Wildflower photographs with identifying data and short descriptions are arranged below in alphabetical order according to the key word of the flower's common name. You may wish to browse these photographs. You may also look up a particular flower in the indexes, by clicking here. Feel free to click on the blue underlined words, which are links to other explanatory material. You can then close the linked window to return to the original place in the text.
wildflowers in order of key word of common name
Trailing Arbutus, an evergreen native perennial, appears very early in springtime. It favors acidic soil in the woods. Its leaves cling to the ground to form a mat amongst the leaf litter. Trailing means “spread upon the ground” in botany. The binomial scientific name Epigaea repens means “creeping over the earth”. By legend, the New England Pilgrims called it “Mayflower” because it was one of the first wildflowers seen after the first hard winter. At Lake Katharine, however, Trailing Arbutus can be found much earlier than May. Start looking in March at the beginning of the Calico Bush Trail, just before descending downhill, on the left side of the trail. Because the plant has a mutually beneficial, or symbiotic, relationship with some particular fungus in its root system, it cannot be transplanted.
“Jerusalem” is a corruption of the Italian girasole‚ which means “turning to the sun”. Lewis and Clark are said to have eaten tubers of Jerusalem Artichoke‚ prepared by Sacajawea. These tubers were exported to Europe as foodstuffs until they were displaced by potatoes in the eighteenth century. The tubers are sweet because of fructose‚ which is sweeter than sucrose. Jerusalem Artichoke tubers can be found for sale on the internet. Try Googling “Jerusalem Artichoke”. This flower is in the same genus, Helianthus, as Woodland Sunflower. Note that in the Jerusalem Artichoke the anthers form brown tubes around the styles. Look for the brown tubes sticking up within the yellow central disk.
The Latin species name means New England‚ naturally. The family name Aster refers to the star shape of the blossom‚ with a center and rays. New England Asters have a composite center‚ or radiate head‚ made of disc flowers‚ surrounded by numerous ray flowers. The former name for the Aster family was the Composite family‚ meaning that what looks like one flower is actually composed of numerous flowers‚ or inflorescence‚ organized in the aster or daisy pattern.
This flower is found in shady woods. The yellow flower droops against the leaf. Its leaves appear to be pierced by the stem (that is‚ are perfoliate). The family grouping is confused in the reference books. Large–flowered Bellwort may have been reassigned to the family Colchicaceae within the order Liliales. Biologists are continually parsing out taxonomy according to the plant’s genome‚ and that is all quite beyond the rank amateur.
A native perennial also known as Horsemint, found in sunny fields and thickets in the summer. According to Robert Henn, Wild Bergamot leaves can be used for mint tea. The individual flowers are long tubes, pollinated by bumblebees, hummingbird moths and even hummingbirds. As in many mint species, the stem is square. You can feel the angles when you roll the stem between your thumb and forefinger. Also, crush a leaf for its minty aroma. The genus was named after an early botanist, Nicolas Monardes. The specific name means “full of pipes”, obviously referring to the tubular flowers. Jack Sanders offers up a recipe for Gooseberry–Bergamot Jelly.
Bird’s–foot–trefoil is an introduced alien species‚ and is considered a pest. Apparently you cannot get rid of it with prescribed burning because that just makes it reproduce better. Cattle will eat it and it is sometimes used as silage‚ so it is not completely useless.
Plants of this genus are called “brambles”‚ and include raspberries‚ dewberries‚ and blackberries. One standard reference work lists over two hundred species of brambles. These species interbreed promiscuously‚ and so hybridize. As a result the taxonomy of blackberries is uncertain.
The yellow asters, genus Rudbeckia, are difficult for rank amateurs like me to specify. Black–eyed Susan, R. hirta, looks a lot like Thin–leaved Coneflower, R. triloba. They both feature yellow ray flowers and brown to black central disks. In Latin, hirta means hairy. Note the hairs amounting almost to bristles on the stem. The juvenile form, left, appears hairy also. The genus is popularly called Coneflower because the ray flowers appear swept back, forming a cone shape. With asters, what look like petals are actually entire flowers, and so are termed ray flowers.
At Lake Katharine‚ Bloodroot flowers are one of the harbingers of spring. Small bees and flies cross–pollinate the flowers by transporting pollen from one flower to another. Bloodroot produces seeds with oil–rich outgrowths called elaiosomes‚ which are a favorite food of ants. Ants carry the seed to their nest‚ eat the elaiosome‚ and discard the seed out of the nesting site. This disperses the seeds. Bloodroot blossoms last only a day or two before a breeze blows away the petals. Bloodroot‚ as the name suggests‚ contains a reddish sap in its rhizome. Native Americans used the red sap as dye and body paint. This flower is in the poppy family‚ and its sap contains several chemical compounds which may have antimicrobial‚ anticancer‚ and antifungal effects.
Also Virginia Cowslip. In the spring at Lake Katharine on the Salt Creek Trail at the creek level‚ Virginia Bluebells cover hundreds of square feet of ground. They all disappear completely later on‚ so this flower is called a spring ephemeral. The blossoms of Virginia Bluebells change color as they mature‚ from small pink buds to pinkish–purple‚ to blue. The color changes are caused by changes in the acidity of the cell sap within the plant. The blossom features a long tube with nectar at the base. Bumblebees are the primary pollinators. In the process of collecting nectar and pollen from various blossoms‚ they also distribute pollen. Some shorter–tongued insects pierce the tube to get at the nectar. Since the pollen is quite near the nectar‚ they also cross–pollinate as they feed on several blossoms. Virginia Bluebells and Dutchman's Breeches are the most important early–spring food sources for bumblebees.
Also Narrow–leaved Blue–eyed Grass. This is a native perennial. It is not a true grass‚ but looks like grass because of the narrow leaves. The stem is winged‚ and the wing structures stiffen the stem. The flower grows from a vertical stem arising from a horizontal underground stem‚ or rhizome. Note the round seed pod in the photograph to the right.
Also Quaker Ladies or Innocence. These small flowers often grow profusely in large colonies. Some of the blossoms have long stamens and a short style‚ and others have short stamens and a long style. One supposes this arrangement encourages cross–pollination.
Native Americans used this plant for a variety of medicinal purposes, including as a tonic and an emetic. Pioneers also used it as a medicinal herb. Boneset tea was reportedly bitter and nauseous, so it had to be good for you. The species name perfoliatum refers to the stem appearing to penetrate the lower leaves. Compare this to other examples such as Large–flowered Bellwort. Boneset looks like a milkweed, but it is more closely related to daisies.
These milkweed flowers seem particularly attractive to butterflies and other insects. People find them strikingly beautiful‚ too. They are found in open fields with lots of sun. Early Native Americans found many uses for Butterfly Weed. Mound Builders in Ohio used the stalks to extract fibers to make cloth‚ rope‚ and string. Mounds dating from 700 B.C. to A.D. 1000 were found to contain Butterfly Weed textiles. Native Americans also used the plant root for a variety of medicinal purposes. Nineteenth century American physicians used it as an expectorant and to treat smallpox.
These strikingly beautiful flowers grow near streams and wetlands. Roger Tory Peterson called the Cardinal Flower “America’s Favorite”. Cardinal Flower used to be considered uncommon in southern Ohio‚ but recently they seem more plentiful. Still‚ please do not pick them; admire them in place. Cardinal Flowers and Ruby–throated Hummingbirds have a mutually beneficial relationship. Hunmmingbirds prefer red blossoms‚ and the Cardinal Flower blossom is well–suited for hummingbirds. The ranges of Cardinal Flowers and Ruby–throated Hummingbirds are similar. When Cardinal Flowers become scarce‚ so do the hummingbirds.
