Welcome to Virginia Wildflowers!

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 four 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 finally reordered the species found here by season (at least roughly), so hopefully they will be easier to search now. If you look at the list to the left, spring flowers are at the very bottom of the list, followed by summer flowers in the middle, and fall flowers and mushrooms are near the top.

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 my posts 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!

Prince’s Pine

Lycopodium obscurum or Dendrolycopodium obscurum

The is the last of three New Year’s posts about local varieties of clubmoss.

Prince’s Pine (sometimes called Ground Pine, Princess’s Pine, or Flat-branched tree clubmoss) is an evergreen beauty.  Thanks to branching, it is a tad bushier than Ground Cedar, so each individual plant ends up looking like a tiny hemlock or pine tree. The “leaves” of the plant are best described as scalelike.

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Prince’s Pine

Like the other clubmosses, the reproductive structure of Prince’s Pine is the club-like strobilus. The strobili are borne at the tip of the shoots and branches (see photo) of the plant. Each one will produce a cloud of spores in the fall.

Last November I came across several stands of Prince’s Pine near Pandapas Pond. While trying to take some photos, I noticed that the spores were easily released when I brushed my hand across the fruiting bodies. In the photos below, you can see the dust that was released when I did this. It was an impressive show!

Clubmoss spores were once collected and used as “flash powder” to produce bright light for photographers and magicians. Apparently, a little pinch of “Lycopodium powder” will produce quite a bit of light if ignited. Check out this crazy 2-minute video that demonstrates this and other strange qualities of Lycopodium spores:

Science Dump: Lycopodium powder

Clubmoss populations have been threatened by over-harvesting for Christmas decorations. This practice is not as common today as it once was, but it still goes on. A stand of Prince’s Pine can take years to reach maturity, so it cannot tolerate repeated harvesting.

Learn more about clubmosses in Virginia here.

Ground Cedar

Diphasiastrum digitatum or Lycopodium digitatum

Clubmosses (Lycopdodiaceae) are ancient evergreen perennials that can be spotted easily in the winter woods when all the other forest floor plants are “sleeping”.  They have reproductive structures that are shaped like clubs, hence the name. When I was a college student in the way-back-when, the clubmosses were all called “Lycopodiums” because they shared a common taxonomy. Today the group has undergone significant taxonomic revision resulting in several new genera, but the term “Lycopodiums” persists as a way to refer to this unique group of plants.

The most common clubmoss in my part of Virginia is called ground cedar or running cedar. Other common names for it are fan clubmoss and bears paw. This is an exceptionally beautiful evergreen plant that forms large colonies and offers a welcome reprieve to the winter-weary eye. As the various common names suggest, the greenery looks somewhat like cedar boughs. The leaves are flattened along one plane, waxy to shiny, and dark green. The plants are 4 to 8 inches in height and spread by runners above the ground. Fallen pine needles or leaves often obscure the runners.

strobili
The club-like strobili of Ground Cedar

As I noted in a previous post about another species of clubmoss, shining clubmoss, reproduction in this group of plants involves a complicated “alternation of generations” between sporophytes and gametophytes. Of the two generations, the most visible is the sporophyte generation. The above-ground “plant” that you see is the sporophyte and it produces several tall club-shaped structures called strobili. The strobili resemble tall candles on a stick. Ripened spores are released from the strobili when the wind blows or when rain or an animal physically disturbs them. This usually happens in late summer or fall. If you are lucky enough to see this, you’ll be amazed at how many spores can be produced by a stand of groundcedar!

Long ago, Native Americans discovered that clubmoss spores produce bright light when burned. That’s because the spores contain a lot of fat. Believe it or not, “Lycopodium powder” was later used by photographers to produce a flash a light before taking a picture! It was even used in fireworks! Lycopodium powder is still collected today for various commercial uses.

A wonderful natural history article about clubmoss was written by Marion Lobstein for the Prince William Wildflower Society. You should check it out to learn more about the various ways that clubmosses have been used by humans for generations. It’s worth a read!

Keep reading about related species: Shining Clubmoss, Prince’s Pine

Shining Clubmoss

Hyperemia lucidula

It is the first of January! Happy New Year!

In Blacksburg it was a quiet day with mild temperatures and gray skies.  We took a walk in the woods in a pretty part of town, just at the foot of Brush Mountain. We have a new puppy at our house, and she needs lots of exercise, so we soon left the trail and tramped directly through the woods, just to give her a bit more exercise. Grace loves dodging around over sticks and logs while exploring all of the delicious smells on the forest floor.

What really caught my eye today were the patches of evergreen clubmoss carpeting the otherwise drab woods. Seeing that reminded me that I never posted anything about clubmoss on this blog–something I have meant to do long ago, but never got around to it.  So I grabbed a few photos today and brought them home for my first post of the new year.

Shining clubmoss and ground cedar
Shining Clubmoss with Ground Cedar

Clubmosses are interesting vascular plants, because they reproduce by spores instead of by flowers and seeds. Taxonomically, they are grouped into the class Lycopodiopsida. This group includes plants that are known locally as groundcedar (or running cedar/fan clubmoss), ground pine (or Prince’s Pine), and shining firmoss. You’ll note that all these names invoke evergreen trees, probably because the clubmosses stay green all year long and have a waxy cuticle not unlike pine and fir trees. However, unlike trees, this group of plants is low-growing and spreads by above-ground runners or below-ground rhizomes.

