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!

Eastern Smooth Beardtongue

Penstemon laevigatas

IMG_6420Jason Turman pointed out this mass of beardtongue flowers growing along a roadside at Primland. The purple-pink blossoms were buzzing with bumblebees at the end of May. Just like the foxglove beardtongue featured in the previous post, this plant grows 3-5 ft. in height and prefers sunny or partial sunny locations. It too has a hairy stamen right at the entrance to the flower tube that brushes all the bees that enter (hence the name beardtongue). Bloom time is May through July.

Compare it to a similar white flower called Foxglove Beardtongue.

Foxglove Beardtongue

Foxglove Beardtongue,
Foxglove Penstemon,
or Beardtongue
Penstemon digitalis

foxglove beardtongueThese showy, native  wildflowers appear from April to June in sunny or partially sunny locations.  They grow from 3 to 5 ft. tall in brilliant masses; this group was photographed along the side of the road at Primland in Meadows of Dan.

The two-lipped, tubular flowers are borne on a panicle at the top of the plant; each flower is a bit larger than 1 inch long. The stem leaves are opposite, and lance-shaped to oblong. The leaves and stem of foxglove beardtongue are hairless.

The name beardtongue comes from a prominent stamen at the mouth of the flower: it is hairy!  The other common name, foxglove penstemon, comes from the fact that the flower shape resembles foxglove (Digitalis). The tubular flowers are visited frequently by all kinds of bees.

For contrast, check out Eastern Smooth Beardtongue here.

Yellow Wood Sorrel

Oxalis sp.

Also known as Sourgrass or Lemon clover because of its distinctive sour-lemon taste, yellow wood sorrel is a pretty wildflower or a ubiquitous weed, depending on your perspective and how much of it you’ve got in your yard. There are multiple species in this genus with similar characteristics, so I won’t attempt to nail this one down to species.

A common characteristic of all of the Oxalis species is the three-part, clover-like leaf that is commonly referred to as a “shamrock”.  Each leaflet in the three-part leaf has a charming heart shape (which makes them fun to pick and share with someone you love :) ). Oxalis leaves fold up at night too, which gives them that special “oddness” that children enjoy discovering.  As the name implies, the 5-petalled, funnel-shaped flowers of Yellow Wood Sorrel are yellow.

There is a pinkish wood sorrel in our area.  Check out Violet Wood Sorrel too.

Violet Wood Sorrel

Oxalis violacea

Violet Wood Sorrel
Violet Wood Sorrel: five violet petals and five green sepals
Violet Wood Sorrel
Violet Wood Sorrel

Also known as “wild shamrocks”, this little native plant has both pretty flowers AND pretty leaves!

Ranging in height from 4 to 8 inches, Violet Wood Sorrel is what you might call a “stemless” plant. That’s because each leaf emerges directly from the ground on a long petiole (there is no stem). The 1-inch wide leaves are composed of three heart-shaped leaflets. The leaflets are sometimes marked with a reddish tinge, as they are in the photo above.

Violet Wood Sorrel
Violet Wood Sorrel

Unlike other Oxalis species that are yellow, this one has pink or violet flowers with whitish-green centers. Each bell-shaped flower has five petals and five small, green sepals. Much like the leaves, the flowers are borne on long stalks. There may be two to several flower buds on each stalk (peduncle).

Here are some interesting things to note about this little pink flower with shamrock-shaped leaves:

  • Shamrocks became associated with St. Patrick in Ireland when he supposedly used the leaf of this plant to demonstrate the concept the Holy Trinity.
  • All parts of this plant are edible in small quantities–apparently the taste is lemony-sour so it can be used in salads to perk up the flavors.
  • And finally, the entire plant exhibits evening “sleep patterns”. The leaves fold downward and the flowers close at night.

Look for Violet Wood Sorrel blooming now, in late May, and then for another month or so. Occasionally, it will re-bloom in the fall.

Mountain Laurel

Kalmia latifolia

Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

Run, don’t walk! Put on your hiking shoes and head up any Appalachian mountain trail (right now!) in May and June and you will  be rewarded with gorgeous Mountain Laurel blooms. This evergreen shrub can put on a spectacular display, since it varies in height from 3 to 15 feet and forms thick colonies in the understory or along the tops of ridges.

