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!

Blue Vervain

Verbena hastata

Blue vervain
Blue vervain, Verbena hastata

No need to bend over to see this tall beauty!  Blue vervain grows 2 to 5 feet tall! I found these plants growing on the banks of Pandapas Pond in June and July in Montgomery County, Virginia.

The 5-petaled, violet-blue flowers of blue vervain are borne on unique branching spikes. The flowers on each spike slowly open from the bottom to the top. Another noteworthy feature is the 4-sided and grooved stem. Blue vervain leaves are born on short stems; they are elliptic and coarsely toothed (doubly serrated). See the photos below.

Because it prefers wet places like pond shores and seeps, blue vervain is sometimes called swamp vervain. Historically, it was used for both food and medicine. The wide-ranging medicinal uses are almost too numerous to mention, but include fever-reducer, expectorant, digestive-aid, and lactation-aid!  A true multi-purpose plant!

Bloom time for this attractive native plant is July to September.

Doubly-serrate margins of the blue vervain leaf
Doubly-serrate margins of the blue vervain leaf
Leaf attachment in blue vervain
Leaf attachment in blue vervain
The stem is 4-sided and grooved
The stem is 4-sided and grooved
Blue vervain
Blue vervain
Blue vervain
Blue vervain
Blue Vervain
Blue Vervain

Jack O’Lantern Mushroom

Omphalotus illudens

Jack O'Lantern Mushrooms
Jack O’Lantern Mushrooms

No, it is not time for Halloween, but it IS time for bright orange mushrooms to start popping out of the ground to do a little pre-holiday scaring. The Jack O’Lantern Mushroom is pretty distinctive, so you should have little trouble identifying this one.  If a big patch of orange catches your eye in the local woods or neighborhood, be sure to stop and take a closer look.

You will find Jack O’Lanterns growing in groups, in late summer, often on stumps or places where trees have been cut down. That’s because this species grows on wood. The mushroom cap itself can be quite large—up to 8 inches in diameter, so a “patch” of jacks can measure two feet across at full size. The caps, stems, and gills in this species are orange. The large, fleshy gills run partially down the stem.

Legend has it that the gills of this mushroom are bioluminescent, such that you will see a greenish glow if you view them in the dark. I have actually seen this myself, having taken a large Jack to bed with me and then stayed awake long enough to see the mushroom glowing with my very own eyes. My husband thought this was a pretty silly thing to do, but once his eyes adjusted, he saw it too. Now he’s a believer.

Be aware that young versions of this mushroom are often mistaken for chanterelles, which are edible. Jack O’Lantern Mushrooms on the other hand, are toxic–and should never be consumed. One obvious way to tell these two kinds of mushrooms apart is by the gills. Jacks have non-forking, well-developed gills that can be separated and peeled off from the cap. Chanterelles have forking, “false gills”, which are really just ridges that cannot be separated from the cap. Also, Jacks tend to grow in clusters on wood, while chanterelles grow singly, or doubly in the soil.

Check out the photo gallery below. You can click on any photo to open a larger lightbox.

Knapweed

Centaurea

A Silvery Checkerspot visiting spotted knapweed

Imagine a genus with 500+ species in it… Then imagine how intimidating it is to name a flower in this group to species! So in the interest of avoiding an error, I’ll stop at the genus level on this one. The folks at Wikipedia report that all the members of the genus Centaurea share these characteristics:

  • they are in the family Asteraceae
  • the leaves at the bottom of the plant are usually divided and become smaller and entire toward the top
  • across the genus, the flowers of plants in this genus can vary in color:  red, pink, blue or yellow
  • the disk flowers (center of the flower) may be darker than the ray flowers along the margins of the flower
  • the flowers erupt from a basket-like cluster of scaly bracts
  • many species are allelopathic, which gives them a competitive advantage; consequently many are considered invasive weeds
  • common names include: knapweed, centaury, centory, starthistles, basketflower, cornflower
  • all are ‘copious nectar producers’ that are attractive to pollinators like butterflies and bees
  • some species, like cornflower (or bachelor’s buttons) are cultivated as beloved ornamentals in gardens

I believe that at least some of the flowers in this gallery are Spotted Knapweed, or star thistle, which is an introduced species that is listed as an invasive plant in much of North America. This biennial or short-lived perennial thrives on disturbed sites. The name “spotted” is derived from the spots formed by black margins on the flower bract tips. The flowers of spotted knapweed are pink to purple and have a cone of bracts below the flowerhead that looks a bit like a basket.  I’ve included some leaf images here as well, so if there’s an expert out there that can key these flowers to species, I’d be grateful.

The plants here were photographed in July and August, growing abundantly in abandoned hayfields near Blacksburg, Virginia.

Bittersweet Nightshade

Solanum dulcamara

Ripening berries of bittersweet nightshade
Ripening berries of bittersweet nightshade

I grew up calling this semi-woody vine deadly nightshade, but it turns out I was technically wrong. This is bittersweet nightshade. It goes by many other names too, depending on where you live, so it is probably better to call this one by its species name, Solanum dulcamara, at least for now.

