Rue Anemone Dances in the Wind

Woodland walks this time of year will hold surprises for you, if you look closely. Some of the Spring Ephemeral flowers are large enough that they can be easily seen from a short distance, like the trilliums and bloodroot. Others blend into the scenery so well you may have to search for them, like the Jack-in-the-Pulpit and Rue Anemone.

Rue Anemone, Anemonella thalictroides, is a small plant only reaching 3 to 8 inches tall. The blossoms are about an inch across or smaller and the leaflets are even smaller than the blossoms. Photos taken 21 April 2011.

Rue anemone next to my walking stick with inch-long increments.
Rue anemone next to my walking stick with inch-long increments. Photos taken 21 April 2011.

The Windflower, as Rue Anemone is called, is an appropriate name. The whole plant seems to move with the slightest breeze, like it’s dancing in the wind. Take a look at the photo above and you can see why. The whole plant rises up on a single stem and the first set of leaves is right under the flower, but they’re halfway up the stem. It’s a top-heavy plant and when the wind blows even a little bit, the windflower is going to move.

Leaves are of two types. Leaves on the flowering stalk are in a whorl underneath the flowers. Not always present are the basal leaves which have three compound leaves with three leaflets. The leaves and leaflets have three blunt, rounded lobes.

Leaf types in Rue Anemone include those in a whorl under the flowers and compound basal leaves with three leaflets each.
Leaf types in Rue Anemone include those in a whorl under the flowers and compound basal leaves with three leaflets each.

Flowers occur singly or in larger numbers on some plants. The flowers all emanate from the same point just above the leaf whorl.

Several windflowers with single blossoms. Others have up to four blooms.
Several windflowers with single blossoms. Others have up to four blooms.

(Click photos to see a larger image.)

Different view of the rue anemone flowers in the preceding photo.
Different view of the rue anemone flowers in the preceding photo.

Remember that Spring Ephemerals are perennial plants. Once you spot them make a note so you can find them in future years. They can only be seen in the early Spring and after that they move into the dormant part of their lifecycle.

Hepatica Leaves Upright or Prostrate

If you’ve been to this blog in the springtime before, you probably know that Hepatica is one of my favorite woodland flowers. Being a Spring Ephemeral its delicate blossoms range from white to light blue, lavender or even cobalt blue. Photos taken 21 April 2011.

Light blue hepatica flowers right on the trail. Note that three large bracts underneath each flower and their hairy stems.
Light blue hepatica flowers right on the trail. Note that three large bracts underneath each flower and their hairy stems.

(Click on photos to see a larger image.)

Looking down on the same group of flowers as above.
Looking down on the same group of flowers as above.

Pardon my hand in the photo below – it’s meant to show the upright nature of some hepatica leaves. The upright leaves are not very common. I had never seen another hepatica with the upright leaves beside one individual plant on our ridge. This day, I observed three other plants with the upright leaves. Based on my limited observations, I would guess that 5-10% of a population might have upright leaves.

Small upright leaf of hepatica.
Small upright leaf of hepatica.

The upright leaves seem to be associated with the Sharp-Lobed Hepatica, Hepatica acutiloba. The upright leaves usually have three or four pointed lobes and they’re about a third or one-half the size of the more common prostrate leaves.

Prostrate leaves of Sharp-Lobed Hepatica.
Prostrate leaves of Sharp-Lobed Hepatica.

These hepatica leaves are pointed at the tips which would make this plant the Sharp-Lobed Hepatica, not the Round-Lobed Hepatica, H. americana. Sharp-lobed hepatica has a prominent central leaf vein that is lacking in Round-Lobed Hepatica. We like to call round-lobed hepatica leaves Mickey Mouse Ears because the leaf lobes are so rounded.

The underside of the hepatica leaf is fuzzy and the flower stem has many long hairs.
The underside of the hepatica leaf is fuzzy and the flower stem has many long hairs.

If you haven’t been lucky enough to see hepatica on your nature walks, realize that you’ll only find them in woodlands. When you’re out there on the trail, make sure to take a look at the bases of trees. A large proportion that I’ve seen have been at the base of a tree. I counted nine hepatica plants in this area that I couldn’t photograph (due to lack of enough battery juice) and four of them were at the base of large trees.

I can’t claim that half of all hepaticas will be found there, but the contrast of the colorful flowers with the tree bark makes them easier to spot than their cohorts among the leaf litter. Surprisingly, the bright flowers blend in with splashes of sunlight that hit the forest floor.

Hepatica is a perennial so when you find a nice specimen make a note of it so you can go back in future years to see it again.

