Wild Comfrey

Cynoglossum virginianum The genus name for Wild Comfrey, Cynoglossum, can be translated as “dog’s tongue”. The name refers to the shape of the plant’s leaves, which are ovate to narrowly elliptical, smooth on the edges, and 2 to 8 inches long —just like a dog’s tongue! In fact, another common name for this native plant…

Welcome to Virginia Wildflowers!

Virginia Wildflowers is a natural history photo gallery and casual field guide to wildflowers and mushrooms. Most of the images you’ll find here were taken in the mountainous region of southwestern Virginia, an area rich in biodiversity. For this website, I use a digital camera to capture close-ups of the identifying features of each species: usually…

Addison’s Leatherflower

Clematis addisonii Addison’s Leatherflower is a threatened species that is native to the Ridge and Valley Province in Virginia.  Most of the remaining populations occur here in Montgomery County (Southwest VA).  The plant prefers dry, rocky, limestone hillsides, banks and ravines. Addison’s Leatherflower is a perennial vine that starts out as an erect plant but…

Birdsfoot Violet

Viola pedata This violet gets its name from the cut-out shape of the leaf: it looks like a bird’s foot!  Something else remarkable about this pretty little plant is the broad, flat face of the flower (1-inch wide), which is somewhat reminiscent of a cultivated pansy. The petals are lilac-purple to blue-white, and sometimes the…

Robin’s Plantain

Erigeron pulchellus I first discovered this early-blooming, daisy-like wildflower at my friend’s country house in Shawsville, Virginia. Later, I found it growing in early May in Wildwood Park (Radford), and at the entrance to Pandapas Pond in the Jefferson National Forest. Each time I was really struck by how beautiful it is. See if you agree!…

Jack in the Pulpit

Arisaema triphyllum What’s not to love about this native wildflower? It is exotic–practically sexy with all its twists and curves. Take a look at the photo gallery to see how variable in size and color the flowers of Jack in the Pulpit can be.  One thing they all have in common though, is the little…

Hoary Puccoon

Stoneseed or Hoary Puccoon Lithospermum canescens If it were not for the unusually vibrant, orange to yellow color of these flowers, you would probably miss this little plant completely while walking in the great outdoors. The first time I discovered it, I found it in bloom in April of 2012, near Shawsville, VA.  The plants were growing on a…

Showy Orchis

Galearis spectabilis is the Showy Orchis! This orchid miraculously appears on the forest floor in April and May in Virginia.  It likes limey soils like we have here in Montgomery County, and it is often found on the edges of swampy terrain.  This week it is coming up on the hillside at my house and near the…

Shooting Stars

Dodecatheon meadia Shooting Stars! What a great name! This spring-blooming, perennial plant has a basal rosette of oblong leaves, each about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide. In late April and early May, a stalk (or inflorescence) comes up from the center of the rosette and unfurls into a half-dozen or more white or…

Solomon’s Seal

Polygonatum biflorum This handsome woodland plant grows upright as an unbranched stalk of alternating, oval leaves. The leaf edges are smooth. The plant has a look-alike, false solomon’s seal, but the two are easy to tell apart if the plants are in bloom. The flowers of solomon’s seal are born underneath the leaves, as seen in…

Gaywings

Fringed Polygala or Gaywings Polygala paucifolia At first glance, the color and texture of this flower call to mind an orchid.  The complicated structure, complete with wing-like sepals, resembles a flying bird or airplane.  Two petals are joined together to make a tube; a third, lower petal is fringed. The rosy pink or purple flowers…

Squawroot

Cancer-root, Squawroot, or Bear corn Conopholis americana Squawroot is a spring flowering plant, but it is non-photosynthetic.  Instead, it is parasitic on the roots of trees, usually oaks and beeches.  The above-ground part of the plant is the flowering structure, and it looks like a pine cone, or even a corn cob (Bear corn), rising…

Heartleaf Foamflower

Tiarella cordifolia I have this plant growing in my garden as a woodland ground cover, and right now, in late April, it is beautiful!  Although you can find foamflower for sale in many nurseries, this is indeed a native perennial plant.  The photos here were taken in the forest near White Rocks campground in Giles County….

