May flowers (and rain)

Hi, Rachael again.

I said bring on the April showers, not May showers!

Here at the C&O Canal, we’ve had enough rain to wash out culverts, roads, parts of the towpath, and cause landslides. Many of the popular trails near the river had been flooded, and were too dangerous to access. The power of a flood-motivated river is amazing, though! Whole trees tumbled downstream and you can’t help but watch water roar through what is usually a quiet run. We placed sandbags around one of the Visitor’s center, but thankfully the river crested at a lower level than anticipated.

Hopefully this weather takes a break soon, or else I won’t get to find those floodplain plants!

Although not a roaring flood, these silver maples are usually dry up on the riverbank

But it is spring, so let’s see what’s growing (other than puddles).

Early in May was the best time to spot trout lilies or fawn lilies (Erythronium spp.). The white trout lilies are rare here in Maryland.

I am trying not to be mad aboutmissing them in flower (seriously, there are records for where they grow throughout the park, and I found ABSOLUTELY NO E. albidum open). They are still identifiable by the stigma, style, and capsule, which I guess I can call a happy compromise (no beautiful white petals, but at least they didn’t hide from me).

Erythronium albidum; Notice the white style topped by a conspicuously three-pronged stigma

Close enough! E. albidum flower

Erythronium americanum has a yellow stigma and style. The stigma is not conspicuously three-pronged.

E. americanum

Easy enough, right? Until a seasoned botanist suggests there might be an occurrence of another species of Erythronium that hadn’t been recorded here. Honestly I spent hours pouring through various Floras and websites and poking at the patches of leaves and capsules until I decided to sleep on it. Species identification can get far more complex than it needs to be, especially since living things are not as cleanly defined as text from a page.

The other species of Erythronium also has a yellow style, but Erythronium umbilicatum, unlike E. americanum, does not have auricled petals. Many of the physical characteristics for these two species of Erythronium, such as capsule shape and anther color are variable, which makes telling them apart tricky. According to the regional botanist, the style on E. umbilicatum is not persistent, and therefore the trout lilies in question were probably not Erythronium umbilicatum.

Enough about flowers-without-flowers. I promise there some easy-on-the-eyes plants, because that’s what everyone raves about when they hear I’m a botanist. Oh!–the wildflowers!

Trilium erectum (yep, I had to put this one on Instagram)

While I’m at it, I’d like to appreciate the enthusiasm I’ve seen for the plants in this park. Not only from staff and members of a native plant society, but visitors that just want some exercise do want to hear that there is something worth protecting. It’s nice to see a community that cares about their strip of wildlife, and individuals who want to learn about their park.

Tradescantia virginiana – spiderwort

Let me interrupt the flower photos with a copperhead molting on the towpath

Podophyllum peltatum — all parts of mayapple is poisonous, unless the fruit is perfectly ripe.

Paw paw flowers, which, I’ve been told, are pollinated by flies

There is concern about the number of paw paw ‘trees’ growing in what should be successional forests, since other seedlings such as maples and hickories have a hard time competing with paw paw. Deer do not like to eat these guys, so there is no natural control. It is becoming increasingly difficult to have something with a taller canopy so the understory can develop, with the ash trees dying out from effects of the emerald ash borer, and no more american chestnut trees. After that meeting with the regional inventory and monitoring team, I realized that I am not just learning about protecting rare plants here, but how to keep the forests healthy for future inhabitants. This park goes beyond us and beyond the canal’s locks and dams, which is important to remind myself when I think of the more direct ways I could be helping people.

Many of the rare and watchlisted herbaceous plants (that are not in the floodplain) grow in the understory in places with larger trees. While not as exciting as seeing them in person, I’ve got some photos for you!

Primula meadia — shooting star, formerly Dodecatheon meadia, an S3 in Maryland. The white flowers are Micranthes virginiensis.

Delphinium tricorne S3

Phacelia purshii, S3, miami mist (more of a floodplain/low area plant)

Phacelia covillei, S2, which looks similar to Nemophila aphylla, but the bracts of P. covillei are longer, and the capsule is flatter than round (grows like a weed)

Maianthemum stellatum, S2 (grows on riverbanks and forests, which are at stake)

Because I am sure there are enough flower photos on here;

Dead man’s fingers! 
“If you can bring nothing to this place / but your carcass, keep out” — William Carlos Williams “Dedication for a Plot of Ground”

Thanks for spending time with this post, and keep up the hard work!


Monocacy Aqueduct, the “unbreakable aqueduct”



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