Kalmia angustifolia (Sheep Laurel)
17 May 2017

Kalmia angustifolia L. is a flowering shrub in the family Ericaceae, commonly known as sheep laurel. It is found in a small number of locations on the Refuge. Its natural range is from Quebec and Ontario on the north to Virginia on the south. There are several cultivated forms of this species including a red-flowered one that is popular in the nursery trade.

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6 May 2017 – Newly Discovered Plant Species for Maryland

(Click on image for larger and fuller view.)

Today, I went out to the southern border of the Refuge to checkout the area around the old USDA Beltsville Landing Strip. There were several species of weeds hanging around.  To my surprise, one of them ended up being a plant species that had not been documented for Maryland.  It is called Krigia cespitosa (Raf.) K.L. Chambers or Weedy Dwarf Dandelion.

The Weedy Dwarf Dandelion is found throughout Southeast USA, including the neighboring states of Virginia and West Virginia, so its appearance in Maryland is not surprising.  Since this plant was located at an airport historically associated with the USDA, it is very possible that it could have been introduced by an aircraft from another area. It would not be surprising if other as-of-yet-not-known species are at this site which were introduced by the same method. Another plant species new to Maryland, Lythrum hyssopifolia L. or Hyssop Loosestrife, was found near this location in June 2015.

There are three other species from the genus Krigia in Maryland – K. biflora, K. dandelion, and K. virginica. The lack of pappus in the flowering head is one of the traits which distinguishes K. cespitosa from the other three.

My original determination of this plant species has been verified by Rod Simmons and Wes Knapp.

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25 April 2017 – Forget-me-not or not – Part 2 – SUCCESS!

Last time we attempted to identify a Forget-Me-Not that was found growing in Oldtown Elkridge. (Click here to see the first part of the story.)

After looking at the key, we narrowed the possibilities down to three species – Myosotis arvensis, Myosotis discolor, and Myosotis stricta, the last three species on the key.

So today I went out to the station where we first found the plant. Of course, the flowering stems had elongated and there were more fruits. The fruiting pedicels were all shorter than the calyces. The plants were floriferous (with flowers) well below the middle of the flowering stems.  I did not see any styles extending beyond the mericarps. After running this through the key in the first blog entry, we come up with Myosotis stricta  Link ex Roem. & Schult. or Strict Forget-me-not.

CONCLUSION: sometimes you have to look at a plant at different stages to be sure of an identification.


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16 April 2017 – Mollusks Galore

Old Erie Canal (Clinton’s Ditch) on left
and the “New” Erie Canal on the right

This time we diverge from looking at plants. On our hike on the Butterfly Trail at Lock # 30, Erie Canal, Macedon, New York, we found at least four mollusks. In the first picture, you can see the “beach” where we found them. It was mostly made up of the remains of shells. We would like to know what are the exact species. If you know or can verify the exact species of these mollusks please let us know.

Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha)

The first shells that we are looking at are Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha). They are an aggressive invasive species throughout a large portion of North America. They were first detected inNorth America in the Detroit-Windsor area in 1988. They are considered a serious pest.

Asian Clam (Corbicula fluminea)



This one is believed to be the bivalve mollusk called the Asian Clam (Corbicula fluminea).






I have no idea what this is. For this article I am calling it a Striped Snail. This little guy was alive when we found it.




I am calling this one a Cone Snail. They are similar to some snails that we used raised in aquariums when I was younger.

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14 April 2017 – Poet’s Daffodil – Narcissus poeticus L. –

Today, I went on a botanical foray in Oldtown Elkridge concentrating on the area around the Thomas Viaduct and found several interesting exotics and even a few natives.

Pictured here is the Poet’s Daffodil – Narcissus poeticus L.  It is native to south and central Europe and had become naturalized in other parts of the world including Maryland. At this location, there were several dozen plants.

Its short yellow reddish rimmed corona is a distinctive characteristic of this species.

The origin of the name Poet’s Narcissus is not clear, but one version states that the poet Virgil wrote about a Narcissus which matched the description of this plant in his fifth Eclogue. Theosphratus (371 – c. 287 BCE), in his botanical writings wrote about a spring blooming narcissus which subsequent writers consider to be this species.


