Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast

Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History

Carol Gracie
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 290
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  • Book Info
    Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast
    Book Description:

    This exquisitely illustrated volume provides an in-depth look at spring-blooming wildflowers of the Northeast, from old favorites to lesser-known species. Featuring more than 500 full-color photos in a stunning large-sized format, the book delves deep into the life histories, lore, and cultural uses of more than 35 plant species. The rich narrative covers topics such as the naming of wildflowers; the reasons for taxonomic changes; pollination of flowers and dispersal of seeds; uses by Native Americans; related species in other parts of the world; herbivores, plant pathogens, and pests; medicinal uses; and wildflower references in history, literature, and art. The photos capture the beauty of these plants and also illustrate the concepts discussed in the text.

    A book unlike any other,Spring Wildflowers of the Northeastcombines the latest scientific research with an accessible, entertaining style, making it the ideal volume for readers of all levels of expertise.

    Showcases the Northeast's most spectacular spring-blooming wildflowersFeatures more than 500 full-color photosCovers the life histories, lore, and cultural uses of more than 35 speciesCombines the latest scientific research with an easy-to-read styleOffers something new for seasoned botanists as well as armchair naturalists

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4174-5
    Subjects: Botany & Plant Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Eric Lamont

    Rarely does a modern natural history book seamlessly combine the elements of exhaustive field-work by the author with extensive scholarly research.Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History,by noted author and accomplished botanist Carol Gracie, does just that. Gracie’s vision of weaving “science, culture, and beauty” into the framework of her book has been splendidly achieved.

    In her pursuit of observing and photographing wildflowers in the Northeast, Gracie has traveled as much as anyone, if not more. For her earlier book,Wildflowers in the Field and Forest, coauthored with the late Steven Clemants, she drove more than 27,000...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  6. Species Accounts
    • Baneberries
      (pp. 1-5)

      It is difficult to tell the two species of baneberry apart when they are not in flower or fruit. Both are perennials inhabiting deciduous woodlands, and both are similar in overall appearance and in the shape of their compound leaves with sharply toothed leaflets (fig. 3). However, when in flower, there are small but detectable differences: first, the inflorescence of white baneberry is cylindrical with the flowers densely congested on the raceme (fig. 4), in contrast to the inflorescence of red baneberry, which is more pyramidal with its flowers less densely arranged (fig. 1); second, and probably more important for...

    • Bloodroot
      (pp. 7-13)

      Bloodroot pushes its way up from the still-cold soil before one can count on frost-free nights (fig. 13). It grows in rich forests, often on hillsides. The leaves and flowers of bloodroot emerge at the same time, having developed underground a year before. A single leaf envelopes the flower, protecting the delicate pink flower stalk from wind and conserving warmth (fig. 14). The flower stalk elongates above the protective leaf and, if the weather conditions are favorable, opens its single flower (fig. 15). On overcast days and at night, the flowers remain closed, protecting their pollen during a time when...

    • Blue Cohosh
      (pp. 15-19)

      The generic name ofCaulophyllum thalictroidesis derived from the Greekcaulos, for “stem,” andphyllos, for “leaf,” referring to the fact that the stem of the plant can be perceived to be the stalk of the sessile leaf. The specific epithet indicates that the leaves of blue cohosh (fig. 35) resemble those of meadow-rue (Thalictrum). “Cohosh” has its origin in the Algonquin word for “rough,” a reference to the knobby rhizomes of this species, and the “blue” in its common name is descriptive of the “berries.” Blue cohosh is also called papoose root or squawroot for its reputed use...

    • Blue-eyed Mary
      (pp. 21-25)

      Blue-eyed Mary had eluded me until just a few years ago, when I had the opportunity to visit Missouri in early spring. Although the species grows in my home state of New York, it is uncommon and is found in only a few counties in the northern and western parts of the state. I am always intrigued by some of the more charming common names of plants (enchanter’s nightshade, ladies’-tresses, dragon’s mouth, and pussytoes come to mind), and I am always eager to see these plants “in the flesh,” so that I can ascertain for myself the basis for such...

    • Celandines
      (pp. 27-31)

      What’s in a name? Confusion—if the name is celandine! A rose may be a rose may be a rose (with apologies to Ms. Stein), but celandine, when applied to a flower, may refer to any of three diferent species, in three different genera, belonging to two different families! Such is the problem with common names. True, the most widely used common names for these species are slightly different, but they are close enough to engender confusion when the plants are discussed.

      Two of the “celandine” species (those in the poppy family) are treated in this chapter and have in...

    • Columbine
      (pp. 33-41)

      If the popularity of a wildflower can be judged by the number of common names applied to it, columbine is clearly a favorite. Throughout its range columbine is variously known as rock bells, dancing fairies, Jack-in-trousers, meeting houses, Granny’s bonnets, wild honeysuckle, and rock lily—among others.