Star Chickweed is an Ohio native‚ distinguished by the dark anthers. Note that the five petals are so deeply cleft that they look like ten. Notched petals are characteristic of the Pink family. See‚ for example‚ Fire Pink‚ below. Chickweeds have the genus name Stellaria‚ referring to their star shape. The species epithet pubera means “hairy”‚ because the stems have rows of hairs running up and down. These hairs may assist in channelling water‚ as from dew‚ down to the lower parts of the flower which need moisture. This is thought to be a rather advanced evolutionary adaptation to assist hardiness in dry weather. Wild birds eat chickweed seeds‚ and humans eat chickweed leaves.
The root of this flower has been roasted‚ ground‚ and used as a coffee substitute. An immigrant from Europe‚ Chicory is found along roadsides and is considered a pest. Apparently not always so. According to Jack Sanders, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1795 to George Washington that Chicory is “one of the greatest acquisitions a farmer can have” to feed cattle. Jefferson also found Chicory made a “tolerable salad”. The Swedish botanist Linneaus gardened with Chicory‚ and noted that the blossoms opened regularly at 5:00 a.m. and closed at 10:00 a.m. The schedule is later in the U.S.‚ but the flowers do close up early on sunny days.
The common name “cinquefoil” comes from the Latin term for “five leaves”. This refers to the five coarsely serrated leaflets of the palmately compound leaf, clearly shown in the photograph above. The genus Potentilla contains over three hundred species, ranging around the world. This plant, which is native, spreads by means of runners.
Note the notches in the tips of the petals. Also, compared to Common Cinquefoil, the leaflets here are deeply toothed, and the flower is pale yellow. The flowers are flat like roses, not cupped. According to Jack Sanders, ultra–violet lines on the yellow flower radiate out from the nectar–laden center of the blossom. Bees can perceive ultraviolet colors, and so can see the lines to guide them to the nectar. That is all invisible to the rest of us. This flower was introduced from Europe, and is also called Sulphur Cinquefoil.
Also called Bedstraw. The four–sided stems feature lots of bristles, which cause the stems to break and cling to a passerby’s trousers. This obviously disperses seeds when the broken stems carry seeds along with them. According to Robert Henn medieval people in Europe used this plant to stuff mattresses. Hence bedstraw. Jack Sanders suggests that various species of the genus Galium have been used to make a red dye and to curdle milk to make cheese, among other uses. Cleavers arrives in late spring in the woods. Look for narrow leaves arranged in a whorl of eight, and small inconspicuous white flowers.
In spring on the Salt Creek trail at Lake Katharine State Nature Preserve, at the lowest elevations, you will spot Blue Cohosh because of the striking greenish-purple color of the young plant’s stem and leaves. Blue Cohosh is picked for use in folk remedies. You can buy Blue Cohosh extract at a nature food store. One online source asserts that Blue Cohosh is used to stimulate the uterus, start labor, start menstruation, stop muscle cramps, and cure hiccups. So far as I know, no efficacy has been proven for any of that. Carol Gracie in her book presents a comprehensive and well–photographed essay on Blue Cohosh from a botanical perspective.
Coltsfoot is an early spring alien, having dispersed from Europe over the past one hundred years or so. Its leaves are supposed to look like a horse’s unshod hoof. Its flowers feature the aster design of numerous florets surrounding a central disk. The plant has been used as a cough medicine; the genus name Tussilago refers to the Latin “tussis”, meaning “cough dispeller”. Dried coltsfoot leaves have been brewed as tea. According to Jack Sanders, however, the plants contain alkaloids which can cause liver damage when ingested raw. If early bees fail to pollinate the flowers, coltsfoot can self–pollinate when the petals fold over the central disk.
The spurs of Wild Columbine are thought to resemble talons‚ hence the genus name Aquilegia. At least that is one theory for the name. The red spurs of the Wild Columbine attract Ruby–throated Hummingbirds to the flower’s nectar. The flower stalks are so delicate that the hummingbird must hover below the blossom while it feeds on the nectar. The first appearance of Columbine flowers in May coincides with the arrival of Ruby–throated Hummingbirds from their annual migration. The nectar is found in the tip of the spur. The length of the spurs excludes access to nectar for all visitors other than hummingbirds and some long–tongued bees. A hummingbird will visit several flowers to get enough nectar for sustenance‚ and in the process may cross–pollinate the flowers. The flowers also self–pollinate‚ however‚ so they do not absolutely depend upon the hummingbirds. See also the relationship between the Cardinal Flower and Ruby–throated Hummingbirds.
Also Three–lobed Coneflower and Brown–eyed Susan. Coneflower rays appear to droop. This species has what look like nicks at the tips of the petals. The genus of coneflowers‚ Rudbeckia‚ is named after Olaus Rudbeck Sr. and Jr.‚ who were both botany professors at the University of Upsala in Sweden. Professor Rudbeck‚ Jr. was the mentor during the early eighteenth century of the great Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus.
Each of the drooping rays is a separate flower. It looks like a petal, but it is a flower. The Aster family used to be called the Composite family, because of the arrangement of ray flowers around a central disk. The disk also has separate flowers, with noticeable stamens and pistils, which actually produce seeds. The ray flowers are sterile. The Green–headed Coneflower blooms in summer.
As the common name suggests, Corn Salad leaves are supposed to be edible. The species name for the plant photographed here is difficult to determine because several species look alike. I call it Corn Salad because that is the way I learned it from nature walks with folks more knowledgeable than I. The related species V. locusta is called European Corn Salad. At Lake Katharine in the spring the best way to identify the plant is to spot the prominent opposite leaves, with small, rather nondescript white flowers.
In the springtime at the Lake Katharine woods on the Salt Creek or Calico Bush trail, you will find the feathery or lacy leaves of both Yellow Corydalis and Dutchman’s Breeches. Sure enough, both flowers belong to the family Fumitory and so are closely related. This plant is sometimes called Yellow Fumewort, and is a native perennial. Robert Henn states that Yellow Corydalis is an annual in Ohio because it dies out every winter. The flower has no rhizomes for vegetative reproduction and so relies on pollination and seed dispersal.
As the common name suggests, this plant features an underground white tuber which Native Americans ate. This history makes the Indian Cucumber–root itself a native in rich, moist woodlands. We find it in May or June on the Calico Bush trail at Lake Katharine, where the trail turns away from the path to the the dam. Note the lower whorls of five leaves, with the flower dangling from the upper whorl of three leaves.
Also Marguerite Daisy. When the little girl was plucking petals from a daisy in the Lyndon Johnson campaign ad against Barry Goldwater‚ was that an Ox–eye Daisy? This daisy was introduced from Europe‚ and is considered by many an invasive species‚ or weed. The plant can be difficult to eradicate because it propogates from spreading rhizomes. The photograph shows the pseudanthium (“false flower”)‚ or multiple flower form‚ typical of the Aster family.
Our backyard dandelion came from Europe as an alien. The name dandelion comes from the French dents de lion, meaning “lion’s tooth”. Because of their deep indentations the leaves look like cartoon teeth. Dandelions have a deep taproot which enables the plant to survive drought. As everybody knows the seeds are arranged in a fluffy ball, to be dispersed in a gentle breeze. Dandelion leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Jack Sanders reports that the dandelion root is used as a diuretic. He also says some folks eat the root in a salad, together with the leaves. Go figure.
Also Common Dayflower. This alien import from Asia gets no respect from the wildflower authorities, who consider it a weed. The flower looks like it has only two petals (both blue), which would be a rarity. Actually there is a nondescript white petal below. Here lies a tale. The famous taxonomist Linnaeus named the genus Commelina, after two prominent botanists named Commelin. Two of the brothers were well published and hence prominent, but the third brother never achieved success. Linnaeus was a bit of a jokester, according to Jack Sanders. Clear cells mixed in among the blue–tinted cells give the blue petals a sparkly appearance. The flower, true to its common name, lasts no more than a day.
