Helenium autumnale

Helenium autumnale, Sneezeweed

I really like this species epithet: autumnale!  It reminds me of what is happening right now, ever so subtly, in the great outdoors:  There are little signs of autumn coming–the black gums dropping bright red leaves on the forest floor…  the preying mantis growing large and more conspicuous on the prowl… the late summer flowers putting on their biggest show yet, in colors that welcome the upcoming fall season: brilliant golds, soft creams, and deep purples…  It all puts one in mind of a Robert Frost poem about autumn… but let’s not go there yet—it is just way too early for that!

Autumn Sneezeweed (or Helen’s Flower): Note how each ray flower of this aster is turned backward and bears a pretty scalloped edge with 3 lobes.  And the yellow center of disk flowers is globular, not flattened. It is just darling!

Sneezeweed is a native perennial that will grow 2-5 feet in height while flaunting numerous bright yellow, daisy-like blooms. The stem is winged; the leaves are dark green, alternate, lance-shaped and slightly toothed. This wildflower is so pretty that cultivars of it are commonly grown by gardeners looking to add some height and color to their fall gardens.

A late-summer and fall-blooming plant of moist places, sneezeweed likes to keep its feet wet in hot weather. I photographed these plants growing around the perimeter of Pandapas Pond, in Montgomery County, in late August; others were spotted around the same time in a sunny bog near Glen Alton.

From a medicinal perspective, sneezeweed was once dried to a powder and used to make snuff. Achoo!! Excuse me. The purpose of snuff was to cause sneezing, which we all know helps to rid the body of evil spirits!

Achoo!! More snuff please!


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. Earlier spring flowers are at the bottom of the list; my most recent posts are at the top.

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!

Ravenel’s Stinkhorn

Phallus ravenelii

Ravenel’s Stinkhorn

I know this is kind of gross, but I believe in equal opportunity.   So–  I found this gray-capped stinkhorn growing in the mulch in my neighbor’s yard in early October.  There were a lot of them growing in the same area, with many lying on the ground “deliquescing” while others were still emerging from their “eggs”.  It was really a stinking mess, but I said to myself: I think I see a blog post right here!

According to an article in Wikipedia, this phallic mushroom grows up to six inches tall. The mushroom erupts from a white to pink sac called the volva, and sometimes part of the sac remains on the mushroom as a “veil”.  The stem of the mushroom is hollow, pitted and spongy-looking (go ahead, you can say Yuk!). You can see these characteristics in the photo gallery below.

All stinkhorns have a bad odor.  In the case of Ravenel’s stinkhorn, the odor comes from the spore slime that covers the cap.

This mushroom is a decomposer and can often be found growing on wood chips and tree stumps.  And guess what? That’s exactly the kind of habitat where this group of stinkhorns were spotted!  Don’t you love nature?

Pear-shaped puffball

Lycoperdon pyriforme

On a hike to the War Spur trail in late September, I found these mushrooms growing in abundance, on decaying logs.  Although the name suggests a pear shape, these can also be round, as seen in these photos. When they are young, pear-shaped mushrooms have bumps on the surface, 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…

Gem-studded Puffballs

Lycoperdon perlatum

This information is taken directly from Wikipedia:

“This mushroom, popularly known as the common puffballwarted puffballgem-studded puffball, or the devil’s snuff-box, is a species of puffball fungus in the family Agaricaceae. A widespread species with a cosmopolitan distribution, it is a medium-sized puffball with a round fruit body tapering to a wide stalk. It is off-white with a top covered in short spiny bumps or “jewels”, which are easily rubbed off to leave a netlike pattern on the surface. When mature it becomes brown, and a hole in the top opens to releasespores in a burst when the body is compressed by touch or falling raindrops.

The puffball grows in fields, gardens, and along roadsides, as well as in grassy clearings in woods. It is edible when young and while the internal flesh is completely white, although care must be taken to avoid confusion with immature fruit bodies of poisonous Amanita species.”

Giant Puffballs

Calvatia gigantea

Well, it’s officially October!  Where did the summer go?  Weeks have gone by with little rain and fall mushrooms in our area of Virginia have been somewhat scarce lately.  But something tells me that’s about to change!  We’ve had several days of rain earlier this week and now a deluge is predicted for the weekend.  Assuming we’re not all underwater next week, we can probably expect to see some fall mushrooms in our local environs soon.

The giant puffball mushroom can be found in late summer and fall in fields and forests.  While young, these round mushrooms are pure white– inside and out.  When mature, the white insides turn greenish brown with developing spores (not very appetizing).  Still later, the spores erupt like a fine dust when the mushroom is kicked or otherwise disturbed. It is a pretty impressive thing to see!

I have read that giant puffball mushrooms are edible when they are young.  Books say they should still be pure white inside when picked, and then they should be fully cooked before eating. I’ve tried it, but I’m not here to recommend it. It is sort of like eating flavorless marshmallows…a lot of work for no reward!

See the gallery to have a look at the size of these things and to view a cooked slice of puffball–a “puffball cutlet” if you will.  It definitely looks more promising than it tastes!

Golden Aster

Chrysopsis mariana

Maryland Golden Aser (Chrysopsis mariana)

Blooming in late summer, this showy, golden yellow aster grows in barren areas.  These were photographed growing along a steep roadside embankment on Brush Mountain in Southwest Virginia.

The leaves are alternate, simple, entire to ever-so-lightly toothed, hairy, with a strong mid-rib. The leaves are larger at the bottom of the plant, growing smaller toward the top of the flowering stems. The stems are very hairy (sometimes called “silky”). This perennial plant grows 1-2 feet in height and blooms from August until October.

Honey Mushrooms


Armillaria mellea

Honeys! Here’s another new mushroom for me!

There are two honey mushroom species pictured in this gallery—both are parasitic on hardwood trees.  Armillaria mellea has a distinct ring, or annulus on the stipe and a partial veil when new; the gills are attached; the color is typically honey yellow.

Armillaria tabescens is ringless; the gills run partially down the stem and the color of the cap is brownish.

Honey mushrooms tend to grow in clusters.  The cap is dry to the touch and has a sweet odor. If positively identified, these mushrooms are edible, but they can cause stomach upset for some people, especially if they are not fully cooked.  Look for honeys in late summer through fall.

(Most of these photos were taken at Pandapas Pond and Mountain Lake Conservancy within the same week (late September).  The last two photos were taken on the Virginia Creeper Trail a year ago, September 22 nd.)


Lactarius volemus


The genus name of this mushroom refers to the “milky” latex that quickly flows when the flesh of the mushroom is cut or broken. Locally known in Southwest Virginia as swamps or bradleys, Lactarius volemus is an edible mushroom species. The top of the cap is burnt orange and smooth when young; the rim is rolled under. The cap usually develops a depression in the middle as it grows. The gills are creamy white to light yellow and discolor to brown when bruised (see the plate of mushrooms in the gallery).

Bradleys are mycorrhizal on tree roots. They can be found in summer and fall, growing on the ground in local deciduous or coniferous forests. Other common (and appropriate) names include tawny milk cap or weeping milk cap.

a natural history gallery of wildflowers and mushrooms


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