Cut-Leaf Toothwort Making Seeds

An early Spring-blooming plant is well into its seed-making time. Most trees are still growing out their leaves now in the middle of May, but the canopy is filling in fast.

The Spring Ephemeral we’re talking about is Cut-Leaved Toothwort, or Cutleaf Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, which Peterson’s Wildflower Guide calls Dentaria laciniata – it’s an older name than the Cardamine moniker.

Note: DNA testing has revealed what scientists believe is the true lineage of plants, so older field guides may specify names for plants that may no longer apply. A great place to learn of multiple names for the same plant is the USDA Plants site. Just look under the synonyms tab for your particular flower. In this instance we see four names for our toothwort friend, excluding varieties that is.

(Photos start 24 March 2016 from Central Pennsylvania. Click on any small image to see a larger view.)

Cut-Leaved Toothwort First Flower
Cut-Leaved Toothwort First Flower

First flower of cut-leaved toothwort appeared on March 24. Note the plant on the right – you can see a single thick stem rising up from under the brown oak leaves, a layer of “cut leaves” and a topping of a dangling cluster of flowers. The plant on the left has no flowers and just one set of leaves.

Cutleaf toothwort is identified by a whorl of three leaves each with three narrow segments having distinct teeth. At 8-15 inches tall it’s found growing in rich woods and bottom lands.

As the days went on more plants arose from the leaf litter for a total of six plants, four of them flowering. The flower buds first show a light pink color before opening into a white four-parted blossom.

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Royal Botanic Gardens Reports on Plant Diversity & Global Risks

So, they say variety is the spice of life. That’s a mantra I try to live by…why settle for mediocrity?

Plants do make the news once in a while, but after you read the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew report on the state of the world’s plants, you might wonder why we don’t hear about plant news every day.

State of the World's Plants 2016
State of the World’s Plants 2016

A cover story by the BBC specifies that, “Scientists have estimated that there are 390,900 plants known to science.” An amazing 369,000 of that total are flowering plants!

Wow! 391K is a LOT of vascular plants. Roughly 2,000 new plants are described each and every year, so the tally will climb up from there. The number of plants and their identities were gleaned from several different databases which are specified in the report.

A very interesting and thought-provoking part of the 84-page report is the information highlighting the uses to which humans put about 10% of the known plants.

Plant uses were categorized and the number of plants in each category as follows:

  • human food – 5,538
  • medicines – 17,810
  • fuels – 1,621
  • materials – 11,365
  • animal food – 3,649
  • poisons – 2,503
  • social uses – 1,382
  • gene sources – 5,338
  • environmental uses – 8,140
  • invertebrate food – 683

Medicines, materials and food sources top the list with the most plants in service. Many of the plants highlighted here on could fit into multiple categories, especially environmental uses, medicines, invertebrate food and social uses.

Climate change, habitat loss and invasive plants are discussed in the report as are plant diseases, extinction risks and the global trade in plants.

Visit State of the World’s Plants to read more and download your copy of this informative report.

Blooming Sassafras in Male and Female Flowers

Have you ever smelled a sassafras flower? They have the yummiest lemony-citrus scent. You might have to wait until next year by now, so put it on your list of things to do next April or whenever the trees are starting to grow their new leaves in your area.

Sassafras, Sassafras albidum, trees live in the Eastern United States. The trees are either male or female, so their flowers have different purposes and therefore different looks. It seems that the male trees out number the females because it took me a while to locate a female tree. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve even seen one.

(Photos taken 22 & 30 April 2016. Click on any image for a larger view.)

Male Flowers of the Sassafras Tree
Male Flowers of the Sassafras Tree

The female flowers seem simple compared to the male flowers which look rather bushy due to their nine stamens.

Female flowers appeared more symmetrical having six sterile stamens, which are short and fat compared to the male stamens but of the same golden yellow-orange color. Each stamen lies at the base of a pale yellow petal and they form a circle around the central pistil.