      There are competing explanations for the derivation of the generic name,Aquilegia, which was given by Linnaeus. It is either from the Latinaquilinum, meaning “eaglelike,” a reference to the resemblance of the floral spurs to the talons of an eagle, or from the Latinaquarius, meaning “water carrier,” for the nectar that...

    • Dutchman’s Breeches
      (pp. 43-51)

      Looking like pantaloons hung on a line to dry (fig. 82), Dutchman’s breeches never fails to charm the beholder. The odd-looking flowers have four petals—two white, conical spurs (the pantaloons) tipped in bright yellow, and two hinged, yellow inner petals adorned with a white, ruffled crest. Occasionally pink-tinged flowers are found (fig. 84). The name of the genus,Dicentra, is derived from the Greekdis, meaning “two,” andkentron, “spurred.” The species name,cucullaria, is Latin for “hooded,” a reference to the fact that the two inner petals form a closed hood over the stamens and pistil. The stamens...

    • Early Meadow-rue
      (pp. 53-57)

      The flowers of the separate male and female plants of early meadow-rue are so different in appearance that one might think that they were two different species. The male flowers of early meadow-rue are fringed with pendent yellow-green-to-purplish stamens that are in nearly constant motion at the slightest breeze (fig. 103). Pollination is effected almost exclusively by wind, as demonstrated by Janet Steven and Donald Waller in an experiment in which insects were excluded from the female flowers of early meadow-rue. When compared with plants that were open to insect visitors, no difference in the numbers of fruits produced was...

    • Early Saxifrage
      (pp. 59-65)

      The main subject of this essay, early saxifrage, is a widespread perennial species, ranging from far northern Canada south to Georgia and westward into the Midwest. The plants of early saxifrage grow separately or in clumps, their flattened rosettes of over-wintering basal leaves turning from green to a bright red in winter but becoming green again by the time the plants flower in early spring (fig. 110). In times of dry weather, especially during the summer months, the leaves curl in from the tip and the sides, but the advent of rain allows most of them to return to their...

    • False Hellebore
      (pp. 67-73)

      False hellebore is not even distantly related to the Eurasian hellebore (Helleborus spp.), a member of the buttercup family, nor to the European orchid known as helleborine (Epipactis helleborine), which has become an invasive weed throughout much of the Northeast. The name “false hellebore” might originally have been applied to species ofVeratrumbecause, likeHelleborus, they contain highly toxic compounds.Veratrumis derived from the Latinvere, meaning “true,” andater, meaning “black,” a reference to the black rhizomes of some species. False hellebore is known by several other common names: American false hellebore, green hellebore, Indian poke, and...

    • Featherfoil
      (pp. 75-79)

      Featherfoil is an annual plant found primarily in shallow ponds that fluctuate in water level throughout the year (fig. 147). The presence or absence of the species in any year is determined by this seasonal fluctuation: it appears in years when the water levels drop in the typical fashion, that is, high water in spring and low water in late summer to early autumn; and it does not appear in years when the water is not drawn down by late summer. when conditions are optimal, the plants may grow so densely as to cover the water’s surface (fig. 145). Featherfoil...

    • Fire-pink
      (pp. 81-83)

      The Caryophyllaceae family is found mainly in the North Temperate regions of the world, as well as in mountainous areas of Africa, but it also has the distinction of having one of its members,Colobanthus quitensis(Antarctic pearlwort), as the only dicot and one of only two species of flowering plants found on the continent of Antarctica (the other is a hair grass,Deschampsia antarctica). The family has many species known for their pretty flowers that are popular as garden plants and cut flowers (e.g., carnations, baby’s breath, sweet William, and corn cockles).

      In members of the pink family, the...

    • Fringed Polygala
      (pp. 85-91)

      Although the plants and flowers of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) are quite small, one cannot help but notice them on the forest floor. The flowers are a bright magenta-pink, and the plants usually grow in colonies, making quite an impressive display (fig. 162). Their curious form inspires questions: First, what family might this lovely plant belong to? And second, why is the flower shaped as it is (fig. 163)? One’s first impression is that the flower could be an orchid because of its peculiar zygomorphic form, but upon closer inspection, one sees that the diagnostic features of an orchid flower...

    • Hepaticas
      (pp. 93-99)

      Although the first native wildflower species to bloom each year in the Northeast is skunk cabbage, for many people skunk cabbage just does not conform to their concept of what a spring wildflower should be—it is not small, delicate, or pastel colored. Generally in the northeastern United States, the first flower that does correspond to the more typical image of a spring wildflower is hepatica, usually found in flower by early April in the middle of its latitudinal range. Like many of our native woodland wildflowers, hepatica blooms before the trees leaf out. This timing allows the plants to...

