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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Bur cucumber (Star cucumber)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 02, 2015 at 20:38:44 PM CDT

I don't often feature vines for Iowa wildflower Wednesday, because I can rarely identify them. This vine is so abundant near the Windsor Heights bike trail that I was motivated to learn more. At first I thought it was Moonseed (Menispermum canadense), but the flowers didn't match, and the vines are blooming now, rather than in late spring/early summer like moonseed.

Naturalist and photographer Leland Searles confirmed that this vine is Bur cucumber (Sicyos angulatus), "central Iowa's only native cucurbit." Sometimes called Star cucumber or one-seed burr cucumber, this species is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. The vine "produces both staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers on the same plant." I enclose below pictures of both kinds of flowers, blooming on vines large and small.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Swamp milkweed

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 26, 2015 at 21:56:11 PM CDT

A recent day trip to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City drove home that I haven't visited enough restored prairies this summer. So many native plants are blooming along the walking paths near the visitor's center there. Cup plants are past their peak, but several kinds of goldenrods are coming on strong, and sawtooth sunflowers and stiff goldenrods are starting to bloom.

Hay fever sufferers, be warned: more and more giant ragweed plants are budding along central Iowa bike trails. Those are responsible for many of the seasonal allergies commonly blamed on goldenrods.

This week's featured plant is native to much of the U.S. and Canada. It thrives in a wide range of habitats: "open to partially shaded areas in floodplain forests, swamps, thickets, moist black soil prairies, low areas along rivers and ponds, seeps and fens, marshes, and drainage ditches." It also "grows easily in a home garden with average to moist soil." I took these photographs of Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in a butterfly garden next to a local school.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Spotted bee balm (Spotted horsemint)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 19, 2015 at 22:37:54 PM CDT

Mid-summer wildflowers are giving way to those that bloom in late summer. I am still seeing some American bellflower, jewelweed, and white snakeroot flowering along central Iowa bike trails, but more common evening primrose, wingstem, and goldenrods have been blooming lately.

Today's featured plant is in the Monarda genus of the mint family. Many mints are of European origin, but Monarda plants are native to North America, including Monarda punctata. Better known as spotted bee balm or spotted horsemint, Monarda punctata is related to horsemint (wild bergamot, or bee balm), which I see much more often along bike trails, as well as to the bright red Oswego tea. Spotted bee balm doesn't grow as tall as those relatives; plants can range from six inches to three feet in height. The Illinois Wildflowers and Minnesota Wildflowers websites contain botanically accurate descriptions of the leaves and flowers. The plants attract many pollinators and grow easily in gardens. The Minnesota Wildflowers site notes, "Crushed leaves and seedheads both green and dried give off a wonderful pungent odor and which I've...loved as a potpourri."

Several pictures of spotted bee balm are after the jump. I took all of the photographs just off the Windsor Heights bike trail, in the large patch of native plants growing behind the Iowa Department of Natural Resources building on Hickman. Thanks to Bleeding Heartland user zborinka, who was one of the people to identify this plant for me.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Buffalo bur nightshade

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 12, 2015 at 22:35:00 PM CDT

Today's featured native plant is a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), and its flowers may look familiar if you grow tomatoes. While the edible nightshades include some popular foods, you wouldn't want to eat Buffalo bur nightshade (Solanum rostratumum) fruit. In fact, you're better off admiring this plant from a safe distance: "every part of it is covered in very sharp, spiny prickles."

I enclose below several pictures of Buffalo bur nightshade, also known as Buffalo-bur or Buffalobur nightshade. It's native to the U.S.; the Minnesota Wildflowers site says "It was once considered a county-level noxious weed, but Round-up Ready crops took care of that." Buffalo bur nightshade is not on Iowa's noxious weeds list, unlike Carolina horse nettle, another Solanum genus plant.

If you missed last week's Iowa wildflower Wednesday, I highly recommend checking out the incredible photos of sedges by guest diarist Leland Searles.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Ready or Not, Here They Are... the Sedges!

by: CompassPlant

Wed Aug 05, 2015 at 20:29:55 PM CDT

(Excited to publish this post by Leland Searles, aka CompassPlant, about a group of native plants I knew nothing about. You can find more of Searles' work at Leeward Solutions.   - promoted by desmoinesdem)

You have walked on them, looked at them, maybe even pulled the seed stem to nibble on the tender base, as though it were a grass. But it isn't.

