Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More Maryland Wildflowers - 2nd Week of April

Deciding which native plant to use in a developed suburban landscape was fairly straightforward for me.  I could choose the plants I wanted without regard for to how it would impact the surrounding plant communities.  [Re]-introduction of nearly any native species into a sea of Euonymus and Barberries and the like would be a step in the right direction.

Now that I am working in a rural landscape I am becoming more sensitive to how my new plantings will affect the existing plant and animal communities.  I am cautious about introducing species that don't belong, native or not.  One very helpful resource for me is Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping Chesapeake Bay Watershed from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  This publication lists many native species found in the Chesapeake watershed including their native ecoregion (Mountain, Piedmont or Coastal) and state where each is found.  

As a designer I also want to insert some visual effects with form and color.  This may require broadening the plant palette, drawing in materials from other areas and even a few well behaved non-native plants to achieve a particular aesthetic effect.  In general I will utilize a wider variety of plants in the immediate vicinity of a house or other man-made feature.  As I move out to the edges of a property I narrow the plant selection to the regionally native species.  I try to avoid introducing any species that don't naturally belong there.  

So before I get too far in planning and planting new native gardens I need to do some surveys of what is already present.  This (finally) brings me to the topic of what I found growing during the second week of April.  The tree canopy was still pretty open and the woodland floor was really greening up.

The first thing that really hit me was the masses of Virginia Bluebells that were coming into bloom.  These started coming up about a month ago.  Some had purple tinged foliage that has since turned green.

I was very pleased to see large masses of Mayapples coming up, especially I had just bought a half dozen to plant along the driveway.  These look somewhat alien when they first break ground.  They have a large white flower that stays just under the leaf.  

Mayapple leaves open up like umbrellas, 6-8 inches across.  

Once leafed out Spicebush can still be identified by the spicy scent of its bark.

The number of Spring Beauties has finally peaked,
now the blooms remain only in the shadier spots.
Note the garlic mustard off to the right.

Spicebush was another plant that I had just purchased to add to driveway area.  I was very happy to see a large mass of these growing near the creek.  The little flower clusters add an 
ethereal yellow haze to the scene.  These are not as garish as the Forsythia that are also in full bloom at this time.  

The Spring Beauties, Claytonia virginica, are continuing to come out - now the ground is sprinkled with the pale pink blooms.  The Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, have also come into fuller bloom.  Some are white and others have a yellowish cast.  

Flowers started out a pale green
before opening up and turning white.

In with the Dutchman's Breeches is a plant with similar finely divided foliage, but this one had tubular yellow flowers.  It turns out that this is Yellow Fumewort, Corydalis flavula.  This native annual is 4-12 inches tall and has glaucous green foliage similar to other Corydalis.  I had never seen this before and was suspicious that it may some of the non-native Yellow Corydalis (C. lutea) that escaped from a garden.  The distinguishing feature from other yellow Corydalis (C. aurea and lutea) is that the upper lip of the flower is toothed.  This species is rare in New England, but not uncommon further south and west.

This winter annual was probably among the
early foliage seen back in January
The upper lip of the flower is toothed.  Also,
 seed pods are visible just below the flower on the left.

Should be getting some yellow flowers from these Trout Lilies in a couple of weeks.
If they are white, then these would be White Trout Lily, E. albidum.
Down in the leaf litter I noticed the spotted leaves of Trout Lily, Erythronium.  No blooms or buds were evident at this time, so I will need to get back down to these is a week or so to catch them in bloom.  As I was climbing back up away from the stream I noticed that the Toothwort were finally in bloom.  The dangling white flowers are not spectacular on their own, but they complement the other ephemerals. The Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata, are putting up flower buds, but I did not see any in bloom.  Back up on the lawn I am seeing Common Blue Violet, Viola papilionacea, complemented by the yellow flowers of Rough CinquefoilPotentilla norvegica.  Oops, these are actually the non-native Indian Strawberry, Duchesnea indica, see the comments below.

