Forest Flowers Disappear in Summertime

Summertime flowers generally won’t be found in the forests. They just don’t get enough sunlight among the trees.

Trail Wanders Through the Forest
Trail Wanders Through the Forest

It was a cloudy day when I took a walk at one of my favorite haunts and it seemed pretty dark on the parts of the trail that meandered through the forest. Cooler, but dark. Surprisingly dark when looking through the camera lens!

It’s technically the third week of Summer now and the heat and humidity will have you feeling every sticky note of it.

I did find one new plant flowering in several places at Little Buffalo State Park along the Mill Race Trail and around the Day Use Area. It was a tall plant reaching over 6 feet in a couple of spots.

Places where it was seen flowering profusely were areas receiving lots of light from above, not among the trees in the forest. If the canopy was thick, there were no flowers that I could see.

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Wild Parsnip Flowers Yellow in Umbels

Once you see what a dill weed plant looks like in flower, you’ll easily recognize other related plants as being members of the same family because of their flowering umbels.

The Carrot Family, Apiaceae, may also be referred to as the Umbelliferae or parsley family which contains several edible plants.

The flowers of Carrot Family members grow in umbels or compound umbels. Umbels contain groups of tiny flowers that have their flower stems emanating from a single point.

Wild parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, is a Carrot Family member that is not native to America that also flowers in umbels. It can be found growing tall at the edges of fields and on the side of the road in sunny locations. It will grow 2 to 5 feet tall and is found throughout the eastern U.S. in waste places, according to Peterson’s Wildflowers Field Guide.

Wild parsnips growing at the edge of a corn field where it meets a country road.
Wild parsnips growing at the edge of a corn field where it meets a country road.

The foliage of this alien plant is made up of compound leaves attached alternately to a thick, ridged main stem.

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Viburnum Foliage Not Like Elderberry

Comparing elderberry shrubs to viburnum shrubs in the previous post would have made a lot more sense if a photo of Viburnum leaves were included for proper identification.

The compound leaves of elderberry have 5-9 serrated leaflets.

Elderberry leaves have several pairs of leaflets with serrated edges.
Elderberry leaves have several pairs of leaflets with serrated edges.

I found a Viburnum species blooming at Boyd Big Tree Preserve near Halifax, PA. We can tell that this little shrub is a type of Arrowwood by the shape of the toothed leaves.

The simple leaves of Viburnum spp. are opposite and entire, toothed or lobed.

An Arrowwood shrub blooming at Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area.
An Arrowwood shrub blooming at Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area. Photo taken 26 Jun 2014.

If the foliage were more closely inspected perhaps we would know if this is Northern or Southern Arrowwood. The one feature that distinguishes the two is that twigs are hairless in Northern Arrowwood, Viburnum recognitum, and velvety-hairy in Southern Arrowwood, Viburnum dentatum.

Details for identifying shrubs, like their leaf shapes, degree of leaf hairiness, or the absence of hairs on small twigs, can be found in Peterson’s Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs.

Close-up views of the twigs suggest that the specimen photographed above was an example of Southern Arrowwood.

So remember, if you’re seeking elderberries the compound leaves will verify that you’ve got an elderberry shrub, while simple leaves will tell you it’s a viburnum.

Violets Abound on the Ridgetop

Northern downy violets and common blue violets were very pretty for the last month. At our location in south-central Pennsylvania the common violet comes into full bloom about a week after the northern violets are peaking in their abundance.

Downy northern violet starts blooming here during the last week of April. As a community they bloom for at least a couple of weeks with new flowers springing up in between the long scalloped leaves of any given plant. Violet plants that receive only morning sun started blooming later than those in the open yard, so our entire blooming season for these pretty purple violets lasts about a month.

Downy leaves of the downy northern violet.
Downy leaves of the downy northern violet.
Common blue violet in the lawn.
Common blue violet in the lawn.

The easiest way to tell the difference between downy northern violet and the common blue violet is to look at their leaves. The downy northern has elongated leaves with scalloped edges and spurs on each side at the base of each leaf. The first leaves of the season are shorter and somewhat rounded and they may be confused with the common blue violet leaves which are heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges.

Elongated downy northern violet leaves.
Elongated downy northern violet leaves.
Common blue violet with heart-shaped leaves.
Common blue violet with heart-shaped leaves.

We appeared to have lost the only two examples of arrow-leaved violets this winter. These plants were different than the much more plentiful common blue and downy northern violets. The leaves were large and the whole plant noticeable from a distance merely due to its size, as compared to the diminutive downy northern violets. The blooms weren’t much different as I remember, but the leaves were more wedge-shaped than the upright and narrow leaves of the downy northern violet.

Arrow-leaved violet.
Arrow-leaved violet.

We decided to hold off on making violet jelly this year. We still have one jar and plenty of other jellies in the pantry, so as Momma would say, “Waste not, want not!” We’ll save the sugar for making blackberry jelly or maybe elderberry jelly in 2 or 3 months.

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.

Solomon’s Seal Blue Berries Dangle Down

After the woodman was finished dumping off a truck load of firewood, I noticed that a few of the logs rolled away to the edge of the woods. Here, one lodged against the base of a couple of Smooth Solomon’s Seal plants, Polygonatum biflorum. I was delighted to see so many of the berries still intact.