Sedges are an important, often overlooked group of native plants. In Iowa there are at least 125 species belonging to one genus, Carex.

Carex sedges often are overlooked because they look so much like grasses. And with wide variation in their appearance and very tiny details, they are a daunting group of plants to learn. But with patience, those details also lead to small moments of awe and wonder at the different symmetries and adaptations of each.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Black cohosh (Black bugbane)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 29, 2015 at 22:13:02 PM CDT

Mid-summer wildflowers are near their peak now, and you may not have to leave town to find them. American bellflower is prevalent along most of the bike trails in the Des Moines area. During the past week I've seen the first common evening primrose and wingstem flowers opening.

Gorgeous stands of cup plant are in full flower too. Look for those along the trail that heads north from Gray's Lake along Martin Luther King Drive in downtown Des Moines, or off the Windsor Heights trail near the junction with the Clive Greenbelt trail, or along the entrance to the Valley View Aquatic Center parking lot in West Des Moines.

Today's featured plant may or may not truly belong in central Iowa. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service shows Iowa within the native range, which covers most of eastern North America. But I have been told that the original range of Black cohosh, also known as black bugbane, probably did not extend as far west as Des Moines. The common names are a bit confusing, given that this plant has white flowers. According to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden's website, "The 'black' in the name refers to the color of the root (a rhizome) which is a dark brown." Incidentally, Blue cohosh, the focus of an Iowa wildflower post last month, has yellow flowers.

I enclose below several pictures of black cohosh, a popular plant with herbalists, especially for inducing labor and treating symptoms of menopause or hot flashes in breast cancer survivors. Scroll to the end for a bonus picture of an Asiatic dayflower blooming. As the name suggests, that plant is not native to North America, but it has become widespread, and you'll often see it in gardens. Many people consider dayflower an undesirable weed, but I enjoy seeing the flowers pop up in our yard.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: American bellflower

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 22, 2015 at 21:35:00 PM CDT

This week's featured plant is my favorite summer woodland wildflower. American bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum or sometimes Campanula americanum) is native to much of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. You can find its bluish-purple star-shaped flowers all over central Iowa now, especially along bike trails. If you take a closer look, watch where you step, because poison ivy thrives in similar habitats and soil conditions.

The American bellflowers pictured below are all blooming near woodland edges in Windsor Heights and Urbandale.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: White and yellow asters

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 15, 2015 at 21:11:44 PM CDT

More plants in the aster family are now flowering across Iowa. I have trouble identifying asters, especially the ones with white ray flowers and yellow center disks. The website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas took the pressure off by commenting, "The many small-flowered asters found in eastern North America are often difficult to distinguish from one another, as are many of the large-flowered species." These descriptions of similar-looking white asters give you a sense of how complicated it can be to identify plants in this group, even for experts.

I enclose below pictures of three or four different aster species you may find blooming in Iowa this month. I believe at least two of them are native; one is an invasive plant from Europe. You don't necessarily need to explore natural habitats to find these wildflowers. Some are opportunistic enough to grow on low-quality soil in vacant lots or along roadsides. I have a soft spot for the weedy aster species, because unlike, say, wild parsnip, they aren't hurting anyone.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Bittersweet nightshade (Climbing nightshade)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 08, 2015 at 22:03:50 PM CDT

I'm bending the rules again by featuring a European native rather than a plant endemic to Iowa. Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) can be found in most of the United States and Canada, especially "in the eastern and north-central United States, [...] the upper Great Lakes states [...] and the Pacific Northwest." This "semi-woody vine" is sometimes known as climbing nightshade, wood nightshade, or European bittersweet. Like dayflower, it has become widespread in Iowa and many other states. Some people call such plants "nativized."

