Brown-eyed Susans

Rudbeckia triloba Along the Deerfield Trail in Blacksburg, near its intersection with Tom’s Creek, you’ll find Brown-eyed Susans growing along the edge of the woods. Damp places like this are typical habitat for this species. The plants are 3-5 feet in height, and bushy due to frequent branching.  If you look closely, you’ll notice that…

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,…

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…

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…

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…

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…

Sneezeweed

Helenium autumnale I really like this species epithet: autumnale!  It reminds me of what is happening right now, ever so subtly, in the great outdoors:  There are little signs of autumn coming–the black gums dropping bright red leaves on the forest floor…  the preying mantis growing large and more conspicuous on the prowl… the late…

Pinesap

Montropa hypopithys Popping up from below the forest leaf litter–look at this: is it a plant? A kind of fungus? If you are familiar with Indian Pipe, you might guess that these two organisms are related, and you’d be right. Pinesap, like Indian Pipe, is a non-photosynthetic flowering plant that gets its energy from organic matter…

Orange Coneflower

Rudbeckia fulgida Like many wildflowers, this plant goes by several names, including Black-eyed Susan. But Orange Coneflower, or R. fulgida, differs from Black-eyed Susan (R. hirta) in a couple of ways, even though the flower heads can be very similar in appearance. The primary difference seems to be the leaves and stems.  Black-eyed Susan, or Rudbeckia hirta, is…

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…

False Sunflower

Heliopsis helianthoides Right now, in August, bold yellow flowers are lighting up our summer fields, roadsides and streambanks. Among them, Green-headed coneflower, wingstem, yellow crownbeard, and black-eyed susans, are competing for late-summer sun. A variety of sunflowers are also part of the show. July and August is the peak of their flowering period. Sunflowers are composites with yellow ray flowers and…

Ground Cherry or Chinese Lantern

Physalis virginiana The genus Physalis includes many species in the nightshade family (Solanaceae).  There are about 25+ species in North America. Of these, many are called ground cherries. The fruit of all these species is similar to a small tomato, but it is enclosed in a husk, like a tomatilla. The papery covering over the…

Bearsfoot or Yellow Leafcup

Smallanthus uvedalius Here is a tall native perennial with very large, lobed leaves that some folks say resemble a “bears foot”. Other common names include bears paw, hairy leafcup and large-flowered leafcup. The leaves of this plant are opposite and form a small “cup” around the stem, hence the common name “leafcup”. The leaves are…

Tansy

Tanacetum vulgare Imagine a daisy without the white petals, such that only the yellow center of disk flowers remains. Rayless composites aren’t all that common, but there are a few, and common tansy is one rayless composite that grows in our part of southwest Virginia. Common tansy grows to about 3 feet in height and…

Yellow Crownbeard

Verbesina occidentalis This native perennial of moist and sunny places begins blooming in late summer and has a confusing look-alike called wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia, which blooms at about the same time.  They often occur together in the same area..  So let’s compare them:  Crownbeard and Wingstem are relatively tall plants with winged stems. Each is…

Green-Headed Coneflower

Rudbeckia laciniata You might guess that this is a composite (Family Asteraceae), and you’d be right.  Then, you might assume it is a sunflower or a coneflower because of its color and size.  I would. But from there, can you take it to species and spout off the common name? I usually stop short right…

Partridge Pea

Chamaechrista fasciulata  This late summer flower reminds me of the mimosa leaves that intrigued me as a child. It has pinnately compound leaves that are composed of 8 to 15 tiny, barbed leaflets that fold inward when you brush them with your finger. For further mystery, they close completely at night because they are sensitive…

Wingstem

Verbesina alternifolia The common name of this plant, of course, comes from the distinctive stem, which has vertical ridges that are sometimes described as “wings”. (See the photos below.) The stem is usually unbranched, and the fast-growing plant can eventually reach great heights– up to 8 or 10 feet. Wingstem is sometimes called yellow ironweed…

Gray-Headed Coneflower

Ratibida pinnata Here’s another native coneflower with a thimble-shaped head and drooping petals, but this time the head is gray to brown in color and the pale yellow, drooping “petals” (or ray flowers) number only 5 to 10.  This is Gray-Headed Coneflower, and like the Green-Headed Coneflower, the leaves of this plant are alternate. The gray-headed…

Yellow Fringed Orchid

Platanthera ciliaris This magnificent, bright yellow-orange orchid blooms in July and August in our area.  It can be found in open woods, in either dry or wet places, although most of the photos below were taken in boggy places. As you can see, these exotic flowers are borne in a dense cluster at the top…

Sundrops and Evening Primrose

Oenothera fruticosa They call me Mellow Yellow… Evening Primroses and Sundrops are very similar in appearance.  They both have lance-shaped leaves and an upright growth habit. They both bear large (~2-inch) yellow flowers, each with four petals and a large x-shaped stigma at the center. The flowers of Evening Primrose are mostly closed during the…

Cup Plant or Indian Cup

Silphium perfoliatum Blooming now in mid-July: Cup Plant! The name of this sunflower-like aster comes from the manner in which the upper leaves adhere to the stem. The opposite, toothed leaves are fused at their bases, forming a complete cup around the stem.  The leaves are rough and ovate to triangular. The central stem of this plant…