This alien annual weed belongs to the Mint family, as indicated by the square stem and opposite leaves. As you can tell from the photographs, Purple Dead–nettle features hairs on its leaves and stems, like stinging nettles. These hairs do not irritate the skin, though, so the plant is called Dead–nettle. The leaves, picked early, can be eaten in salads, and some folks drink tea steeped from the leaves. The genus name Lamium means “gaping mouth” in Greek, supposedly, referring to the shape of the flower as seen in the lower photograph. The Latin word purpura means “purple”, of course.
This distinctive native perennial flower abounds in Lake Katharine’s woods in the springtime. Well–named flower‚ isn’t it? The blossom has four modified petals. Two petals become spurs‚ or the legs of the pantaloons‚ with yellow coloring at the pantaloon waist. The other two petals are also yellow‚ found within the pantaloons. The inner petals form a cover for the generative stamens and pistil. The flower secretes nectar which is found in the tips of the spurs. Insects tread over or brush into pollen while seeking the nectar‚ and then spread the pollen to the next flower it visits. Bumblebees are the most successful pollinators because they have tongues long enough to reach the nectar at the tip of the spur‚ and so are intensely attracted to the flower. The seeds of Dutchman’s Breeches have food bodies called elaiosomes attached to them. Ants will carry seeds back to their nests‚ eat the elaisomes‚ discard the still–intact seeds‚ and thereby disperse the seeds. This form of seed dispersal by ants is called myrmecochory.
Also called Philadelphia Fleabane. Fleabane has more than forty ray flowers, while most asters have fewer than forty ray flowers. In the field this plant is difficult to distinguish from Daisy Fleabane, whose leaves are toothed. According to Robert L. Henn‚ Fleabane was used to rid homes of fleas. The sap from the crushed plant could be applied to the body, or the dried plant could be burned as a fumigant. In Old English bane meant “thing causing death, or poison”. My favorite usage is of course wolfsbane, to repel werewolves and vampires. According to some authorities Fleabane does not actually repel fleas.
According to Robert L. Henn, this flower is supposed to have a foam–like appearance because of the small, bunched–together flowers. Hence the common name. Each flower has ten long stamens, which are the pollen–producing parts of the flower. For what it is worth, it does not look like foam to me. This plant spreads by runners, or rhizomes, and forms colonies on the forest floor. At Lake Katharine in springtime we find the foamflower especially in the deep forest around the upland sandstone outcroppings on the Calico Bush Trail. The genus name Tiarella comes from the Greek for “little tiara”, referring to the shape of the seed pods. The species name cordifolia, “heartleaves”, refers to the large heart–shaped basal leaves, which Arthur Stupka likens to red maple leaves.
Also Crane’s Bill. A distant relative to household geranium. The seeds of Wild Geranium are packed into a long pod. As the pod dries out it comes under tension‚ so that when the pod dehisces or comes apart, the seeds pop out. The seeds may fire out as much as thirty feet‚ thereby achieving wide dispersal. Then each individual seed sports an awn‚ or tail. The awn curls when dry and straightens when wet. This curling and uncurling imparts tail–twisting motion to the seed‚ which can propel it slowly along the ground until it encounters a hole or crack. Thus the seed can find a spot to germinate away from animal predators. Another unusual aspect of Wild Geranium is the color of its pollen‚ which is blue.
In the woods of Lake Katharine, you frequently have to brush aside the leaf litter below this plant’s heart–shaped leaves to find the maroon flower, which lies at ground level. Carol Gracie devoted one of her detailed and well–illustrated essays to this plant, pointing out that the flowers of Wild Ginger “deviate from the norm.” Because the flowers lie so low to the ground and hidden, one wonders what insects would find them for cross–pollination. Ms. Gracie on only one occasion in all her studies found a small beetle in a flower. Instead, during the development of the reproductive organs in the flower, self pollination becomes likely. That is, the flower points downward, and the pollen can fall from the anthers onto the stigma. Like many other spring wildflowers, wild ginger produces seeds with an oil–rich, fleshy elaiosome which ants transport and eat. In this way the plant is dispersed. Wild ginger also spreads into dense colonies by way of rhizomes. According to Ms. Gracie, if you scratch the rhizome with a fingernail, you get an aroma of ginger.
The identification of goldenrods is uncertain at best. My best guess for this plant is Gray Goldenrod, or Solidago nemoralis, because of the leaflets growing out of the axils of the leaves. See the photo, above. Goldenrods are asters, in that the flowers are composite. They are not ragweeds, and do not cause sneezing or hay fever. Ragweed is wind–pollinated, but insects pollinate goldenrod.
As the common name indicates, this native periennial flower is one of the earliest to appear in the southeast Ohio woods. Start looking in March. It is also called "Pepper–and–salt" because of the dark stamens contrasted against the white petals, according to Henn. These flowers are tiny, by the way. Its root is a small round tuber. Where you find Harbinger–of–spring, you may also find Spring Beauties and Cut-leaf Toothwort.
Also American Dogbane. The genus name Apocynum is derived from the Greek apokynon, which means “away from dog”, according to a wildflower garden website. This refers to the toxicity of the unprepared plant tissues. That, in turn, sounds like the family name Dogbane. Indian Hemp has tough fibrous stems which Native Americans and early settlers harvested in autumn for use as cordage. Below is a photograph of an Indian Hemp basket.
By the way, Indian Hemp is not smokable.
Leaves of Hepatica were once used to treat liver ailments‚ on the theory that the leaves looked liver–shaped. Hepatica‚ along with Bloodroot‚ are among the earliest spring wildflowers in the forest. Botanists are uncertain whether this flower should be classified in the genus Anenome instead of Hepatica. Nowadays genetic analysis brings about many changes in plant classification. Scientists can compare the actual DNA of different species of plants to gauge how closely they are related. The openly splayed blossom of Hepatica allows access to many different potential cross–pollinators‚ but one wonders how many insects are out and about in the earliest spring when Hepatica blooms. The flower is capable of self–pollination‚ but more seeds are produced after cross–pollination. As with many wildfowers at Lake Katharine‚ Hepatica seeds have associated food bodies‚ or elaiosomes. Ants carry seeds back to their nests‚ eat the elaiosomes‚ and discard the seeds.
indian pipe family
No chlorophyll. No leaves. The casual observer might mistake this flowering plant for a fungus. Indian Pipe makes its living as an “epiparasite”, which is a parasite that forms a relationship with another parasite to obtain its nutrients. Its roots use certain mycorrhizal fungi in the soil to obtain food from the live roots of green plants such as nearby beech trees. The fungus is the first parasite and the Indian Pipe is the second parasite, feeding off the fungus, which in turn feeds off the beech roots. Another name for this plant is Corpse Plant, of course. Yet the flower has nectar and pollen, and is thought to pollinate via insects. The plant looks like a tobacco pipe stuck stem–first into the ground, hence the name Indian Pipe. Jack Sanders features Indian Pipe in his book The Secrets of Wildflowers.
So far as the commentators know, native Americans neither chewed nor smoked this plant. One source suggests that they burned it in their homes to drive away gnats. Indian Tobacco is one of the Lobelia genus commonly found in southeast Ohio. Others are Cardinal Flower, Great Lobelia, and Pale-spiked Lobelia. The genus was named after the Belgian botanist Matthias de Lobel. Note the tiny flower is divided into five lobes—two upper lobes and three lower lobes. Also note the white dots on the edges of the toothed leaves. As the seeds mature, the calyx behind the flower expands, or inflates. Eventually the calyx will open and the seeds will spill out to be taken away by wind. Below is a link to an excellent Youtube video explaining the anatomy and life cycle of the Indian Tobacco plant. Click on the box in the lower right to switch to full screen.
