Sunday, April 14, 2013

In Bloom: Double Blood Root

I had a feeling one day was all they needed to fully bloom. Compare these photos of Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex' from the one I took yesterday. Crazy.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


The term "spring ephemeral" has never rung more true than it has this year. Generally speaking a spring ephemeral is a wild flower that grows, blooms, reproduces, and dies away in the time between the end of winter's deep freeze and when the leaves of the mature trees fully open and block the sunlight from getting to the forest floor. No sunlight means no photosynthesis so these plants go through their entire life cycle as soon as it is warm enough to grow. If they time it wrong, they might not get to reproduce.

So some of the plants I saw last weekend that I wanted to photograph today were already past their prime. Here is a patch of blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis) that last weekend was simply covered in the stunning white blossoms. I actually took a photo of that to show you, but I used my digital camera which has since stopped charging so I can't offload the photo. 

As you can see, the flowers are basically gone. Where they stood only 6 days ago you can see the fruit is starting to ripen.
A large colony of Blood Root, post flowering

A few late blossoms but mostly ripening fruit

The Blood Root flower close up. Beautiful.

Interestingly enough, there is a cultivar of the native blood root in the garden I work at. It is the double blood root (known as Sanguinaria canadensis 'multiplex') and although the straight species is on its way out, this cultivar is just beginning to bloom.
Double Blood Root (Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex')

Notice how tight the flower heads still are
The flowers haven't fully opened yet, as of these photos from this morning. I'll check back tomorrow and see if they are farther along.

Here is a plant I missed entirely this year, since it only flowers one time for about a day: Jeffersonia (Jeffersonia diphylla).
Jeffersonia diphylla leaves and fruit

See the fruit? It's already bloomed, been pollinated, and is growing seed. And this plant wasn't even leafed out last weekend! Which means all of this happened in less than a week. Maybe if I'm lucky there will be a late bloom tomorrow - I've never actually seen one of these blooming in real life.

Here is another plant that I missed from last weekend to this one:

I have to admit, I am not yet sure what it is. I am assuming it is some sort of Bleeding Heart based on the leaves and the way the flowers are attached to the stalk. However, the flowers were already wilted and dry, and they certainly did not have that classic bleeding heart shape. Could it possibly be Dicentra eximia?

Regardless. what ever it is it was not blooming last Sunday, and here it is 6 days later and already past its prime. You have to move fast in the spring.

Spreaking of the Dicentra genus you know what plant is blooming right now? Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)!

look at those little pants. I love it.

Finally there was one other plant that was prolific last weekend that was all but gone today: the wood squill (Scilla siberica). This beautiful blue flower is a bulb that shoots up strappy leaves every spring along with this electric blue flower. When the spring landscape is still dull and without much color, this guy makes quite an impact.
Wood Squill (Scilla siberica)
However beautiful, these flowers fade away quite quickly. I think the only reason I found this late bloomer today was because it was in a shaded section of the yard.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


The temperature has gone back to more the more seasonal 60s, but those two days of heat were enough to cause almost every tree to flower and begin to leaf out.

Remember what the red maple in front of my house looked like just 7 days ago? Well, here it is today: pollinated flowers are all developing green samaras, those tight red clusters from last week are now long enough to rustle in the wind.
Red Maple Fruit Developing
And not only the maple fruit is making an appearance. All of a sudden the leaves have broken bud as well.
Red Maple leaf bud with maturing fruit
It amazes me how quickly things can change in the plant world with a little bit of heat and a nice heavy rain.

In fact, the maples were not the only trees to change over the past week. Just walking Diamond Dog after work today I noticed all the trees in the neighborhood were in bloom.

Sorry for the fuzzy phone photo, but the Norway Maple is in bloom

Some escaped Forsythia growing along the railroad tracks

I also happened upon a shrub (small tree?) growing in a wasteland area that I think is a type of Aesculus. It had a flower stalk already, although the flowers weren't close enough to opening to guess the color. I will have to watch it over the next week or so to see if I can identify it. Unless one of you has an idea?
A closeup of the flower structure

The whole plant
And finally, there is this tree. I got excited for the catkins but cannot for the life of me ID it. I know I have seen it before. I know I know it. Its like when you forget a word and its on the tip of your tongue. So someone solve this mystery for me!
what i assume are pollen structures

a closeup of the leaves and reproductive structure
the whole tree.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


All of a sudden it is in the high 80s... wasn't it snowing just last week? This spring had been strange.
But I have been watering my tiny garden each day to no avail: my hellebores and heuchra have been doing fine but nothing else but weeds have been popping up when I check each morning. Today, though, I had a pleasant surprise: my seeds have all begun to burst through the soil.
The lilacs along the side of my house are almost in bloom as well. They were tiny leaf buds last week!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

stirring dull roots with Spring rain

Ah, T.S. Eliot, April is the cruelest month. It's like spring has been put on pause this year. There was this sudden burst of life and then everything has been held in freeze frame since that moment. Last year by April the trees were in full leaf and I was planting my garden. This year? Not even close. I planted my spring seeds because I am afraid that I will miss spring if they don't get in the ground. But it is still close to freezing at night!

The Red Maple in front of my house
 This is the Red Maple (Acer rubrum) outside my house. I wish I had taken a photo of it a month ago. IT HASN'T CHANGED!

Oh a completely different note here is a fun botany fact. Do you know why the Red Maple is called the Red Maple? It wasn't until I became a plant nerd and talked incessantly at people about trees that I learned that many people think it is because the leaves turn red in the Autumn. Truth is, not every Red Maple has red leaves. It is because the flower buds are red in the Spring! You can see them in the photo.