Female Flowers of the Sassafras Tree
Female Flowers of the Sassafras Tree

The pistil reminds me of a flower bud vase being bulbous at the base and having a tube that extends upward ending in a circular shape. The tip of the pistil appears white in this photo.

Flowers are held on long stalks that are retained during fruit formation so the fruits are borne on these stalks that measure an inch and a half long.

The flowers themselves are small and measure less than a half inch across.

Read moreBlooming Sassafras in Male and Female Flowers

Susquehanna Trillium Show at Shenk’s Ferry

In mid-to-late April trillium flowers bloom all over the place at Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve in Lancaster County, PA.

When approaching the trail and as you drive on the dirt road look to either side and you’ll likely notice the trillium plants by their huge three leaves. The flowers are usually in a dangling way so that you might only see the side or top view of the mostly white flowers.

Near the beginning of the trail look up the slope to the left and you’ll see lots of bluebells and among them the white trilliums. So many flowers in one spot!

Trillium & Bluebells On The Hillside
Trillium & Bluebells On The Hillside

Susquehanna Trillium were especially thick on the upper slope about halfway down the trail.

White and Red Trillium Flowers
White and Red Trillium Flowers

Their red centers weren’t always visible so I’m left wondering were the all-white ones different varieties? They seemed to have a smaller stature, too.

Small White Trillium
Small White Trillium

Dangling head of the trillium flower. Three light green sepals situated in between the curled back petals.

Trillium Flower Dangles Its Head
Trillium Flower Dangles Its Head

A helping hand shows the red interior of the bloom.

Inside A Trillium Flower
Inside A Trillium Flower

The predominant trillium at Shenk’s Ferry is known as the Susquehanna Trillium, Trillium flexipes, which according to Peterson’s Wildflower Guide is also known as Drooping Trillium.

A distinctive feature are its creamy white anthers which differentiates it from a similar species called Nodding Trillium, T. cernuum, which has pink anthers.

Large Leaves and White Anthers of Drooping Trillium
Large Leaves and White Anthers of Drooping Trillium
Several Susquehanna or Drooping Trillium in Bloom
Several Susquehanna or Drooping Trillium in Bloom

Red trilliums, T. erectum, are rare at this location – at least in their red variety – the smaller all-white one above is probably the white variety, but this one was blooming when this photo was taken, 20 April 2016. A fellow photographer indicated where he saw it so I was on the lookout on my return walk down the trail. It was a happy thing to see the single one blooming – even if it was in the shade!

Single Red Trillium Near Spent White Trilliums
Single Red Trillium Near Spent White Trilliums

If you’re interested in learning all about Trilliums, including how to garden with trilliums, the book you want is on Amazon: Trilliums.

Saxifrage and Wild Columbine Grow On The Rocks

Trillium, wild phlox and bluebells show off in great numbers at Shenk’s Ferry in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania during early Spring. These plants are quite noticeable due to their pretty blooms and their size. Each one reaches at least a foot tall and their flowers are held high for all to appreciate.

Some other spring-flowering plants aren’t as showy as they’re smaller or they just blend in better with their habitats. They shouldn’t be missed though as they have their own sort of beauty. The violets are low-growing, as are the wild ginger, Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn, and some of the “weeds” have tiny flowers that are easy to pass by.

Red Columbine and Saxifrage Flowering On the Hillside
Red Columbine and Saxifrage Flowering On the Hillside

A couple of plants were growing specifically near the rocky areas and they’re easy to miss if you don’t look up. As you drive down the dirt road to the Wildflower Preserve entrance take a few moments to inspect the rocky outcrops and higher rock ledges where you’re likely to see Early Saxifrage and Wild Columbine.

Wild Red Columbine Blooming On A Rock
Wild Red Columbine Blooming On A Rock

Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, was just beginning to flower when we were at Shenk’s Ferry in late April. There were many more buds to open yet. Just look among the rock faces at either end of the glen. Apparently, the wild red columbine likes to be in the damp or among the minerals as might be associated with rocky areas.