Bittersweet nightshade is not on Iowa's noxious weed list, unlike fellow European invader poison hemlock or Carolina horse nettle, a native North American plant. I've mostly seen this vine growing on fences at the edges of yards, rather than in unspoiled habitat. I took all of the enclosed pictures right here in Windsor Heights. Canadian photographer Brian Johnston has taken phenomenal close-up shots of Bittersweet nightshade flowers. Click through; you won't be disappointed.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Weekend open thread: July 4 edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jul 04, 2015 at 21:19:44 PM CDT

Happy Independence Day to the Bleeding Heartland community! I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday weekend--preferably not by setting off amateur fireworks. Although the Iowa House voted this year to legalize fireworks, the bill never came to a vote in the Iowa Senate. So amateur fireworks are still illegal, which is just as well, since they cause too many emergency room visits and distress for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. We caught the fireworks display after the Iowa Cubs baseball game on Friday night and are going out in a little while to see the Windsor Heights fireworks.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation marked the holiday by posting some stunning pictures of Iowa wildflowers, "nature's fireworks."

Alfie Kohn noted today that socialists authored both the Pledge of Allegiance and the words to "America the Beautiful," which for my money should be our national anthem.

Speaking of which, former Iowa Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the Iowa Cubs baseball game last night. Who knew she had such a good voice?

Two Democratic presidential candidates spent the day in Iowa. Senator Bernie Sanders and many supporters walked the parade in Waukee, a suburb of Des Moines. Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley was in Independence, Dubuque, and Clinton.

As is our family's custom, I took the kids to the Windsor Heights parade this afternoon. It's one of the smaller parades in the Des Moines area, which explains the relatively sparse presidential campaign presence. On the Republican side, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was there; he also walked the Urbandale parade route earlier in the day. A few volunteers handed out stickers for Ben Carson, and I didn't see any other GOP campaigns represented. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton's campaign had a small presence; apparently more supporters walked for her in Waukee.

U.S. Representative David Young (IA-03) was working the crowd along the parade route. One of his potential Democratic challengers, Desmund Adams, mingled with Windsor Heights residents before walking the Waukee parade.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. After the jump I've enclosed a few photos from the Windsor Heights parade, including one wildflower shot, inspired by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. I also posted the roll call from the Iowa House vote in May to approve the fireworks legalization bill. That legislation split both the Democratic and Republican caucuses.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Oswego tea (scarlet bee balm, red bergamot)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 01, 2015 at 22:08:53 PM CDT

Since last week's featured wildflower was so unobtrusive, I'm going to the other extreme today with one of the showiest wildflowers around. The bright red flowers, not often seen in natural Iowa habitats, are also appropriate for July 4 week. Ruby-throated hummingbirds and Swallowtail butterflies feed on the nectar.

Technically, Oswego tea (Mondarda didyma), also known as scarlet bee balm or red bergamot, is not an Iowa wildflower. Although the Natural Resources Conservation Service website shows Iowa within the native range for this plant, the Illinois Wildflowers website describes the plant as "native to the Northeastern states, but its original range did not extend as far to the west as Illinois." Likewise, Sylvan Runkel and Alvin Bull write in Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands that oswego tea is indigenous to the eastern U.S. and "has escaped from garden plantings in our area. Its beautiful crimson flower may brighten woodlands in late summer."

Oswego tea is closely related to Horsemint (bee balm, wild bergamot), a native plant common throughout Iowa along roadsides, pastures or woodland edges. Both plants have flowerheads that are a cluster of tube-shaped flowers without scent. However, the leaves of horsemint and oswego tea have a "minty aroma."

Lately I've noticed the first American bellflowers blooming along central Iowa bike trails. That's one of my favorite summer wildflowers. I don't have any recent photos of bellflowers, but at the end of this post I included two shots of summer fruit growing in the wild.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.  

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Common black snakeroot

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 24, 2015 at 16:19:09 PM CDT

Today's featured native plant is a perennial that "can be used as a ground cover in shaded areas," but I doubt anyone in the Bleeding Heartland community will seek it out for a garden or flower bed. Common black snakeroot (Sanicula odorata), known in some sources by the common name Clustered black snakeroot and/or the Latin name Sanicula gregaria, has flowers so unobtrusive they can be difficult to see. Clusters of them develop into burs, which stick to clothing, shoes, and pets. White avens plants use the same effective, if annoying, seed dispersal method, but the black snakeroot flowers are not as eye-catching as white avens.