The Crested Dwarf Iris, a native perennial, grows in acidic soil in shady woods with some sunlight. It is common at Lake Katharine in the spring. It grows from a rhizome‚ or underground stem. The flower reportly grows in large colonies under good conditions‚ but at Lake Katharine the Crested Dwarf Iris is usually found as an individual plant. The Swedish botanist Linnaeus named the Iris family after a Greek goddess associated with rainbows.
Ironweed, which can grow up to ten feet tall and blooms in the summer, is a native plant. Many butterflies are attracted to the brightly colored reddish purple flowers, and one supposes the color as well as the nectar might attract them. A single plant can produce thousands of seeds. Many herbicides reportedly do not kill ironweed, in that the roots can foster regrowth of the vegetation. On top of that, it is difficult to dig up the plant with its tough stems. Pasture animals find the leaves bitter, and decline to eat them. One may reasonably conclude this plant is a weed, just like the common name says.
A native perennial also known as Indian Turnip. The spadix is “Jack”‚ and the spathe is the “Pulpit”. The spadix is a columnar cluster of small flowers‚ with a vertical extension‚ while the spathe is a modified leaf which overhangs the spadix. The entire plant looks green and so is difficult to find; you need to concentrate on looking for the pulpit amongst the leaf litter on the forest floor. The flowers are unisexual‚ with only male flowers on one plant and only female flowers on another plant. In male plants‚ pollen collects at the bottom of the spathe. Insects enter the spathe to collect pollen‚ but they cannot climb up the inner surface of the spathe. In male flowers a small opening is found near the bottom of the spathe‚ and pollen–bearing insects escape through the opening. The insects then visit a female Jack–in–the–Pulpit and pollinate the flower. Unfortunately the insects cannot climb out of the spathe and the female form of the flower has no opening‚ so the insects inside the female flower often die there. Both Jack Sanders and Carol Gracie write extensively about Jack–in–the–Pulpit.
A native perennial also known as Greek Valerian. The common name Jacob’s Ladder refers to the arrangement of pinnately compound leaves which look like a ladder. This plant is found throughout Ohio, in moist woods, and it blooms in the spring. The blue–lavender flowers are arranged in terminal clusters, or clusters at the tip end of the plant. According to Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, Jacob’s Ladder and Greek Valerian are different species in the genus Polemonium, distinguished among other factors by the length of the generative flower parts. Wikipedia indicates there are 25 to 40 species in the genus, and most of the species are called Jacob’s Ladder of one sort or another.
Also Hollow Joe–Pye Weed. This is a native perennial plant which favors wet habitats and upon which butterflies feed. According to Robert L. Henn, Joe Pye was a native American who used this plant for medicinal purposes. The leaves of Joe–Pye Weed are arranged of whorls of four or five. The blossoms, unlike most asters, contain only disk flowers. The common species has a purple stem. Joe–Pye Weed can be quite profuse in a wet field or alongside ditches. Until recently Joe–Pye Weed had been placed in the genus Eupatorium in the Aster family. Boneset is another species in the genus Eupatorium. Apparently the taxonomic powers–that–be decided that the whorled leaf arrangement and purple flowers warranted a separate genus, Eutrochium. Jack Sanders devotes several pages in his book to Joe–Pye Weed.
Yellow asters are notoriously difficult to specify. Members of genus Hieracium can be called Hawkweeds. Unlike other asters, the flower heads of hawkweeds are composed of ray flowers, with no disk flowers. King Devil features a very hairy stem, and hairy basal leaves arranged in a rosette pattern. According to Henn, King Devil was introduced from Europe, and so is not native. It is also called Field Hawkweed or Yellow Hawkweed, and is perennial. In Latin, hierax means hawk, hence the generic name Hieracium. A folk tale has it that hawks ate this weed to improve their vision. Another folk tale suggests that farmers called this plant “devil” because they consider it a pesky weed. King Devil is capable of spreading via underground rhizomes, so it can sometimes be found in clusters of clone flowers.
Also Slender Ladies’ Tresses or Cemetery Orchids. The ascending spiral design is distinctive and unusual. These orchids are found beginning in early autumn near margins between field and forest‚ but they are not common in Jackson County. The genus name Spiranthes means “spiral flower”. Actually‚ the flowers are aligned on one side of the stem‚ and it is the stem which twists. That twisting is visible in the photograph here. Charles Darwin noticed that visiting bees start at the flower nearest the bottom of plant and work their way up the stem. The plant has evolved so that the flowers mature over time from the lower blossoms to the upper blossoms. The lower‚ more mature blossoms can receive pollen while the upper‚ less mature blossoms can only give pollen. One supposes that the lower blossoms would contain more nectar than the upper ones. In any event the bee starts at the bottom of the spike and works upward to the top‚ and then flies to the bottom of another plant. Cross–pollination again.
Also Pink Moccasin Flower. This flower will not survive transplanting‚ so do not even think about it. Pink Ladyslipper has a symbiotic relationship with a subsurface fungus which provides nutrients to supplement the plant’s roots and leaves. If transplanted away from the fungus‚ the flower will eventually die. The Pink Ladyslipper is an orchid‚ and so produces an array of chemical defenses to deter herbivorous insects. These flowers produce no nectar‚ but they have a slit along the front of the blossom‚ inviting pollinators to enter. It takes a large insect such as a bumblebee to get past the gateway. The internal anatomy of the flower compels the insect to brush against a sticky stigma on the way out. The stigma receives pollen. If there is any pollen on the insect from an earlier visit to a different Pink Ladyslipper‚ then cross–pollination may occur. The flower produces thousands of dustlike seeds. To germinate and thrive‚ a seed must land in a place where the symbiotic fungus is found. Hence lots of seeds. In the woods of the eastern United States‚ deer eat lots of wildflowers‚ including the Pink Ladyslipper orchid. Wildflower enthusiasts tend to appreciate deer hunting season.
Also known as Trout–lily. The common names refer to the mottled pattern of the leaf. This plant has lots of action underground. Each stem arises from a bulblet which stores starches. The bulblet also produces a stolon‚ or horizontal stem. This stolon grows outward‚ sometimes breaking above the ground surface. At intervals the stolon forms a new bulblet‚ from which will arise a vertical stem. Most of the vertical stems produce non–flowering plants. A patch of genetically identical plants results.
The blossoms of Fawn Lily droop‚ or nod‚ so that animals seeking pollen or nectar must either hover (see Wild Columbine) or hang onto the flower parts upside–down. The pedicel of the Fawn Lily is sturdy enough that pollinators can alight and crawl around the flower parts. Some of the anthers release pollen on one day‚ and the rest release the next day. This assures that insects do not cart away all of the available pollen on one visit. After all‚ honeybees take pollen for food‚ and can pack the pollen away into storage sacs‚ inaccessible for cross–pollination at the next flower. Bumblebees in particular seek out Fawn Lily pollen to feed their larva back in their nests.
Fawn Lily seeds have nutritious elaiosomes attached‚ so ants and other insects carry seeds away and eat the elaiosomes‚ leaving the rest of the seed intact. This myrmecochory effectively disperses the seed away from the clone patch. For some unknown reason Fawn Lily leaves preferentially absorb the mineral phosphorus from spring runoff water. When the leaves deteriorate after spring‚ the phosphorus returns to the soil in a form readily usable by other plants in the vicinity. Fawn Lily is thus a good neighbor.
