White Wood Aster

Eurybia divaricata or Aster divaricates The cold and dreary days of February are a good time to catch up on my backlog of wildflower photos! Sifting through these images makes me anxious for spring to arrive! Here is a common white aster that you are probably familiar with from your fall hikes in the mountains…

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,…

Horse Nettle

Solanum carolinense Horse nettle is a perennial native that is a member of the potato family of plants. You may recognize the flower and leaves as bearing some similarities to common garden vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. The flowers are star-shaped, white to purple in color, with 5 lobes.  A prominent yellow center contains a group…

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…

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…

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,…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

Flowering Spurge

Euphorbia corollata Look at these dainty white flowers suspended in a loose cluster like Baby’s Breath!  What looks like a 5-petalled flower is actually not–the white structures you see are really bracts. There are super-tiny flowers cradled within these bracts that are nearly impossible to see! You might first recognize the leaves of flowering spurge…

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…

Joe Pye Weed

Eupatorium or Eutrochium Here’s a tall native wildflower that has large, serrated, whorled leaves and masses of rose pink blooms in late summer.  Joe Pye weed grows 4 to 7 feet in height and enjoys life in all sorts of damp places in southwest Virginia. Believe it or not, Joe Pye weed is a composite…

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…

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…

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…

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…

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Goodyear pubescens   I love the leaves of this little native orchid.  Look at that symphony of color and design! The silver markings on the dark blue-green leaves, along with the bold stripe in the center of the leaf make it easy to identify as rattlesnake plantain. The “plantain” part of this plant’s name comes…

Blue Vervain

Verbena hastata No need to bend over to see this tall beauty!  Blue vervain grows 2 to 5 feet tall! I found these plants growing on the banks of Pandapas Pond in June and July in Montgomery County, Virginia. The 5-petaled, violet-blue flowers of blue vervain are borne on unique branching spikes. The flowers on…

Jack O’Lantern Mushroom

Omphalotus illudens No, it is not time for Halloween, but it IS time for bright orange mushrooms to start popping out of the ground to do a little pre-holiday scaring. The Jack O’Lantern Mushroom is pretty distinctive, so you should have little trouble identifying this one.  If a big patch of orange catches your eye…

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…

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…

Square-stemmed Monkey-flower

Mimulus ringens Monkey flower is a tall native wildflower that is fond of wet places.  Like all members of the snapdragon group, monkeyflower has 2 lips that surround an open “mouth”.  The upper lip has 2 frilly lobes and the lower lip has 3 lobes.  If you squeeze the two lips together you can make…

Blue Mist Flower or Wild Ageratum

Conoclinium coelestinum Until today, I always thought of ageratum as a low-growing garden annual that you could buy readily in any garden center– but I never knew it was also a native wildflower! I recently found a colony of these plants growing along the side of a shallow pond in Blacksburg, VA. The plants were…

Chicory

Cichorium intybus Chicory, blue sailors, wild succory, coffeeweed, or cornflower…whatever you want to call it–how can you not LOVE the bright blue flowers of this tough little wildflower? In a summer field, chicory stands out because of its tall, rigid stems that almost appear woody.  Here and there along the stem appear aster-like flowers in…