I enclose below several pictures of common black snakeroot, which is prevalent in and near wooded areas throughout much of North America east of the Rocky Mountains.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.  

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Blue cohosh

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 17, 2015 at 18:50:00 PM CDT

Naturalist and photographer Eileen Miller has contributed stunning pictures as well as a description of Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) for today's installment of Iowa wildflower Wednesday. She found these plants, which are native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains, at Dolliver Memorial State Park. I highly recommend visiting that park if you are in striking distance of Webster County. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources website notes,

A unique facet of the sandstone formations at Dolliver are the "Copperas beds." The towering 100-foot bluff on Prairie Creek is a cross-sectional view of the ancient river bed that is over 150 million years old. Over the ages, the erosive power of Prairie Creek uncovered this unique feature. The porous nature of the sandstone has caused many minerals such as calcite and sulfur to dissolve as the water seeps through. As the water evaporates, the mineral deposits are left behind. You can see many of these deposits in the sandstone cliffs, as well as petrified logs and sticks.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower weekend: Virginia waterleaf (Eastern waterleaf)

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jun 13, 2015 at 19:15:00 PM CDT

Technical issues prevented me from publishing my wildflower diary on Wednesday, as planned. So today's feature on a woodland native will double as the weekend open thread: all topics welcome.

I enclose below photos of Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) at various stages of development.

Elderflowers are starting to bloom along central Iowa trails. If you notice these clusters of small white flowers (some pictures are near the end of this post), consider circling back to harvest the berries later this summer--if you can get to them before the birds do. Scroll to the bottom of this diary to see a ripe cluster of elderberries.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Poison hemlock and wild parsnip

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 03, 2015 at 21:23:54 PM CDT

Who says wildflowers are harmless, pretty things? This week's first featured plant can kill you. The second can give you a horrible blistering rash.

Normally I focus on native plants for my wildflower diaries, but I'm making an exception this week because European invaders poison hemlock (yes, that poison hemlock) and wild parsnip have both become widespread in Iowa. Learning to spot them will help you steer clear. If you have children who like to explore nature, I strongly encourage you to teach them to avoid wild parsnip. A friend's son ran off the bike path to play and ended up with second-degree burns.

Speaking of wildflowers you should observe from a safe distance, larger poison ivy plants tend to bloom in June. The flowers are not conspicuous, but they are attractive.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Early meadow rue

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 27, 2015 at 22:57:12 PM CDT

This week's featured wildflower is among several meadow rue species that are native to Iowa. Early meadow rue (Thalictrum dioicum) is a smaller plant that blooms earlier in the year than Purple meadow rue or Waxy meadow rue. Early meadow rue typically grows "in open woods and wood edges in sandy to loamy soil. It is quite shade tolerant (no full sun) and survives in moist to dry conditions."

The meadow rues have male and female flowers, which look quite different and bloom on separate plants. As with the purple meadow rue Bleeding Heartland featured last summer, I was only able to capture the male flowers of early meadow rue in the photos enclosed below. The Minnesota Wildflowers and Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden websites include close-up shots of the female flowers.

I've also enclosed below some pictures of a "mystery" plant I found in a neighbor's yard in Windsor Heights. The leaves and flower clusters look like early meadow rue, but the blossoms didn't resemble either the male or female flowers. I hope some Bleeding Heartland reader who is more knowledgable about native plants will be able to identify the species.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Bishop's cap (Two-leaved mitrewort)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 20, 2015 at 22:00:00 PM CDT

Iowans who venture to wooded areas this Memorial Day weekend will likely see many mid-spring wildflowers. Wild geranium and Virginia waterleaf are still going strong in my corner of the world, and you may find False rue anemone, May apples (umbrella plants) or Columbines in bloom. This week I saw the first flowers on black raspberry plants. If you see those, check back in late June or early July to pick the berries (technically, compound drupes). Wear jeans to avoid getting torn to pieces by the thorns.