A native perennial also called Great Blue Lobelia. Closely related to Cardinal Flower. According to Robert Henn‚ Native Americans thought this plant cured syphillis‚ hence siphilitica, the Latin species name. It doesn’t. Great Lobelia grows in wet places‚ as do Cardinal Flowers. At Lake Katharine‚ in one spot the Great Lobelia grows in a ditch on one side of the road‚ and Cardinal Flowers grow in a wet ditch on the other side of the road. These flowers cannot self–pollinate‚ and so need bumblebees in particular to gather nectar and pollen from the tubular blossoms. In the photograph below you can see the hook–shaped stigma which the bumblebee brushes by in its visit to the flower.
This native perennial is found in the summertime in dry woods. The flowers are tiny, but typical of lobelias, with two upper lobes and three lower lobes. The hook–shaped stigma fosters cross—pollination, as in other lobelias. The specific name spicata means “spiked”, simply restating the common name. I have trouble seeing the spikes. Perhaps the word refers to the five pointy sepals at the base of the flower. Some authorities place the lobelias in a family of their own instead of in the Bellwort family.
Also called Narrow–leaved Loosestrife. We feature both Prairie Loosestrife and Whorled Loosestrife. Prairie Loosetrife has very narrow leaves, and the flower lobes have scalloped or ragged edges, sometimes leading to a point. The flowers supposedly are often in groupings of four flowers. Whorled Loosestrife flowers have smooth edges, and the broad leaves are often arranged in a whorl of four leaves. Hence, the species name for Prairie Loosestrife means “four flowers” and the species name for Whorled Loosestrife means “four leaves”. Folklore has it that Loosestrife repels gnats and other flying insects, so that farmers would dangle Loosestrike plants in front of oxen to keep them calm, or “loose from strife”. That derivation sounds far–fetched to your author.
Whorled Loosestrife is distinguished from Prairie Loosestrife in having relatively broad leaves and smooth edges on the flower lobes. Whorled Loosestrife is found in woods and Prairie Loosestrife is seen in, well, prairies and fields. The flowers nod, or face the ground. They produce a kind of flower oil instead of nectar. Loosestrife plants occasionally produce clones from rhizomes.
Also Mandrake. The good ship Mayflower was named after English Mayflower‚ or hawthorn‚ which is not our Mayapple. Mayapples grow from a branching network of underground rhizomes‚ so that what look like individual plants are actually interconnected clones. That is why you find Mayapples in the woods in rather dense clusters. Each clone has either one leaf or two leaves. Only plants with two leaves produce flowers. Mayapple flowers usually cannot be successfully fertilized with their own pollen‚ and cross–pollination requires the pollinating insect (usually a bumblebee) to visit different colonies of plants. Hence relatively few flowers produce fruit. The fruit that is produced looks like a yellow egg–shaped berry two inches in diameter. The fruit is edible‚ and is said to be quite tasty. The fruit often weighs down the plant so that a box turtle can reach it. Apparently box turtles love these Mayapple fruits and disperse seeds through the gut as far away as the turtle wanders after a meal. Other parts of the Mayapple‚ as well as unripe fruit‚ are toxic until late summer. According to Carol Gracie, a chemical from Mayapple is used to produce cancer–treating medicines.
The Common Milkweed produces its seeds in a warty–appearing seed pod. When the time comes, the pod opens and the seeds, each attached to a fluffy fibrous tuft, waft away with the breeze. According to Robert L. Henn, the so–called milkweed silk was used during World War II as a substitute for kapok in life jackets. Sap from the milkweed looks milky but is toxic. Butterfly larva feed on the sap in the leaves and so the adult butterflies become toxic themselves. This is the Monarch butterfly’s defense against predators. The milkweeds thus provide a useful service in nourishing butterflies. We have four other milkweeds locally, the Purple Milkweed the Whorled Milkweed, the Swamp Milkweed, and Butterfly Weed, which are easily distinguished from Common Milkweed.
The Purple Milkweed is spectacular, as you can see. When you consider that the bright orange Butterfly Weed also lives within the genus Asclepias, one wonders just what is so weedy about these plants. During the early summer day after day we see dozens of bees working the milkweeds for nectar. Milkweeds perform good service for these insects. By the way, Jack Sanders devotes one chapter of his book The Secrets of Wildflowers to milkweeds generally and another chapter just to Butterfly Weed.
Swamp Milkweed, a native perenniel, differs from other milkweeds by its leaves, which are opposite, narrow, lance–shaped, and tapering at the tip. The photograph at the lower right shows the flower parts of the milkweed. Note the five hoods, each with an incurved beak, or horn. These structures surround fused male (anther) and female (stigma) parts, and are characteristic of all milkweeds. The fused anthers and stigma form a gynostegium. The flower produces pollen in waxy pollen sacs, called pollinia. When an insect alights to feed on nectar, it may place its leg onto the fused anther and pick up one or more pollen sacs. It then flies to another milkweed and sticks its foot down into the middle of the flower and hopefully deposits the pollen sacs onto the correct surface to achieve pollination. In the field we see bees buzzing and butterflies flitting hungrily about the milkweed flowers.
The term whorled refers to a leaf arrangement with three or more leaves arranged in a circular manner around a central point on the stem. Another term for whorl is verticil, and the species name for this plant is verticillata. Here the narrow leaves form a pattern around the stem like spokes around a hub. The genus of the local milkweeds is Asclepias, which recalls Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. The milkweeds have been used for a multitude of medicinal purposes, notwithstanding the toxicity of the plant sap. Apparently native Americans taught themselves how to scald the plants to render them benign.
Mist–flower, a perennial native, is another member of the large aster family. Recall that asters typically feature central disk flowers and also radiating ray flowers, like, for example, sunflowers. Robert L. Henn points out that the individual mist–flower blossom contains disk flowers but no ray flowers. Mist–flower often forms colonies spread by rhizomal propagation. Gardeners grow mist–flower but call it Hardy Ageratum.
This plant is also called just Mountain–mint, but because we also have a Narrow–leafed Mountain–Mint, just below, we use the more particular name Hoary Mountain–mint. Hoary means grayish white. This Hoary Mountain–mint looks like someone dusted the plant with white flour. The effect is striking and unusual. It also has a square stem, which is characteristic of the Mint family. The genus name pycnanthemum derives partly from the Latin combined form pycno–, meaning dense, and a form of anthos, referring to flower. The flower clusters are densely packed. Hoary Mountain–mint also smells minty, especially when a plant part is crushed.
The Narrow–leaved Mountain–mint, a native perennial, occurs commonly in the open fields of southeastern Ohio, well away from the mountains. Oh well, what’s in a name. This wildflower and the Hoary Mountain–mint have been classified within the same genus, presumably because both of these square–stemmed aromatic mint plants have densely packed flower clusters. The leaves are about as different as they can be. That part of the common name works. The specific name tenuifolium means “thin leaf” in Latin.
These yellow flowers grow in a dense spike, but only a few flowers bloom at any one time. The stem and leaves sport fine hairs which make them feel soft and velvety. Common Mullein is a bienniel, which forms a basal rosette of leaves the first year and then grows the erect flowering stem the following year. Jack Sanders devotes a chapter to mulleins. He describes mullein tea, used for coughs, colds, or as a tonic. You mix a cup of boiling water with a teaspoon of leaves that have been dried and powdered. Euell Gibbons recommended cough syrup made from red clover, white pine, mullein, and wild cherry bark. Then Mr. Sanders cautions that you should filter the brew through a fine mesh to remove the fine hairs which might otherwise irritate the mucous membranes. That sounds like a lot of trouble.
This white or blue–violet flower is related to potato‚ tomato‚ eggplant‚ red pepper‚ and tobacco. The banana–shaped structures in the flower are stamens‚ or pollen–producing reproductive organs. This plant is poisonous to humans due to a chemical called solanine. Also‚ it propagates vegetatively by rhizome‚ and so is hard to eradicate. That makes it a pest so far as people are concerned. Evolutionarily successful‚ but a pest.
