Nodding Ladies’ Tresses

Spiranthes cernua Twist and shout!  Luckily the bright white of these tiny orchids help them to stand out in the grass and weeds, otherwise they would be easy to miss in September meadows.  They stand only 4 to 12 inches in height. Nodding Ladies’ Tresses orchids bear their tiny flowers in a “double, intertwined” spiraling fashion…

Virginia Marsh St. Johnswort

Triadenum virginicum  September arrived in Blacksburg this week on the heels of cold front. Suddenly the evening temperatures dropped into the 50’s and the breezy, pleasant afternoons called for long sleeves. Roll that weather forecast into a long, Labor Day weekend, and needless to say, we had to get out for a few hikes in…

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…

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,…

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…

Bur Cucumber

Sicyos angulatus This fuzzy, climbing annual will grow in shady, moist areas. It can put out runners that extend up to 25 feet across the ground. Often, it climbs over shrubs and small trees using thin tendrils to anchor it to branches as it ascends.  The growth habit is much like a grape vine. At…

Gaura

Gaura biennis If you are still hunting for summer beauty, look no further. Biennial Gaura is a dainty showstopper that has been blooming for months and could continue until frost. This tall, native plant can reach 4 to 6 feet in height. The stem is hairy and the leaves are alternate and lance-shaped, slightly toothed…

Perennial Sweet Pea

Lathyrus latifoliés Everlasting Pea, Perennial Sweet Pea You’ve seen this plant before! In sunny spaces, both in back yards and open fields, Perennial Sweet Pea, or Everlasting Pea, is a staple of summer. You can’t deny its gorgeous allure…sometimes pink, sometimes white, and sometimes so dark in color that it looks magenta, this member of…

Kidneyleaf Grass-of-Parnassus

Parnassia asarifolia A friend led me to a sphagnum bog in the mountains near Glen Alton, and that’s where we found a beautiful white wildflower in bloom:  the Grass of Parnassus!  Surrounding this plant was an immense diversity of other moisture-loving plants including sphagnum moss, sundews, cotton grass, horsetails, shining clubmoss, and alder. First of…

Rare Corpse Flower Is Blooming Now at Virginia Tech!

Update!  The Corpse Plant is blooming!  Head on over to the the VT Greenhouses and get a whiff for yourself! Go soon, because Phil will not wait! From VT NEWS BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 21, 2015 – As the song goes, you were never promised a rose garden. At least not at the Jacob A. Lutz…

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…

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…

Whorled Wood Aster

Aster acuminatus Here at the end of the summer you won’t find that many plants in full bloom in the forest, but here is one beauty you can look for now.  Found in wet or dry woods, the Whorled Wood Aster is a perennial that grows 1 to 3 feet tall, and blooms in late summer and fall….

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…

Shaggy Stalked Bolete

Heimioporus betel, The Southern Bolete Usually, the cap of a mushroom is the notable feature, but in this case the stem is the star of the show. If you like odd-looking mushrooms, this interesting species will probably get your attention. The Shaggy Stalked Bolete has a very long, lacy stem. It almost looks like stretched out honeycomb. Mushroom experts describe it as…

Ornate-stalked Bolete

Boletus ornatipes or Retiboletus ornatipes I love the color of this mushroom! It is mustard yellow! And note the ornate, netted pattern on the stipe (a reticulate stem)!  The ornate-stalked bolete is mycorrhizal on hardwoods, and in fact we found all of these mushrooms in a mixed-oak forest at Pandapas Pond, in Montgomery County, VA…

A Mushroom Foray: August 2012

Pandapas Pond Foray Below is a collection of photos from a mushroom walk that I took with the NRV Mushroom Club.  What a diversity!

Cranefly Orchid or Crippled Cranefly

Tipularia discolor Updated August, 2017. It is August, and there is a mysterious orchid blooming in the woods right now. It is tall and delicate, oddly conspicuous, yet almost invisible to the eye. It is called the Crane-fly Orchid. Like Putty-root Orchid, the crane-fly orchid has a 2-part life cycle. In the fall (October), the…

Carolina Elephant’s Foot

Carolina Elephant’s Foot or Leafy Elephantfoot Elephantopus carolinianus Take 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…

Old Man of the Woods

Strobilomyces floccopus Once called the “pinecone mushroom”, this spiky character is certainly an interesting find on a summer’s walk in the woods.  The cap is speckled with black, wooly scales. Old Man of the Woods is a bolete (note the pores on the underside of the cap instead of gills) that is mycorrhizal on hardwoods….

