The Woodlands of Howard County, MD

I’m spending the next few days on a site in Howard County, Maryland doing natural resource inventory work.  The relatively mature hardwood forests include dendrite headwaters and several seeps.


This week must be the peak for Indian Pipe Monotropa uniflora, as Jim and I saw several colonies.


This plant is also commonly known as Ghost or Corpse Plant.  It does not produce chlorophyll and it feeds by extracting nutrients from trees, fungus and soil.


The flowers are a waxy whitish color, with scale-like leaves, and the plant can grow from 4 to 10-inches tall.


With roots that tap into host plants, Indian Pipe is often associated with being found in decaying plant matter and dead stumps.  The plant flowers are primarily pollinated by small bees.


We were surrounded by thick aggregates of cinnamon, royal, sensitive and New York fern, and we noticed a bird perched on the forest floor and motionless.  Watching for a few seconds, we realized that the bird was a fledgling Red-Eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus, afraid to bring attention to himself by moving.  The bird allowed me to get quite close for a photo, and then awkwardly attempted to fly and run through the ferns.  Red-Eyed Vireos are tireless songsters, and summer (breed) throughout the northeast and winter in South America.  They love forested stream-side habitat and hammer away at caterpillars and other insects.


Walking along a headwater seep area, which included false hellebore and skunk cabbage, we came across a Ragged Fringed Orchid, also known as Green Fringed Orchid Platanthera lacera (FACW).


I think that this particular orchid will be at peak bloom in another few days yet.  Botanist, Cristol Fleming has stated that all Maryland orchids are uncommon or rare, except for puttyroot, rattlesnake plantain and cranefly orchid.  Although not listed by MD DNR, Natural Heritage Program, Ms. Fleming considers the Ragged Fringed Orchid as rare in the Maryland Piedmont and inner coastal plain.


The Ragged Fringed Orchid is a native perennial and has greenish white flowers with ragged fringe.  The alternate leaves have a blunt point at the tip and the leaves attach to the stem as a sheath.  They flower from June and sometimes into August.  They emit a fragrance at night to attract sphinx moths for pollination.


Flitting through the forested wetlands we noted phantom cranefly, darners and many Azure Bluets Enallagmn asperum. 


Also common, was the Eastern Tailed-Blue Butterfly Cupido comyntas.  The eastern tailed-blue’s have beautiful blue tops of wings and look incredibly cheery in the woods.


Common St John’s-wort Hypericum perforatum (the medical plant used for depression) is an introduced species, not native to the United States, but is closely related to the native H. punctatum.


Timothy Phleum pratense, a perennial non-native loved by horses in hay.


Fallow fields were dominated (aspect dominance) by Eastern Daisy Fleabane (white-top fleabane) Erigeron annus.


The opening of the Musk Thistle Carduus nutans, a non-native biennial.


Once in full flower, with hundreds of individual flowers per flower head, they tend to nod downward from the weight, and hence another common name being the nodding thistle.  This is my photo to celebrate Pollinator Week, as this patch of thistle was a magnet for bees.


Action Jackson helped with the wetland delineation.  Jackson is half Bernese Mountain Dog and half Pyrenees Mountain Dog.


We also found Shingle Oak Quercus imbricaria, which is a former Maryland RTE species, now considered uncommon.  It looks like a willow oak on steroids.

We look forward to the next few days as we concentrate on adding to our list of plant species and forest classification.