The hood is formed from sepals and lateral petals. The Showy Orchis can propagate from a rhizome‚ and so can feature many blossoms in one site‚ which would then be clones. Nectar collects at the base of the spur‚ so the flower is popular with bumblebees and other long–tongued pollinators. Orchids do not transplant well. Showy Orchis is found in shady‚ rich moist woods‚ such as at Lake Katharine State Nature Preserve.
This is a ground creeper‚ or horizontal vine. The stems take root where contact is made with the soil‚ and produce leaves and flowers. The result is a mat–like appearance with attractive white–lined leaves. The leaves remain through the winter. The fruit is a tasteless bright red berry which many animals eat. This genus contains only two species‚ and the other species is found in Japan. One wonders how the two species can be so closely related yet so geographically separated.
A native perennial also called Blue Phlox or Wild Sweet William. These fragrant flowers are found in rich woods‚ and are very common at Lake Katharine. The five petals fuse to form a tube. The loose cluster of blossoms atop a stem is called a raceme. The plant spreads by horizontal stems producing roots and vertical stems at periodic nodes. The species epithet divaricata means “with a spreading and straggling habit.”
The common name refers to a suburb of London‚ England‚ called Deptford. The flower was introduced here from Europe. The particular speciman above was found on the earthen dam lakeside at Lake Katharine‚ in a sunny unforested place. The genus name means “divine flower”‚ from dios, “god”‚ and anthos, “flower”.
A native perennial also known as Catchfly. At Lake Katharine thoughtless trail walkers pick them‚ illegally. Look for Fire Pinks on hillsides in woods. The flower produces nectar in the tube below the petals‚ and hummingbirds frequently visit the flower. Fire Pinks are bisexual‚ with both stamens and pistils found on the same plant. The stamens mature first‚ so that the hummingbirds or insect pollinators can load up with pollen. Then they visit other flowers where the female stigmas may be receptive‚ thus enhancing cross–pollination.
Also Rose Gentian and Bitterbloom, a native biennial. Rose Pink has a four–sided stem‚ hence the species epithet angularis‚ meaning “having sides”. This summertime fragrant flower prefers sunny areas‚ not deep woods. Rose Pinks have been used to make a bitter tonic for indigestion.
A native perennial found in late summer in fields and along roads, closely related to the Common Morning–Glory. Note the climbing apparatus for this trailing vine. Wild Potato–vine has a very large tuber, or swollen starchy root. Young tubers are edible when roasted and consumed, but have a laxative effect when eaten without roasting. The genus name Ipomoea means “resembling worm” in Greek, perhaps referring to the root.
Also Field Pussytoes. This perennial native plant has a number of flower heads arranged in a close cluster at the top of the stem, resembling a cat’s paw. The hairy leaves are mostly basal, and each leaf has one prominent vein in the middle of the leaf. The flowers shown here are male, and the brown protrusions are anthers. The plants can form colonies by spreading underground stems, or stolons. About the name. Before his retirement Aggie and I would help our biology–teacher friend Stephen Cochran conduct wildflower walks with small groups of his students at Lake Katharine on field trips. I always arranged to find the Pussytoes at the end of the walk along the Salt Creek Trail, so the entire walk would not be disrupted. Enthusiastic teenagers.
Also Wild Carrot. Queen Anne of England may have decorated her hair with these flowers. The umbrella–shape of the flower is called an umbel. Numerous short blossom stalks radiate from a common point‚ resulting in a disc–like display of potentially hundreds of florets. Cultivated carrots are a variety of the wild carrot species. The root of the wild carrot‚ while edible‚ is said to be much less tasty than the fleshier cultivated root. Jack Sanders pointed out that rural folks used to cut the flowers with lots of stem remaining and place the stems in dyed water. The dye will migrate to the umbel to color the florets. Imagine what a bouquet one could assemble with several differently colored vegetable dyes.
Golden Ragwort, which flowers around May, is another yellow aster. Yellow asters are difficult to identify in the field because so many of them look alike. Here we have a yellow disk, and the stem leaves are deeply toothed. The basal leaf is heart–shaped and long–stemmed. In asters each yellow ray is a separate flower, and the disk is also made up of tiny flowers, called florets. The specific name aurea comes from the Latin word for gold. Golden Ragwort is a native perennial.
Also Wild Rose or Carolina Rose, a native perennial. The Rose family contains more than two thousand species. This particular rose is found more in open areas than in shaded woods. The flower produces edible rose hips. The Pasture Rose produces no nectar‚ so the bumblebees which typically visit the blossom are looking for pollen.
Previously classified in the genus Anemonella. What look like white or bluish–white petals are actually sepals, which are more typically a green bud covering. Rue–anemone, a native perennial, has five to ten petal–like sepals. The word rue in the common name refers to resemblance to a rue plant, not to regret. The word anemone means “wind” in Greek, but the association with this plant is unclear. Perhaps it refers to a windy environment, but at Lake Katharine Rue–anemone is found in the sheltered forest along the Salt Creek trail. Rue–anemone produces seeds with elaiosomes, tasty bits which induce ants to carry the seeds away from the parent plant. The ants eat the elaiosomes and then discard the seeds, which germinate after this dispersal, in a process called myrmecochery.
The family, genus, and common name of this inconspicuous native perennial — Saxifrage — means “stone breaker”. Carol Gracie and Jack Sanders both suggest that the taxonomist must have noticed this flower growing in the cracks and crevices of large rocks in the woods. You can find them in the early spring in similar places at Lake Katharine on the Salt Creek and Calico Bush trails. The taxonomist must have fantasized that the flower broke the rocks asunder. Hardly. The rocks had been broken previously, perhaps by freezing and thawing, and the flower simply germinated in that niche. A classic case of inferring causation simply by noticing that one thing happens after another thing happens. Jack Sanders also theorizes an ecological function for the hairy stem, readily apparent in the lower photo. A wildflower would achieve wider dispersal of pollen from flying insects than from ants and other crawlers. The hairy stem impedes ants and beetles, leaving the precious nectar for fliers. This tactic may be contrasted with myrmecochory, by which ants are induced to carry seeds away from the parent plant. See the discussion in the entry for Dutchman’s Breeches.
Also Heal–all. This perennial alien is a member of the Mint family, with characteristic opposite leaves and square stem. According to Arthur Stupka, old–time herbalists in Europe used it to treat throat ailments. The plant when young can be eaten as a soup or salad. It contains vitamins A, C, and K. It’s called a weed anyway. The genus name Prunella supposedly refers to an old German term for throat inflammation, and the species name vulgaris just means common.
This unusual looking perennial native early–spring wildflower is endangered in Pennsylvania. Robert Henn warns that Showy Skullcap should never be picked. The generic name Scutellaria refers to the Latin scutella, which means “little dish”. This apparently describes the shape of the flowers’ sepals. Serrata means “saw–toothed” and describes the leaf edges. Look at this flower and tell me why you would name it from the sepals and the leaves. The flower obviously portrays a showy skullcap. Some members of the genus are used as folk medicine to treat anxiety. Mr. Henn also states that the new binomial name for this wildflower is Scutellaria montana. Other authorities retain serrata as the specific name.
White Snakeroot is a perennial native aster, found in woods in the summer and fall. The plant contains tremetol, a poison. When cattle eat the plant, the poison concentrates in the milk and meat. When consumed by humans, “milk silkness” results. Nancy Hanks Lincoln famously may have died from milk sickness. Nowadays milk from the dairy is so mixed from various sources that the hazard from milk sickness is minimized. White Snakeroot used to be classified in the same genus as Common Joe Pye Weed, namely Eupatorium. Botanists have recently split up that genus, and White Snakeroot wound up in the genus Ageratina. The genus name means “un–aging”, apparently referring to longevity of blooming. Altissima means “tallest”, referring to White Snakeroot being the tallest plant in its genus.
