Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Early May Bloomers

I like to keep records of when plants bloom. I’ve found many rare species by researching their blooming period in relation the plants common to Blue Jay Barrens. By watching the progress of the common plants, I know just when I should be looking for the rarities. By studying local plant lists and species range descriptions, I know what plants I’m likely to find here. By learning the habitat needs of the rarities, I know where to look. There have been several instances where I’ve walked straight out and found the exact plant I was looking for. This common plant of the dry prairies is White Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium albidum.

White Blue-eyed Grass is not a grass. It’s a member of the Iris family. The bloom color can range from white to pale blue and a stand of plants may display the entire range of shades. I’ve had good luck producing plants from seed, but in the garden bed, it becomes very robust and looks like a plant on steroids or the result of radiation experiments. I prefer the dainty appearance of the wild grown plants.

Their preferred habitat is a dry slope where the grasses don’t give much early season competition. Their small stature hides them from a distance and it’s hard to get an idea of the total extent of the plants without actually walking the entire hillside.

A plant that shares the same habitat is the Seneca Snakeroot, Polygala senega. The beauty of this plant is hidden from distant eyes, but a close examination of the bloom reveals a flower that rivals many of the orchids. From a standing position, it’s often difficult to tell if the plant is even in bloom. This is definitely one of those plants you need to bow down to.

Violet Wood Sorrel, Oxalis violacea, is a low growing woodland plant that is overlooked by many hikers. I don’t know exactly what insect pollinates this plant, but it’s got to be something that flies. The colors and stripes on the throat of this bloom have got to be designed for guiding in flying insects. I bet this is one of those flowers that glows vividly under ultraviolet. Staring at the flower, I can almost feel a physical pull on my eyeball from that design.

This is Polemonium reptans. There’s no question about the scientific name, but the common name can lead to confusion and sometimes argument. Gleason & Cronquist, the reference I use for plant nomenclature, calls the plant Jacob’s Ladder. Other references consider it to be Greek Valerian. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus as to which common name is proper. Regardless of the name, this is a lovely plant that commonly grows in the low ground near the creek. It produces prodigious amounts of seed that are easily germinated. The resulting plant puts on tremendous growth in the garden and is one of those plants that increases in beauty as it increases in size.

Dwarf Larkspur, Delphinium tricorne, is one of my favorites. It’s a low growing plant of deep soils and comes in various shades of dark blue and purple. The vivid colors of the bloom are almost fluorescent.

Common Cinquefoil, Potentilla simplex, is a common plant of the old fields. I’m wondering if it will persist as other native perennials migrate in. I know it won’t be as plentiful in the future, but I hope it can maintain its representation.


  1. ...always love your wildflower posts. I've seen a lot of the Dwarf Larkspur and Jacob's Ladder along the Little Miami recently. You're definitely helping me learn my wildflowers!

  2. Thanks for the beautiful walk through the wildflowers! We have a native larkspur here that is similar to the one you show, but is Larkspur, Delphinium nelsoni Greene. They don't show up or bloom until sometime in June here.


  3. Kelly - I'm glad these posts can help. I used to hike along the Little Miami when I worked in Warren County years ago. I remember seeing a lot of scenic areas.

    Kathy - Thanks for visiting. Glad you enjoyed the post. I checked out the Delphinium nelsoni. It does look a lot like what we have here. A lovely plant.