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

Fall Fruits and Nuts

Taken on walks during the Annual Meeting & Conference

Taken on walks during the Annual Meeting & Conference

Persimmon: Diospyrous virginiana
Mockernut Hickory: Carya tomentosa
Pignut Hickory: Carya glabra
Strawberry Bush: Euonymus americana

Devil’s Walking Stick – October 2018 Wildflower of the month





John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society

Devil’s Walking Stick

Aralia spinosa

Devil’s Walking Stick is well-named – in winter the plant is recognized by an unbranched stem covered with sharp spines, not at all suitable for support while walking. In the growing season the plant produces enormous compound leaves that are divided three times (triply compound) and covered with irritating prickles. These are the largest leaves in North America, reaching four feet long and three feet wide, forming an umbrella-like canopy. Green in summer, they become attractive bronze-yellow to red in fall.

This is a shrub or small tree, that can grow to 30 feet, adding a tropical look to a naturalized setting or mixed shrubbery border. The greenish-white flowers are small, but in great clusters that can be three feet long, held above the leaves, and then drooping from the weight of the flowers. Covered with bees and butterflies in summer, the flowers are followed by dark-purple, juicy berries, very popular with birds and small mammals, that leave behind lacy red stalks.

Devil’s Walking Stick is very easy to grow, thrives on neglect and is adaptable to urban conditions. Full sun or part shade and any type of soil is suitable – the plant prefers moist, fertile loams but will tolerate soils with rocks and clay. Devil’s Walking Stick is often found along well-drained stream banks and roadsides. It grows rapidly and spreads by self-seeding and sprouts from the base, eventually creating a thicket. A pioneer species, the plant disappears as a forest is maturing.

Scattered throughout eastern U.S. and most counties in Virginia, Devil’s Walking Stick grows in upland and low woods and woods edges.   While it could be an accent or ornamental, Devil’s Walking Stick is too aggressive for the home garden, but since the flowers and fruits are so valuable to pollinators and birds, it is suitable for planting in large lots, along the edge of woodlands.

Deer tend to avoid browsing on the prickly leaves, and the plant has no disease problems, nor insect infestations.


For more information about native plants visit

By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Photo: Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa) taken by Helen Hamilton


Elderberry – July 2018 Wildflower of the Month

sambuscus canadensis helen wildflower

John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society

Helen Hamilton

Sambucus canadensis

This is a large, sprawling shrub growing 5-12 feet tall, one of the first to leaf out in the spring. Elderberry can be a showy ornamental for the garden, producing attractive flowers and berries all season long. It will tolerate a wide range of soils, but prefers moist, organic soils in full sun to part shade. The yellow compound leaves turn golden in the fall, if planted in full sun.

This native shrub can spread aggressively by root suckers, forming thickets, so it is best massed in naturalized areas or in shrub borders, roadside plantings, or as a screen, particularly in wet or low areas. Heavy pruning periodically will help control its growth. Elderberry is found in all counties of Virginia and is native throughout eastern U.S. and south to Mexico.
Large, flat-topped clusters of fragrant, star-shaped white flowers appear in June through July and are followed by clusters of reddish-purple to black, berry-like fruits (drupes) in late summer to fall. The flowers furnish nectar and pollen to insects in the spring and in the fall over 43 species of birds enjoy the fruits. This is a highly desirable plant for wildlife, and it is moderately resistant to damage by deer.
In West Virginia, concentrated fruit syrup is made as a wintertime remedy for colds and flu; studies have shown its effectiveness for treatment of colds and flu. While the bark, root, leaves and unripe berries are toxic, the fruits are edible when cooked, and may be used to make preserves, jellies, pies and wine. The flowers, not toxic, can be eaten in pancakes and fritters, and elderberry juice is a nice cold drink.
For more information about native plants visit

By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Photo: Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) taken by Helen Hamilton

2019 Nature Camp Scholarships


2019 Joint Application

Wild Quinine – September 2018 Wildflower of the month




Parthenium integrifolium

John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society

by Helen Hamilton


Wild Quinine is a prairie plant, growing to 4 feet tall and producing long-lasting white flowers. A sturdy, fleshy taproot provides support and moisture, so the plant is drought tolerant. It can thrive in full sun on poor soil, even clay, but prefers moist meadows and open woods.

Tiny disk flowers are surrounded by even smaller ray flowers, loosely branched in a flat-topped cluster, somewhat resembling the flowers of cauliflower that are separated. This is one of those asters that produce inconspicuous or no ray flowers, like dandelions and ironweed. Wild Quinine has a long blooming period, from late spring through summer, and the blossoms make nice indoor flower arrangements. Seedheads are charcoal-gray, adding winter interest to the garden.


Landscape designer C. Colston Burrell recommends growing these plants in moist, rich soil in full sun or light shade. He says, “Use it as a specimen or as a filler in the middle of the border with rose mallow and coneflowers, or in a meadow with asters, goldenrods and ornamental grasses. This tough plant deserves a place in every garden, formal or wild.”

Leaves are largest at the base, with a rough, sandpapery feel and coarsely toothed edges. Deer don’t like the bitter-tasting, aromatic leaves, but bees, wasps, flies and beetles are frequent visitors for the nectar and pollen.

A native perennial, Wild Quinine grows in all regions of Virginia with the exception of the far southwest.  The plant grows naturally in prairies and dry woods from Virginia to Minnesota and south to Georgia and Arkansas.

The flowering tops were once used for “intermittent fevers” like malaria, hence the name Wild Quinine. The root was used as a diuretic for kidney and bladder problems and gonorrhea.  One study suggests Wild Quinine may stimulate the immune system.  It is a common addition to extracts of Purple Coneflower (E. purpurea), historically and in modern times.

For more information about native plants visit

By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Photo: Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) taken by Helen Hamilton