I got out of work an hour early today so I went on a mini-hike in Fairmount Park with my dog. I guess I shouldn't say that nothing has happened this Spring, because the cherries are starting to flower. And yeah, I guess Washington DC has that whole "Cherry Trees are Awesome" thing on lock, but Kelly Drive is quite beautiful when the cherries come out.

The spring weeds are starting to bloom. Especially the Lesser Caladine (Ranunculus ficaria), which is such a noxious weed, but is SO SO PRETTY.
Horribly invasive plant. Such a pretty flower.
But you know something? Yeah, Diamond Dog and I passed the others in the dog park to stomp through the woods, but there is an upside to being the only botany nerd in the area. No one else comes into the weeds to see what's growing. And they don't see what the wind blows in either:
Botany Pays!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

spring equinox

Despite the chilly air and the threat of snow, at 7:05 this morning spring arrived on the east coast.

It really amazes me this time of year how fast nature can change. While the other day I saw a carpet of green emerging from the winter ground today I noticed it had exploded into carpets of spring flowers. Believe it! Flowers.

Granted these are all considered weeds in the Philadelphia area, but what does that mean, except that they are really good at growing. I'm lucky enough to live near train tracks so there is a plethora of weeds growing in the right of way.

Lamium purpureum
 This is one of my favorites because you rarely get colors this early in the season. This is purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum). It has such delicate purple flowers, but I love the dark reddish purple of the upper leaves.

Cardamine hirsuta
 This is usually so easy to identify because of the seed pods. Hairy bittercress blooms from a rosette of leaves from early spring to winter. So there are always blooms and seed pods on the same plant. However, it is so early in the year this is the first bloom: no seed pods yet!

Conditions have certainly been favorable for this little plant. Look at how it has taken over:
That's a lot of bittercress

Of course the onion grass has been sprouting up. I've actually noticed it growing for a week or two. You'll see this in lawns or large grassy areas. Turf grass isn't growing yet, so it's growth is very noticeable.
Allium vineale
It goes by various other names: wild garlic, crow garlic. field garlic but they all refer to Allium vineale. It is in the onion family which is why the leaves give off a garlic or onion smell and taste when broken. Yes, these are edible!
Veronica hederifolia
The plant that has really exploded on the scene over the past few days has been this, the Ivy Leaved Veronica (Veronica hederifolia). This cluster is at the bus stop I wait at each morning. Last week nothing was there. Earlier this week this foliage was climbing all over the place. And today? Today it was in bloom! Can you see it there in the photo?
can you see the tiny white flowers?

Of course, being in the city, there are quite a few cultivated flowers in bloom on this first day of spring:

I have absolutely no idea what crocus this is. But it is pretty!

Iris reticulata

There is a tree pit along the railroad tracks that seems to be tended by a neighbor. At least, someone has planted in it and I was surprised to see dwarf Irises. These are Iris reticulata. Probably the cultivar Harmony. I've actually never seen them before, so this is very exciting.

The color is pretty amazing.

My personal favorite flower is the hellebore. This is a photo from my own garden. It is a hybrid variety (helleborus x ballardiae) called Pink Frost.
I spent all of February waiting for those pink buds to open, but they didn't break until this past week. I was surprised because the hellebore is known to be a winter flowering evergreen plant but it seemed to be be late this year. Still, it is so beautiful. And unlike most of the spring flowers it lasts until May.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Spring is for Skunk Cabbage

Today was a relatively warm day (for early March) and I decided to go on a hike. By this time last year so many plants were in bloom I figured there would be a lot to see today. But this is why nature is awesome: it varies from year to year. Not only did I see about 4 signs of botanical life, there weren't even any birds out in the woods. I saw a mourning dove and a herd of whitetailed deer  in the parking lot. But a mile into the state park? Not even a spider. It was almost creepy.

But anyway, I was hiking in Ridley Creek State Park which is about 16 miles from center city Philadelphia. It is HUGE and seems to be comprised mostly of Liriodendron tulipifera and Fagus grandifolia trees, although neither of them were showing any signs of leafing out, yet. At  the ground layer I am sad to report the dominant plant life was Rosa multiflora, which was already leafing out. Perhaps this approximation of groundcover isbiased since there was no sign of life on any other shrubby plants, but really, there were tons of roses all over the place.

The hike wasn't completely depressing, though. There were many patches of Polystichum acrostichoides, the evergreen Christmas fern, poking out through the fallen leaf litter and growing on the side of rock banks. This is one of my favorite ferns because you can literally find it year round. Yeah, I realize it was probably dormant today, but it was there and it was green, and when you're sick of winter that's all you need.

Polystichum acrostichoides and moss

Of course the real find of the day was Symplocarpus foetidus, the springtime Skunk cabbage! This was really the plant I was hunting for, but it took quite a bit of hiking to find. Turns out it was only growing on the other side of Ridley Creek. We finally crossed a fallen tree across the water and within about 5 feet on the other side there was a swampy little area where we discovered this:
Skunk cabbage Spathe

Foliage tips

You know spring is here when you see the skunk cabbage. Although, it seems late this year. I swear the spathes were up in January of 2012. But who knows?

As we were heading out of the park, I noticed a flash of color. Yellow. And in the grey woods that yellow stood out.
yellow !
I know that Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite) is not a native plant. But it is just so happy. Plus, you can't really hate on a spring ephemeral since it comes and goes so quickly. And it gives the bees something to forage until the native flowers bloom.