Monday, July 1, 2013

Late June Blooms: June 15 and 22

As summer progresses, MLBS experiences an explosion of ferns! Most flowering plants, with a few notable exceptions (see below), rely on sunlight and the process of photosynthesis to produce sugar for food.  Imagine life as a small wildflower amidst this thick blanket of ferns, trying to eek out a living with only the occasional glimpse of sunlight peeking through.  
Conopholis americana fruits
Monotropa uniflora flower
One way to avoid competing for sunlight is to simply not require sunlight at all!  Such is the case with bear corn (Conopholis americana), which is now in fruit, and indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), which we saw in bloom for the first time this year around June 20. They do not contain chlorophyll (a condition termed "acholorphyllous") and thus are not capable of making their own food.  Instead, they parasitize roots of other plants such as oak trees to gain nutrients.

Late June is a perfect time of year to enjoy the lovely white plumes of flowers on Galax urceolata and Amianthum muscitoxicum (fly poison), both of which are now on full display in our woods.  Both of these plants have racemes: flowers are arranged along a single unbranched axis, have short stalks (pedicels), and open from the bottom up.  
Galax urceolata flowers 
Galax urceolata leaves 
Amianthum muscitoxicum

Rhododendron calendulaceum
Medeola virginiana

Other beautiful late-June blossoms include the aptly-named flame azalea (R. calendulaceum), a shrub with bright orange flowers, and indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana), an herb with much smaller but equally interesting flowers that nod below its foliage.

False hellebore (Veratrum viride) is a large, showy herb with yellow-green flowers in bloom at the top of Spring Road.  It stands at up to 1.5 m high, so it's hard to miss!  In our population at MLBS, the branches of the inflorescenses droop significantly rather than simply spreading or standing erect as is common in many eastern populations.
Veratrum viride 
Veratrum viride

Most of the Bloom Blog has focused on herbs and occasionally shrubs, but late June brought several vines in flower as well, including Smilax spp. (greenbrier) and Dioscorea villosa (wild yam). Complete species lists coming soon!

Our next walk is July 6th.  We will be led by David Darnell, President of the New River Valley chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society. July 13 there is NO What's in Bloom walk scheduled.  Instead, we invite you to join us that afternoon for the renewal of a favorite tradition--the Mountain Lake Biological Station Open House!  It's a great, family-friendly opportunity to enjoy the mountain, meet our scientists, and learn about what we do.  In the meantime, get outside and botanize!

All photographs copyright J. Jones. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Treasure Hunting: June 1 and 8

As spring slowly turns to summer--much later on the mountain than in the valleys below--our WIB walks require increasing attention to detail as we search for botanical treasures. Ferns are becoming larger and more abundant, obscuring the wildflowers beneath and among them, and some once-conspicuous blooms are becoming less-obvious fruits as plants shift to later phenophases (stages in the yearly life cycle of a plant). These changes makes our task a bit more challenging, but no less rewarding! Walking the same path week to week allows us to watch the same species, and often the same individuals, change over time. Continuous monitoring is helping us learn to identify wildflowers not only by their blooms, but also by their foliage and fruits.
Uvularia perfoliata foliage
Uvularia perfoliata fruit
For instance, perfoliate bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata) is one of two bellworts with "perfoliate" leaves that wrap around the stem. When the flowers are gone, the shape of the fruits can help distinguish it from the large flowered bellwort (U. grandiflora).
Zizia aurea (golden alexander) fruits
Vaccinium sp.
Early June is the perfect time of year to observe multiple phenophases within a single species. For example, many golden alexanders (cheerful members of the carrot family), are gradually losing their small yellow petals and developing fruits, but some individuals are still flowering. Many blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) can also be found both in flower and in early fruit.
Aralia nudicaulis
Aralia nudicaulis
Ginseng is a highly sought-after plant…but the plant pictured at left is NOT it! Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is common at MLBS and is often mistaken for ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Both are members of the Araliaceae family and have superficially similar foliage, but ginseng's flowers and fruits arise from the leaf stalk, while wild sarsaparilla's arise on a separate, leafless stalk, as indicated by its latin name: nudicaulis = "naked/bare stem".

Gaylussacia baccata 
Galax urceolata
While some species are transitioning from flowers to fruits, others are only now shifting from buds to flowers! Examples of these later-blooming species include black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata, a blueberry relative), Galax urceolata, and raspberries (Rubus spp.). In addition, minniebush (Menziesia pilosa) and Michaux's saxifrage (Saxifraga michauxii) are now in bloom on the rock outcrop at Bear Cliff.
Menziesia pilosa- note the mucronate
leaf tips, a distinctive feature
Of course, no WIB walk would be complete without a few wildlife sightings!  On June 8 we were lucky enough to see a fawn, 4-5 garter snakes intertwined with one another at Bear Cliff, and a host of newly-emerged spiders clustered between the leaves of a plant.
Even though the lady's slippers and trilliums are past their prime (mostly in fruit now, their lovely petals withered away until next year), there is much to see on the mountain! Walks occur Saturday mornings at 10:00 AM. Please join us, and check back here soon for June 1 & 8 species lists. Also stay tuned for an update from our June 15 walk!

