Thursday, April 21, 2011

Shangri La

Local native plant aficionados know of a certain secret place along the C&O Canal that enchants lucky visitors with an unusual diversity of native plants. Some of the plants are rare to Maryland and prefer more northern climes. The gully where these plants grow rests between limestone cliffs facing the river, and due to the undulations of the Potomac, has a northern exposure, which makes for a chilly microclimate. One of the best times to visit is April through May, to see a breath-taking progression of spring woodland flowers, called ephemerals, for their short-lived and delicate nature. Here is what a friend and I saw on March 20.

The first photo is Bloodroot. One of the first spring ephemerals to appear. It's roots when crushed supply a bright red orange fluid and is said to have been used as body paint by Native Americans and as dye by early European immigrants. The bloom emerges clasped by fleshly leaves that protect it from the wind and cold of April until just the right moment when the sun is warm and the air still.

Dutchman's Breeches, so-called for the resemblance to voluminous pantaloons hanging upside down as if on a clothesline. These flowers are pollinated primarily by bumblebees, since some muscle and size is needed to push through the opening of the flower. The bees sometimes bite through the "ankles" of the breeches to obtain the nectar.

Shangri La boasts a variety of ferns including Christmas Fern, Maidenhair Fern, Blunt-lobed Woodsia, Bulbet Fern. One of the most marvelous is Walking Fern. The leaves of the fern are long and thin, extend out in a more or less radial fashion, and the tip of the leaf literally plants itself it a new spot, growing another fern. In this way, it 'walks" over the surface of the mossy rocks where it grows.

Adder's Tongue or Trout Lily. Not blooming yet, but there were hundreds, maybe even thousands of these leaves emerging. The common name refers to the spotted appearance and shape of the leaves. In a few weeks I will return to see drooping yellow lilies polka-dotting the forest floor.

Sedum, a dainty succulent.

More Walking Fern.

And finally, a newly revealed Mayapple. Its leaves unfurl like the canopy of an umbrella.

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this. I felt like I was strolling along the tow path with you for a few moments. And the walking fern! Fabulous. Thanks for learning all this stuff so you can share it!