Northern Ringneck Snake on Rocky Hillside

A Diadophis punctatus edwardsii on Goat Island...
Image via Wikipedia

On a hike along a mountain ridge we were crossing some hilly terrain as the trail followed a little valley between two large hills. It’s wooded and rocky and the valley has a little creek running through it. The day was warm, but windy.

I saw some slate rock and said to myself to turn over that piece. There might be a salamander under there. Earlier in the week I had seen a couple of lead-backed salamanders under tree bark that was on the ground, so it was fresh in my mind to look for others. Then, just before I turned over the rock I thought – Hey, watch out! There might be something under there! I turned over this brick-sized piece of slate and flipped it back pretty quickly. Instead of a salamander there layed a small black snake all coiled up!

It wasn’t coiled up to strike out, but was probably just laying there resting when some huge creature disturbed it by lifting the roof over its head. Ringnecks apparently do most of their hunting at night so that’s when they will be on the prowl. During the day they will hide among and under rocks and tree bark.

The ringneck snake in Pennsylvania is the Northern Ringneck Snake, Diadophis punctatus edwardsi. It is the only ringneck snake in the Mid-Atlantic, Appalachian and Northeastern United States. It is a sub-species that is related to the Southern Ringneck Snake, Diadophis punctatus punctatus, that can be found in the Southeastern United States. The southern ringneck has a reddish ring around its neck and its underside is redder than the yellow belly of the northern ringneck.

Ringnecks are plain, dark snakes with a light-colored collar or ring around the neck. They only get 10-15 inches long and you probably have to turn over a rock or log to find one. This one was found under a slate rock in a rocky, wooded hillside near a spring-fed stream. A couple years ago we saw a ringneck that was lying among large pieces of bark that had been stripped off logs for firewood. It made itself visible only when pieces of bark were moved and its hiding place disturbed.

If you’re adventurous enough to turn over logs looking for salamanders, use a stick or a gloved hand. At the very least watch where your fingers and feet are because you could easily uncover a nasty snake instead of a sleepy one.

To find out more aoubt our legless freinds and other reptiles, check out Peterson’s Reptile Field Guide.

Northern White Violets Bloom Next to a Stream

Hiking along the mountain ridge the other day we saw some ground covers in bloom like the chickweed in the fields. Spring wild flowers that were blooming included white violets, hepatica and rue anemone. These wild flowers were all growing in a rocky, wooded area. The white violets were found down in the holler near a spring-fed stream, whereas the hepatica and rue anemone were on the hillsides in the woods.

White violets were just beginning to bloom. More violets were observed with flower buds or no buds than had open flowers.

The Northern White Violet, Viola pallens, is identified by its leaf shape and flower shape. The leaves and flowers reside on separate stems, which is the first thing to determine when seeking to identify a violet. Some species share their leaf stems with the flowers, like the field pansy.

The basal leaves are small, round or blunted heart shapes with scalloped edges. The upper petals of the flower are not twisted as they would be in the Sweet White Violet, V. blanda, which also has heart-shaped leaves that are more pointed. Photos taken 21 April 2011.

The inch-long increments of my walking stick shows the Northern White Violet to be a small plant of about 4 inches across. This photo clearly shows the upper petals are smooth, not twisted.
The inch-long increments of my walking stick shows the Northern White Violet to be a small plant of about 4 inches across. This photo clearly shows the upper petals are smooth, not twisted.

(Click on photos to see larger images.)

Viola pallens, the Northern White Violet.
Viola pallens, the Northern White Violet.

The violets were adjacent to a spring-fed stream and probably within 20 feet of the flowing water. This is the same stream where we saw skunk cabbage.

The white violets don’t seem to have any medicinal qualities, but they are edible. We won’t be harvesting any violets so that we can go back and enjoy them next year. Leaves can be used in salads, as cooked greens or dried for use in tea. Flowers make pretty garnishes for salad plates.

Skunk Cabbage at the Spring-Fed Stream

The trees on our ridge-top are just starting to make their leaves so the hillsides still look bare. The spring-fed streams look more alive with the skunk cabbage developing their huge green leaves.

The skunk cabbage has already bloomed for the year and is one of the only noticeable green things out here. No doubt this creek was much higher after the deluge of rain the other day.

A sunfish scooted away as we approached the edge of a pool in this little stream.

Skunk cabbage growing next to a spring-fed stream that trickles through the hollow between hills of the mountain ridge.
Skunk cabbage growing next to a spring-fed stream that trickles through the hollow between hills of the mountain ridge. Photo taken 21 April 2011.
A downstream look at the babbling brook.
A downstream look at the babbling brook. Photo taken 21 April 2011.
Skunk cabbage leaves are already bigger than a dinner plate and they'll get bigger yet. Note how the leaves start out curled up like a cigar.
Skunk cabbage leaves are already bigger than a dinner plate and they'll get bigger yet. Note how the leaves start out curled up like a cigar. Photo taken 21 April 2011.

