Pale-Spike Lobelia

Lobelia spicata

IMG_6315This small-flowered lobelia has striking white to pale blue flowers that are borne on an unbranched stem (12-36 inches). The alternate leaves are ovate to spatulate, narrower at the base than at the tip. They tend to occur on the lower part of the stem, and some may form a loose basal rosette– as seen in the photo to the right. The leaf margins can be slightly toothed to entire.

Also commonly known as Spiked Lobelia, this plant is considered poisonous. However,  a tea made from the leaves was once used medicinally by Native Americans for treating a variety of ailments.

All the flowers in the gallery below were taken along the side of the trail at Pandapas Pond in Montgomery County, VA.

Nodding Thistle or Musk Thistle

Carduus nutans

As my previous post about thistles noted: “there are many species of thistles, including the locally common Bull thistle, Canada thistle, Plumeless thistle, Musk thistle, and Field thistle. Some are native and some are introduced. You can find thistles blooming throughout the summer and they are are never hard to find! Just ask any pollinator!”

This morning I noticed a tall stand of Nodding Thistle (also known as musk thistle) growing along the walking path at Heritage Park. All the giant, reddish-purple blooms were facing east, and many were “nodding” downward.  This plant can reach 8 feet in height, so a thick stand of it can look like an intimidating forest!

The green parts of nodding thistle are spiny, waxy, tough, and practically impenetrable, but the flowers are gorgeous and insects clearly love them for their nectar. In addition to honey bees and bumble bees, the flowers were frequented this morning by Ultragreen Sweat Bees and a multitude of butterflies. Thistle flowers are large enough for birds to land on them too! Goldfinches love to eat thistle seeds.

Although this introduced species is considered a noxious invasive weed, it was hard to not admire it today in the morning sun! Even the unopened flowers were visually interesting.

 

Ragged Fringed Orchid

Platanthera lacera

Here’s a lovely native orchid blooming now, in mid-June. I found this one growing in a hay field at Heritage Park in Blacksburg. It is fairly common on the east coast, although this is my first time ever seeing it. I was pretty excited to find it 🙂 !

Two common names for this plant are ragged fringed orchid or green fringed orchid. Both names apply nicely—the flowers are greenish-white and the lower petal (called the labellum) is so “fringed” that it looks tattered or ragged. In fact, the “lacera” part of the scientific name implies that the flowers appear lacerated.

This orchid typically has 2 to 6 leaves that are alternate and narrowly elliptic. In the summer months, the flowers are borne at the top of a raceme (a crowded stalk of blooms) that can grow up 20 inches in height.

Ragged fringed orchid is primarily a wetland species (wet prairies, marshes) although it thrives in a very wide range of habitats, from wet to dry, and open to shaded. The flowers are pollinated in the evening by moths that are attracted to its sweet scent. What a charmer!

While you are here, check out Yellow Fringed Orchid and Large Purple Fringed Orchid.

Motherwort

Leonurus cardiaca

Here’s a very tall, sturdy member of the mint family–Motherwort! Note the reddish, square stems covered in fine hair, and the variety of leaf shapes from the bottom of the plant (5 lobes) to the top of the plant (2-3 lobes). All the leaves are opposite and the venation is strongly defined.

Motherwort
Motherwort flowers are hairy

The tubular, pinkish flowers occur in whorls in the leaf axils along the middle and upper stems. The flowers are covered in fine hair, which makes them appear very fuzzy. Each flower has an upper lip and a lower lip; the lower lip is divided into three parts and speckled with purple dots. Bumblebees and honeybees visit the flowers often to feed on the nectar.

Motherwort, as the name implies, is a medicinal plant historically used to treat ailments of the uterus in women. It originated in Asia and Europe but was introduced to North America as an herbal medicine. It thrives on disturbed sites like roads and paths through wooded areas, although it can grow in yards just as well.  The large clump of Motherwort pictured below was found growing at the base of a tree on my property in Blacksburg in late May. The plant can spread by seeds or by rhizomes, and can form large colonies.

