Pears and Cherries March 2019 Wildflowers of the Month

Soon spring will come with flowering fruit trees—serviceberry, pears, apples, cherries—all members of the Rose family, so the flowers look quite similar, with 5 white or pink petals and many stamens in the center.

First to bloom is serviceberry, a somewhat crooked small tree or shrub with slender flower petals. When flowering begins, the leaves are still folded, only about half-grown, and covered with a fine, soft gray fuzz; later the leaves are smooth and dark green. The flowers produce many small, red, sweet and juicy fruits resembling tiny apples, often well-hidden by the leaves. These fruits would be popular with people were they not so quickly consumed by birds and other wildlife.Two species of Amelanchier grow in the Coastal Plain, distinguished by the sepals that are erect and spreading in A. canadensis or curved downward in A. arborea. Early colonists noticed the tree blooming when the shad were running, hence one of its common names, shadbush. It was also known as “serviceberry” since the local ministers could visit winter-bound homes as the roads became passable, performing weddings and funerals and other services. However, in our area, serviceberry has been largely replaced by the introduced Bradford or Callery pear, Pyrus calleryana. This tree has a distinctive pyramidal shape covered with dense clusters of white flowers. Appearing before the leaves, the five-petaled flowers cover the tree in abundance, although many people find the odor of the flowers unpleasant. Flowers pollinated primarily by flies, not bees and other insects, always have a fetid smell.

Much has been written about the invasive character of Bradford pear. Native to China and Vietnam, it was named for the Chinese scholar Joseph-Marie Callery, who sent specimens of the tree to Europe from China. The species first came to this country in 1909, and in 1916 the U.S.Department of Agriculture brought in the plant to try to combat fire blight, which was devastating the commercial pear industry. Initially used as rootstock for common pear, it quickly became interesting as an ornamental. Various cultivars from China were also introduced and grafted onto rootstocks, and the cultivar ‘Bradford’ is one of the results.

Blossoms of Serviceberry (left) and Bradford Pear (right) Originally bred to be sterile, Bradford pear is now cross-pollinating with other pears, subsequently producing fruits and seeds that are relished by birds, which spread the seeds in their defecations. They grow in dense populations, especially in disturbed areas and along roadways, and are displacing native trees. This tree grows quickly, to fifteen feet in ten years, but the crown is dense and the branches are long, making it susceptible to damage by wind and ice damage. The tree will split, fall apart, or uproot in strong winds or heavy ice. Because this tree does not have a long life, is damaged by storms, and outcompetes native species, it should not be planted in any residential or commercial landscapes. Unfortunately, nurseries offer the plant for sale, and many developments, seeking to enhance their entrance-ways will plant the tree in rows along the median.

Serviceberry and pears bloom in March through early April and can be separated by (1) somewhat straggly appearance of the trunks of serviceberry. and (2) the pyramidal shape of Bradford pear and the unpleasant odor of its flowers.  Apples and cherries bloom a little later, in late April or May. Southern crabapple, Malus angustifolia, is native in the Coastal Plain and the introduced Common Apple, Malus pumila, has been cultivated and is now widely naturalized across the state. Apples and cherries can be separated by their tree trunks—on cherry trees the bark is dark and shiny with horizontal lens-shaped spots (lenticels), whereas the bark of crabapples is light-colored and the branchlets are thorny.

These 4 genera—serviceberry, pears, apples, and cherries—can be separated also by flower structure. Apples, pears, and serviceberry all have inferior ovaries, closely surrounded by other tissues; the ovary becomes the core of the fruit and the part we eat is derived from the fleshy flower cup that adheres to the ovary as the fruit develops. The dried remnants of the flower—tips of sepals, stamens and pistils—can often be seen at the top of apples and pears, opposite the stem.  Among these 4 genera, only the cherries (Prunus sp) have superior ovaries, that is, when the flower is dissected, the ovary can be seen free at the bottom of the flower.
There is no scar at the top of cherries, nor central core, since the superior ovary alone becomes the fleshy fruit we eat.

Many cultivars of these blooming fruit trees are widely planted for their spring flowers and colorful foliage. In autumn the native serviceberry shows a variety of colorful hues, from yellow and gold to orange and deep red. This plant is striking when placed in a mixed shrubbery border where its brilliant white blooms and fall color stand out nicely against a background of evergreen shrubs.

Helen Hamilton

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 Now is the time!


If you  have native plants in your yard that you would like to donate for the sale,

please let us know so we can arrange to get them dug and potted in time:

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804-966-8487                                              757-565-0760

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Think Spring!