Shining clubmoss
Shining Clubmoss

Today, I was excited about finding Shining Firmoss, or Shining Clubmoss, mixed in with a stand of the more common ground cedar.

Wikipedia describes this unusual plant as follows:

Hyperemia lucidula (or shining firmoss or shining clubmoss) grows in loose tufts 14-20 cm long, occasionally up to 1 m long. The leaves are 7-11 mm long, narrow, lance-shaped, shiny, and evergreen. The edges are irregularly toothed. The sporangia (spore cases) are nestled in the bases of the upper leaves.

The roots of this plant grow from a creeping, branching, underground rhizome.

Its habitat includes rich, acid soils in cool, moist coniferous and mixed hardwood forests, bog and stream edges, and hillsides. They occasionally grow on cliffs and ledges and on shady, mossy, acidic sandstone.

The specific name lucidula comes from the Latin and means “shining“. This is in reference to the plants bright, vivid green color.”

Wikipedia’s description sounds pretty accurate, so I’ll just stop right there!  Keep an eye out for this cute little clubmoss on your next winter hike!

Witch Hazel

Hamamelis virginiana

Witch Hazel  or American Witchhazel is a native shrub or small forest understory tree that grows 10-30 feet in height. The branches have a wide-growing habit such that the trees often have a “crooked” appearance. The 2-6-inch leaves are alternate and oval with wavy margins.

witch-hazel
Illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen

The remarkable thing about witch-hazel is its odd bloom time: September-October-November! The flowers are small, with thread-like yellow petals that are held very close to the branch.  Despite their size, they stand out in the forest because they usually occur after other trees have dropped their leaves. Even if the yellow glow of the branches doesn’t catch your eye right away, the fragrant fall blooms will definitely get the attention of your nose.

Witch hazel fruit matures slowly. Hard, gray fruit from the previous year can usually be found on the tree at the same time as the new blooms. The fruit is “explosive”, meaning the seeds are disbursed by ejection.

Historically, the leaves, branches, and bark of H. virginiana were used to produce a liquid astringent which was also called witch hazel. It was used (and still is) cosmetically for general skin care as well as to treat sores and insect bites.

The “witch” in this shrub’s name comes from witchcraft. Branches of witch hazel were often used as “divining rods” for finding water!

The photos below were taken October 30, 2016 on the Potts Valley Rail Trail near the VA/WV state line.

Shaggy Stalked Bolete

Heimioporus betel, The Southern Bolete

Usually, the cap of a mushroom is the notable feature, but in this case the stem is the star of the show. If you like odd-looking mushrooms, this interesting species will probably get your attention.

The Shaggy Stalked Bolete has a very long, lacy stem. It almost looks like stretched out honeycomb. Mushroom experts describe it as a reticulated stipe.  The contrasting, small cap can range in color from orange to yellowish brown on top, and the pore surface underneath is yellow. The size of the cap seems distinctly out of proportion to the tall stem. Another feature to note: the cap may appear very shiny or sticky.

These boletes are mycorrhizal and can be found growing on the forest floor beneath hardwoods and pines.

See the gallery below for an array of pretty specimens.  Most of mushrooms in the gallery were photographed on Brush Mountain near Blacksburg in August.

Spring 2016 is here

My first post of the season!  Sorry I’m so late getting back… Let’s catch up!

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Bloodroot

It was a deliciously early spring here in southwest Virginia.  At my house, where I have a small woodland surrounding my home, I had Hepatica and Bloodroot flowers blooming on March 17th!  That’s early! Trout Lilies were open in all their yellow splendor by March 2oth!  Not far behind were the pink flowers of Allegheny Spurge –a gorgeous wild ground cover that for me is a fond reminder of springtime in Mississippi forests.  By March 27th, some of my favorites, Twin Leaf and Dutchman’s Breeches, were in full flower too.  So much excitement, so early in the season! Even though I couldn’t get out to the local forests, I was able to snap some photos right here in my woods. See the gallery below if you need a reminder of what these little ephemerals look like.

Wild Ginger came up next, and then Virginia Bluebells; Heartleaf, Trillium and Solomon’s Seal poked their heads out too.  In early April, Skunk Cabbage was already past flowering and fully leafed out! Springtime was looking mighty fine!

But then- you guessed it- the cold came back last weekend. 😦

Ugh!  The temperatures dropped into the 20’s, and there were several days of gusty winds, deep frost, and even an inch or two of snow! Talk about a demoralizing turn of events…this was going to be quite a set-back!

And it was.  Many new leaves, buds, and flowers were burned by the freeze.  Many will have to start over 😦 . But if there’s one thing you can learn from observing nature, it is the power of resilience.  Just three days after all that bad weather, today I found new redwhite, and yellow trillium in bloom! Morels are even up.  It’s spring again!

So here’s to second chances, and to more wildflower adventures ahead!  I promise to get out more, and I will definitely post more often.  I hope you’ll be around to share my adventures in the months ahead (and vice versa).  Stay in touch!                               -Gloria

Click any photo to open the gallery.

 

 

a natural history gallery of wildflowers and mushrooms

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