Our 20 miles of trail in Lawrence and Hopewell Townships offer an abundance of eye-catching flora, and we want to help our friends identify them. Welcome to What’s Blooming on the LHT, an ongoing series of “field guides” to Mercer County plants.
It’s late summer on the LHT and that means the trail is awash in colorful wildflowers that buzz with pollinators like bees and butterflies. How many of these showy blooms can you spot out in the wild?
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is a North American native and can be found in all 48 contiguous states and across Canada — though originally the plant was only found in the eastern and central parts of the country. Typical in grasslands, along roadsides, and at the edges of woodland, Black-eyed Susans have become extremely popular landscaping plants with many hybrids available as perennial additions to home gardeners. The wild variety can grow to 40 inches tall and typically features four inch, daisy-like blossoms of golden yellow petals encircling a cone-shaped black or brown center. Stems are long and hairy, and oblong, toothed leaves are concentrated near the plant’s base. Black-eyed Susans begin blooming in mid-summer and can continue until frost. They are popular with butterflies, moths, and birds —providing nectar and seeds.
Butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris) has more common and regional names than we can list here — brideweed, bridewort, butter haycocks, bread and butter, calf’s snout, dead men’s bones, devil’s flax, false flax, gallwort, impudent lawyer, and wild snapdragon among them. And the snapdragon name makes sense — the little flowers of the Butter-and-eggs plant look a lot like snapdragons. Likewise, they’re long-lasting when cut and playfully snap like those well-known garden flowers. The flowers, which emerge in May and continue blooming through September, are long and yellow and white, with orange at the edges. They grow in clumps along long, erect stems lined with thin, grassy foliage. A perennial, these plants can grow to about 35 inches in height. Though charming, this plant is invasive. It was introduced from Europe as an ornamental and for uses in folk medicine all the way back in the 1600s. But, it is adaptable and has flourished in a range of conditions, even in areas with poor soil. If you see these plants, pull them — and make sure you get the roots!
Yarrow or common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is native to temperate, Northern Hemisphere regions around the world, including North America, Asia, and Europe. It thrives in both wet and dry conditions and can be spotted in meadows, open forests, near the ocean, and along the edges of woodlands and roadways. Perhaps because it is so adaptable and has such a sweeping range, the plant is popular in herbal medicine and commonly mentioned in folklore or historical context. The British mention the plant in superstitious rhymes; the Chinese believe the plant to be lucky; it is mentioned in both Greek mythology and philosophy; and it has been used allover to heal wounds and stop bleeding. Flowers emerge as early as May, and the plant features clusters of small, white or soft pink flowers with irregular, ovate petals. These flowers have a strong, sweet scent reminiscent of chrysanthemum and attract a variety of pollinator insects. A perennial, the plant tends to be erect, can reach 40 inches in height, and produces feathery, slightly hairy, and evenly spaced leaves.
Ghost plant, ghost pipe, or Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) is the most unusual looking and rare plant on this list. They can be spotted in low elevation, shady, wooded areas and bloom from June to September. Under a foot tall, each stem bears tiny scale or bract-like leaves and a single, translucent flower. The flower’s petals and stamen form a bell or pipe shape that hangs downward. As the flower matures and goes to seed, it becomes more erect, producing a reproductive fruit. The plants — herbaceous perennials — are most often a waxy, translucent white. Rarely, plants and flowers may be pale pink, deep red or have black spots. The ghost plant doesn’t use photosynthesis for energy, which explains its lack of greenery. Instead, the plant draws nutrients from tree roots through a fungal conduit. It is native to temperate areas in both North and South America along with Asia. Interestingly, despite being the same species, the three regional populations are genetically distinct.