In this lowland area there were ferns beginning to roll out their fronds and other small plants growing green. Brambles and garlic mustard are some of the first plants to really get growing at this time of year.

Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is surprisingly edible. Crushing a leaf releases a skunky odor, so you wouldn’t think to eat this stuff. Eating a raw leaf will cause intense burning in the mouth because of the presence of calcium oxalate crystals. Drying the leaves or rootstock thoroughly will remove this property. Dried leaves can be reconstituted for use in soups or stews or used as a cooked green. According to¬†Peterson’s Edible Wild Plants Guide, the rootstock can be dried and pounded to make a flour that is somewhat cocoa-like.

Old Corn Fields Covered with Chickweed

Walking past bare fields to get to the woodland trail, we couldn’t help but notice all the weeds growing in the place of corn or soybeans. On this walk we saw chickweed, purple dead nettle, speedwell and henbit among the ground covers flowering in the sunshine of the day. As you drive down the highway and see barren fields, the ones with a haze of purple on the ground are home to purple dead nettle.

Most of the green ground cover growing in this old corn field is chickweed.
Most of the green ground cover growing in this old corn field is chickweed. Photo taken 21 April 2011.
Chickweed grows low to the ground, a.k.a. groundcover.
Chickweed grows low to the ground, a.k.a. groundcover. Photo taken 14 April 2011.

Chickweed flowers have five narrow, white petals with a unique feature. Each petal is cleft or split down the middle. The Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, that is photographed here, appears to have ten petals because the cleft is so deep.

Common Chickweed flowers with five cleft white petals.
Common Chickweed flowers with five cleft white petals. Photo taken 14 April 2011.

There are over a dozen kinds of chickweed and they’re all edible. Gather up the tender stems and flowers for a salad or just add a few sprigs to a lettuce salad. Lettuce has been growing for about a month now out in the garden, so it’s time to enjoy it. Some chickweeds have fuzzy leaves and they’re better eaten after cooking. Boil the leaves for five minutes and serve as greens.

The fields around here will be planted just as soon as the tractors can get past all the rain and mud. According to the forecast it doesn’t look like much planting will done this week.

Bluebells and Spring Beauties Along the Creek

The Hummel Nature Trail in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania is a wide, gravel-covered trail that follows the Swatara Creek for a short distance. The footing seems easy enough for anyone and the distance to the trail is a short one from the parking lot next to a baseball diamond. The trail is very popular as a dog walk and nature trail.

The low lands next to the creek are home of an awesome display of Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, in mid to late April. Photos taken 18 April 2011.

Bluebells in a mudflat next to the creek.
Bluebells in a mudflat next to the creek.
Bluebell flower buds will turn light pink as they open and then turn to blue.
Bluebell flower buds will turn light pink as they open and then turn to blue.
Bluebells showing flowers getting ready to open.
Bluebells showing flowers getting ready to open.

Spring beauties, Claytonia virginica, can be seen in many places along the trail. Spring-beauty has small, five-petaled white flowers that rise up only a few inches off the ground. The plant is a trailing one with long, wide, grass-like leaves. Several flowers bloom in succession on one plant.

Spring beauty flowers as it creeps along the forest floor.
Spring beauty flowers as it creeps along the forest floor.
Spring beauty blooms are more delicate in appearance than their thick, linear leaves.
Spring beauty blooms are more delicate in appearance than their thick, linear leaves.

Take a walk along a creek near you or find a trail in a nearby park. Leave us a comment if you find Virginia Bluebells or Spring Beauty.

Spring Ephemeral: Hepatica americana

One of my favorite spring ephemeral flowers makes an appearance in woodlands of the Eastern United States during April. Hepatica americana, or just hepatica, is a perennial spring-flowering plant.

Hepatica is a Spring Ephemeral because the plant grows, flowers and completes its life-cycle before the tree canopy is filled in with leaves. Once that happens the amount of sunlight reaching the forest floor is nil. Most plants won’t be able to receive enough sunlight in the woods, but the Spring Ephemerals start out early enough to prosper.

White flowers of Hepatica americana open in the sunshine.
White flowers of Hepatica americana open in the sunshine.

Check out some other hepatica pictures in the video below:

Hepatica April 2011 Video

Hepatica is a delicate woodland flower with white, pink or lavender flowers that open in the sunshine. The purple to maroon flower stalks have long, soft hairs. Petals appear long with rounded tips. Stamens are cream-colored and of different lengths.

Hepatica leaves are larger than the flowers and usually have three rounded lobes, reminiscent of Mickey Mouse Ears. The leaves tend to lay flat on the ground, often hiding among the leaf litter.