Cowbane

Members of the carrot (or parsley) family include plants we often use as spices or as vegetables.  Most have umbel-shaped flowers (think umbrella!) that are quite fascinating structurally. You are probably familiar with Queen Anne’s Lace, or dill as common examples of plants with umbel-shaped inflorescences. Here is another member of the Carrot Family that…

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…

Destroying Angel

 Amanita bisporigera  One of many poisonous mushrooms in the genus Amanita, the destroying angel is probably the most poisonous of all.  It appears in summer, first as a white “egg” that will form the base.  As the mushroom grows, the cap appears conical. When the cap eventually opens, the surface of the cap is smooth…

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…

Teasel

Dipsacus As summer takes a curtain call, new blooming flowers are harder to come by.  But in drying fields and along fencerows and roadsides, the tall, spiny remnants of teasel delight the eye.  Earlier in the summer, teasel produces inconspicuous white, pink or purple flowers on an oval cone of spines.  The visually interesting flower…

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…

A Mushroom Foray: August 2012

I attended my first “Mushroom Foray” yesterday.  It was held in Waiteville, WV, on a beautiful sunny day, and it was attended by members of the New River Valley Mushroom Club.  Below are some photos of things we found on our 2-hour walk in the woods.  I was astounded by the sheer diversity of mushrooms,…

American Germander

Teucrium canadense Often observed in large, showy colonies, American Germander is a tall perennial (2-3 ft) in the mint family that blooms in mid-summer. Like all mints, it has a 4-sided stem. The leaves have strong venation and are opposite, ovate to lanceolate, and serrated. The large leaves can grow 2-5 inches in length. The…

Agaricus leptocaulis

I spotted a distinctive group of white mushrooms today that really caught my eye.  They had obvious “rings” on the stems, so my first thought was of the poisonous death cap mushroom.  I quickly realized that the gills were not white though–in fact they were dark, chocolate brown. Hmmm, I wonder what that is? Out…

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…

Poke Milkweed

  Asclepias exaltata There are several species of milkweed in our area; the flowers might be pink, red, orange, green or white. Pictured above is a white species called poke milkweed or tall milkweed. It grows 3 to 6 feet in height and bears large, smooth leaves that are opposite and broadly elliptic in shape. When…

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…

Thistle

Circium sp. Thistle.  Is it a beautiful purple wildflower that generously produces nectar for butterflies and seeds for small birds like the American Goldfinch? Or, is it a treacherous weed of fields and pastures that is a scourge for farmers everywhere?  Can I paint a fair portrait? It is both.  This prickly plant bears plump flower heads on tall stems, in…

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…

White Snakeroot

Ageratina altissima (Eupatorium rugosum) White Snakeroot is a poisonous plant that is native to North America. The plants are tall and can grow 3-4 ft. in height.  Snakeroot’s white flowers are born at the top of the plant in loose clusters that might remind you of boneset or a white ageratum. The substantial leaves of…

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…

Common Rose Pink

Sabatia angularis Despite the name, there is nothing “common” about this plant! The rose-pink hue of the flower is really astounding. Each flower has 5 pink petals and 5 stamens with yellow anthers. The central yellow style is split in two, adding a festive “pop” to the center of the flower. At the base of…

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…

Boneset

Eupatorium perfoliatum Common boneset is a perennial native that can be found growing locally in wet or damp areas. There are about 20 other white wildflowers that resemble boneset, but this plant is relatively easy to tell apart from the other look-alikes. Notice how the base of the leaves appear to wrap around the stem.  It…

Starry Campion

Silene stellata While on an August hike to Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory in West Virginia, I discovered this inconspicuous, and somewhat frail plant growing in the dry, rocky woodlands near the top of the mountain. I later saw the same plant in bloom in a similar habiat, at Wind Rock, near Mountain Lake. This is…