May-June Native Bloomers in our area

It’s spring, and flowers are blooming in abundance. Here’s a look at nature’s contribution to the profusion of blooms. No amount of fertilizer or other coaxing is needed; these plants bloom without our help.

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is found in our area on rocky, mountainous slopes, preferring acidic soils. An understory shrub, growing 3 ft. to 9 ft. in height, it blooms in May and June, with pink to white colored flowers about an inch in diameter. The flowers grow with the stamens bent and under tension. When touched by an insect landing on the flower, the stamens spring straight and throw the pollen onto the insect, thereby providing a vehicle to help distribute the pollen widely. Research has shown the stamens to flip the pollen outward up to 6 inches when the flowers are touched. The green parts and flowers of Mountain Laurel are poisonous to livestock, deer and other mammals. The wood, however, is dense and was used by native Americans for spoons and by early settlers for pipe bowls.

Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) grows to about 10 ft. in height, with small white flowers in 2 inch diameter clusters. The leaves are similar to the common flowering dogwood, but it gets its name from fine silky fuzz on leaves and new growth branches. Clusters of purple fruits ripen in the fall. Birds help distribute silky dogwood seeds. It prefers moist soils but will survive in drier conditions. It can form dense thickets and has been used for stream bank stabilization.

Pinxter Flower (Rhododendron periclymenoides) has showy, pink azalea-like flowers, with 2 inch long stamens. Butterflies and other insects distribute its pollen. It grows to about 6 ft. in height and prefers lower areas and wet soils. The Pinxter Flower’s common name comes from a Dutch translation that refers to Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, when it was noted blooming, likely further north than Frederick County where it bloom approximately in early May.

Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) displays clusters of white flowers 2 to 4 inches in diameter in the May to June timeframe. It grows to approximately 6 feet in height, preferring moist and slightly acidic soils. The flowers and pollen are attractive to bees and butterflies. The ¼ inch dark blue to black fruits are a good source of migrating songbird nourishment in the fall as they have a high fat content. The Arrowwood Viburnum’s leaves turn a bright purple color in the fall.

Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium), native to our area, can grow to about 15 ft. in height, and prefers some sun and well-drained soils. It blooms in late spring with 4 to 5 inch clusters of white flowers which are attractive to bees and butterflies. It produces a blue to black fruit in the fall that becomes edible after a freeze and is an excellent wildlife food. The leaves have a showy red color in the fall. The bark of Blackhaw Viburnum had historical use by native Americans and as a folk remedy to treat menstrual cramps and morning sickness, but today it is not recommended for use without medical consultation.

Article by Tom Anderson, FCFCDB member

Nature Notes for 5/24/2015