Fragrant clusters of showy flowers borne at the top of the plant can be white to pale pink.  Each round flower is about an inch in diameter; the petals are fused together to form a dainty “pinwheel”; in the pink variety it is splashed with red detail. Even the  balloon-like buds are a sight to behold!

Interestingly, all parts of this shrub are poisonous to cattle and humans, right down to the pollen and nectar! Honey made from the flowers can cause heart arrhythmia and convulsions and has been known throughout history as “mad honey”. Other common names for this shrub suggest the known toxicity:  sheep laurel and lambkill.

Like flame azalea or wild blueberry, mountain laurel is a member of the Heath family and prefers acid soils. It is highly coveted as an addition to the home garden, but evidently its site requirements can be somewhat exacting. Make sure to amend the soil appropriately if you decide to plant this native shrub!

If you are a regular hiker, be aware that Mountain Laurel blooms at different times depending on elevation.  It is in full and glorious bloom on the Gateway Trail on Brush Mountain this week (May 25). (There are acres of it about half-way up the trail –elevation 2300 feet.)  However, at the top of Salt Pond Mountain (4300 feet) the shrub is not in bloom yet, and probably won’t open for another two weeks.

Yellow Hawkweed or King Devil

Hieracium caespitosum (H. pratense)

King Devil and a visiting moth
King Devil and a visiting moth

I’ve been spotting a new wildflower around town this week, and I even saw it a couple of days ago on top of Salt Pond Mountain, near Mountain Lake. It is hard to miss this plant because the flower stalks are tall and straight and they are topped with sunny yellow flowers that are very noticeable, even from a distance.

King Devil
King Devil: hairy stem and buds

The flowers look like dandelions, only smaller (they are about a half-inch across in diameter). And instead of one flower per stem, hawkweed flowers occur in a tight cluster of several flowers at the top of a tall, unbranched stem. Before the flowers open, the buds are surrounded by bracts that are conspicuously hairy.

King Devil
King Devil is in the Family Asteraceae (composites)

From looking at the photos, you can easily guess that Hawkweed is a composite, but notice the complete lack of disk flowers in the center of this composite…  weird, eh? All the yellow “petals” that you see are actually ray flowers, and each ray has 5 little teeth on the end that give it a scalloped look. (Just for contrast, compare this yellow hawkweed  to Tansy, which has all disk flowers and no ray flowers!)

Leaves and flower cluster of King Devil
Leaves and flower cluster of King Devil

King Devil’s leaves are much less conspicuous than the flowers.  A small number of basal leaves can be found down at ground-level. They are long and skinny (up to 8 inches long) with smooth margins, and they are otherwise unremarkable except they are  covered by coarse hairs on both sides. The stem on each plant is also covered with bristly hair.

There are native species of hawkweed in the U.S. as well as European introductions. Many of these occur in the same areas, at the same time, so positive identification can be challenging.  To make matters worse, there are numerous common names for the same plant. Besides King Devil, other common names include yellow hawkweed, meadow hawkweed, devil’s paintbrush, and yellow devil.

Legend had it that hawks ate this plant plant in order to improve their eyesight. I guess it followed then that eating the plant could help people “see like a hawk” too.  As for the “devil” in the name King Devil, it is probably a farmer’s description of the plant’s weedy invasiveness.  All the hawkweeds “spread like the devil” and will quickly out-compete more desirable natives!

Look for King Devil blooming now (June through August) in lawns and pastures, and along roadsides throughout the region.  Also note a similar species blooming around the same time of year: Smooth Hawksbeard.

Green and Gold

Golden Star
or Green and Gold
Chrysogonum virginianum

You might be familiar with this plant from home gardens.  It is a native wildflower with a spreading habit and long-lasting flowers, so it makes an excellent ground cover in the garden. The bright yellow flowers with contrasting brown stamens are held high above the light green, triangular leaves. This plant flowers profusely in spring and fall, giving you one more reason to grow it at home if you don’t already have some.

These photos were taken at a couple of my favorite places: along a wooded road in Shawsville, at Falls Ridge Preserve in Ellett Valley, and at Wildwood Park in Radford, Virginia.

a natural history gallery of wildflowers and mushrooms

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