West Virginia wildflowers: Good luck keeping up

Spring in the Mountain State comes on strong. We jump from a grey and brown forest floor to carpets of wildflowers in no time flat. The past few days have delivered summer-like temperatures and powerful sunshine, revving up the spring cycle. It’s here, whether you’re ready for it or not. Nothing to do but plug in and pay attention as the parade of buds, blooms and flowers picks up speed.

Some of West Virginia’s wildflowers are classified as “ephemeral” — meaning they don’t stick around for long. One of the first I recognize in my usual hiking spots is the cutleaf toothwort. Its name isn’t as delicate or pretty as the tall-ish purple or white flower that pops out through winter’s compacted leaves on the forest floor. It’s sometimes known as Bittercress and is a member of the mustard family. The U.S. Forest Service page about this little wonder is worth a look.

Cutleaf toothwort, or Bittercress, growing in Widmeyer Wildlife Management Area in Morgan County, W.Va.

‘Round about this time of year, the explosion of flowers on the forest floor and along roadways means lots of distracted wanderings. Hikes are slower, because obviously I have to stop and kneel down (sometimes lie down) to get a good look at what’s popped up since I last hiked through. My camera roll is full of wildflower close-ups this time of year. My hiking pants have mud in weird spots because…you know….camera angles matter.

Alongside the toothwort, the bright white Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) has burst through the soil and leaf layer. This week I saw them all over a hillside along a dirt road, and hugging the edge of a boulder along a mountain stream that empties into the Potomac River. They’re startlingly white, with an intricate center, and seemed to grow in groups of four or five.

Bloodroot, growing on a hillside above a dirt road in Morgan County, W.Va.

Just feet away, the sculptural Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) spread out in big patches in a riverside area and on shady roadside areas in the forest. The pale white and yellow flowers are unmistakable for their odd shape and interesting greenery.

A patch of Dutchman’s breeches, growing near the Cacapon River in Morgan County, W.Va.

The trout lily is another native flower that’s showing off already. Yellow, with a unique spotted leaf, it loves to grow at the base of hardwoods, at the edge of forests, and sometimes on a shaded hillside. It’s name comes from the spotted coloring on the leaves, which someone thought resembled the dappling on trout. They’re also known as fawn lily or Dog’s Tooth Violet by some.

West Virginia Trout Lily, or Fawn Lily, growing near Great Cacapon in Morgan County, W.Va.

Three or four other miniature wildflowers caught my eye as I studied these few varieties to my satisfaction. There’s no way to keep up entirely. Next week, there’ll be even more plants unveiling their spring miracles at the base of another tree, or along the road. Some of them I’m waiting for…others will be a total surprise.

If you want a handy guide to West Virginia wildflowers to carry along in your pack, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture has a nice color one you can download and print by clicking here. It’s a great beginner’s guide. The show has already started out there, so try to keep up.

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