A native perennial. Jack Sanders has a chapter on Solomon’s Seal. He distinguishes this plant, sometimes called “true” Solomon’s Seal with greenish flowers dangling under the leaves, from so–called False Solomon’s Seal, which has white flowers at the end of the leafy stalk. The genus name Polygonatum means “many kneed” in Greek, referring to the joints of the stem. Biflorum means “two–flowered” and refers to the characteristic of two flowers dangling together underneath the leaf. Several possible explanations for the common name are offered, but none is convincing. The nondescript light green color and placement of the flowers beneath the leaf might make access to the nectar and pollen more difficult for crawlers as opposed to flying insects. This in turn may encourage a wider range of pollination.
Very abundant in early spring at Lake Katharine. The tiny blossoms are pinkish to whitish‚ depending upon various factors in the flower’s microniche. Many wildflowers blossom in the early spring before the trees leaf out. Obviously this allows the Spring Beauty’s leaves to catch sunlight to photosynthesize and build up starch in its tuber. The flowers open when the temperature exceeds 52°. The bees which visit the flower most frequently become active at about 55°‚ so the bees mesh pretty well with the flowers. The pink lines in the petals and the yellow spots at the base of the petals help guide the insects to the nectar and pollen.
On the first day the flower is open the anthers release pollen. On the second day the stamens bend away from the style‚ and the style splits into three stigma surfaces. Thus the flower transitions from its male phase to its female phase. That is happening in these photographs. The Spring Beauty closes its blossoms at night‚ when there are no pollinators around‚ and during rain‚ when the nectar could become diluted by rainwater. As with several other spring wildflowers‚ ants disperse the Spring Beauty seeds by myrmecochory. See Dutchman’s Breeches‚ above. The starchy underground tubers are supposed to be edible‚ but small.
st. john’s–wort family
Also called Common St. John’s–wort, a perennial alien, introduced from Europe. This flower is commonly used as an antidepressant‚ and an extract is sold in natural food stores. The active ingredient is hypericin. Some studies have apparently found St. John’s–wort effective in elevating mood‚ but not necessarily in treating depression. According to Jack Sanders‚ at the turn of the twenty–first century‚ St. John’s–wort outsold Prozac eight to one in Germany. Also‚ the petals turn red when crushed. This may be the association with St. John the Baptist‚ who was bloodily beheaded.
There are lots of species of St. John’s–wort, and they all look similar. Note that the Common St. John’s–wort has black spots around the edges of the petals. Spotted St. John’s–wort has dots spaced all over the petal’s surface. Shrubby St. John’s–wort looks bushy.
The genus name Hpyericum means “above picture”, which may refer to hanging plants over religious icons. That etymology sounds particularly strained. Perforatum refers to the perforated appearance of the leaves of the Common St. John’s–wort. Spotted St. John’s–wort is Hypericum punctatum, and punctatum means (wait for it) “spotted”. Finally, Shrubby St. John’s–wort is H. prolificum, and the species name refers to the prolific stamens which may partially obscure the petals.
This is a native perennial sunflower found in the summer in shady parts of forests as well as in more open areas. Note the leaves are paired in opposite orientation, and each pair of leaves is arranged at right angles to the leaves above it and below it on the stem. The stem itself branches. This maximizes the amount of sunlight reaching the leaves in the Woodland Sunflower’s shady environmental niche. Note also the leaves have very short or no petioles; that is, they are sessile, or attached directly to the stem.
Also Common Teasel or Fuller’s Teasel. This flower is not a thistle‚ though it looks like one. Dried teasel heads‚ like the one shown in the photograph‚ are often used in ornamental flower arrangements. Teasel is an invasive species which can outcompete other more desirable plants. At least the seeds in the flower head supply provender for nearby birds‚ including goldfinches.
Canada Thistle, a perennial alien, is difficult to distinguish from the closely related Bull Thistle‚ C. vulgare and Field Thistle, C. discolor. Thistles can propagate asexually by spreading roots horizontally‚ with new shoots for flowers. If the flowers do manage to achieve sexual reproduction‚ thistles can become profuse‚ to the dismay of the landowner.
I always wondered how a thistle could become the national flower and virtual symbol of Scotland. The Scotch Thistle is a different genus and species from Canada Thistle‚ but they are all thorny. According to Jack Sanders the legend starts with Norsemen (Vikings) invading Scotland and the native Celts. One night Norse soldiers sneaked up on a Scottish camp barefoot‚ to minimize noise. One invader unwittingly stepped on a thistle and yelped. This aroused the sleeping Scots‚ who awoke and‚ as is their wont‚ slaughtered the Norsemen. So the Scottish Thistle saved the nation on that particular occasion. In Ohio‚ thistles do well feeding goldfinches.
A native perennial pest found in dry fields, open woods, bikeways, and the like. This is the plant that produces stick–tights, the triangular seed pods with the hooked bristles which cling Velcro–like to your clothing or your dog’s fur. According to Robert L. Henn the Tick–trefoils belong to the family which enriches the soil with nitrogen. The genus name Desmodium derives from the Greek “desmos”, meaning bond, fetter, halter, or chain. Perhaps the word refers to bonding of the seed to clothing. “Hoary” and canescens both suggest a gray or white old appearance, and these names are unclear. At least even the casual observer can figure out what “tick-trefoil” means.
This plant’s Latin name was recently changed from Dentaria laciniata. The words Dentaria, laciniata, cut–leaf, and tooth all refer to the jagged appearance of the leaves. The expression wort means plant in the old English dialect. In the woods at Lake Katharine in the springtime, the easiest way to find and identify this plant is to notice the deeply cut leaves. Three leaves are whorled about the stem, and each leaf forms three leaflets. The tuber or rhizome is also said to have a toothed appearance. By the way, Cardamine simply refers to water cress in Greek.
Also Spotted–Touch–me–not or Orange Jewelweed. According to Henn’s Wild Flowers of Ohio‚ when applied to the skin‚ juice from the stem of this plant will relieve the burning sensation received from the Stinging Nettle. Jack Sanders in The Secrets of Wildflowers endorses Touch–me–not also to treat poison ivy. He maintains that the sap can dissolve the irritating poison ivy oil before it can adhere long enough to cause blistering.
Evolution has shaped the blossom of Touch–me–not for cross–pollination by Ruby–throated Hummingbirds. When the bird inserts its bill into the blossom for nectar‚ it brushes against pollen situated in just the right place inside the flower. The bird then deposits the pollen into the next blossom in just the right place to achieve pollination. Bumblebees do not achieve the same result because they cannot reach the nectar. White–tailed Deer‚ however‚ behave quite differently. They voraciously eat the entire plant.
Also Large–flowered Trillium. This Trillium in the past grew profusely enough to cover hillsides in the forest at Lake Katharine‚ until the deer population burgeoned. Now we find it in places the deer cannot reach. Trillium grows from a subsurface rhizome. The plant will not produce blooms until there is a sufficient quantity of nutrients in the rhizome. So first to appear are just leaves to photosynthsize starch for the rhizome. The rhizome shows a distinctive groove or stricture for each season’s stem. Botanists can count the strictures like tree rings in a trunk cross–section. According to Carol Gracie a Trillium plant can reach seventy years old. The species in the photograph‚ T. grandiflorum‚ may take sixteen or seventeen years before the rhizome produces a blooming flower.
