Saturday, May 29, 2010

Flowers of the Floodplain

I had a few minutes yesterday evening to walk back to the creek and see what was blooming. The nasty storms that came through the county last weekend missed us by several miles, so the creek didn’t flood. I’m glad. A flood this time of year really messes up the flower display. Fire Pink, Silene virginica, is just beginning to bloom. The red is so vibrant that it almost looks to be an artificial addition to the photo.

Blue Jay Barrens is located in the upper reaches of the watershed, so the floodplain is not typical of what most people imagine. It’s rare to have a rain intense enough to bring the water very far beyond the creek bank. When we do have a heavy rain, the flood event is extremely violent and only hours or sometimes minutes in duration. Smooth Phlox, Phlox glaberrima, doesn’t stand up to flood water. I think the pastel pink of the flower makes it the most beautiful of the phloxes.

This is one of the last of the Wild Comfrey, Cynoglossum virginianum, plants to bloom. When the hairy leaves begin to emerge early in the spring, I always think Common Mullein. That’s just a fleeting thought, though after seeing these plants in the same location for 25 years you would think I would just forget about mullein. These neat little petals are fused at the base and fall as a single unit after the flower is pollinated. The dropped blossoms look like party hats dropped by a crowd of New Year’s Eve revelers.

Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, is about at its peak right now. The floodplain soils are deep and well drained, with adequate moisture to growing conditions perfect for plants like this.

Great Wood Sorrel, Oxalis grandis, grows in the part of the floodplain that is least likely to sustain flood damage. This plant can get to be over two feet tall with leaves that stretch to two inches across. The yellow flower seems to be favored by butterflies and other insects. The leaves have a soft purple edge that almost seems fluorescent at times.


  1. First, thank you for naming the Wild Comfrey. I have encountered this in two locations recently (one of which being our woods), and I've not had success identifying it with my field guide. Otherwise, it's interesting that you note that the Firepink is just starting to bloom in your area. Ours are just about done. Also, all of the flowers you show here (except the wild columbine) grow on our property, but they are not in what I would consider to be terribly wet areas - in fact, we are quite uphill from any floodplain areas, although we have a number of ravines and a small creek where the water does run its course from our property to the creek across the road. Unfortunately floodplains are not something we have covered in our OCVN training (but we will talk about watersheds in a few weeks, so maybe then we'll learn about them). Thanks, as always, for all the good info!

  2. I just discovered this blog a few days ago, and was amused to come back to it right after finishing writing a post about fire pinks to see the very same flower here! I agree, the color is so bright they barely look real. I'm in the Dayton area, and our fire pinks just started blooming within the past week, but our columbines are already finished for the year. Funny how much the timing can vary even within a fairly small geographic area.

  3. Hi, Heather. Floodplain doesn't necessarily equal wet. The floodplain is that nearly level ground right beside the stream. As the name implies, it is the area that goes under water when the stream floods.

    Whether a floodplain is wet or not depends on the type of soil that developed there. Here at Blue Jay Barrens, the floodplain soils are well drained, so the only time they are wet is when it is actually flooding. My floodplain soils provide conditions that the plant field guides might describe as "Rich Woods". My woodland soils would be described as being thin and extremely dry. So if you have deep, well drained soil in your hilltop woods, you should find the same plants that I would find in my floodplains.

    Welcome, Rebecca. Even close to home I see a lot of variation in the timing of plant growth. I've wondered if it's due to climatic variations that might shuffle the variables every year or if it's tied to genetic variations between distant populations that would make your bloom times always out of sync with mine.