Eastern Red Columbine

or Wild Columbine Aquilegia canadensis This beautiful red and yellow flower grows in thin soil on rock ledges and along rocky slopes in woods, ravines and bluffs.  The dainty flowers dangle from delicate stems, rocking constantly in the breeze. You can find columbine growing from April to July in Virginia.  The elaborate flowers are only…

Largeflower Bellwort and Perfoliate Bellwort

Largeflower Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) and Perfoliate Bellwort( Uvularia perfoliata) Here are two bellworts with “perfoliate” leaves but a few subtle differences.  Large-flowered bellwort is a tall, nodding plant in springtime with large, dark yellow flowers that are sometimes hard to see because they can be hidden in leaves. The yellow “petals” hang in a disorderly, twisted fashion and the petals are…

Marsh Marigold

Caltha palustrus Giant buttercups! That’s what these bright spring flowers look like at first glance! They are indeed members of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, but they are much larger than buttercups, and a lot showier. These marsh marigolds were growing in a wetland area on my neighbor’s property in Blacksburg. Nearby, skunk cabbage and golden ragwort…

Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) You will find wild ginger, or Canadian ginger, growing in deciduous forests throughout the east coast, including Appalachia, but don’t bother looking for it in winter. This ginger is a deciduous, herbaceous plant (leaves disappear in fall). Ginger colonies form in the springtime from branching rhizomes that form just below the…

Honesty

Money Plant or Honesty Lunaria annua A native of Europe, this biennial has spread across much of the United States because it seeds so easily. In it’s first year it is a small plant, but in the second year it grows to 3 feet in height before it flowers and goes to seed. Well established now…

Dames Rocket

Hesperis matronalis Dames rocket looks (and acts!) a lot like honesty: a tall, introduced, spring-blooming plant with four-petaled flowers in pinkish purple or white. However, the leaves of damesrocket are elongated and lance-shaped,with a slightly toothed edge. The seedpod is also very long and thin, not round like money plant. It blooms in mid-May, while…

Blue Cohosh

Caulophyllum thalictroides Coming up now in rich hardwood coves is a historically important medicinal plant called blue cohosh. The flowers of this herb are small and inconspicuous, but the profusion of delicate blue-green leaves (for which the plant is named) make up for the lack of showy flowers. Blue cohosh is a tall perennial—growing 2 to 3…

Golden Ragwort

Senecio aureus or Packera aurea 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…

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…

Red Trillium

Red Trillium, Red Wakerobin, Southern Red Trillium Trillium erectum  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…

Morels

Morels Obviously not a wildflower… but this mushroom character has to be included among my springtime posts because it is such a favorite.  We wait for morel season with great anticipation! So far, our most consistent observation has been that we find morels under dead or dying elm trees and under tulip poplars, but we’ve…

White Trillium

Trillium grandiflorum White Trillium  White trillium, or wakerobin, is a showy perennial wildflower that occurs in forested parts of Virginia (and most of the eastern states). The single, three-petaled, white flower is born on a delicate pedicle that arises from a whorl of three broad leaves (technically bracts). Other distinguishing features include three visible sepals…

Virginia Bluebells

Mertensia virginica Virginia bluebells are also called Virginia cowslip, or Roanoke bells.  I first spotted them here in Blacksburg in a friend’s yard, but soon learned that this native wildflower grows extensively along the banks of streams and rivers in this part of Virginia, making it a riparian species.  Last year I saw them growing…

Star Chickweed

Stellaria pubera It seems like so many of our spring wildflowers are WHITE!  Some, like star chickweed, can easily go unnoticed because they are so small.  But look closely and you’ll see something here worth admiring: the five tiny white petals of this flower are deeply lobed, such that it looks like there are 10…

Cutleaf Toothwort

Dentaria laciniata or Cardamine concatenata The leaves of this early spring wildflower occur in distinctive whorls of three. Each leaflet is deeply cut, sometimes so much so that it looks like there are five leaflets. Clusters of white to pinkish flowers are born at the top of the plant; each flower has four petals and…

Twin Leaf

Jeffersonia diphylla Twin leaf emerges in mid-March or early April, and blooms soon after the first leaves appear.  It is found in damp, loamy soils in open woods in the eastern U.S., primarily in regions north of Virginia. The genus was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson, who apparently grew it in his home garden at…

Coltsfoot

Tussilago farfara Coltsfoot. This introduced species is a very early spring wildflower. The flowers appear before the leaves are formed, usually in March and April.  Someone informed me that an old-time common name for this plant was “Son Before Father”, because the flower comes up before the leaves fully develop. Gotta love those common names–this one…

Dutchman’s Breeches

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) I love these little Appalachian beauties!  The plant gets its name from the shape of the white flower, which looks like a pair of pants, or “breeches”. The bright little pants dangle from a raceme above the plant, as if they were suspended from a clothesline! Dutchman’s Breeches have  delicately cut…

Hepatica

Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) Three-lobed leaves that resemble the human liver! Hepatica! Liver leaf!  On the east coast, you may find this early-blooming spring wildflower in the sharp-leaved or round-leaved form.  And just to make it more complicated, they sometimes hybridize! Here is a description of hepatica from Wikipedia: “Bisexual flowers with pink, purple, blue, or…

Bloodroot

Sanguinaria canadensis Here they come… like little soldiers rising from the earth– Bloodroot flowers!  Look how their arms are held tight to their sides as they pierce through the cold and damp of early March! These precious wildflowers are among the first to bloom in Southwest Virginia. At my house, the emergence of bloodroot flowers is truly the first sign…