The John Clayton Chapter Annual Native Plant Sale is April 20th!

This year’s theme is Native Plants for Butterflies and other Pollinators. Our native insects need your help. Please put Saturday, April 20 on your calendar and make some room in your garden for plants that support them.   Doors will open at 9:45 am.

Thank you!!

British Soldier Lichen February 2019 Wildflower of the Month

British Soldier Lichen Cladonia cristatella
Photo by Helen Hamilton

A bright spot in the woods and meadows in winter is this little lichen with the red caps, named for the red uniforms of the British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. The surrounding material is gray-green, a color characteristic of lichens, reflecting their dual lifestyle. A green alga Trebouxia erici supplies nourishment by its photosynthesis while the fungus, Cladonia cristatella furnishes necessary water and nutrients.

Lichens are not plants, but an association, often called “mutualism” of two, and sometimes three different organisms. Often gray-green in color, their growth form can be shrubby, as is this species, leafy, or crusty, among others. Certain lichens live on leaves, as parasites. Sexual reproduction is by spores, formed in ascospores, the red caps of this species, and bowl-shaped structures in other lichens. They reproduce asexually when a fragment is broken from the main body, and by producing microscopic, dust-like particles distributed by the wind.

These are extremely important organisms ecologically. They can transfer nitrogen from the air to the soil in a form usable by plants, they break down old wood, returning nutrients to the soil, and can grow on bare rock, eventually dissolving the rock and creating minute bits of soil. Very sensitive to air pollution, a lack of lichens in an area indicates an unhealthy atmosphere.

British Soldier is usually found on mossy logs, tree bases, and stumps. Native to North America, this species is widespread in Virginia, common in moist exposed roadside soil and rotting wood, especially in sunny openings.

Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS
For more information about native plants, visit

Poison Ivy- January 2019 Wildflower of the Month


Photo: Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) taken by Helen Hamilton

(Toxicodendron radicans)

“Leaflets 3, let it be!” Few plants carry 3-parted compound leaves, and this is an easy way to recognize a very irritating plant. Some bean vines have 3-parted leaves, but poison ivy is woody, and attaches with aerial roots. Not related to invasive English ivy, poison ivy can grow as an erect shrub or climber. Leaves are variable – they may be stiff and leathery or thin, hairy or not, shiny or dull, toothed or not. The red or yellow fall foliage is especially conspicuous.

Twigs are brown with short aerial rootlets; old stems, covered with fibrous roots, look hairy. Small yellowish flowers blooming in May-July produce small clusters of round white fruits in August-November.

Poison ivy is found in every county in Virginia, and widely distributed throughout the eastern and central United States. A close relative with lobed leaflets of 3, poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens), does not extend into the northern states nor Canada, but is found in several coastal plain counties and across Virginia. Unlike poison ivy, poison oak never vines – it is always an upright shrub and it tends to occur in drier, sandier habitats than does poison ivy.

Human sensitivity to the irritating oil urushiol is variable, and 15-25% of the population is not at all allergic to poison-ivy and will never develop a reaction. Some people require prolonged or repeated exposure to the plant to develop a rash, but about half of all people will break out with a single contact, some requiring hospitalization. Without the leaves, poison ivy vines are difficult to identify in the winter, and for persons with high sensitivity, touching a stem or the roots will cause an allergic reaction.

Despite poisonous effects of the plant on humans, the fruits are relished by over 60 species of birds. Many seeds are passed undamaged through their digestive systems, allowing wide distribution of this noxious vine.

For more information about native plants visit

By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Southern magnolia – December 2018 Wildflower of the Month

Wildflower of the Month – December 2018
John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society
by Helen Hamilton

Magnolia grandiflora

Southern Magnolia is a magnificent tree of the South, densely covered with leathery, dark green, evergreen leaves. They are shiny on top and velvety brown underneath, much used in December for holiday decorations. Very large, very fragrant creamy-white flowers appear from spring and occasionally through summer. The flowers are 5 inches wide, usually with six thick petals, slightly cupped at the tips. Cone-like seedpods follow the flowers with large red seeds.

This handsome tree grows a straight trunk and conical crown and can get quite large, over 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide, so it needs a lot of space. Southern Magnolia is often planted as a lawn specimen when the lower branches are allowed to reach the ground. The tree grows best in rich, moist soils in part shade. It does not do well in extreme wet or dry soils and should not be planted near pavement because the roots can lift and crack concrete.

Few trees can match its year-round beauty. Deer do not bother Southern Magnolia, it has few pests or diseases, and is salt tolerant. The leaves can be a nuisance since they fall throughout the year and do not decompose. They can be chopped with a mower and sent back under the branches to recycle the nutrients.