All photographs copyright J. Jones.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Orchids, Lilies, and Look-alikes: May 25

Cypripedium acaule
Cypripedium parviflorum
var. parviflorum
Our WIB group had to bundle up a bit for this week's walk since temperatures were hovering around 40 deg. F in the morning.  As we worked our way up the trail, though, the air warmed up, the layers came off, and our species list grew!  Not surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap between last week and this week, but several species had progressed to new phenophases (e.g. in bud last week, in bloom this week), and we were excited to also observe several new species.  Our two showiest orchids, the pink lady's slipper and the lesser yellow lady's slipper, were both in bloom.  The yellow lady's slipper flower was only a few centimeters long (its small size is one feature that distinguishes it from the greater yellow lady's slipper) but that didn't diminish its beauty.
Clintonia borealis
Uvularia perfoliata
Disporum lanuginosum
Fairy bells (Disporum lanuginosum) are in bloom alongside perfoliate bellwort. Both fairy bells and bellworts (Uvularia spp.) have somewhat inconspicuous yellow-green flowers that might be missed by casual hikers, but keen observers will appreciate these lovely members of the lily family.  Blue bead (Clintonia borealis), another small, yellow-flowered lily is currently in full bloom at the station, primarily around the rocky outcrops at Bear Cliff.

Trientalis borealis
Medeola virginiana
Yet another lily with small yellowish flowers is indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana), which is now in bud. Its first whorl of leaves is sometimes mistaken for starflower (Trientalis borealis) foliage, but it is easily distinguished by its parallel leaf veins and distinctive flowers.  Starflower is a member of the primrose family, so its floral structure is quite different than indian cucumber root (lily family).  Starflower is in bloom now on the mountain.

Galax urceolata (bud)
Amianthum muscitoxicum (bud)
Currently in bud are two plants that will soon have racemes of white flowers: Galax (Galax urceolata) and fly poison (Amianthum muscitoxicum, another lily).  Their foliage is quite different, though; fly poison is a monocot with long, parallel-veined leaves, while Galax is a dicot with round, shiny, toothed leaves.

Maianthemum canadense
Tiarella cordifolia
Two other species with racemes of white flowers are currently in bloom: Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadensis, yet another lily!) and foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia, saxifrage family).  They are easily distinguished by their foliage.

Many thanks to David Darnell for leading us, and to Gary Cote for sharing his knowledge of lichens. A species list is below.  Please join us this weekend for a walk led by Jaime Jones, MLBS Station Manager!
Our focus is wildflowers, but that doesn't mean we
don't also stop to appreciate (and photograph) wildlife!
All photographs copyright J. Jones

In flower:
Poa cuspidata
Barbarea vulgaris (some fruits)
Anemone quinquefolia (some fruits)
Ranunculus recurvatus
Cypripedium acaule
Trillium undulatum (petals decaying)
Maianthemum canadense
Uvularia perfoliata
Uvularia pudica
Disporum lanuginosum
Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum
Carex pensylvanica
Carex sp.
Juncus tenuis
Houstonia caerulea
Trientalis borealis
Viola pallens
Viola cucullata
Viola blanda
Viola hastata
Vaccinium pallidum
Conopholis americana
Vaccinium corymbosum
Stellaria pubera
Zizia aurea
Polygonatum biflorum
Clintonia borealis
Saxifraga michauxii
Convallaria majalis
Acer pensylvanicum
Tiarella cordifolia
Arisaema triphyllum

In bud:
Betula lenta
Photinia pyrifolia/melanocarpa?
Rubus sp.
Gaylussacia buccata
Amianthum muscitoxicum
Veratrum viride
Medeola virginiana
Galax urceolata

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Trilliums, anemones, lady's slippers, and more: May 18

Cypripedium acaule
Mountain Lake Biological Station's pilot What's in Bloom program is officially underway!  In just two weeks' time, we've already observed some 20-25 flowering plant species in bud or in flower, some of which have appeared earlier than expected.  For instance, last week (May 18) we saw our first pink lady slipper (Cypripedium acaule) of the season.  With very little pigmentation in the flower, it appeared almost white.  Other showy species included the painted trillium (Trillium undulatum), wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), and mountain bellwort (Uvularia pudica), and more.  A partial species list is below.  
Trillium undulatum
If you didn't make it out for the walk last weekend, don't worry--you'll have another chance this weekend (and the next weekend, and the next...)!  We're excited to welcome this week's leader, David Darnell, president of the New River Valley chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society.  With David's expertise, a beautiful weather forecast, and a lot of botanical diversity, it's sure to be a perfect day!  For logistical details, visit

Houstonia caerulia
Species observed in flower (among others): 
Houstonia caerulia- bluets 
Vaccinium angustifolium- low-bush blueberry
Anemone quinquefolia- wood anemone
Carex pensylvanicum- Pennsylvania sedge
Conopholis americana- bear corn 
Barbarea vulgaris- yellow rocket (non-native)
Trillium undulatum- painted trillium
Uvularia pudica- mountain bellwort
Anemone quinquefolia
Maianthemum canadense- Canada mayflower
Amelanchier arborea- serviceberry
Acer pensylvanicum- striped maple
Zizia aurea- golden alexanders
Geranium maculatum- spotted geranium
Cypripedium acaule- pink lady slipper

Species observed in bud only (among others): 
Convallaria majuscula- lily of the valley
Medeola virginiana- indian cucumber root
Viola cucullata
Aralia nudicaulis- wild sarsaparilla
Galax aphylla- galax
Kalmia latifolia- mountain laurel
Menziesia pilosa- minnie bush
Clintonia sp.
Photinia pyrifolia- red chokeberry

All photographs copyright Jaime Jones