This tiny plant called Draba verna L. is a true harbinger of spring. It is always one of the first flowers to makes its presence known each year. In Maryland, it can usually be seen blooming as early as February, and even in January, if temperatures are warm enough like this year (2017).
This member of the Brassicaceae family has several different “common” names. The one I usually hear it called is Whitlow Grass. The name- Erophila verna – is sometimes seen as a synonym in scientific literature.
It is native to Eurasia, and most literature I have seen says it has been introduced to North America. However, Wikipedia, without quoting a source, says it is now considered to be a native to North America. I have not found a source that validates this. If you know of such a source please let me know. At the very least, it is naturalized to North America.
It is found on the refuge in disturbed areas like the edge of parking lots, roads, and other open areas where there is bare soil. It is a highly variable species generally growing from about 1 inch to 3 inches tall. I have seen it attaining heights of over 6 inches in favorable conditions.
It is a hardy little guy that can truly be called a harbinger of spring.
Today, the Little Patuxent River Trail located on the North Tract of the Patuxent Research Refuge was the scene for a spring wildflower walk sponsored by the Refuge.
We identified a total of 32 species of plants and one species of lichen. (See list below). The bluebells put on an especially nice display. We did notice that the invasive Lesser Celandine took over more of the area compared to last year.
After the walk along the River Trail, we drove down to the Chickasaw Plum grove. In addition to the Chickasaw Plum we saw some Devil’s Tongue Cactus (Opuntia humifusa.)
A good time was had by all.
Cladonia cristatella Tuck. – British Soldiers
The American Field Pansy (Viola bicolor Pursh) is found throughout the eastern part of North America with a small number of outlying populations reported from the west. It is commonly found on the Refuge on all three tracts in open disturbed areas like the old firing ranges and powerline right-of-ways.
This species, with its dainty little flower, is distinguished from another annual Viola species found in Maryland (Viola arvensis Murray) by its petals which well surpassing its sepals. The flower’s five petals are usually white to a pale purple with darker stripes radiating from the flowers center, and are all the same color. The American Field Pansy is similar to Johnny Jump-ups (Viola tricolor.) The petals on that species are variously colored commonly with the lower three petals cream-white and upper two purple-black.
As is the case with other species, past controversy surrounds this one. The debate was over whether or not it was introduced from the Old World as a variety of Viola kitabeliana. Currently most botanists accept this as a separate species native to North America. A synonym for this plant is Viola rafinesquei Greene.
It is in full bloom in Maryland right now. See if you can find it.
Found a sizable patch of Azure Bluets (Houstonia caerulea L.) in full bloom on the Central Tract today, 7 April. It is differentiated from the similar looking Tiny Bluets (Houstonia pusilia) by its basally disposed leaves. Tiny bluets’s flowering stems are more branched and the leaves are less basally disposed. There are also some subtle differences in the measurements of the floral structures.
Azure Bluets are native in Eastern North America from Ontario and Newfoundland in the North, and from Louisiana and Florida in the south. There are scattered populations as far west as Oklahoma. They are fairly common in well-drained open fields and disturbed areas throughout the Refuge.
Weakley, A.S.2015. Flora of the Southern and Mid–Atlantic States. Working draft of 21 May 2015. Univ. of North Carolina Herbarium (NCU), Chapel Hill. <http://www.herbarium.unc.edu/flora.htm>
Today, I went to the refuge’s North Tract to look for some Yellow Dogtooth Violets or Trout Lilies (Erythronium) to take some pictures of the inner floral parts for identification purposes. According to the available literature, Erythronium americanum has two “ears” (or auricles) at the base of the petals (inner three tepals) and the ovary is dimple-less. The detail on these photos fit that description. For the record, although I did not take a photo of the anthers, they contained yellow pollen.
Another yellow Erythronium that is reportedly found in Maryland (Erythronium umbilicatum) does not have “ears” (or auricles) at the base of the petals and the ovary/seed capsule has a dimple at the apex. Who will be the first one to find this species in Maryland?