Southern Magnolia is not really native to the southern Coastal Plain in Virginia but has been planted extensively throughout and frequently escapes into local woodlands and moist bottomlands. Dr. Stewart Ware says: “The northern limit of the natural range of southern magnolia when Bartram did his explorations was at the South Carolina/North Carolina border. But as soon as colonists began to introduce it into various places in North Carolina, it began to reproduce as birds spread the seeds. Presumably that means that the northern limit in colonial days was not solely climate, but was a combination of climate, transport, and competitive interactions.” The growth rate is slow – over the past 40 years, Dr. Stewart Ware has watched seedlings in the College Woods that are not over four feet tall and have never bloomed.

Photo by Helen Hamilton



Common hackberry – November 2018 Wildflower of the month

Wildflower of the Month – November 2018

By Helen Hamilton

COMMON HACKBERRY (Celtis occidentalis)

 Distinctive warty, cork-like ridges cover the smooth gray to light brown bark of Hackberry. The form is that of a shrub, with several woody stems growing from the base; the crown is rounded, and the branches spread and droop slightly.

The leaves are long-pointed and alternate on the stems. They have coarse teeth and mostly uneven bases and are rough on the surface, about four inches long.  Another species, C. laevigata, has subtle differences in the leaves; the Flora of Virginia states that the distinction between the two species “is problematic in Virginia.”

In early spring, inconspicuous yellowish-green flowers appear in small clusters, followed by small, orange to purple fruit on stalks at the leaf bases. Flowers bloom in April and May and fruits follow from October through November. Five species of butterflies, including mourning cloak, visit the flowers for nectar and many birds love the sweet, ripened fruits, often called “sugarberries.”

Common Hackberry grows in moist soils, usually along streams, and also in forests, meadows and fields. Growing naturally in most counties of Virginia, the range is from Canada south to Virginia and west to Oklahoma.  Hackberry is a good landscape choice since it grows rapidly, can resist strong winds, tolerate air pollution, provide erosion control and doesn’t require watering.

Hackberry is a member of the Cannabaceae, the Hops or Hemp Family, with 11 genera distributed worldwide. Economically important species are Humulus (Hops), Cannabis (Hemp) and Celtis (Hackberry), that can be cut into lumber for furniture and containers.

Hackberry resizedHackberry Bark resized







The common name apparently was derived from “hagberry,” meaning “marsh berry,” a name used in Scotland for a cherry. Small galls often produce tiny bumps on the leaves that are harmless to the tree and can be used to help identify the species. Contorted twig clusters called “witches’ broom” are often at the ends of branches. Produced by mites and fungi, they do little harm to the tree but can be unsightly. Some gardeners prefer cultivars that are resistant to witches’ broom for landscape use.

Native Americans used the hackberry for medicinal purposes as well as for food. The fruits (drupes) are sweet and sugary but with a hard stone that is rich is protein and fats. Survival manuals recommend crushing the entire fruits to a paste, then toasted into a bar.


For more information about native plants visit

Photo:   Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) taken by Helen Hamilton


Ferns & Mosses Field Trip Annual Meeting October 7 2018


Janis Stone (Prince William Wildflower Society chapter)

I became fascinated by bryophytes (liverworts, mosses and hornworts) several years ago, so when the VNPS conference offered a field trip on Ferns and Mosses at Freedom Park, I jumped at the chance.  I had already met two of the attendees online (as members of the Facebook group “VNPS Ferns Mosses and Lichens”), so I knew I was in good company.  The trip was led by Helen Hamilton (also a member of the Facebook group) and included nine eager participants.

As we stepped out of our cars, Helen immediately pointed out Goblet Moss (Physcomitrium pyriforme) growing under our feet between the paving stones and curbs.   She shared that goblet moss is mostly a spring ephemeral (and occasionally fall).  Unfortunately, right next to the parking area was a patch of invasive Beefsteak Plant (Perilla frutescens), a member of the mint family Lamiaceae.

We walked past the GoApe Treetop Adventure Course, looking at various lichens, mosses, and ferns along the way.  We spotted Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), which has fertile tips of the fronds are much smaller than the non-fertile parts.  The fern moss (genus Thuidium) we saw has a leaf structure similar to ferns, hence the common name.