This week's featured wildflower was new to me on a recent visit to Dolliver Memorial State Park in Webster County. Bishop's cap (Mitella diphylla) is native to much of the U.S. east of the Missouri River. It's not a show-stopper, but some consider its "small delicate flowers [...] very attractive and fairy-like." As a bonus, I've also enclosed below a few pictures of liverwort, a non-flowering plant that thrives in damp and rocky habitats, as does Bishop's cap. Liverworts are "the simplest true plants," so ancient that they predate ferns and mosses as well as plants producing flowers and seeds.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

Final note: I saw what looked like a heavily pregnant doe the other day, which reminded me of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' good advice to "leave wildlife babies in the wild," rather than attempting to rescue animals you may assume to have been abandoned. Deer are among the mammals that sometimes leave young offspring for a while. The mother is usually nearby.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: False rue anemone

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 13, 2015 at 23:57:56 PM CDT

Early spring wildflowers have given way to mid-spring bloomers across Iowa. In prairie habitats, Eileen Miller has found some hoary puccoon and fringed puccoon blooming. In central Iowa wooded areas, May apples (umbrella plants), Virginia waterleaf, sweet cicely, and wild geranium are near their peak. Sweet William are still prevalent too, helping to compensate for the end of this year's spectacular Virginia bluebells show. Buds are visible on many native plants that will flower in the late spring or early summer, including wild grapes and one of my favorites, Solomon's seal.

A few rue anemone flowers are still blooming in Windsor Heights, which brings me to today's featured plant. False rue anemone (Enemion biternatum) is easily confused with rue anemone. Both plants are among the earliest spring wildflowers to bloom and continue to flower for many weeks after other early flower have gone. Both plants initially have reddish-brown foliage, which turns green before long. Neither rue anemone nor false rue anemone flowers have petals. What look like petals are white or pinkish-white sepals. The Illinois Wildflowers, U.S. Wildflowers, and Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden websites all contain more detailed botanical descriptions as well as tips on distinguishing false rue anemone from rue anemone. Short version: the leaves are shaped differently, and rue anemone flowers usually have more sepals than the five sepals on false rue anemone flowers.

I've enclosed several photos of false rue anemone after the jump. This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.  

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Toadshade (Toad trillium, Sessile trillium)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 06, 2015 at 23:40:00 PM CDT

Once you learn to recognize a native plant, you often start seeing it where you've never noticed it before. So it was for me with Toadshade (Trillium sessile), also known as Toad trillium or Sessile trillium. As far as I knew, I'd never seen it until Eileen Miller pointed it out on a recent visit to the Ledges State Park in Boone County. A few days ago, a neighbor's daughter asked me about a red flower in her back yard, and sure enough, a group of toadshade was blooming there. I'd never have expected to find it in Windsor Heights.

Toadshade isn't as stunning as some of its trillium relatives, like Snow trillium, but it's an attractive and distinctive plant. I've enclosed several pictures after the jump.

If you have a chance to visit a wooded area in Iowa soon, you are likely to see a variety of spring wildflowers. During the past week, I saw the first blossoms open on May apple (umbrella plant) and Virginia waterleaf. Several early spring wildflowers are mostly gone, but you might still find spring beauty, Virginia bluebells, or rue anemone. Several native plants that usually start blooming in April are still prevalent, such as sweet William (blue phlox), sweet cicely, littleleaf crowfoot or buttercup, violets, and Jack-in-the-pulpit. You're also likely to find some maroon flowers touching the ground if you peek under wild ginger leaves.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Marsh marigold

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 29, 2015 at 18:33:40 PM CDT

Today's featured native plant is relatively rare and found mainly in wetlands. The naturalist and photographer Eileen Miller showed me a large stand of Marsh marigold on a recent visit to Dolliver Memorial State Park (Webster County), a beautiful area with some historically significant sites. Eileen contributed the photographs and text about these bright yellow flowers, which I've enclosed below.

Many spring wildflowers are peaking in central Iowa. A few days ago, my kids and I went out to pull up garlic mustard (an invasive plant) and saw all of the following native plants in bloom within a wooded area of less than an acre: spring beauty, Dutchman's breeches, sweet William (blue phlox), sweet cicely, littleleaf crowfoot or buttercup, Virginia bluebells, spring beauty, toothwort, rue anemone, bellwort, violets, and Jack-in-the-pulpit.

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