For centuries, Motherwort has been used to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, menstrual cramps, stress, anxiety, heart palpitations, etc.; it was also recommended as a diuretic, a sedative, an astringent, and for tissue healing. Despite its variety of uses in herbal medicine, the plant is said to taste bitter and smell bad, so I don’t recommend eating it! There are also reports of contact dermatitis in some people, so be careful touching it too!

Click on any image below to open the slideshow.

 

Squirrel Corn

Dicentra canadensis

Note the finely dissected leaves of this early spring ephemeral–so pretty, dainty, and fern-like! The leaves actually look very similar to Dutchman’s Breeches! But this is Squirrel Corn, so named because the bulbs of the plants look like little corn kernels. (See the illustration in the gallery below.)

Like Dutchman’s Breeches, Squirrel Corn has small white flowers that dangle from a raceme above the leaves. But instead of dangling “pantaloons”, these flowers are distinctly heart-shaped and more-closely resemble Bleeding Hearts.

Look for this plant in hardwood forests on rich soils with rocky outcrops. I found these plants growing along Rock Castle Creek Gorge in April.  They were not in bloom when I saw them, hence the “borrowed photo” above from Wikipedia.

Learn more about how to discern these two lookalikes.

Dicentra canadensis, Squirrel Corn, Photo credit: By Fritzflohrreynolds – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

Mountain Lettuce

Saxifraga micranthidifolia or Micranthes micranthidifolia

Last weekend, on Easter Sunday, we stopped in for a walk at Rock Castle Gorge near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Loads of wildflowers were in bloom, but I did find a new one (new for me at least) that caught my eye as we ascended the gorge trail. I knew it was a saxifrage of some kind, but it was bigger than others I’ve seen before. Each time I saw it, it was growing close to, if not actually in the stream bed.

Bright green, with succulent leaves, I wasn’t totally surprised to later learn that it is called “Mountain Lettuce” or “Brook Lettuce”. Both describe the plant and its habitat well.

The very handy book “Wildflowers of Tennessee and the Southern Appalachians” describes Brook Lettuce as perennial, with basal leaves up to 8 inches long, oblong, sharply toothed, tapering to a winged petiole. The tiny flowers about one-quarter inch wide, with 5 white petals, each with a pair of yellow marks at the base. The inflorescence is branched, forming a large open panicle. Mountain Lettuce habitat is wet cliffs and mountain brooks; bloom time is April-June.

As for the “lettuce” part of the common name, apparently this plant was eaten as a salad green in times gone by and is still gathered by foragers now. It can grow up to three feet in height, making for quite a salad! 🙂

Check out the photos!

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 of spring”, and now- after a slow start, there is plenty to report. In fact, spring 2017 is moving quickly due to the unseasonably warm temperatures. Here’s what’s happening in my neck of the woods (Southwest Virginia, elevation 2,000 feet, April 3rd):

Skunk Cabbage is past flowering and partially leafed out in all the soggy places nearby! Trout Lilies bloomed two weeks ago! Hepatica and Bloodroot flowers have already gone to seed, but if you get out there this week you may be able to still find a few!  Twin LeafDutchman’s BreechesColtsfoot, and Rue Anemone are in full flower now.  Golden Ragwort is unfurling masses of sunny blooms too. So much excitement, so little time!

The leaves of Wild Ginger are just coming up now, and the tall Virginia Bluebells are beginning to bloom (love them!). The woods around my house are literally carpeted with tiny, white and pink Spring Beauties.  Heartleaf, Trillium and Solomon’s Seal are poking their heads out of the ground too…they are still a little apprehensive about making an appearance.

On local list serves, I’ve seen reference to the fact that Morels are even up in some places in our area. I haven’t seen any myself yet, but that doesn’t mean a dedicated hunter couldn’t find some right now if they tried.  Recent rains should definitely help things along.

Be well, and happy trails this year!

-Gloria