Trillium seeds contain elaiosomes‚ which are tasty and nutricious bits attached to the outside of the seeds. Ants‚ daddy–longlegs‚ and some wasps carry the seeds away from the original plant‚ and eat the elaiosomes and discard the rest of the seed. The seeds end up in the ground well away from the original plant‚ and seed dispersal has been neatly accomplished. Carol Gracie explains the role of oleic acid in this process. The elaiosome contains this fatty acid‚ oleic acid. This same chemical is produced when ants die and start to decompose. Oleic acid triggers a behavior in ants to carry the dead ants outside the nest. This carrying behavior is also triggered by the oleic acid in the seed elaisome. That is‚ the ant carries the seed away. It turns out that daddy–longlegs and the wasps feed on dead ant bodies‚ and are probably attracted to the Trillium seed by the odor of the oleic acid. Trillium seeds literally smell like dead ants‚ and that is how the seeds get dispersed
Another species of trillium is purple trillium, which usually features red or purple petals. At Lake Katherine we found a variant of purple trillium which has white petals but a dark maroon ovary. See photograph at right. Ms. Gracie writes that this flower is a variant of purple trillium, and rare outside of the Smoky Mountains. The Latin nomenclature is Trillium erectum var. album. Until recently the trilliums had resided in the Lily family. Twenty-first century gene studies resulted in moving the genus to the Melanthiaceae family.
A native annual found in woodland borders in the late spring. The species name is perfoliata. A perfoliate leaf looks like the stem is piercing the leaf. Here the blossom appears to grow upward from the leaf. See also Large-Flowered Bellwort for another perfoliate leaf. The genus name Triodanis means “three teeth” in Greek, but no one seems to know what that has to do with this wildflower.
The identification here is uncertain because the Canada Violet is similar to the Striped White Violet‚ Viola striata. The Canada violet blossom rests upon a vertical stem which arises from an underground rhizome. The rhizome stores nutrients for the flower to use during the energy–intensive activities of sexual reproduction. This photograph clearly shows the “landing lights” lines on the petals for visiting insects. The fruits of this flower split open to release their seeds‚ and propel the seeds outward as much as five meters. The seed also has an elaiosome‚ which is an oil–rich tissue attached to its outside. Ants carry away the seed‚ eat the elaiosome‚ and discard the still–intact seed. Compare this to eating an apple and tossing away the core. Thus violets have the benefit of two different kinds of seed dispersal.
Four species of violets are commonly found at Lake Katharine‚ namely Common Blue Violet‚ Canada Violet‚ Yellow Violet‚ and Spurred Violet. I never thought the blue violet was blue; instead it is a shade of purple. These violets are symmetrical‚ with two upper petals‚ two lateral petals‚ and one lower petal. The lower petal serves as a landing platform for pollinating insects. The lines on the petals direct insects to the spur of the flower‚ where nectar awaits. Sort of like landing lights on an airfield. The anatomy of the flower dusts pollen onto the insect as it goes after the nectar. Then with a little bit of luck the insect cross–pollinates the next violet it visits for nectar. Note also the hairs at the entry to the spur. Like our eyelashes‚ the hairs prevent raindrops from entering the spur and diluting the nectar. They also provide legholds to assist insects to enter the inner sanctum.
Also Long–spurred Violet. Note the conspicuous upright nectar spur at the rear of the flower. The flowers are often a light blue with a dark center. Carol Gracie in Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast points out that a syrup for cooking is made from violets. Also‚ violet blossoms are sometimes simply tossed into a salad. The French at Toulouse make a confection called crystalized violets‚ apparently to decorate cakes.
Also Common Yellow Violet or Downy Yellow Violet. The species name pubescens refers in botany to a downy surface‚ here on the stems and leaves. The flower grows on a stem that originates in the axil of the leaf. Empress Josephine‚ Napoleon’s first wife‚ enjoyed violets. Napoleon always sent her a bouquet of sweet–smelling violets on their anniversary. Then he divorced her to marry Marie Louise in order to produce an heir. When Napoleon escaped back to France from Elba‚ he reputedly visited Josephine’s grave to pick violets to remember her by. Then he proceeded to Waterloo.
A native perennial, also known as American Bugleweed. American Water–horehound grows along wet creekbanks. It has tiny blossoms springing from the axil of the leaf‚ which is quite unusual. Axil means the angle between the upper side of a leaf or stem and the supporting stem or branch. This plant is considered a non–aromatic mint.
An annual native, found in fields, roadsides, and disturbed areas, blooming in late summer. The genus Erigeron includes the Fleabane wildflowers. We have Common Fleabane, Erigeron philadelphicus, shown previously. White–top is also closely related to Daisy Fleabane, Erigeron annuus. As Robert Henn points out, White–top features distinctive narrow lanceolate leaves in the upper areas of the plant. The related species have broader leaves. White–top has white daisy–looking flowers, but they are really tiny, each about one–half inch wide. As you can see in the photographs, in older flowers the disk florets turn from yellow to reddish.
A native perennial. The leaves are alternate(alternifolia), and feel sandpapery to the touch. The unbranched stem features distinctive “wings”. Wingstem blooms in the late summer‚ and can grow as tall as eight feet high. Being in the Aster Family‚ the blossoms are composite‚ with central disc flowers and radiating ray flowers. The ray flowers droop naturally‚ in a sort of haphazard way.
Also Teaberry or Deerberry, a native evergreen perennial plant found in the woods, flowering in early summer. This is the original source for wintergreen flavoring. The name “wintergreen” is also applied to Chimaphila maculata‚or Spotted Wintergreen‚ just below. The common name for this flower, Gaultheria procumbens, is just Wintergreen. Wintergreen is characterized as an aromatic because of a chemical, methyl salicylate, or oil of wintergreen. It smells minty, but Wintergreen is not closely related to Mint plants. Fun fact — check your list of active ingredients in Listerine. Methyl salicylate is in there. The genus name Gaultheria refers to an 18th century Canadian physician and botonist named Jean–Francois Gaultier. Wintergreen is in the same family as Blueberry.
A native perennial found in dry woods during the summer, also called Spotted Pipsissewa. Each leaf has a prominent white stripe down the middle. Spotted Wintergreen is also called, predictably, Striped Wintergreen. As Robert Henn points out, the leaves are evergreen, providing a contrast against the forest leaf litter that is easy to spot. Spotted Wintergreen favors acid sandy soils, especially under conifers and oaks. The genus name Chimaphila means “winter lover” in Greek, obviously referring to the leaves remaining green over the winter. The specific name maculata means "spotted". I do not know where the spots are.
A native perennial also known as Ohio Horsemint, found in woodland openings, fields, and the like, as opposed to deep forest. The species name ciliata means “hairs”, referring to the fine hairs on the stem, clearly shown in the photograph. This mint has square stems, like many other members of the family. One authority at least considers Downy Wood–mint edible, for salads and aromatic tea. Many of the mints have a similar look. Compare this plant, for example, with Self–Heal, above.
A native perennial found in both woods and fields in summer. The genus name Oxalis comes from the Greek “oxys”, meaning “sour”. The taste comes from oxalic acid. The plant is edible, adding a tart taste to salads and the like. On the other hand, oxalic acid inhibits the body’s uptake of calcium. I would stay away from it. The broad leaves curl up at night (nyctinasty) and uncurl in the morning to commence photosynthesis for the day. When the seed capsules of Yellow Wood–sorrel reach maturity, they pop open with sufficient force to toss the seeds up to thirteen away from the parent plant, in a process known as ballistic seed dispersal.
The species name millefolium means “thousand leaves”‚ referring to the numerous leaflets in the leaves. The leaves are said to be “twice cut”‚ because the leaves subdivide into leaflets. The many composite flowers arrange themselves into umbrella–shaped umbels. Early folks used Yarrow tea to treat colds and fever‚ according to Henn's Wild Flowers of Ohio. The genus name Achillea refers to the Greek hero Achilles, who is supposed to have used this plant medicinally.