Canada Lily

Lilium canadense It’s showtime! Here’s an exotic-looking Virginia native that is a member of the lily family (Liliaceae). Canada Lily grows in moist woods and along wood margins. Reaching 2-5 feet tall, the erect plant has an unbranched stem with whorls of 3-8 elongated leaves; the leaf edges are smooth (not toothed). The nodding flowers…

Spotted St. Johnswort

Hypericum punctatum The plants in the St. Johnswort family have paired, toothless leaves that are dotted with tiny dark glands. The 5-petalled, yellow flowers have numerous, showy stamens. In the case of Spotted St. Johnswort, the elliptic leaves are very rounded at the tip; the tiny glands are black and dot not only the leaves but…

Fringed Loosestrife

Lysimachia ciliata Yellow loosetrifes have 5 yellow petals; this species differs from the others in a couple of ways.  First, the edges of the flower petals are gently wavy or toothed.  You can observe that in the photo above.  Also, the flowers of this plant always face downward (nodding), such that you have to turn them over…

Common Mullein

Verbascum thapsus Common mullein is a large biennial plant that can grow 5 to 6 feet in height.  The distinctive, grayish-green, oval leaves are covered in a downy hair that is very soft to the touch. In the plant’s first year, only a basal rosette of leaves appears. In the second year, a tall flower…

Yellow Star Grass

Hypoxis hirsuta This bright yellow wildflower might pass for a buttercup at first glance. Look closely and you will see that the leaves of this plant are slender and grasslike, reaching about 12 inches in height.  The flowers appear on shorter stems that usually bear more than one flower bud. The inflorescence is less than…

Butter-and-Eggs

Linaria vulgaris This plant has many common names, including Common Toadflax, Wild Snapdragon, Yellow Toadflax, and of course, Butter-and-Eggs. Another “introduced” wildflower, it is native to Asia and Europe, but it is now a naturalized weed present in all of North America. Butter-and-Eggs is a perennial plant with erect stems and thin, threadlike leaves that…

Sulfur Cinquefoil

Rough-Fruited Cinquefoil or Sulfur Cinquefoil Potentilla recta
 Another “introduced species”, this tall flower of pastures, roadsides, and railroads has spread across the entire United States. In some states it is considered a noxious weed. Sulfur cinquefoil flowers are usually soft yellow, but sometimes they are white. Each of the 5 petals is shaped like a…

Moth Mullein

Moth Mullein Verbascum blattaria Look for this biennial plant, June through September, in pastures, meadows, and along roadsides.  It can grow up to 5 feet tall! The photos above show the leaves arranged on the flowering stem in an alternate pattern, without petioles and gently clasping. These leaves are elliptic and slightly toothed. The dazzling…

Lance-leaved Coreopsis

Lanceleaf coreopsis, Lance-leaved coreopsis, or Lanceleaf tickseed Coreopsis lanceolata This bright yellow, perennial wildflower occurs in open areas and along roadsides. The bold flower head is large (1-2 inches in diameter) and is held on a tall, hairless stem, or peduncle. This is an aster, so the flower head is actually made up of ray…

Mock Strawberry

Duchesnea indica Every spring there is a little competition going on among the ground covers in my front yard. Creeping Charlie, Bugleweed, and Mock Strawberries are fighting for their own piece of real estate. By late spring, these low-growing plants are all intertwined in a thick mat of brilliant colors. Now at the end of…

Rattlesnake Weed

Hieracium venosum The leaves of this plant are the real attraction. A basal rosette of oval, bluish green leaves hugs the forest floor. Each leaf is outlined with deep purple veins that form a net-like pattern. From May to September, the plant can be found in bloom in shady, dry forests. The dandelion-like, yellow flower…

Golden Alexanders and Meadow Parsnip

Zizia aurea and Thaspium trifoliatum Here are two wildflowers that are very similar in appearance–they both have small, bright yellow flowers that are arranged in umbels and they both bloom at the same time of the year. Golden Alexanders is a 3 foot tall perennial with three-part stem leaves. The individual leaflets are ovate to lanceolate, and the leaf…

Yellow Wood Sorrel

Oxalis sp. Also known as Sourgrass or Lemon clover because of its distinctive sour-lemon taste, yellow wood sorrel is a pretty wildflower or a ubiquitous weed, depending on your perspective and how much of it you’ve got in your yard. There are multiple species in this genus with similar characteristics, so I won’t attempt to nail this…

Yellow Hawkweed or King Devil

Hieracium caespitosum (H. pratense) I’ve been spotting a new wildflower around town this week, and I even saw it a couple of days ago on top of Salt Pond Mountain, near Mountain Lake. It is hard to miss this plant because the flower stalks are tall and straight and they are topped with sunny yellow flowers…

Green and Gold

Golden Star or Green and Gold Chrysogonum virginianum You might be familiar with this plant from home gardens.  It is a native wildflower with a spreading habit and long-lasting flowers, so it makes an excellent ground cover in the garden. The bright yellow flowers with contrasting brown stamens are held high above the light green,…

Yellow Clintonia or Blue-bead Lily

Clintonia borealis   Here’s a beautiful mountain wildflower that I’ve found growing in sheltered places beneath the rocky slopes of Bald Knob on Salt Pond Mountain.  The leaves of Yellow Clintonia (or Blue-bead Lily) somewhat resemble robust orchid leaves; they are 6 to 10-inches long, elliptical, and shiny. Each individual plant bears two to five of these large basal leaves. In…