Wildflowers by walk or by car

The cheerful spreads of daffodils that were such a welcome sight a month to six weeks ago are beginning to fade.  While they’re usually a sign of a home where they were planted, or frequently an old homesite, you don’t need to look any further than our roadsides in the Highlands for the next round of delicate beauty, and springtime cheer.

One of my early favorites is bloodroot because of childhood memories of breaking off the stem down close to the ground, and painting our arms and faces with the red liquid squeezed out in designs. This fragile spring flower develops upwards out of the center of its curled leaf, opening in full sun, and closing at night. Like most members of the Poppy Family, it doesn’t live very long. Its petals are white and the center is yellow.  The red juice from the underground stem was used by Native Americans as a dye for baskets, clothing, and war paint, as well as for insect repellent. The generic name, from the Latin sanguinarius, means bleeding.  Sanguinaria canadensis plants are found growing in moist to dry woods and thickets, often on floodplains and near shores or streams on slopes. 

   Virginia bluebells, another favorite, can make a small field, or wooded wetland look like a piece of the sky has dropped down to earth.  Mertensia virginica, also called cowslip, lungwort oyster leaf and sometimes even Roanoke Bells are ephemerals with the foliage dying back not long after the violet blue flower is past.  Bluebells grow well in a garden setting too, in loamy soil that is not overwatered.

One more ephemeral is Dutchmens’ Breeches.  The flowers of these are on a long bare stem and truly look like little rows of upside down white puffy pants hanging on a line. The leaves come out towards the bottom of the stem and are feathered with lots of lobes.  Dutchmen’s breeches are especially important to early bumble bees for pollen collection.

Trillium is the ideal wildflower for anyone new to identifying because it is so easy to spot.  It has three petals and three leaves.  The flowers turn from white to pink as they age.  It may grow a foot to fifteen inches tall in a light range from sun to shade in rich soil.  The fruit or seed is white, and oval in shape.  As the berries begin to darken, five to six weeks after the plant has flowered, they can be collected to start a domestic trillium patch.

I found a list of about fifty varieties of violets, and was surprised to learn  what I’ve always thought of as a dog-tooth violet is actually a lily.  It doesn’t remind me at all of the little blue and purple plants easy to identify as violets.  The sign of a true trout Lilly to me has always been the  smooth flat, dappled red-purple and green leaves, and the very delicate yellow flower.  These are just a few of the amazing variety of wildflowers that you can see now in walks or drives throughout the mountains.  If you take any pictures, and would like to share them on the Allegheny Mountain Radio Facebook page, just send them in a message.

With appreciation for some of the information in this report to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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