Wildflower Spot– June 2019
By Helen Hamilton

Vaccinium stamineum

Photo: Phillip Merritt

Deerberry is a member of a large genus which includes blueberries, and cranberries.  This species is a tall (to 10 feet) deciduous shrub with variable foliage, mostly egg-shaped.  Leaves are thin and not toothed, typically whitish underneath. 

Unlike the closed, tubular buds and flowers of blueberry, the flowers of deerberry are open, and dangling along the stem.  The petals are flaring with the stamens and styles extending outside.  Greenish-white, pink-tinged flowers appear May-June; in late summer and fall greenish-purple fruits, sometimes white-powdered, appear, furnishing food for birds and small mammals.

Found over eastern U.S. and Canada, Deerberry is native to all counties in Virginia, growing in dry woods.   “Vaccinium” is the classic name for blueberries; “stamineum” refers to the prominent stamens.  While edible, the berries are not as flavorful as those of other species. 

For more information about native plants visit

By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter,




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 and  the chapter website at
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.

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

Got plants?




 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:

Sue Voigt                                                  Lucile Kossodo                          

804-966-8487                                              757-565-0760

Thank You!
















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