Yellow Trout Lily May 2019 Wildflower of the Month

 
By Helen Hamilton

]Erythronium americanum


 

In early spring, look for a bright yellow flower, drooping towards the ground (“its eyes look downwards”).  Each stem is only 4-6 inches tall with a solitary flower on top.  A member of the lily family, the trout lily has flower parts in threes, i. e., 3 yellow “sepals” and 3 yellow “petals” and 6 stamens in two circles of three.  The fleshy green leaves with purple mottling are equally distinctive in the forest litter.  

Because trout lilies are difficult to grow from seed, many bulb suppliers and nurseries sell the bulbs, which can be planted in the fall.  Remember to buy from nurseries that guarantee nursery-propagated seeds or plants as our native plants and habitats are at risk from being depleted. 

If left undisturbed, plants will slowly spread by underground shoots.  Despite its ability to spread, the trout lily is not considered an aggressive spreader but rather a delight to have in one’s garden.  Trout lily grows best in moist, acidic woodland soils, but can adapt to growing in many types of gardens. 

The flowers have a short life, but the leaves remain as ground cover throughout the growing season.  It is important to choose an appropriate site, with sun in the spring — to warm the earth and provide enough light for the lilies to make and store food — and shade or partial shade in the summer.  Trout lilies are lovely intermingled with other spring ephemerals such as bloodroot or spring beauties.  They do not transplant well.
 
The common name refers to the appearance of the flowers during trout fishing season, and to the brown and purple spotted leaves.  “Dogtooth violet” refers to the appearance of the bulbs, although this plant is not related to violets.  Trout lily is found throughout the state of Virginia, and ranges south to Florida and Alabama.
While not recommended today because of some toxicity, Iroquois women ate the leaves to prevent conception and the plant has anti-bacterial properties. 
For more information about native plants visit www.vnps.org and  the chapter website at www.vnps.org/johnclayton/
Photo: Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) taken by Helen Hamilton

Virginia bluebells April 2019 Wildflower of the month

Virginia Bluebell, Virginia cowslip (Mertensia virginica)

by Helen Hamilton,  John Clayton Chapter

Virginia Bluebell is a beautiful spring wildflower that produces funnel-form pendant flowers beginning as pink but then turn blue as the flowers open. They are pollinated by bees that are large enough to push their way up the tube, and more commonly by butterflies and moths.

This native perennial is a spring ephemeral – the leaves first appear in March as deep purple, quickly turning green. They are large, 2-8 inches long and somewhat fragile as the stems are nearly hollow. Clumps grow up to 2 feet tall and go dormant by early summer after the flowers fade and seeds are formed. With no remnants of the plant remaining, it’s easy to assume it is gone, making the mistake of digging and planting in the same location. Installation of other shade-loving perennials should be done while the plant is still visible. A stunning combination for the spring is with yellow daffodils and pink tulips. Native ferns, Solomon’s Seal, trillium, and Foam Flower would work well also.

It’s difficult to move these beautiful plants. Small seedlings can be transplanted, but they will take several years to bloom. Mature plants have a long taproot and once established, they don’t like to be moved. If necessary larger plants can be moved when dormant, into areas with abundant moisture. Bluebells have few pests and deer don’t bother them.

The natural range of Virginia Bluebell is New York to Michigan, and south to Alabama and Missouri.  It is a plant of Virginia’s mountain and piedmont areas, rather than coastal regions, so it must be given a moist, shady environment.

Early on this lovely flower made the trip to Europe, where it quickly became a regular in English gardens.  William Robinson, writing in “The English Flower”:  “…handsomest of all is the Virginia cowslip.  It is a charming old garden plant, and one which unfortunately has never become common.”

The genus is named in honor of F.K. Mertens, a professor of botany at Bremen, and the species honors Virginia. 

Photo: Helen Hamilton

Behind the Scenes….

 

The John Clayton Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society is a nonprofit committed to educating the public about the value of native plants. Our big event of the year, the plant sale, is an ongoing effort. Beginning the year before the sale, we dig, purchase, propagate, and nurture a large number and variety of exclusively Virginia native plants suitable for our region. Through this effort, thousands of native plants are distributed to home and school gardens in our area. With the proceeds we provide Nature Camp scholarships, free lectures by experts in scientific fields of research, and free plant identification walks and workshops.

Purple Passionflower – August 2018 Wildflower of the Month

John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society

by Helen Hamilton

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Purple Passionflower  (Passiflora incarnata)

Unbelievably, this tropical-looking flower is native to Virginia, and is common here in the southern Coastal Plain. Intricate, 3-inch lavender flowers have a fringe of wavy, hair-like segments, banded with purple and on top the 5 sepals and petals.  Three styles extend from the ovary in the center of the flower, a unique arrangement allowing only the largest bees to accomplish pollination. Leaves are toothed along the edges and 3-lobed.

Purple Passionflower is a host plant for the Variegated Fritillary butterfly.  Emerging early in the spring, female butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of this plant, and may produce as many as 3 broods through the year.  Caterpillars can be seen feeding on the leaves throughout the summer and into the fall. Yellow Passionflower (P. lutea), also native to Virginia, is not quite as showy, with smaller yellow flowers and a small black berry as fruit.

Growing in fields, pine woods and fencerows widely across Virginia, the plant occurs in southeastern U.S. and Bermuda and west to Oklahoma and Texas.  Any soil will do, rich is preferred.  Full sun produces more flowers, and the drainage can be moist to dry.   The plant has deep roots and will colonize to form groundcover.  In a controlled garden or flower bed, this viny plant should be located in a container, sunk into the ground.

Dedicated to share knowledge and record newly discovered species and created hybrids, Passiflora Society International has a website, annual meetings, and biannual newsletters.  There are over 500 species of the genus Passiflora, mostly vines, shrubs and trees of tropical America.   Native to South America and sold often in local nurseries, the leaves of non-native Blue Passionflower (P. caerulea) have 5 lobes, not 3. Many other cultivars and tropical species are available online and in the nursery trade.

The Passionflowers were discovered by a Roman Catholic friar in Mexico in the early 1600’s.   Symbolism to the Christian passion abounds.   The combined sepals and petals could represent 10 apostles (omitting Peter who denied, and Judas who betrayed), the five anthers = the five wounds, the column of the ovary = the cross, the stamens = the hammers, the three stigmas = the three nails.

 However, American Indians already used the plant in folk medicine and as an aphrodisiac, attaching a different meaning to the plant’s name.  Chemists have found drugs in Passionflower used to combat insomnia and anxiety.  A writer in southern Appalachia advises:  “After you have lived with someone for many years the little things they do start to bother you.  So you take some passionflower leaves and make you a tea.  Pretty soon you start to relax and the little things don’t bother you so much and you get along fine.” Passionflower tea and liquid extracts are widely available.

Another name, Maypop, comes from the hollow yellow fruits that pop when crushed.

The fruit is greenish-yellow, edible and makes a very good jelly.  In 1612 Captain John

Smith reported that in Virginia the Indians planted a wild fruit like a lemon, which begins to ripen in September.  It is the official state wildflower of Tennessee.

 

For more information about native plants visit www.vnps.org.

By Helen Hamilton, past-president of the John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Photo: Passionflower Vine (Passiflora incarnata) taken by Helen Hamilton