Descending to a small streambed, we found Worm Moss (Bryoandersonia illecebra) with its many ascending parts that look like small green worms stretching up above the surface.  Tree Skirt Moss Anomodon attenuatus seemed to be growing up around nearly every available tree trunk.  There was some confusion over a vine growing up a tree that had suspicious poison ivy-like aerial rootlets, but looking up we quickly determined that it was something else, later identified as Climbing Hydrangea (Decumaria barbara), a.k.a., Woodvamp., a native to this coastal part of Virginia.

Passing by patches of Broad Beech Ferns (Phegopteris hexagonoptera), we made our way to a rotting log on the forest floor that was covered with a light green coating of Rustwort, the tiny liverwort Nowellia curvifolia.  Helen explained that on downed trees, those logs with retained bark would likely have moss growing on them, but this liverwort is commonly found on trees that have lost their bark.

We then spotted a Chain fern (Woodwardia areolata) near the stream and Hook Moss (Forsstroemia trichomitria) and Frullania spp. liverworts growing on the sides of trees. Healthy patches of Woollywort (Trichocolea tomentella) are along the sides of the stream, and elsewhere throughout the ravine.  This plant looks like moss, but no, it’s a liverwort, as examination under a lens reveals its hair-like, liverwort-leaved structure.

Working our way up the hill to another small ravine, Helen brought us to a site with yet another liverwort, Pallavicinia lyellii (no common name).  With lenses, we could clearly see the male (antheridia) and female (archegonia) structures growing from the green thallus gametophyte parts of the liverwort.

On the return path, we discovered a nice group of Lily-leaved Twayblade (Liparis liliifolia) in fruit, growing near several Nuttall’s Lobelia (Lobelia nuttallii).  We finished up with some Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens) before making our way back to our cars.

I know I missed some of the many IDs that Helen pointed out on the trip, but I was struck by how many of the liverworts (and ferns) she pointed out were the same ones I had discovered in Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve in Prince William and Fauquier counties.  It’s nice to know that when you start to pay attention to the small things in nature, you can rediscover old “friends” no matter where you go!

click photos to enlarge

Perilla frutescens

Perilla frutescens

Pallavicinia lyelli

Pallavicinia lyelli

Lobelia nuttallii

Lobelia nuttallii

Liparis lillifolia

Liparis lillifolia

New Quarter Park Plant Walk – Annual Meeting Oct 7 2018

Doug DeBerry’s walk in New Quarter Park for the Annual Meeting was an outstanding learning experience, great fun, and very productive. For several hours we were asked to look closely and try to identify most every fern, forb, grass, shrub, or tree we saw in an effort to create a list of species –ours totaled over 100! Here are just a few of the photos I took and what  remember as to identity! – Cathy Flanagan.  See the official final document prepared by Doug DeBerry: Species list_New Quarter Park Plant Walk (VNPS_DeBerry)_10.7.2018

White goldenrod (Solidago bicolor?),
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
Cranefly orchid (leaf) (Tipularia discolor)
Persimmon (Disopyros virginiana)
Broad Beech fern (Thelypteris hexagonoptera)
Heart’s a bustin (Euonymus americanus)
common blue wood aster? (Symphyotrichium cordifolium)
yellow crownbeard (Verbesina occidentalis)
pignut hickory (Carya glabra)
pine gall (rust fungi -Uromycladium)
Northern red oak (Quercus rubra)
Southern red oak (Quercus falcata)

click photo to enlarge

annual meeting New Quarter Park Doug DeBerry Resized

Native Plants in Downtown Williamsburg Annual Meeting Oct 6 2018

annual meeting cw walk resizeClick photo to enlarge

A few photos from the “Native Plants in Downtown Williamsburg” walk which was part of the line-up of field trips and walks for the 2018 Annual Meeting & Conference It was led by Phillip Merritt, landscape architect and past-president of the John Clayton Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society

Pictured above Top left: Seed and fruit of Yellow buckeye (Aesculus pavia) Top Right: Water Oak (Quercus nigra)
Bottom left: Phillip pointing out the silvery-white underside of the leaves – identifying feature of the of Magnolia virginiana Bottom Right – Ogeechee tupelo (Nyssa ogeechee)

For complete list of trees: Downtown Natives PDF from spreadsheet

Click photos to enlarge

Black gum, Black Tupelo, Nyssa sylvatica

Black gum, Black Tupelo, Nyssa sylvatica

Black gum branching pattern

Black gum branching pattern

Allee catalpa trees palace green

Allee catalpa trees palace green

Allee Catalpa trees palace green

Allee Catalpa trees palace green

American hophornbeam Oystra virginiana

American hophornbeam
Oystra virginiana

Eastern Red Cedar Juniperus virginiana

Eastern Red Cedar
Juniperus virginiana