Soapwort Gentian

Gentiana saponaria The vase or bottle-shaped flowers of soapwort gentian are blue or purple and closed.  The leaves are opposite, entire, lanceolate, hairless, and a bit shiny. This native perennial plant blooms from August to October. The flowers are pollinated by bumble bees, which have to fight their way into the flower.  Sometimes they chew their way in,…

Balsam Mountain Gentian

Gentiana sp. The last days of August… Today, I was pleasantly surprised to find this tall species of Gentian growing in the meadows of Grayson Highland State Park. At first I thought it was Bottle Gentian, but the bright green color of the leaves, the large size of the flowers, and the high elevation locale led…

Stiff Gentian

Gentianella quinquefolia Just when I thought that the growing season had advanced to the point where no new flowers would come my way, surprise–here comes Stiff Gentian!  Members of the Gentian family offer great late-season color, especially in the realm of blues, purples, and violets. Stiff gentian differs in a few significant ways from the other gentian species found…

August Fields and Roadsides

Now is a great time to go outside for a walk and learn a bunch of new wildflowers– all at one time!  The fields and roadsides are ablaze with tall, colorful, conspicuous wildflowers. You will not have to hunt for them–many of these species grow 3 to 7 feet tall! Yellow flowers are dominating the…

Great Blue Lobelia

Lobelia siphilitica It is a late summer treat to see great blue lobelia in full bloom, often alongside the fabulously red cardinal flower. Sometimes called “blue cardinal flower”, great blue lobelia resembles red cardinal flower, (Lobelia cardinalis), in stature, habitat, and structure. Both of these plants are tall wetland species with colorful flowers borne on terminal racemes. Their…

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…

Square-stemmed Monkey-flower

Mimulus ringens 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…

Blue Mist Flower or Wild Ageratum

Conoclinium coelestinum Until today, I always thought of ageratum as a low-growing garden annual that you could buy readily in any garden center– but I never knew it was also a native wildflower! I recently found a colony of these plants growing along the side of a shallow pond in Blacksburg, VA. The plants were…

Chicory

Cichorium intybus Chicory, blue sailors, wild succory, coffeeweed, or cornflower…whatever you want to call it–how can you not LOVE the bright blue flowers of this tough little wildflower? In a summer field, chicory stands out because of its tall, rigid stems that almost appear woody.  Here and there along the stem appear aster-like flowers in…

Skullcap

  Scuttelaria Skullcap is a native perennial wildflower.  The genus, Scuttelaria, is huge; there are 300 species worldwide. Ninety-plus species occur in North America alone. The flower get its name from the shape of the calyx (the group of sepals) at the base of the flower, which looks like a little helmet (or “skull cap”)….

Viper’s Bugloss

Blueweed, Blue Devil, or Viper’s Bugloss Echium vulgare Viper’s Bugloss is a biennial that produces brilliantly blue flowers with long red stamens in June. The funnel-shaped flowers start out pink, but then later turn dark blue. The oblong leaves grow up to 6 inches long, are dotted with small white dimples and covered with tiny white…

Spiderwort

Tradescantia  Found in almost all counties of Virginia, spiderwort is both a native wildflower and a commonly cultivated garden plant. The plants can grow up to about two feet tall. Sometimes you will find them growing singly, but most often they occur in large clumps that look like tall, wild grass. The flowers bloom at…

Showy Skullcap

Scutellaria serrata This is one of my favorite wildflowers! The dainty flowers are two shades of purple and they are held high above the simple and attractive foliage. The morphology of the flower is interesting at each stage of development–from new buds to maturity. Just take a look at some of the photos below… Skullcaps are in…

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…

Lyre-leaved Sage

Wild Sage or Lyre-leaved Sage Salvia lyrata Lyre-leaved sage is another member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). In full bloom, the height of the plant is 1-2 feet. The stalk of flowers arises from a basal rosette of deeply (pinnately) lobed leaves. The tube-shaped flowers are blue to purple and about an inch long. The flowers…

Quaker Ladies

Houstonia caerulea Everyone has seen bluets before, but did you know that the real name for them is Quaker Ladies? This is a native plant that goes unnoticed most of the time, because it is so small and low-growing. That is, until springtime. That is when Quaker Ladies send up their slender flower stalks and the…

Dwarf Larkspur

Delphinium tricorne Sometimes in blue, sometimes in white, and sometimes in both blue and white, dwarf larkspur can be found blooming right now in local woodlands. This plant is among the showiest of the spring wildflowers, and it is a great reason to schedule some time outdoors soon. Before dwarf larkspur comes into bloom, the first cluster of basal leaves are…

Marsh Blue Violets

Viola cucullata Marsh blue violet is a woodland violet with blue flowers that prefers moist places. The heart-shaped leaves grow from the base of the plant (no stem!) on long stalks.  The beautiful blue flowers are held above the leaves on even longer stalks.  The full height of the plant is between 5 and 10…

Jacob’s Ladder

  Polemonium  Jacob’s Ladder is a biblical reference to the story of Jacob, who dreamed of a ladder to heaven.  This plant’s leaves branch in an opposite fashion and appear like rungs on a ladder.  The small (1/2-inch) purple or bluish (lavender) flowers grow in clusters and have a bell-like shape with protruding stamens.  The…

Dwarf Crested Iris

Iris cristata The heavy spring rains will keep most of us huddled inside for now, but outside the plant world is singing–yes, singing in the rain. Tended by invisible hands, miniature gardens are bursting from the forest floor with color and promise.  Here’s just one example, Dwarf Crested Iris! As the name implies, Dwarf Crested…

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…

Great-spurred Violet

Viola rostrata In general, I think violets are hard to identify with real certainty, but thankfully this one has a few distinctive characteristics, starting with an extremely long “spur” on the back of the flower. There are also “toothed stipules”, or very small serrated leaflets in the space where the leaf meets the stem (see photo). And while some…

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…

Gill-Over-The-Ground vs. Purple Dead Nettle

Glechoma hederacea I’m going to take a break from weeding my garden to recognize two very fast-spreading members of the mint family (Laminaceae).  The first one gets the Award for being “Most Insufferable”. Gill-over-the-ground (AKA Ground Ivy or Creeping Charlie) is a low-growing mint with a creeping habit. Like many garden weeds, it tolerates the…