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!


Allium tricoccum


Even though I know I still have a lot to learn about living in the mountains, I was nonetheless surprised last week when I discovered this edible plant growing in such profusion along a roadside in Blacksburg. After a little investigating, I learned that “ramps” are wild onions (sometimes called “wild leeks”) that grow in the forests of the Appalachian Mountains. They don’t look like the traditional onions that you would grow in the garden.  Ramps look more like “lily of the valley”–the leaves are broad in the middle and narrow at the ends.  The lower part of the stem is tinged with ruby red and the bulb is lily-white. The bulb part, in fact, looks just like a scallion, or later in the season, like a leek.

In Appalachia, ramps are traditionally collected and eaten in the springtime when the greens are young. The entire plant is chopped and sauteed, and used in any dish that would normally call for onions. Once cooked, the green part of the plant wilts like spinach. Both the bulb and the greens taste like a combination of garlic and sweet onions, which is to say– ramps taste very good!

Ramp flower
A cluster of small white flowers are borne on stout, red stems

Like other spring ephemerals, ramp leaves emerge from the forest floor early (March-April). By the time the forest canopy fully leafs out, ramp leaves are turning yellow and dying back.  Then, a single stalk of white flowers rises from the base of of the plant sometime in May. By the time the flowers fully open in June, nothing is left of the leaves! A round cluster of small white flowers is borne on a stout reddish stem. The flowers in the gallery below were photographed on June 29th in 2014.

Miss Mari in her favorite ramp spot

Ramps prefer to grow in cool, moist forests, often near streams.  When conditions are right, they can cover the forest floor for great distances, as you will see in all the photos.

To celebrate ramp season in the Appalachian Mountains, some communities hold ramp festivals.  Here’s a link to one in West Virginia– check it out: http://www.richwooders.com/ramp/ramps.htm

Golden Ragwort

Senecio aureus or Packera aurea

Flowers of Golden Ragwort, Senecio aureus
Flowers of Golden Ragwort, Senecio aureus
Heart-shaped leaves ofGolden Ragwort, Senecio aureus
Heart-shaped leaves ofGolden Ragwort, Senecio aureus

Blooming now, April through May, is Senecio aureus, or Golden Ragwort!  The flower stalks of this spring wildflower can grow 12 to 30 inches in height, towering over a low, spreading groundcover of heart-shaped leaves. Each of the basal leaves is bluntly toothed and has a long stem, or petiole. The underside of the leaf is purplish in color.

Golden Ragwort is another member of the composite family, Asteraceae. In this species, multiple flower heads create an airy spray of color floating on wispy stalks; both the ray flowers and the disk flowers are brilliant, golden yellow. The leaves on the flower stalk are quite different from the basal leaves: they are small, alternate and finely dissected– almost fern-like. Click on the photos below for a larger view of the leaf morphology.

Historically, all of the species in the genus Senecio had medical applications for home-use.  Golden ragwort was used to treat a number of uterine maladies in women, hence the other common names for the plant–Squaw Weed and Life Root.

It is not uncommon to find very large patches of this plant in bloom on the forest floor, just before the trees leaf out.  Golden Ragwort produces a welcome splash of spring color in the otherwise drab late-winter to early-spring landscape.

Welcome Spring 2015!

Spring is here, finally, and as if someone switched on a lightbulb after a long night’s sleep, the parade of spring ephemerals has quickly begun in our Appalachian woodlands. The first coltsfoot flowers were just peaking out last weekend, and today the bloodroot in my yard has already gone to seed. Run, don’t walk, to your favorite park or forest haunt and watch as the earth takes her first deep breaths and stretches out once more. It is good for your soul, and you know it.  So, get out. Get out. Get Out!!!

Here’s what’s blooming in my Southwest Virginia backyard (April 12).  Keep in mind that if you live at a higher or lower elevation, you may be seeing these flowers a few weeks ahead or behind of the dates I have noted on these posts.

1. Coltsfoot
2. Bloodroot
3. Twin Leaf
4. Dutchman’s Breeches
5. Virginia Heartleaf 
6. Skunk Cabbage
7. Trout Lily
8. Cutleaf Toothwort
9. Wood Poppy
10. Spring Beauties
11. Hepatica
12. Rue Anemone
12. Virginia Bluebells
13. Yellow Corydalis
14. Wood Anemone
15. Red Trillium
16. White Trillium
17. Morels
18. Oyster Mushrooms

And here are today’s pictures–glorious bloodroot and twin leaf steal the limelight today! They will surely be the first to fade.

Click on a photo to open the slideshow.

