 5-petaled flowers occur in clusters at the top of the plant; they range in color from white to pink. The flowers are particularly fragrant at night. The plants grow up to 2 feet tall and tend to occur in small colonies in sunny areas.
Farmers beware: saponins are toxic when ingested, so generally speaking, animals should not be grazed on land that harbors a great deal of soapwort. The flowers pictured here were growing along a roadside in the Washington-Jefferson National Forest near Glen Alton in Giles County.
It’s showtime! Here’s an exotic-looking Virginia native that is a member of the lily family (Liliaceae).
Canada Lily grows in moist woods and along wood margins. Reaching 2-5 feet tall, the erect plant has an unbranched stem with whorls of 3-8 elongated leaves; the leaf edges are smooth (not toothed).
The nodding flowers are borne at the top of the plant and are roughly 2 inches wide; the flowers can be yellow, orange, or red. Each flower has 6 petals (tepals) and 6 stamens with red anthers. Invert the flower to see a seductive yellow throat with dark spots.
Bloom time for Canada Lily is June and July. Some of these plants were photographed at Glen Alton. The others were found near my neighbor’s pond in Blacksburg (thanks Mary Houska!).
Identification Note: This striking flower has recurved petals like other wild lilies, but the petals (or tepals) do not curve all the way back to the base of the flower like they do in the Turk’s Cap lily.
Yellow loosetrifes have 5 yellow petals; this species differs from the others in a couple of ways. First, the edges of the flower petals are gently wavy or toothed. You can observe that in the photo above. Also, the flowers of this plant always face downward (nodding), such that you have to turn them over to see what they look like. And finally, the simple leaves of Fringed Loosestrife have hairy or “fringed” petioles. The leaf arrangement is opposite and the margins are entire (not toothed).
This is a plant of wet places that can grow 1 to 4 feet in height. I found it mixed in among assorted, sun-loving plants in a moist roadside area next to Big Stoney Creek in Giles County.
This tall, native mint can be found right now, in July, growing in fields and along roadsides. The tubular-shaped flowers are massed in a compact head at the top of the plant; each flower is white with red flecks. The leaves are simple, opposite, and gently toothed. Like all the bee balms, the fragrant flowers are frequented by bees and butterflies of all kinds.
Basil Bee Balm is also commonly known as white bergamot. The leaves can be dried and used as a tea.