DELMARVA ALMANAC

Delmarva’s Wildflowers

by Dana Kester-McCabe

You don't have to be a biologist to find and identify many of Delmarva's Wildflowers. Plants like daisies and morning glories can be seen across the entire peninsula.

Wild pansies or violets are also plentiful. Not all wild plants are native to our area. And, not all native plants grow wild here without a little help. Many of our highway medians are planted with bright red poppies and brilliant blue bachelor buttons and a variety of other wildflowers that do not require regular mowing. Farm fields waiting for the next crop to be planted often look like they have been sprinkled with colorful confetti.

But we do have some wonderful wildflowers that grow naturally in the Delmarva landscape. Along area roads, ditch banks, and marsh edges there is lots to see, like wisteria and wild sweet peas. Trumpet vines boast clusters of deep orange flowers that look like their name implies - like the bell of a trumpet. Showy hibiscus blossoms can be as big as grapefruits and come in white and pink with red centers. One good place to see them is at the dunes edge as you drive along Route 1 between Fenwick Island and Indian River Inlet especially in July.

Another lovely native plant you can see growing in the sands is the prickly pear cactus. Their lemony yellow rose like flowers appear in June and can be about the size of a tennis ball.

Early in the flowering season (before the bugs get too bad) is a good time to visit our swamps where you can see spatterdock a member of the lotus family. They look like bright yellow gear shifts protruding from the murky waters. In late spring and early summer wild irises grow along ditches and ponds. They come in yellow and purple. Throughout the summer look in those same places for pickerel weed. Their leaves look like garden spades and their flowers are purple clusters on tall spikes.

Native water lilies thrive from April to October in area ponds. The largest wildflower in the United States is a close relative: the American Lotus. It is considered a rare species in the Mid Atlantic region but grows abundantly at the Mount Harmon Plantation in Kent County, Maryland. Its peak flowering is in August so they celebrate with their annual Lotus Blossom Festival the first Saturday of that month.

Throughout the summer and well into fall we have Queen Anne's Lace, large disk-like clusters of tiny white flowers. Often they pal around with the golden Black-eyed Susan's. In September the Jerusalem Artichoke dominates with massive stands of yellow daisy like flowers on plants that reach five to six feet tall or more. Purple pin cushion thistles bloom all summer long. They go to seed quickly attracting beautiful song birds like the gold finch.

In deep woods you can find mountain laurel which is in the rhododendron family with its little white cups with pink ribs that make it look like clusters of umbrellas. Silky Dogwood with their small white flowers appear much later than other dogwoods. In some of our forests you can see jack in the pulpits and lady slipper orchids but these are hard to find. In fall another rare treat among the fallen leaves is Indian Pipe which is also called Ghost Plant. These grow in bunches. They have very few small leaves and are completely white from stem to their small bell shaped flowers. At the woods edge, look for bright orange butterfly weed, milkwort which looks like orange cotton swabs, dusty red ground nuts, and graceful Virginia blue bells.

Not all wildflowers are beloved. Take the dramatically invasive kudzu vine which was introduced as a ground cover only to take over everything in sight. You can see a large outcropping of kudzu on Logtown Road near Berlin. It is actually kind of amazing to see how it has engulfed the trees. If you go there in late August it is covered in lovely fragrant red and purple flowers.

There really are too many wildflowers to mention here. Many are very small. When hiking you can get help with flower identification from a good guide book or on your smart phone by visiting: http://www.delawarewildflowers.org. You can learn more on guided nature hikes at area state parks, or Furnacetown in Snow Hill, and the Adkins Arboretum in Ridgley. Visit our home and garden section for listings of native plant sales that help preserve endangered wildflower species and provide garden beauty which requires much less water and other maintenance.

Related Upcoming Events
May 24, 2014
Double Header!!! May Flowers and Spring Sounds
Pocomoke River State Park

June 21 , 2014
Summer Flora
Ridgely, Maryland

August 2, 2014
Lotus Blossom Festival
Earleville, Maryland

August 8-10, 2014
Art in Nature Photo Festival
The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art - Salisbury, Maryland