    • Jack-in-the-pulpit
      (pp. 101-109)

      Most aroids inhabit the tropical regions of the world, particularly those of Asia and South America; only 10 of the more than 100 genera are found in North Temperate areas, with 5 of those native to the northeastern United States. Members of the family are easy to distinguish worldwide by their characteristic inflorescence. Virtually all species, from the aquatic water lettuce (Pistia stratioites; fig. 206) of the tropics, with a one-quarter-inch white inflorescence, to the dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris; fig. 207) from Mediterranean Europe, with a two-foot tall, deep reddish-black inflorescence, have the same basic structures: a flower-bearing spadix subtended...

    • Lady-slippers
      (pp. 111-119)

      As in other species of orchids, one of the three petals of lady-slipper orchids is greatly modified into a structure called the labellum. In lady-slippers the labellum takes the form of a large inflated pouch; this is particularly true of the two species discussed here. Since ancient times, observers have fancied the lady-slipper pouch to be a lady’s shoe or slipper (fig. 232), and both the scientific and common names reflect this notion.Cypripediumis derived from the Greekcypris(the island of cyprus) andpedilon, meaning “shoe.” The lady-slipper is named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love (Venus,...

    • Lesser Celandine
      (pp. 121-125)

      The adjective “lesser” is applied to this species of the buttercup family to differentiate it from another plant called celandine (sometimes also called greater celandine), a member of the poppy family. Both species are yellow-flowered, spring-blooming plants introduced from Europe, and both are in families that are included in the order Ranunculales. However, the similarity ends there.

      Lesser celandine is in the same genus as the buttercups,Ranunculus, a name derived from the Latinrana, meaning “frog.” It refers to the fact that many species ofRanunculusshare with frogs a preference for wet habitats. The specific epithet,ficaria, is...

    • Lousewort
      (pp. 127-131)

      “Lousewort”—what an odd name for such an attractive flower! Its origin dates back to the centuries-old belief that sheep and other livestock that grazed on lousewort plants became infested with lice. Linnaeus based his naming of the genus on this bit of ancient folklore, calling itPedicularis(from the Latinpediculus, meaning “louse”). Rather thancausinginfestations of blood-sucking parasites, lousewort isitselfa parasite, or at least partially so. Although green-leaved and photosynthetic, lousewort (sometimes called Canadian lousewort or forest lousewort) forms subterranean attachments to the roots of other species, from which it derives water and essential nutrients....

    • Mayapple
      (pp. 133-139)

      In late April small, green umbrellas poke from the ground in moist woodlands (fig. 271). These are the still furled leaves of Mayapple, a plant that grows in large colonies that are actually clones of genetically identical ramets (individual stems) arising from branching underground rhizomes. If the “umbrella” is unfortunate enough to emerge from the soil just beneath a dead leaf with a hole in it, it may carry that leaf upward as it grows and then remain imprisoned in its stranglehold (fig. 272). As the Mayapple leaves unfurl (fig. 273; a single one on juvenile plants and two on...

    • Miterwort
      (pp. 141-145)

      As presently considered, the genusMitellahas two centers of diversity: the Paciic Northwest of the United States and eastern Asia. One species,Mitella nuda, has a circumboreal distribution, occurring in the northern part of the range covered by this book as well as in Japan and Russian Siberia. However, the species composition of the genus is likely to change once molecular research has been conducted. At various times in the past, some species currently included inMitellahave been placed in diferent genera, and since there are no characteristics that unify the 20 or so species ofmitella, the...

    • One-flowered Cancer-root
      (pp. 147-151)

      Although one-flowered cancer-root is not commonly encountered, it occurs in all states but one (hawaii) and throughout most of Canada (excluding Labrador, the province of Manitoba, and the three Canadian territories—Yukon, Northwest, and Nunavut). In Mexico, it is found only in Baja California. One-flowered cancer-root is a member of the genusOrobanche. Other common names applied to this species are one-flowered broomrape and naked broomrape.

      The generic nameOrobancheis derived from the Greekorobos, the name for a legume that we call vetch (Vicia), andanchein, meaning “to strangle,” for the effect of the parasite on the vetch....

    • Skunk Cabbage
      (pp. 153-161)

      The first wildflower to bloom in the Northeast is skunk cabbage, a plant that I have found in flower as early as February. The emergence of the green-to-purple spathes, sometimes even poking through the snow (fig. 316), is something that I look forward to each year. It gives me an incentive to get out into the woods while snow still covers the ground, and it provides a sense of hope that spring really is on the way. As with other members of its family (the aroid, or Jack-in-the-pulpit, family), the floral structure of skunk cabbage consists of two parts, the...

