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.

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.

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!

Carolina Elephant’s Foot

Carolina Elephant’s Foot or Leafy Elephantfoot

Elephantopus carolinianus

elephantsfootTake a look at this late summer/early fall wildflower. It is a very unusual aster!

Notice how each stem is terminated by three leafy bracts and a cluster of tiny blossoms?

From a distance, it looks like each cluster is one circle of tiny white or lavender ray flowers, but upon close inspection you’ll see it is just the opposite. This aster has no ray flowers at all. The cluster you see is comprised of several disk flowers grouped together. The corolla of each disk has 5 thin lobes.

The large basal leaves, which may be absent, give the plant its name, Elephant’s Foot.  The leaves can grow up to 8 inches in length. There are also alternating stem leaves that clasp the tall pubescent flowering stem. The dark green, hairy leaves are roughly elliptical in shape.

Although these plants were photographed in North Carolina, this species is common in Virginia and in much of the Southeastern U.S. Bloom time is August through October in open woods.

Spring 2016 is here

IMG_7362
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.

American Wintergreen or Eastern Teaberry

Gaultheria procumbens

American Wintergreen fruit
American Wintergreen fruit

Pictured here is a little wildflower that has been sitting out in the cold all winter, holding fast to its tiny red berries.  As the plant’s common name implies, the round to elliptical, shiny leaves of American winterberry stay green all winter.  The cherry-red fruit persists as well.

Wintergreen is technically a low-growing shrub, although at 3 to 6 inches in height, that fact is easy to overlook. It spreads across the forest floor by rhizomes, and is common in hardwood and pine forests.

But let’s get down to the important part: can you eat these attractive little fruits? Sort of!  It turns out that the fruit, leaves, and branches of wintergreen impart a nice, mint flavor (think Teaberry gum) when casually chewed. They can also be boiled to make tea. However, eating the leaves outright is not advised.

At one time, the aromatic “oil of wintergreen” was derived from this plant and used to make flavorings and medicines. Teas made from wintergreen were often used for general pain relief– that’s because a key component of the plant is actually an aspirin-like compound.

Flowering time for wintergreen is summer.  The flowers are small, white, nodding, and resemble the flowers of other heaths, like blueberries. Click on any of the photos below for a closer view.