Trout Lily

Dogtooth Violet or Trout Lily Erythronium americanum I went for years without ever seeing a trout lily. They grow low to the ground and come up in the earliest part of spring, when the weather is still cold and unpredictable. Pushing up from under last year’s leaf pack, they are difficult to spot because the…

White Wood Aster

Eurybia divaricata or Aster divaricates The cold and dreary days of February are a good time to catch up on my backlog of wildflower photos! Sifting through these images makes me anxious for spring to arrive! Here is a common white aster that you are probably familiar with from your fall hikes in the mountains…

Crimson Waxy Caps

Hygrocybe punicea A late October surprise: A profusion of Crimson Waxy Caps growing along the Skullcap Trail in the Jefferson National Forest! It was wonderful to find these gorgeous red mushrooms mixed in among the falling leaves of Chestnut Oak and Sourwood trees. This was my first hike in a long time where I didn’t…

Yellow Gymnopilus

Gymnopilus luteus It is October, and the mushrooms are popping everywhere–in the grass, on logs and mulch, and of course on the forest floor. Frankly, I find this very distracting! The robust mushrooms seen above are commonly called Yellow Gym or Yellow Gymnopilus. They grow on wood and have a medium to large, dry cap,…

Onion-stalk Lepiota

Lepiota cepaestipes or Leucocoprinus cepaestipes Look here! A delicate white mushroom growing in my mulch pile! It just goes to show you, if you never get around to spreading your mulch, it will eventually become a garden of its own! This diminutive species is common in urban areas because it likes to grow in wood…

Mushroom Foray August 2018

The New River Valley Mushroom Club met at Pandapas Pond in late August for a 4-hour mushroom foray. The group of 25 “hunters” scoured the forest and then met up again at the picnic tables to sort and identify their finds. Below are some photos of the bounty of mushrooms they collected. It was a…

Spring 2018

Welcome back! Here’s my advice: Run–Do Not Walk– to your favorite wildflower location in Virginia! Spring is advancing quickly now that the temperatures have warmed up, and the number of species currently in bloom is astounding. The following photos were taken today, May 1st, at Falls Ridge Nature Preserve in the Ellett Valley. Please explore…

Spring 2017 is here!

In the interest of getting things started again here at Virginia Wildflowers, I am copying some photos from last spring to re-familiarize you with the progression of spring flowers that may be blooming in your area now. I’ve been out wandering these last few weeks, keeping a close watch on the ground for the “first signs…

Spring 2016 is here

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 20th!  Not far behind were the pink flowers of Allegheny Spurge –a gorgeous…

Shining Clubmoss

Huperzia 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…

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…

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”…

Foxtail Clubmoss

Lycopodiella alopecuroides I went to the coast for Christmas this year and was lucky to get out for a nice walk at a Nature Conservancy property while I was there. I know December is not the best time of the year for botanizing, but I took my camera anyway… I would have been happy to…

Seedbox

Ludwigia alternifolia The cute little square seed pods of Ludwigia alternifolia, or Seedbox, are drying now in winter fields along with other stars of summer, like Queen Anne’s Lace and Ironweed. When fully dry, the hard seeds inside these boxes will rattle when shaken, giving rise to another common name, Rattlebox. This dainty member of the evening primrose family has 4-petalled,…

Horse Nettle

Solanum carolinense Horse nettle is a perennial native that is a member of the potato family of plants. You may recognize the flower and leaves as bearing some similarities to common garden vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. The flowers are star-shaped, white to purple in color, with 5 lobes.  A prominent yellow center contains a group…

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

Coprinus comatus Today I spotted the largest Shaggy Mane Mushroom I have ever seen–nearly a foot tall!–so of course I have to post about it! Shaggy Manes are a kind of mushroom commonly referred to as “inky caps”.  That’s because they grow quickly and then “melt” into a pool of black ooze that looks like INK.  I know, that’s…

Bittersweet

Bittersweet. Fall is rushing toward closure, and with it– the leaves are falling from the sky and stacking up like piles of newspaper around me. If you listen, you can hear it. The change of seasons: bittersweet. Fall is at once beautiful and melancholy…  the mesmerizing glory of scarlet leaves against a clear blue sky…the ominous…

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. The remarkable thing about witch-hazel is its odd bloom time: September-October-November! The…

Pear-shaped Puffball

Lycoperdon pyriforme On a hike to the War Spur trail in late September, and then again at Pandapas Pond in late October, I found these mushrooms growing in abundance, on decaying logs. Although the common name of this fungus suggests a pear shape, these can also be round, as seen in the photo gallery below. When they are…