As of 7 April, I have examined over 30 Erythonium plants on the Refuge’s North Tract and Central Tract. They all had auricles, meaning they are all Erythronium americanum.
Dutchman’s Breeches – Dicentra cucullaria (L.) Bernh. is favorite of those who are familiar with spring ephemeral wildflowers because if one uses their imagination, little man in pants hanging upside down can be envisioned when looking at the flowers. No wonder the forest is the setting for many a fairy tale.
Dutchman’s Breeches are found in Eastern North America and believe it or not, in isolated naturally occurring populations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. They grow best in bottomland forests and adjacent areas. On the Refuge, they are common along both the Patuxent River and the Little Patuxent River.
The plant is similar to Squirrel Corn – Dicentra canadensis (L.) Bernh. The flower spurs on Dutchman’s Breeches are more pointed that the ones on Squirrel Corn. The leaves on Squirrel Corn are generally more finely dissected. In both species, the “down” end of the flowers contain the reproductive parts.
Native Americans used the plant for medicinal purposes.
Yellow Fumewort – Corydalis flavula (Raf.) DC. – is another spring bloomer that is a denizen of bottomland woods and adjacent areas and is commonly found in parts of Eastern North America. As typical of a member of the Papaveraceae family (poppy) it contains a large number of alkaloids. It ranges from Ontario in the north, the Eastern Seaboard on the east, the Gulf Coast on the south, and Nebraska and Kansas on the West. It is conspicuously absent from New England except for a small number of populations in Connecticut.
Yellow fumewort’s flowers are bilaterally oriented and its leaves are finely dissected. The seed pod is pendant and contains several seeds.
It is found in the Refuge’s bottomland woods.
Today at the Patuxent Research Refuge, we stopped by the Chickasaw Plum “Grove” (Prunus angustifolia Marshall). There are two clumps of the trees at this location, and they put on a nice display.
According to Sargent in 1965 and E.L. Little in 1979, this species was originally native to central Texas and Oklahoma, and was naturalized beyond that range (including Maryland) by Native Americans in pre-European settlement times. Renown botanist William Bartram wrote that “he never saw the Chickasaw plum wild in the forests but always in old deserted Indian plantations”. He hypothesized that the Chickasaw Indians brought it from the Southwest beyond the Mississippi River (Bartram, 1791).
So we may surmise that these trees could have likely been planted by Native Americans many centuries ago.
This bracken fern is another species of fern that we found on our nature walk. This variety is called the Hairy Bracken Fern or Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn var. pubescens Underw. It differs from the Bracken Fern commonly found on the Patuxent Research Refuge with shorted terminal segments on the well-developed pinnules, The Hairy Bracken Fern is found in Western North America from Alaska to Northern Mexico, as far east as Texas and South Dakota.
It forms colonies which can be invasive, especially in hay fields.
The Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum (Kaulf.) C. Presl) is an evergreen fern found on the west coast of North America from Southeastern Alaska to Southern California. There are isolated populations in the Black Hills in South Dakota and on Guadalupe Island off Baja California.
Its favorite habitat is in the understory in conifer forests. Native Americans peeled and roasted the rhizomes for food.
It is difficult to grow and cultivate in the eastern past of North America.
Today,my granddaughters in Seattle and I took a hike on the Boeing Trails in Bellevue Washington. We saw several types of native trees as well as the non-native American Holly. We also saw the Western Sword Fern and the ubiquitous blackberry patches, which are common in the urban areas in Western Washington.
This time we will examine two similar species of Thoroughwort (sometimes called boneset) – Hyssop-leaf Thoroughwort (Eupatorium hyssopifolium L.) and Torrey’s Thoroughwort (Eupatorium torreyanum Short & Peter). The synonym Eupatorium hyssopifolium L. var. laciniatum A. Gray is sometimes applied to Torrey’s Thoroughwort.
The difference between the two species is subtle, but distinct and is mainly seen on the leaves.