The purple flowers of bittersweet nightshade are shaped like an exploding star: the petals arch backwards and expose bright yellow stamens. The green, egg-shaped berries turn orange, and then bright red when they are ripe. The total effect of a ripening vine can be quite beautiful in summer and fall.

Bittersweet nightshade is an introduced species that is now considered invasive.  It is common in riparian areas and wetlands, but also in waste areas and along roads and fencerows. All parts of the plant are moderately poisonous, but because it tastes bad, most animals will avoid eating it.  (A few bird species eat the berries and disperse the seeds.)

Gardeners beware: children may be attracted to the colorful berries of nightshade and want to eat them, so ignoring this weed in the home garden could result in accidental poisoning.

Locally in Virginia, we have another plant that is commonly called “bittersweet”, but it is in a different genus altogether (Celastrus).  Other common names of bittersweet nightshade include deadly nightshade, bitter nightshade, climbing nightshade, trailing nightshade and poisonberry.

American Poke

Phytolacca americana

American Poke

Also known as Virginia poke, American nightshade, pokeweed, and pokeberry, among other names, this native perennial is a towering beauty in fallow fields. American poke grows very tall (6-12 ft!) and typically inhabits waste areas and edge habitat.

The leaves of American poke are simple, alternate, lanceolate, entire, and very large (up to 16 inches in length). The stems can range from light green to a distinctive rhubarb-red or magenta.

In spring and summer, the new flowers of this plant are borne on a pendant raceme. Each flower is very small, with 5 white sepals that look like petals (but are not). The flowers give way to mature fruits later in the summer; the long cluster of fruit consists of berries that ripen to such a dark shade of purple that they almost appear black. Birds eat the berries and disperse the seeds.

Poke is toxic to livestock and humans.  However, some parts of the plant have historically been used as food, medicine, dye, or even poison. Very specific preparation techniques are required to rid the plant of  toxic chemicals, so I don’t recommend experimenting with it.  The roots are the most poisonous parts of the plant, followed by the leaves, stems, and berries.

But all said, the flowers, berries, and stems of American poke are quite beautiful, so enjoy the slideshow below!

Square-stemmed Monkey-flower

Mimulus ringens

Allegheny monkeyflower, Square-stemmed Monkeyflower
Allegheny Monkey-flower or Square-stemmed Monkey-flower
IMG_3677
The flowers emerge 2-at-a-time from the leaf axil on long pedicels; the calyx is tubular and angled.

Monkey flower is a tall native wildflower that is fond of wet places.  Like all members of the snapdragon group, monkeyflower has 2 lips that surround an open “mouth”.  The upper lip has 2 frilly lobes and the lower lip has 3 lobes.  If you squeeze the two lips together you can make “the monkey” laugh!

Monkey flower is uniformly violet-blue (sometimes pink or white) except for two yellow ridges that line the throat. The calyx behind the corolla is notable because it is tubular and angled.

This highly-branched plant has a square central stem and opposite leaves.  The leaves are lanceolate, stemless and slightly clasping at the stem. The flowers occur two-at-a-time in the upper part of the plant; each flower has a long pedicel that emerges from the leaf axil. This arrangement of leaves and flowers gives the plant a light and airy appearance.

The plant is edible when young but it is high in salt. Pioneers and native Americans dried the plant and used it as a salt-subtitute in cooking.

Look for monkey flower near swamps, springs, ponds, and other wet places in the summer time.  Because it grows up to four feet in height, the pretty blue-violet flowers are hard to miss.

Common names: Allegheny monkeyflower, Square-stemmed Monkeyflower

Black Trumpets

Craterellus cornucopioides

Black Trumpets
Black Trumpets
Black Trumpets
Black Trumpets
Black Trumpets
Black Trumpets

Although I’ve heard of edible black trumpet mushrooms before, I was not expecting to find them today. I practically fell over them on my way to pick up a few chanterelles! Once I got a good look at them, I started to find them at just about every spot where I also found bright yellow-orange chanterelles.

By themselves, black trumpet mushrooms are impossibly camouflaged on the forest floor, since they tend to look exactly like crumpled leaf litter. I did notice that they seem to like mossy areas under trees.

When you do find them, this species tends to occur in groups, so that’s good!  Black trumpets are classified as choice edibles! They are not fleshy like typical mushrooms, but instead tend to be as thin as a potato chip–or maybe more like thinly shaved dark chocolate. I think you would have to harvest a whole lot of these at one time to make it worth your time to cook them for supper!*

When young, black trumpets are tubular and have a rolled up edge at the top. As the mushroom grows, the tube widens into the shape of a horn (note the species name derived from cornucopia, the horn of plenty). The color is typically brownish when young and then black or shades of gray at maturity. See the photos below for black trumpets of various sizes and colors.

*Never eat wild mushrooms unless you consult an expert first! (And I am not an expert!)

Young black trumpet mushrooms
Young black trumpet mushrooms
Young black trumpet mushrooms coming up
Young black trumpet mushrooms coming up
Black Trumpets
Black Trumpets
Black trumpets
Black trumpets
Black trumpets
Black trumpets
Black trumpets
Black trumpets

a natural history gallery of wildflowers and mushrooms

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