Bourne, Stephen Eugene; W. L. Foster (1903). The Book of the Daffodil. J. Lane. p. 3.

Linnaeus, Carl von. 1753. Species Plantarum 1: 289, Narcissus poeticus


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14 April 2017 – Oldtown Elkridge and Thomas Viaduct

This gallery contains 11 photos.

The venue for today’s foray took place in Oldtown Elkridge and in area of the nearby Thomas Viaduct (the world’s oldest multiple arched stone railway viaduct still in use from the early 19th century). Below, you can see some of … Continue reading

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14 April 2017 – Forget-me-not or not – Part 1

Let’s have some fun here.  This time, we will focus on the difficulty in identifying the species of plants. I found a large patch of plants next to a parking area in “Oldtown” Elkridge. It was obvious to me that they were forget-me-nots (Myosotis sp.) But I was not sure of which species it was.

So, what shall we do to figure out what species this is? For this we will consult the Myosotis key in Alan Weakley’s Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States, 2015. There are other keys avaialble, but for the purpose of this article, we will stick with this one. (See bottom of the page of the excerpt of the key).

The first choice in the key deals with the pubescence on the calyx:

1 Calyx strigose, the hairs neither spreading nor uncinate.
1 Calyx with some loose or spreading, uncinate hairs.

Okay, strigose means short and appressed, the hairs of which on our Myosotis are not. Furthermore, at least some of the calyx hairs seem to be uncinate, meaning they are like hooks. So we will go with the second one in the pair.

The next choice is as follows:

3 Corolla limb 5-8 mm wide; perennial
– OR –
3 Corolla limb 1-4 mm wide; annual or biennial.

Our plants are not perennial and the corolla limb was measured to be less than than 5 mm.  So the second one of this pair fits better.

Going down the key, this is the next choice:

4 Calyx lobes unequal, 3 lobes shorter than the other 2; corolla white; [native, of dry or moist habitats].
– OR –
4 Calyx lobes equal, all 5 the same size; corolla blue (occasionally yellow or white); [alien, mostly of dry disturbed habitats].

Right off, the corolla lobes are equal and the same size, the corolla is blue, and the habitat is disturbed. So we have to go with the second one of the pair.

Here is the next choice.

6 Fruiting pedicels equaling or generally longer than the calyx
– OR –
6 Fruiting pedicels distinctly shorter than the calyx.

Okay, this is a bit problematic. That is because the plants are in an early stage of blooming and there are not many fruiting pedicels to look at. The ones that are visible seem to be shorter than that the calyces, but the pedicels could end up being longer than the calyces as the plants mature. Identifying the plants at this point would be not much more than a guess. (There are three possibilities based on this key – Myosotis arvensis, Myosotis discolor, and Myosotis stricta.)

So for now, let’s wait for a week or two and go back to this location to see if the pedicels will be longer. (They are not going anywhere.) Then we can look at the key again. There are three possible species left in the key, and after we figure out if the pedicels stay shorter than the calyces or not, we will be able to be more confident about determining which species this is.

(Continued in Part 2)

The key for Myosotis from Weakley’s Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States, 2015.

(Used with permission of author.)

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11 April 2017 – Cerastium



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9 April 2017 – A Harbinger of Spring – Draba verna

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.

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8 April 2017 – Spring Wildflower Walk

Little Patuxent River from the River Trail

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.

Virginia Bluebells among Lesser Celandine

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.

Looking at a Spicebush.

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.


Flowers/Plants identified.