Two wild Solomon's Seal plants with one crossing over the other.
Two wild Solomon's Seal plants with one crossing over the other. Photos taken 6 September 2010.

Dark blue berries dangle from the arching single stem. Oval, linear leaves alternate from side to side, each being connected to the main stem directly. This type of stalkless leaf, one without a stem of its own, is called sessile.

Looking down on the blue berries.
Looking down on the blue berries.

The berries were about a half-inch in diameter. This surprised me for some reason. I thought they’d be small and delicate like their greenish-white flowers. See an earlier post on the Solomon’s Seals flowers.

Side-view of dangling, blue berries of Solomon's Seal.
Side-view of dangling, blue berries of Solomon's Seal.

Longleaf Summer Bluets Flower Among Blades of Grass

A perennial yard weed that is really cute appears in late Spring and may be found flowering until mid-Summer. We see it in the lawn and near the edges of the lane where it grows in gravel and dry rocky soil at the top of the mountain ridge.

The trumpet-like flowers have a long bell with four flaring petals in white with tones of lavender. The flower buds are a rosey-pink to lavender color. Photos below taken on 8 Jun 2010.

Clusters of small trumpet-like flowers held above pairs of narrow leaves.
Clusters of small trumpet-like flowers held above pairs of narrow leaves.

Narrow, strap-like, sessile leaves are opposite one another on branching stems that barely reach ten inches tall.

Longleaf Summer Bluet, Houstonia longifolia, may also be known as Long-leaved Bluet. Its flowers are in small clusters and are more trumpet-like than the flowers of Bluets, which are not in clusters. Bluets have a way of holding their yellow eyed flowers up to the sun that the Longleaf Summer Bluet lacks. Its flowers are often held out to the sides.

Longleaf Summer Bluets bloom among the grass in the lawn.
Longleaf Summer Bluets bloom among the grass in the lawn.

In parts of New England the native Longleaf Summer Bluet is considered threatened. It is listed as endangered in Connecticut and Massachusetts, it’s of special concern in Maine, and it appears only in historical records in Rhode Island, which means the Longleaf Summer Bluet may already be extirpated there.

We seem to have plenty of the long-leaved bluet here on our mountain ridge in PA, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else.

Whorled Pogonia 2010, A Flowering Year For A Wild Orchid

2010 was the first year that we witnessed flowers on this member of the Orchid Family, Orchidaceae. From a florist’s point of view the strap-like blossom of Whorled Pogonia, Isotria verticillata, is nothing to write home about. Heck, it’s barely noticeable that it’s a flower, unless you know what to look for.

Whorled pogonia rises up from the ground with a single, hollow stem. The stems are light-colored grey and smooth.

At the top of the 6 – 12 inch stem is a whorl of five leaves, and sometimes six.

Six Whorled Pogonia plants of different heights.
Six Whorled Pogonia plants of different heights.

I’m assuming that the smaller plants in the photo above are later or smaller versions of the taller plants, instead of the rare Small Whorled Pogonia, Isotria medeoloides. Until I saw some of the Whorled Pogonia blooming this year I was uncertain which pogonia we had. The two Isotria species appear the same except for stature and the length of the sepals.

The sixth leaf on a few plants seems to be an afterthought.
The sixth leaf on a few plants seems to be an afterthought.

Leaves are pointed ovals that are widest near the tips.

Flowering Whorled Pogonia with parallel-veined leaves.
Flowering Whorled Pogonia with parallel-veined leaves.

Linear or parallel veins in the leaves help to identify the pogonia as a member of the Monocotyledon which include the grasses, grains, lilies and orchids.

From the center of the whorl of leaves arises a singular flower. A flower stalk holds the blossom about an inch above the circle of leaves. The blossom arches over to one side. Three muted yellow petals enclose the stamens and inner flower parts.

The blossom itself appears somewhat closed as it is enveloped by the very long, strap-like sepals. The sepals are brown to dark maroon with a shiny surface and they stretch out about three inches long. The sepals of Small Whorled Pogonia may be about an inch long in comparison.

Photograph of Whorled Pogonia on 17 May 2010.
Photograph of Whorled Pogonia on 17 May 2010.

The extra long sepals are diagnostic for distinguishing Whorled Pogonia from Small Whorled Pogonia.

Extra long sepals of the flowering pogonia orchid.
Extra long sepals of the flowering pogonia orchid.

Photo taken 15 May 2010.

Edge-on view of a whorled pogonia flower. Photo taken 15 May 2010.
Edge-on view of a whorled pogonia flower. Photo taken 15 May 2010.
Flowering Whorled Pogonia on 17 May 2010.
Flowering Whorled Pogonia on 17 May 2010.
Another specimen of flowering whorled pogonia.
Another specimen of flowering whorled pogonia.
Looking down on the flowering orchid.
Looking down on the flowering orchid.

Looking down on the orchid…can you see its flower? The stem enters the ground in the upper left of the photo above.

Very few of the whorled pogonia were blooming. Even though there were only 3 of 68 plants blooming in one area, and slightly north a different patch had a single plant blooming in a group of eleven, I was very excited to see them flowering. I’ve watched these orchids for years now, wondering which pogonia I was looking at. Now I know that we have Whorled Pogonia in our forest.