Today, the adventure was to find Lobelia cardinalis, the Red Lobelia or Cardinal Flower, just growing in its natural habitat, perhaps along the banks of the Schuylkill River, where it has yet to be found. We set out to Valley Forge Historical Park, a little bit upstream from Philadelphia, where there is a great 3 mile long river path on the north side of the river just off of Trooper Road. There is a boat launch, plenty of parking, bathrooms, signs and trails. No Lobelia was spotted. There were lots of invasives, such as Purple Loosestrife, Japanese stiltgrass, Wineberry and Oriental Bittersweet. The trail offered great views of the Schuylkill, with lots of Birds, including the Great Blue Heron.
The Silver Maples just growing alongside the river was the real show. What a magnificent assortment of specimens growing in their native and natural habitat.
During the Revolutionary War, this exact spot was a hustle and bustle of barrels and provisions.
Now it is a place where trees grow and die, often falling into the river. A place where Bluebells bloom in the spring and people walk and jog.
The Silver Maple is a fast growing tree, reaching 25 feet in 10 years. It has an aggressive root system, a much needed trait alongside a river that fluctuates in depth, often eroding its banks. It will grow sideways if need be. It dies in the water, along with Sycamore, River Birch and Box Elder.
Above is the habitat of the Silver Maple, along the Schuylkill River at Valley Forge Park, Just north of Philadelphia.
In our travels through the city the past few weeks, Mayapples have dominated the herbaceous layer of the forest-scape, with their pretty leaves and stunning waxy blooms. Today we are going to feature a few plants we found associated with the Mayapples, in two locations, within a mile apart in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia.
The Schuylkill Center has a great woods, full of surprises. They also had a native plant sale, where we purchased a Hearts-A-Bustin’ Strawberry bush, the Euonymus americana for our yard. We then went for a walk on the grounds, and we went to Penns Acres, a section of woods enclosed in deer fencing to protect the plants from browsing. Thats where we saw this aging Trillium grandiflorum pictured above. When the flower gets older, it turns pink.
This is the world of the Mayapple!
Finding the Shooting Star blooming was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. The only one we had ever seen was the two specimens in our yard which are also currently in bloom.
The flower is like a chandelier or a fountain. Available in local native plant nurseries and plant sales.
For the flower enthusiast, this place has everything, right here in the city as well. The friendly staff gave us a trail map that helped us to find the trails that led off the beaten paths, deep into the woods. We saw Dogwoods flowering all over, with Bluebells, patches of Mayapple and Trillium, Redbud trees, Jack-in-the Pulpit, and Black and Blue cohosh.
We had never seen this Sessile Trillium before in the City of Philadelphia. We much admired these specimens, but wondered about their origins. Could they have been introduced, or are they just growing naturally?
Now, off to the Wissahickon!
We found the Foamflower near Bells Mill Road.
And then a whole colony of Columbine! We were so enchanted with the wildflowers, we got lost! We were on some obscure trails we had never been on before and lost our way. In every direction were tall Tulip Poplars. We walked for over an hour in nothing but deep forest, full of Spicebush, Bloodroot, Mayapple, Sensitive and Christmas fern, and we even found a blooming Pinxter Azalea!
At one point we were so lost we started to worry about how to get back, and we passed a charming ravine, and we spotted blue specks below us and they caught our eyes, and we decided to investigate.
More Columbine, with a dark maroon color, blooming alongside the bluebells in a protected, obscure ravine.
We did eventually find the trail that led us back out of the forest. What a great bunch of flowers to find growing in the forests of Roxborough!
One of the most spectacular displays of Mayapples we have ever seen is in West Fairmount Park, in the woods just north of the Belmont Plateau.
We watched them emerge from the earth, and have waited for them to bloom in the past few weeks as they unfurled their leaves, and revealed their blooming capacities. The Mayapples with a single stem will not bloom and the ones with two stems that diverge in a v shape will bloom. The blooms are under the umbrella shaped leaves and can be missed. The best displays in West park are on hillsides that rise up on a side of the trails, so if you turn towards the hillside in the right light, you will see a beautiful and stunning array of waxy white flowers about two inches across glowing beneath the fresh green umbrellas.
If Philadelphia were to have a city flower, the Mayapple would be solid nominee.