  1. Acer negundo L. – Boxelder
  2. Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) Heynh. – Mouseear Cress
  3. Cardamine hirsuta L. – Hairy Bittercress
  4. Carpinus caroliniana Walter – American Hornbeam
  5. Cerastium sp. – Mouse-ear Chickweed
  6. Cercis canadensis L. – Eastern Redbud
  7. Claytonia virginica L. – Virginia Spring Beauty
  8. Corydalis flavula (Raf.) DC. – Yellow Fumewort
  9. Dicentra cucullaria (L.) Bernh. – Dutchman’s Breeches
  10. Draba verna L. – Whitlow Grass
  11. Erythronium americanum Ker Gawl. – Dogtooth Violet
  12. Ficaria verna Huds. – Lesser Celandine
  13. Floerkea proserpinacoides Willd. – False Mermaidweed
  14. Glechoma hederacea L. – Ground Ivy
  15. Hydrophyllum virginianum L. – Eastern Waterleaf
  16. Lamium purpureum L. – Purple Deadnettle
  17. Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume – Northern Spicebush
  18. Mertensia virginica (L.) Pers. ex Link – Virginia Bluebells
  19. Micranthes virginiensis (Michaux) Small – Early Saxifrage
  20. Opuntia humifusa (Raf.) Raf. – Devil’s Tongue
  21. Packera aurea (L.) Á. Löve & D. Löve – Golden Ragweed
  22. Poa annua L. – Annual Blue Grass
  23. Polystichum acrostichoides (Michx.) Schott – Christmas Fern
  24. Prunus angustifolia Marshall – Chickasaw Plum
  25. Prunus cf. americana Marshall – American Plum
  26. Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisb. ex W.P.C. Barton – Skunk Cabbage
  27. Taraxacum officinale F.H. Wigg. – Common Dandelion
  28. Veronica hederifolia L. – Ivyleaf Speedwell
  29. Veronica persica Poir. – Birdeye Speedwell
  30. Viola bicolor Pursh – American Field Pansy
  31. Viola eriocarpon (Nutt.) Schwein. – Downy Yellow Violet
  32. Viola sororia Willd. – Common Blue Violet

Cladonia cristatella Tuck. – British Soldiers

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8 April 2017 – American Field Pansy – Viola bicolor

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.


  1. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 20+ vols. New York and Oxford.
  2. Viola bicolor“. NatureServe Explorer. NatureServe. Accessed 8 April 2017.
  3. Weakley, A.S. 2012. Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States. UNC Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden. 1225 pp.
  4. Weakley, Ludwig, and Townsend. 2012. The Flora of Virginia.
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7 April 2017 – Azure Bluets – Houstonia caerulea

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>


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5 April 2017 – How to Identify Erythronium americanum

Petals with ears at the base, style, and dimple-less ovary

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?


The auricles (“ears”) at the base of the petals is clearly visible in the blue box. This means the plant is Erythronium americanum.

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.



  1. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 20+ vols. New York and Oxford.
  2. Weakley, A.S. 2012. Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States. UNC Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden. 1225 pp.
  3. Weakley, Ludwig, and Townsend. 2012. The Flora of Virginia.
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4 April 2017 – Tiny Pants on Tiny Plants

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.



  1. “Dicentra cucullaria”. Flora of North America (FNA). Missouri Botanical Garden – via eFloras.org. Accessed 8 April 2017
  2.  “Dicentra cucullaria”. NatureServe Explorer. NatureServe. Accessed 8 April 2017.
  3. 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>
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4 April 2017 – Yellow Fumewort

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.

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3 April 2017 – Chickasaw Plum – How to Identify

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1 April 2017 – Chickasaw Plum

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.



  1. Bartram, W. 1791. Travels through North and SouthCarolina, Georgia, East and West Florida. In Little, E. L. Checklist of United States Trees.  USDA FS Washington, D.C.
  2. Little, E. L. 1979. Checklist of United States Trees. USDA FS Washington, D.C.
  3. Sargent, C. S. 1965. Manual of the trees of North America. 2nd Ed. Vol. II. Dover Pub., Inc. New York. 934p.
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30 December 2016 – Hairy Bracken Fern

Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn var. pubescens Underw.

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.

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30 December 2016 – Western Sword Fern

Polystichum munitum (Kaulf.) C. Presl
Western Swordfern growing in Bellevue, Washington 30 December 2016.

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.

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30 December 2016 – Nature Hike with Granddaughters in Bellevue

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.

Rubus armeniacus Focke – Himalayan blackberry

Rubus laciniatus Willd. – cutleaf blackberry

Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn – western brackenfern

Polystichum munitum (Kaulf.) C. Presl) – Western Sword Fern

Douglas Fir – Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco

Red Alder – Alnus rubra Bong.

Pacific madrone – Arbutus menziesii Pursh

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