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Hericium erinaceus Just in time for Halloween: Fungi with TEETH! This pure white mushroom is quite the rock star in the fungus world, being both an edible and medicinal fungus.  It grows on recently downed or wounded hardwood trees, which is exactly where I found these! As a mushroom, Lion’s Mane is just a mass of white spines,…

Fly Agaric

Amanita muscaria var. formosa  It is October, and along with yellow leaves and orange pumpkins, there are large, yellowish-orange mushrooms coming up in my yard in Blacksburg! I found four or five of these mushrooms, growing under a group of hemlock trees, and a whole bunch more on my neighbor’s property, coming up under pines. As…

Ravenel’s Stinkhorn

Phallus ravenelii 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…

Gem-studded Puffballs

Lycoperdon perlatum This information is taken directly from Wikipedia: “This mushroom, popularly known as the common puffball, warted puffball, gem-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…

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…

Golden Aster

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…

Honey Mushrooms

Armillaria 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…

Bradleys

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…

Slender Gerardia

Agalinis tenuifolia (Gerardia tenuifolia) Slender Gerardia is a native annual that grows to about 2 feet in height. Note the slender, linear leaves and overall dark color (green to purple) of the foliage.  The leaves are opposite and entire. The flowers, borne on long pedicels, are light to dark pink with purple spots inside. They…

Purple-stemmed and New York Aster

Aster… I have a limit as to how long I’ll try to key out difficult flowers, and I’ve hit mine with the fall asters! Right now, there are autumn-blooming asters everywhere that bear alternate, lanceolate leaves that lack petioles and clasp the stem. The leaf margin is usually gently toothed. Each flower head has 30 or more ray flowers…

New England Aster

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae You’ll recognize this prolific fall bloomer: New England Aster can be found growing locally in both home gardens and open meadows. Gobs of showy, purplish flowers cover the top of this tall native plant and provide an important source of nectar for insects–especially migrating butterflies– at this time of year. Examine the photo…

Nodding Bur Marigold

Bidens cernua In late summer and early fall, you might come across this showy little sunflower growing in wet places. Reaching just 3 feet in height, Nodding Bur Marigold has much smaller flowers than your average sunflower–its flower heads are only about 1 to 2 inches across! Like most miniature things, this petite version of a sunflower is pretty darn cute. Bur Marigold is a composite with 6 to…

Autumn Coralroot

Corallorhiza odontorhiza Here is a small, leafless orchid that can be found growing in local forests in the fall. Lacking leaves, it is a non-photosynthetic plant; it gets its nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi. The entire plant consists of a stem that is purplish to green, yellow or brown. It grows 3-8 inches in height, and…

Turtlehead

Chelone Fishmouth, snakemouth, turtlehead…  The common names of this flower come from the 2-lipped shape, which calls to mind an animal’s gaping mouth. The pink, red or white flowers are borne on a spike at the top of the plant.  The leaves are opposite, ovate to lanceolate, and have lightly toothed margins. Turtlehead enjoys life…

Conical Waxy Cap

Hygrocybe conica Conical Waxy Cap is also called witch’s hat, and for good reason.  Note the pointed tip on this colorful “waxcap” mushroom that makes it look like a little witches’ hat.  The mushroom cap varies in color from yellow-orange to scarlet red. The gills also vary from white to orange to red. It has…

Coker’s Amanita

Amanita cokeri This very large, poisonous Amanita has white warts on the cap and erupts from a large basal bulb. The gallery below shows two Coker’s Amanita mushrooms before they erupted from the bulb, and then again a few days later.  (The veil is evident on one of the mushrooms.)  The warts on the cap will…

Sweet Everlasting

Now here’s a great name for a flower if I ever did hear one.  Sweet Everlasting! What a perfect name! Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium The flowers of Sweet Everlasting are a bit odd because they are dry to the touch, even when new.  That’s because the tiny flowers are wrapped in layers of dry, white bracts. Deep inside…

Black-eyed Susans

Rudbeckia hirta I think we all remember these pretty wildflowers from our childhood. They are so common, yet… So darn confusing!  There are more than 20 species in the genus Rudbeckia, plus many cultivars and varieties. More than one species shares the common name “black-eyed susan”. Rudbeckia hirta is both a native wildflower and a frequently planted…

Maximilian’s Sunflower

Helianthus maximiliani Here’s a tall and cheerful late-summer perennial that’s not only beautiful, but also a great source of food for wildlife. We generally expect sunflowers to be tall, and this one is no exception.  It can grow 3 to 10 feet in height (making it particularly hard to photograph!) The leaves and stem of Max’s Sunflower are distinctive. The…

Three Birds Orchid or Nodding Pogonia

Triphora trianthophora I discovered Three Birds Orchid on a mulched path in my neighbor’s garden this week. I looked down, cocked my head, and said, “Holy Cow, I think that’s a wild orchid! ” You gotta love the name of this one—Three Birds. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a name like that? It comes from…