By Ian Stewart, Naturalist
As one of the team of DNS ‘weekend naturalists’ I have enjoyed sharing some amazing natural sights and scenes around Ashland Nature Center with excited visitors, many of whom were exploring the trails for the first time. Probably my favorite aspect of doing the walks every weekend is observing the gradual changes in the scenery as the trees or bushes leaf out and begin to produce berries or nuts, and the most interesting changes have been in the wildflowers. At present, the yellow invasive species like celandine and daffodils are gone and have been replaced with a new set of flowers, many of which are native.
The most striking wildflower currently in bloom is the Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana). This is a small perennial flower about 30 cm tall which grows in clumps in the damp soils of the floodplain. It has 3 large blue or purple petals and 6 bright yellow stamens, and usually only flowers in the morning. The flower stalks have the curious habit of twisting around each other so if you visit late in the day the Spiderwort appears to be strangling itself! The Spiderwort was one of the first native plants described and was brought back to Europe in 1629 during an early botanical expedition.
Another small native perennial flower found along the damp trails and boardwalk is the Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), which is also known as Eastern Waterleaf. It appears in late spring and can be easy to miss as it is only about 10 cm tall, but is very distinctive once known as the stamens and style (male and female reproductive organs) protrude from the corolla and give it a delicate, lace-like appearance.
Another small and delicate-looking species found along the pathway near the visitor center is the Foamflower (Tiarella species). The scientific name means ‘little tiara’ and refers to the pointed crown-like flowers which branch off from the stem.
The previous two species are quite conspicuous because the fluffy white flowers develop from a long stem which protrudes far above the leaves. A harder flower to spot but instantly recognizable once known is the Narrow-leaved or Pointed blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustofolium). This perennial native species is found alongside dry grassy trails and is actually in the Iris family but has long, thin grass-like leaves which mostly obscure the petals. The petals are only a few centimeters across but are a pretty light blue color with flattened ends and a diagnostic pointed tip on each one.
Try stopping by Ashland sometime soon – with a little bit of searching you should be able to find all four of these attractive native flowers!
Ian Stewart will be conducting bird banding sessions at Ashland Nature Center every Monday and Tuesday, 8am-11am, weekly through September. He will also be bird banding at Bucktoe Creek Preserve every Wednesday and Thursday, 8am-11am, weekly through September. Drop by to see what he is catching in the nets, and witness science in action!