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…

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….

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

American Wintergreen or Eastern Teaberry

Gaultheria procumbens 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,…

American Poke

Phytolacca americana Also known as Virginia poke, American nightshade, pokeweed, and pokeberry, among other names, this native perennial is a towering beauty in fallow fields. American poke grows very tall (6-12 ft!) and typically inhabits waste areas and edge habitat. The leaves of American poke are simple, alternate, lanceolate, entire, and very large (up to…

Queen Anne’s Lace

Daucus carota Here she is in all her loveliness– Queen Anne’s Lace, named after Queen Anne of England, who was an expert lacemaker! This umbrella-shaped flower is made up of many tiny white flowers; together they form the “lacy” pattern characteristic of the wildflower’s inflorescence. Below the umbel of flowers is a spray of finely…

Jewelweed

Impatiens capensis Jewelweed or touch-me-not is a tall annual that grows in moist areas, usually along the banks of streams, rivers and ponds.  The leaves are somewhat toothed and blue-green in color. Raindrops tend to bead up on the leaves, giving it a “bejeweled” appearance in sunshine. The trumpet-like or funnel-shaped flowers are yellowish-orange with…

Striped Wintergreen or Pipsisewa

Chimaphila maculata Such a dainty, intriguing flower! I’ve been stalking it for a month now, waiting for it to come into bloom. Finally! Here it is in June at Pandapas Pond, near Blacksburg. This perennial evergreen herb is another forest floor inhabitant that could easily go unnoticed due to its size.  In flower it is…

Indian Pipe

Ghost Flower, Corpse Plant, or Indian Pipe Monotropa uniflora This wildflower lacks chlorophyll and is non-photosynthetic. In order to obtain carbon, it forms a parasitic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi that grow on tree roots. Indian pipes are found in rich, moist woods where there is a lot of leaf litter. There is one flower per…

Mountain Laurel

Kalmia latifolia Run, don’t walk! Put on your hiking shoes and head up any Appalachian mountain trail (right now!) in May and June and you will  be rewarded with gorgeous Mountain Laurel blooms. This evergreen shrub can put on a spectacular display, since it varies in height from 3 to 15 feet and forms thick…

Galax

Wandflower, Galax, or Beetleweed Galax urceolata The white spikes of galax rise up like magic wands in late May and June in the woodland forests of Appalachia. The tall spikes can grow 1 to 2 feet high over a basal rosette of shiny green leaves. The flowers wave gently in the breeze, earning this plant…

Fire Pink

Silene virginica is Fire Pink Hot stuff! Five long, radiant, red petals adorn this flower. Each petal has a cute little notch at the end. The petals lead down to a long tube that holds the pistil and stamens. Given the tube-like shape of the flower, fire pink requires a pollinator with a long tongue or…

Wood Anemone

Anemone quinquifolia These plants are difficult to photograph! Anemones are also called windflowers, because the lightest breeze puts them in motion. Adding to the difficulty, the flowers close at night and on overcast days, making it hard again to get a good picture. So maybe it is no wonder that I only came across this…

Trailing Arbutus

Epigaea repens Trailing arbutus is a native, evergreen, creeping plant that grows on rocky slopes.  I frequently see it growing on the eroded banks of roads and trails as I am out walking in the forest.  This time of year, you might find it with your nose first–it has a sweet fragrance that permeates the…

Gaywings

Fringed Polygala or Gaywings Polygala paucifolia At first glance, the color and texture of this flower call to mind an orchid.  The complicated structure, complete with wing-like sepals, resembles a flying bird or airplane.  Two petals are joined together to make a tube; a third, lower petal is fringed. The rosy pink or purple flowers…

Rue Anemone

Anemonella thalictroides Tiny and delicate, the white to pinkish flowers of rue anemone explode in early spring like bright lights on the dark forest floor. The small, three-lobed leaves resemble meadow rue in appearance.  The plant is so dainty that it moves almost constantly in the slightest wind, making it a challenge to photograph!  Note…