BRDC wildflower walk.

April 17, 2011
Those attending were:

Lee and Smadar Chaffee,
Cathy and Ernie Wheeler, and Treton and Gabriel,
Scott and Debby Jackson-Ricketts.
Guides: Cecelia Mathis and Carol Broderson.

The sunny Sunday after the raging storm of April 16 was high-season for spring wildflowers on Blue Ridge Discovery Center's first wildflower walk of the season. There were ten of us who shared our enthusiasm and curiosity in a free-flowing and lively exploration along a portion of the New River Trail State Park near Fries, Virginia.

As we walked the easy trail, we enjoyed a profusion of blooms and informally shared knowledge of edibility and medicinal uses, Latin names along with multiple common names, and other sites for some of the less common plants.

The first flowers observed were dandelions, whose uses are many. One of the participants talked about using the early leaves in salads and the golden heads to make wine. As we continued, we noted that the common blue violet, Viola sororia, is another plant with multiple food and medicinal uses. Other violets found along the trail were Viola canadensis, Canada violet, and a white violet, Viola blanda, or sweet white violet.

Dutchman's breeches and bloodroot were still blooming, and we were treated with early red fire pink and the first of the columbine flowers that often grew from crevices in the boulders that protruded from the hillside. There were also masses of early saxifrage, Saxifraga virginiencis, growing all along the rocks. We saw two species of chickweed and the two species of spring beauty, Claytonia virginica and the more distinctly petioled and colorful Claytonia caroliniana.

Two bright yellow blooms that one of the hikers scrambled down the hillside to photograph gave us the opportunity to discuss the plant's two common names, dogtooth violet and trout lily. We flipped through one of our wildflower books to discover that this speckled-leaf species, Erythronium americanum, a member of the Lily family, blooms near the beginning of trout season in many states. Consequently, trout lily is an apt name.

Cutleaf toothwort and yellow corydalis were common. The larger, purple-blooming form of the blue cohosh was standing tall on the side of the trail. The inconspicuous hooked buttercup was the only member of that varied family blooming on our walk. Ground ivy, garlic mustard, and pink to purple-blooming dead nettle were everywhere.

Even inconspicuous wildflowers did not escape us. For those willing to crawl on the ground, the bishop’s cap, Mitella diphylla, offered the sight of dainty, white blooms along its single stem. The fresh green leaves of wild ginger, Asarum canadense, hid the maroon flowers that peeped from the forest floor of dead leaves and moist soil.

A shady, damp hillside carpeted with the trillium known as wake robin led us into a discussion of this prominent, three-leafed, woodland wildflower. With the pollen intact, the blooms ranged from yellowish to mottled/stripped pink and the more numerous maroon burgundy. We debated whether these different hues of wake robins are different species. If you have thoughts or information on this issue, we invite you to leave comments below.

We examined the umbrella-shaped leaves of mayapples to find the buds that would soon open, and realized that blooms of Solomon’s seal, false Solomon's seal, and bellworts would also soon color the slopes above the old railroad bed.

If you enjoy wildflower explorations, please join our next walk on May 1 as we explore early spring in another part of the mountains. Write for details.

Written by Carol Broderson and Cecelia Butler Mathis; photos by Scott Jackson-Ricketts