Wild columbine was growing near bluebells and early saxifrage on the road-facing slope near the trail-head. Look for the red and yellow flowers.

Read moreSaxifrage and Wild Columbine Grow On The Rocks

Wild Phlox & Bluebell Show at Shenk’s Ferry in Late April

Shenk’s Ferry was spectacular the third week of April. I’m thrilled I made it there this Spring flowering season. It’s a bit of a drive to get there from the mountains, but definitely worth the effort.

I was just as excited to read that the property was transferred from PPL to the Lancaster Conservancy as of 2014. We’re hoping it will remain in its present state for generations to come!

Many Flowers of Wildphlox
Many Flowers of Wildphlox

Getting to Shenk’s Ferry has been a little exciting in years past. If you’ve got a truck or another vehicle with a higher clearance that would be the vehicle to take there. The road leading to the entrance of the Wildflower Preserve was in better shape this time than past years where you worried that the car would bottom out on the deep ruts in the dirt road. You could see where somebody had some fun off-roading creating those ruts!

Shenk’s Ferry Road will lead you to Green Hill Road which leads downhill to the preserve. It’s a dirt road that lies at the bottom of several hills that drain Lancaster County as rain water rushes down into the Susquehanna River.

It appeared that recent work had been done on the road, but just go slow and you’ll be fine. Through the tunnel and bear left and keep going to the entrance. Park along the road.

Stop at the sign at the entrance to check the trail map and see some photos of the flora you might be able to see.

Room Enough for Two
Room Enough for Two

The trail is wide enough in most spots for a couple to walk hand-in-hand. Be watchful for

Read moreWild Phlox & Bluebell Show at Shenk’s Ferry in Late April

Jacob’s Ladder Blooming at Wildwood Park

The first flowers of Jacob’s Ladder sway on the breezes of early Spring. I found a few specimens near the nature center at Wildwood Park in the middle of April and they were just beginning to bloom.

It’s actually a new plant for me. 🙂 I did see one at another park several years ago, but it was past blooming and I just wasn’t sure of the identification back then. I should go back there to take a look around to see if I could find it near that creek.

Blue Bell Flowers of Jacobs Ladder in Clusters
Blue Bell Flowers of Jacobs Ladder in Clusters

Wildwood Park is situated on the northern edge of Harrisburg, PA and offers a convenient place to walk in a nature setting. Many dog walkers and mommies with babes in strollers take advantage of the wide trail that runs all along the edge of Wildwood Lake. The boardwalks are wonderful places to see ducks and other waterfowl and migrant birds.

A spillway in the southern end of the lake controls the water level of Paxton Creek which runs through the city. It’s not too far from the spillway where the Jacob’s Ladder grows — look between the spillway and the Nature Center.

Clusters of light blue flowers nodding in the wind caught my attention. The white anthers at the stamen tips were quite noticeable, although you had to bend down to peer into the flowers.

Each bloom on its own little stalk had five rounded petals that were grouped together into a bell shape by the five-pointed calyx at the base of the flower.

Read moreJacob’s Ladder Blooming at Wildwood Park

Running Pines Reproduce in Very Early Spring

I love that name, Running Pines, so it takes me a minute to recall the real name of these forest-dwelling plants. It’s not a misnomer though, they really do look like little pine trees running through the forest.

And when I say little trees, I mean miniature ones.

Running Pines are a type of Club Moss, which are more closely related to ferns than flowering plants. They reach less than a foot tall. Maybe 6 or 8 inches tall.

We can find two kinds of running pines on our mountain ridge. One kind looks like miniature Christmas trees and the other looks like tiny flat cedars. The Christmas tree type is called Tree Clubmoss, Lycopodium obscurum, and the flat cedars are known as Ground Cedars, L. tristachyum.

Tree Clubmoss Growing Near Ground Cedar
Tree Clubmoss Growing Near Ground Cedar

Although both species are included in the above photo (tree clubmoss is on the top right and ground cedars are on the left), it’s more usual to find them in separate colonies.

Read moreRunning Pines Reproduce in Very Early Spring