Each flower stalk of these toothworts has a pair
of deeply tri-lobed leaves, hence the epithet  'diphylla'.

Woodland Phlox has formed it flower buds.  Opps, this is actually Cardamine laciniata.
Common Blue Violet has hairless flower stalks,
otherwise this could be Woolly Blue Violet, V. sororia.

Unlike other weedy Cinquifoils, Rough Cinquifoil has
trilobed leaves and relatively large blunt-tipped flowers.  However, this is actually
Indian Strawberry, Duchesnea indica. with larger flowers than the Cinquifoil
and later a red berry.

Along with all of these natives there is a large population of garlic mustard that are beginning to bloom now.  Removing these will be a long and tedious process.  I have put a supply of black trash bags around the property to collect these.  In areas where the soil is moist it is possible to get most of the root out by gently pulling the plant by its crown.  Garlic mustard has a lot of stored energy in its root and may be able to set seed even though it has been pulled out of the ground.  A good practice is to bag them up and let them bake in the sun for a while before sending them to the landfill.  Garlic mustard should not be put into your compost. However, it is edible and you can make a decent pesto from it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring Wildflowers: Texas vs Maryland

Two weeds ago we made a trip to Texas to visit family.  The end of March is the beginning of Texas wildflower season.  We flew into Austin then drove up to the Ft. Worth area.  You could see that Austin was really coming into bloom.  As we drove northward along I-35 the number of Bluebonnents along the highway dropped off considerably.

Even at 75 mph you can appreciate Texas Bluebonnets

One thing about seeing wildflowers in Texas is that they come in big patches.  Much of this is due to the efforts of Lady Bird Johnson with the Texas Highway Department to create and preserve wildflower habitats along the highways.

View of Courtyard at the Wildflower Center in Austin, TX

When we got back down to Austin we paid a visit to the Wildflower Center.  Here we saw many of the wildflowers we saw along the highways, but this time with handy name tags.

Texas Bluebonnets at low speed.

There are about 50 species and subspecies of
Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja).  I don't know
them well enough to tell them apart.
I've been looking for seeds for Groundsel.  This looks like it would be a nice addition
to a low-growing meadow/lawn alternative.  It has bright yellow flowers in spring
emanating from a basal rosette of leaves.

This Blackfoot Daisy is found on dry well drained soils.
I was interested in growing this plant, but the Northeast
does not provide the best conditions.

This little Prairie Verbena was all by itself, but it is known to
grow in large swaths, turning the ground purple. 

The narrow bronzy-green leaves of this Spring Beauty
blend into the leaf litter.

On our return to Maryland, the landscape was just beginning to turn from brown to spring green.  However, there were no massive swaths of color as we had witnessed the day before.  Inspired by all those Texas flowers I took a walk through the woods and found a few subtle surprises.  There were little pinkish white flowers along the edge of the woods.  These turned out to be Spring Beauties, Claytonia virginica.  This ephemeral perennial blooms in early spring, then essentially disappears after setting seed.

Further into the woods I found the masses of Toothwort continuing to expand.  The buds still have not opened, but they are nearly ready.

It's early April and these Toothwort are nearly ready to bloom.

The latest find was masses of finely cut foliage indicative of the genus Dicentra.  I searched around for a while and found one clump with developing flowers.  I'm pretty sure that these are D. cucullaria, Dutchman's Breeches.  I will keep a watch out for other family members, like Squirrel Corn (D. canadensis) and Wild Bleeding Heart (D. eximia).  These are most easily distinguished by the shapes and colors of their flowers.
When the flowers of Dutchman's Breeches are fully developed
they look somewhat like upside down pantaloons.
 I'm not keeping score, but the spring wildflowers in Texas are a grand sight to behold, but when the early summer temperatures creep into the 100's they will disappear.  In the Northeast the ephemerals will also slowly fade from view, but this will be due to the developing shade of the woodland canopy rather than the heat and dryness.  No matter where you live you've got to get out and appreciate that winter is coming to an end.