The shape of principal leaves on the Eupatorium hyssopifolium are described as linear to narrowly lanceolate. Additionally, they are generally shorter (2 to 7 cm long) and narrower (1-5 mm wide) than the Eupatorium torreyanum, and are 10 to 40 times longer than wide. Also, the margins of their leaves are mostly entire or obscurely toothed.
On the other hand, the principal leaves on the Eupatorium torreyanum are described as lanceolate, 5 to 12 cm long and 5 to about 10 mm wide. The length to width ratio is 6 to 15. The margins of the leaves are conspicuously and divergently toothed.
Hyssop-leaf Thoroughwort naturally occurs in Eastern USA from Massachusetts on the north, Georgia on the south and Tennessee on the west. It is common throughout Maryland and on the Refuge.
Botanists have found Torrey’s Thoroughwort from New York on the north, to Florida on the south, and to Ohio, Tennessee, and Louisiana on the West. It is considered to be a viable hybrid between Hyssop-leaf Thoroughwort and another species of Eupatorium. The identity of the other parent species is a matter of controversy and requires further research.
Interestingly, Torrey’s Thoroughwort is listed as occurring in Maryland, yet the Maryland Biodiversity Project (MBP) and the Maryland Plant Atlas (MPA) have no report (as of 5 September 2016). Maybe this is the first known report of this species, or previous reports of it just have not been documented yet. In any event, this species is often overlooked because of its co-occurrence with Hyssop-leaf Thoroughwort, and observations of it could be easily dismissed because it is so similar in appearance.
Some botanists elevate Torrey’s Thoroughwort to a species level, others subordinate it as a variety of Hyssop-leaf Thoroughwort, and others have lumped these two together into one species. Whatever its taxonomical status, Torrey’s Thoroughwort is definitely a distinct botanical entity from Hyssop-leaf Thoroughwort.
Today, I forayed on the South Tract and spotted a bunch of Bald Cypress trees thriving in a swampy area next to Reddington Lake. Bald Cypress is not native this far north, but can do all right when planted in the right place. In this case, they were planted by Fran Uhler back in the 1960’s or 1970’s. They are doing just fine and some of the trees are producing cones and seeds. In fact, these trees have established themselves with several younger trees growing next to the larger ones.
Several vines of wild yam (Discorea villosa) L. were spotted in full bloom along the Knowles 1 Pond on the Central Tract. Wild Yam is common in North America ranging from Ontario on the North, along the Eastern Seaboard to Florida and West to Texas and Nebraska.
It purportedly has medicinal properties, including as an anti-cancer treatment. However, according to the American Cancer Society these claims are false, and there is no evidence of its effectiveness.
On the way home from work today, I took a bunch of pictures of two established colonies of Aesculus parviflora (Bottlebrush Buckeye) near our home. One of them was in the middle of someone’s lawn and the other one was in the woods. I first spotted them six years ago, and they have spread since then. The latter one ran for about 100 feet along the road and was about 50 feet back into the woods. Three or four saplings had popped up across the road from this colony. I am not sure if they are primarily spread from seedlings or if they are clones, but they sure like where they are at.
The following are photographs that I took today. (Click on the thumbnails for a larger view.)
The following are photographs that I took in previous years.
Today in front of the old house in which the Refuge superintendent used to live, I spotted a pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis). The pecan is native to Mexico and southeastern USA, but not Maryland. This specimen is handsome. I wonder if it will produce pecan nuts in the fall.
Today, I found an interesting exotic on the Central Tract. It is called Temple Grass and the scientific name is Zoysia matrella. This native to East Asia and northern Australia is sometimes planted in North America as a lawn grass. Its matting nature makes it a natural for planting on golf course greens. It is tolerant to high salinity and is therefore sometimes planted as erosion control and in lawns in coastal areas.
Someone planted this grass on the Snowden Pond dike, and it seems to like it there.
It is a diecious, meaning that the female and male reproductive flower parts are found on separate plants. (see the photos on this page.) The leaves angled at more or less 90 degrees from the culm/stem, distinguishes this species from a related species, Zoysia japonica, which have leaves that point upwards towards the end of the stem.