    • Spring Beauties
      (pp. 163-171)

      Although spring beauty is a small plant with grass-like leaves (fig. 343), it can be quite conspicuous in early spring when it carpets large areas in or near the edges of woods (fig. 344). Its scientiic name,Claytonia virginica, commemorates John Clayton, a 1700s clerk to the county court in Gloucester County, Virginia. Clayton came to colonial America from England as a young man and soon befriended Mark Catesby, the English naturalist and artist (see the chapter on ayapple). Clayton became an enthusiastic plant collector in his new home colony of Virginia, and ater Catesby returned to England, Clayton sent...

    • Squawroot
      (pp. 173-177)

      The genusConopholiswas established in 1825 when a German botanist, K.F.W. Wallroth, segregated it out ofOrobanche, where it had originally been placed by Linnaeus. Squawroot is an odd plant: lacking chlorophyll and true leaves (fig. 366), it is thus unable to produce its own food. It is a plant of forests inhabited by acid-loving species and generally grows beneath or near oak trees, which it parasitizes to obtain its nutritional needs. Groups of thick, fingerlike stalks rise from an underground tubercle in midspring. The stalks bear small, creamy-white tubular flowers that are seldom seen by the casual observer....

    • Trilliums
      (pp. 179-187)

      As relected in both its generic and common names, trillium has its parts arranged in threes, or in multiples of three—three leaves, three sepals, three petals, six stamens, three stigmas (fig. 380), and an ovary that has three compartments. Because of this, one common name that has been applied to various species of trillium is trinity flower. Another is birth-root (sometimes corrupted to “bethroot”), due to its use by Native Americans during childbirth. Like some other monocots discussed in this book (e.g., Jack-in-the-pulpit and skunk cabbage), the leaves of trillium are atypical of monocots in that they are broad...

    • Trout-lily
      (pp. 189-197)

      In addition to trout-lily, this species is also known as adder’s tongue, fawn-lily, and dog-tooth violet (a translation of the specific epithet,dens-canis, of the European species). Adder’s tongue might have been bestowed upon the plant because of its mottled (snake-like?) leaves. John Burroughs, a nineteenth-century American naturalist and writer, felt that adder’s tongue was an inappropriate name for such a lovely plant and suggested either fawn-lily, for its leaves spotted like the back of a fawn, or “still better is the name ‘troutlily,’ which has recently been proposed for this plant. It blooms along the trout streams, and its...

    • Twinleaf
      (pp. 199-205)

      Thomas Jefferson is one of only two United States presidents to have a plant genus named for him, the other being George Washington, who is commemorated by the palm genus,Washingtonia. Jeffersoniawas named for Jefferson not because of his political achievements, but rather to honor his deep love for, and knowledge of, natural history.

      Like spring beauty, twinleaf was first discovered by John Clayton (see the chapter on spring beauties), whose nonflowering collection of the plant was sent to Linnaeus. Linnaeus determined the plant to be a new species ofPodophyllumand gave it the namePodophyllum diphyllumin...

    • Violets
      (pp. 207-221)

      Violets! What is it about these reputedly “shy” flowers that endears them to so many? Perhaps it is their modest appearance itself that charms. Nestled close to the ground, with flowers bowed among the leaves, violets compel one to look closely to appreciate their delicate beauty (fig. 448). After reading of the role played by violets in art, literature, and history, I shall forever think of them differently, remembering the romantic story of Napoleon and Josephine (see below) whenever I see them. Violets have been woven into so many facets of life throughout the ages that this essay has been...

    • Virginia Bluebells
      (pp. 223-227)

      Virginia bluebells, which are native to much of the eastern United States and Canada, have been a favorite of gardeners there since Colonial times. Soon ater the seeds were taken to England, Virginia bluebells became a popular garden plant there as well. The true blue color of its flowers complements the pastel pinks, yellows, and whites of other spring-blooming wildflowers and bulbs. Virginia bluebells are easy to grow; they readily self-seed and also may be divided in the fall. Peter Kalm (see the chapter on skunk cabbage) collected the species in Virginia, and it was subsequently named by Linnaeus as...

    • Wild Ginger
      (pp. 229-234)

      As stated above, the flowers of wild ginger deviate from the norm. Wild ginger is a dicot, yet its floral parts occur in threes (or multiples of three) like those of a monocot: three sepals, 12 stamens, and six styles fused into a column topped by six stigmatic lobes. Petals are lacking, but occasionally tiny (three-millimeter), pointed vestigial petals may be observed between the dark maroon sepal lobes. The flowers are borne at ground level, hidden beneath the plant’s paired leaves that rise five to eight inches above on densely hairy stalks (fig. 502). One to three scale leaves (cataphylls)...

  7. Glossary
    (pp. 235-242)
  8. References
    (pp. 243-264)
  9. Index
    (pp. 265-272)