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…

Honey Mushrooms

Armillaria Honeys! Here’s another new mushroom for me! There are two honey mushroom species pictured in this gallery—both are parasitic on hardwood trees.  Armillaria mellea has a distinct ring, or annulus on the stipe and a partial veil when new; the gills are attached; the color is typically honey yellow. Armillaria tabescens is ringless; the…

Slender Gerardia

Agalinis tenuifolia (Gerardia tenuifolia) Slender Gerardia is a native annual that grows to about 2 feet in height. Note the slender, linear leaves and overall dark color (green to purple) of the foliage.  The leaves are opposite and entire. The flowers, borne on long pedicels, are light to dark pink with purple spots inside. They…

Purple-stemmed and New York Aster

Aster… I have a limit as to how long I’ll try to key out difficult flowers, and I’ve hit mine with the fall asters! Right now, there are autumn-blooming asters everywhere that bear alternate, lanceolate leaves that lack petioles and clasp the stem. The leaf margin is usually gently toothed. Each flower head has 30 or more ray flowers…

New England Aster

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae You’ll recognize this prolific fall bloomer: New England Aster can be found growing locally in both home gardens and open meadows. Gobs of showy, purplish flowers cover the top of this tall native plant and provide an important source of nectar for insects–especially migrating butterflies– at this time of year. Examine the photo…

Turtlehead

Chelone Fishmouth, snakemouth, turtlehead…  The common names of this flower come from the 2-lipped shape, which calls to mind an animal’s gaping mouth. The pink, red or white flowers are borne on a spike at the top of the plant.  The leaves are opposite, ovate to lanceolate, and have lightly toothed margins. Turtlehead enjoys life…

Coker’s Amanita

Amanita cokeri This very large, poisonous Amanita has white warts on the cap and erupts from a large basal bulb. The gallery below shows two Coker’s Amanita mushrooms before they erupted from the bulb, and then again a few days later.  (The veil is evident on one of the mushrooms.)  The warts on the cap will…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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….

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…

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…

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…

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,…

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…

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) This is a poisonous plant that is native to North America. The plants grow to about 3-4 ft.; the very small white flowers are born at the top of the plant in loose clusters that might remind you of boneset or a white ageratum. The leaves are opposite, ovate to cordate,…

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…

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…

Ironweed

Veronia  This very tall, late-summer flower is ubiquitous in our part of VIrginia.  The small, deep purple flowers begin to bloom in fields and along roadsides in August. The spectacular show of color continues through fall. Ironweed is a perennial wildflower, and a member of the Aster family. The leaves of the plant are elliptic to…

Purple-flowering Raspberry

Rubus odoratus On an August hike to Wind Rock in the Jefferson National Forest, I found an odd shrub with very large, maple-shaped leaves and bold, reddish-purple flowers. The stems of this plant were reddish-brown and covered with fine hairs. Although the plant lacked real thorns, the sticky hairs on the stem definitely called to…

Jimsonweed

Datura stamonium Jimsonweed is also called purple thorn apple.  One look at the purple stems and prickly fruit of this plant will tell you why. You’ll find it flowering in August and September, but your timing will have to be right. Generally, Jimsonweed flowers open at night and last only one day. Sometimes you can catch…

Slender Ladies’ Tresses

Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis Last summer I reported on Nodding Ladies’ Tresses, which I found growing in bog-like conditions near Glen Alton. Today I found a similar plant growing in a grassy, well-drained field right here in Blacksburg. This one is Green-Lipped Ladies’ Tresses, or Slender Ladies’ Tresses.  As the first part of the name…

Wild Basil

Clinopodium vulgare or Satureja vulgaris Wild basil is a hairy mint with pointed oval leaves and clusters of pink to purple flowers.  The clusters are stacked on an erect, 4-sided stem that is distinctly wooly.  Morning dew will delight your eye as it glistens on the dried clusters long after the flowers fade. See the gallery…

Virgin’s Bower

Clematis virginiana Look up!  That white-flowering, climbing vine that is now covering young trees and shrubs along pathways in Blacksburg is absolutely stunning– and its name is Virgin’s Bower! Perhaps not surprisingly, this pretty native is a kind of Clematis. The 4-petalled flowers are about 1-inch wide and sweetly fragrant. Pollinators, including butterflies, bees of…

Cardinal Flower

Lobelia cardinalis It’s showtime—and this late-summer bloomer is as showy a flower as they come! Cardinal flower, a native perennial, produces bright red flowers on tall, unbranched stems. The flowers are produced on a raceme, which opens from the bottom first. Each individual flower is bright red and tubular, with 5 deep lobes that are…

Steeplebush or Hardhack

Spiraea tomentosa I think we are all familiar with spirea as a landscape ornamental. Familiar cultivars with names like Bridal Wreath, Gold Flame, Little Princess, and Neon Flash grace gardens across the South. Most of these have flat or rounded clusters of pink or white flowers in early summertime. Contrast this flower arrangement with Steeplebush….

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…

Hoary Mountain Mint

Pycnanthemum incanum Here’s another native mint from the Lamiaceae family.  Like all the mints, this plant has 4-angled or square stems , opposite, elliptical leaves, and a pronounced mint fragrance.  Hoary mountain mint has white leaves at the top of the plant where the flowers arise.  The white to purple flowers are 2-lipped, with the…