Twin Leaf
Twin Leaf

Wild Blue Phlox

Phlox divaricata

My wooded yard is full of this tall, lovely wildflower!  Although it is called blue phlox, the flowers sometimes appear pink or purple. Look closely and you will see that the outer edge of the flower petal is notched outward.  The stem of this plant is hairy and slightly sticky; the leaves at the base of the plant are long and narrow. This is a tall variety of phlox, topping out at about 12-18 inches.

Blue phlox has a colony-forming growth habit, spreading by underground stems.  It forms huge blue drifts, starting in early April.  It is wonderfully fragrant: stand near a hillside of wild phlox and breathe in springtime!

Oyster Mushrooms

 I’ve read that you can find oyster mushrooms just about any month of the year in the South.  I’ve now found them on the same dead tree in my yard in November, July, September, and May.  I even found some in early April in another location. So when can you find oyster mushrooms in Virginia?  Fall, Spring, and Summer I guess!

See the photo gallery below for the most recent finds. These photos show a nice variety of sizes, all harvested at different times of the year.

Red Trillium

Red Trillium, Red Wakerobin, and/or Southern Red Trillium

Trillium erectum and Trillium sulcatum

Red Trillium
Red Trillium

Another Virginia native, red trillium is a springtime perennial that can be found in flower from April until June.  Luckily for us, the individual scarlet flowers can persist for up to a full month.

All the trilliums arise from an underground rhizome and have triangular-shaped leaves that whorl around an unbranched stem. As the name Trillium implies, the floral parts occur in multiples of three. The deep maroon-red color of this particular flower, along with the beautiful symmetry of the petals, sepals and leaves, make red trillium a visual gem in the forest.

A trillium primer might be in order here:  there are two basic kinds of flowers in the genus Trillium.  The distinction between the two lies in how the flower is arranged on the stem.  If the flower hangs from  its own pedicel (if the flower has a stalk), then the trillium is placed in a group called the wakerobins.  If there is no pedicel or stalk on the flower (in other words, if it appears to be sitting right on the leaves–or sessile), then the trillium is put in a group called toadshades. A good example of a toadshade can be seen here.

Red trillium, or Nodding Wakerobin at Bottom Creek Nature Conservancy in April 2015
Red trillium is also called Nodding Wake-robin because the flower droops from its stem

The flowers pictured on this page are wakerobins.  Notice how each flower hangs from a dainty pedicle, which is suspended above the leaves. The flowers have a tendency to droop over from this thin stem, hence one of the common names: “nodding wake-robin”.

Now comes the hard part.  What are the actual species pictured here?  Is this Red Trillium (Trillium erectum), otherwise known as Stinking Benjamin because it smells like a wet dog in order to attract flies as pollinators? (darn!–we can’t smell these photos!)  Or is it Southern Red Trillium (Trillium sulcatum), whose sepals are supposed to be distinctive because they are keeled at the tips like a boat?  Both species have a dark-colored ovary (red or maroon), and both can vary in petal color from red to creamy white.  So which is it?  I don’t know–please set me straight if you know which is which!

Either way, trillium seeds are dispersed by a variety of insects and small mammals, but especially by ants. Red trillium has been used as an herbal medicine.  It is reported to have antiseptic and astringent qualities and was used for the treatment of illnesses as far-reaching as gangrene, bleeding, and snakebites.

The photos below were taken at Mountain Lake (above the lodge) and Rock Castle Creek Gorge.  The second group were taken at a spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd. That group had a large number of white flowers mixed among the red-flowering plants. The others are from Glen Alton in mid-May and Bottom Creek Gorge Conservancy in April.

Click on any photo to open a larger viewer.

Group 1:

Group 2: The white flowers may be the form albolutescens.

Yellow Corydalis

Corydalis flavula

Corydalis, or Yellow Harlequin
Corydalis, or Yellow Harlequin

The neatly dissected, compound leaves of Corydalis will remind you of Dutchman’s Breeches or Bleeding Hearts.  That’s because these plants are all in the same family–the fumewort family.  The plants in the Corydalis genus have elongated flowers that are held above the leaves. The species pictured here, Corydalis flavula, is a short, wild species that only reaches about 12 inches in height and has yellow flowers.  The upper petal of the flower is toothed and turned upward, distinguishing it from other similar species. This is a re-seeding, native annual that prefers moist, loose soil.

Corydalis is sometimes called yellow harlequin.  It  can be found growing in moist woods in April and May. I found these plants growing at Falls Ridge Preserve, near Blacksburg, Virginia, in April.

In the gallery below, the last two photos in the series are Corydalis lutea.  These plants were photographed in my neighbor’s garden. They were most likely purchased commercially and sold under the common name “yellow bleeding hearts”.

a natural history gallery of wildflowers and mushrooms


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