Plants Espied along the C and O Canal

While riding my bike today, May 4, 1995, I got the idea to try to keep track of the flowering plants I see while riding or otherwise traveling down the towpath. Most things mentioned will be within a few miles of the C and O Headquarters which is located at about Mile 72 of the Towpath. It will probably be quite an irregular diary, but at least there will be an entry for today. I will insert future reports at the top of the file, so that the most current will always be at the top.

Invasive exotic plants are unfortunately some of the most common plants found along the towpath. See Weeds Gone Wild for more info on the problem.

Some of the worst along the towpath are Garlic Mustard, Asiatic stilt grass, Japanese Honeysuckle, Multiflora Rose, Bush Honeysuckle and Tree of Heaven.

See also list of plants for Yankauer Nature Preserve, a preserve across the Potomac in West Virginia near Dam #4. Most all will also be found along the canal.
June 15, 2000 Most of what I see in bloom now is white. Elderberry and Wild Hydrangea are both shrubs that one can readily find along the towpath.

March 16, 2000

Saw Pale Corydalis in bloom and saw foliage of False Mermaid. Also, first Dutchman's Breeches right along the canal.

March 15, 2000

Things are out early this year. Today I saw my first Dutchman's Breeches of the year at Ferry Hill. Also, Early Saxifrage and Cut-leaved Toothwort. Yesterday, along the towpath I saw Spring Beauty, including a fringed form which I had never seen before, as well as Grape Hyacinth. Hepatica's already been out about 10 days or so and Bloodroot has also been out for several days.

June 13, 1999

Just got back from a little bike ride on the towpath near Shepherdstown (mile 70-81 and return) and noted the following in bloom: Yellow Jewelweed, Elderberry (ending), Wild Hydrangea (beginning), Joe Pye Weed (beginning), Loosestrife, Panicled Phlox, Loosestrife, American Germander, Basil Balm, Small-flowered Leafcup, Lopseed, Monkey Flower, Lippia, Milkweed, Horse Nettle, American Bellwort, Trumpet Creeper, Wild Petunia, Geum, Water Willow (just a couple of flowers remaining)

Non-native: Crown Vetch, Day Lily, Queen Anne's Lace, Bouncing Bet Galinsoga, Fleabane, Chicory, Clovers

(Also includes Canal Road and Limekiln Road, as well as along river.)

April 14, 1996

It's been a long time since the last entry on this page. It's getting close to the peak of the spring wildflower season along the Canal in the 70 miles area. The Dutchmen's Breeches are in full bloom, along with the Cut-leaved Toothwort, Bloodroot, and Spring Beauty, as well as the delicate yellow-flowered Spicebush. Hepatica has been out for some time now, as well. One of the shortest blooming flowers is in full bloom now - Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla). It only lasts for a very few days, and so it's a real treat to be able to catch it in flower, even if in places it grows like a weed!! Virginia Bluebells are just beginning to bloom.

I have checked several times for a patch of Harbinger of Spring that I have seen in past years in the vicinity of Mile 68. There has been no sign of it, possibly because of this year's flood, or because the population has been choked out with weeds.

October 1, 1995

In recent weeks, the most noticeable flowers in the Mile 60- 70 vicinity have been Wing-stem and White Snakeroot. The former is a member of the daisy family and has yellow flowers. What makes it easy to distinguish from other similar fall-flowering yellow flowers are the "wings" along the stem of the plant.

The White Snakeroot is in the same family, and in the same genus (Eupatorium) as the attractive Mistflower which is out a few weeks earlier.

Some of the fruits in evidence during the last couple of weeks are walnuts, Osage Oranges and Pawpaws.

September 6, 1995

A couple of other plants that are currently flowering in the towpath vicinity are the One-seeded Bur-cucumber (Sicyos angulata), a plant in the squash family, and also, Great Blue Lobelia, with the rather unpleasant scientific name of Lobelia syphilitica. It was formerly thought to be useful in curing syphilis.

August 13, 1995 - Around Mile 70

Joe Pye Weed, Cardinal Flower, Elephant's Foot, Halberd-Leaved Rose Mallow, and Thinleaved Sunflower are some of the plants currently in flower along the Canal and River.

July 28, 1995 - Between Mile 72 and Mile 62

Some natives I've seen in bloom in recent days are Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), American Germander (Teucrium canadense) and Lopseed (Phryma leptostachya.)

At the river lock just downriver from the Rumsey Bridge, I noticed that the mowers from the Park Service had taken pity on a stand of (exotic) Dayflowers (Commelina communis). While a single flower could easily be overlooked, the several square feet of them with their bright blue was a very cheerful sight. The story behind the genus name of this species is in my mind one of the two most interesting stories in an otherwise rather staid plant manual, Gray's Manual (1950). Gray reports that Linnaeus named the plant after a family of Dutch botanists. There were three botanists in the family. One of them, however, was not particularly successful. (If you look at the Commelina flower, you will see that two of the petals are fairly large while the third is barely noticeable.)

Wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius), an introduction from Japan now growing wild, have been available for the last couple of weeks but are pretty nearly finished in this area - though they are probably still plentiful wurther west towards Cumberland.

July 9, 1995 - Mile 70 Vicinity

Buttonbush, in the same family as the plant from which many get their morning dose of caffeine, is in bloom now, along with some Fringed Loosestrife.

June 20, 1995 - Rumsey Bridge Vicinity

A couple of native plants that I saw blooming along the Canal in the Mile 73 vicinity today were White Avens (Geum canadense) and Small-Flowered Leaf Cup (Polymnia canadensis), both rather weedy species, the latter a fairly substantial rather odiferous plant. A Peruvian relative of the Leaf Cup, Polymnia edulis is known for its edible tubers.

In nearby areas, the Wild Petunia (Ruellia sp.), however I don't usually see the Ruellia plants that are right along the towpath in flower, possibly because it is too shady. One native that I couldn't see was Water Willow, as, with the recent heavy rainfall, it is now under several feet of water.

The bright white of the Wild Hydrangea flowers has almost entirely faded. Soon, one will be able to see it in the state it is in for a large portion of the year with its dried brown flowers.

June 19, 1995 - Upriver from Rumsey Bridge

It's now the turn of the white flowers of the Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) to enliven the path. The yellow Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) is also beginning to bloom. Occasional escaped orange Daylilies can also be seen.

June 13, 1995 - Near Rumsey Bridge (Shepherdstown) Parking Area (Mile 72)

Elderberries are in bloom along Canal Road just downriver from the parking area, and elsewhere actually along the towpath. Honewort, (Cryptotaenia canadensis), a rather overlooked member of the carrot family is also in flower in various places. What I think is interesting about this plant is its distribution. According to the Cronquist manual, it is native to the eastern U.S. and also to Japan.

I decided to go down to the river and see if the Water-Willow might be flowering yet, and sure enough it is. If one just looks from a distance, one may not even realize that there are pretty white and purple flowers out in what looks to be grassy islands in the shallow river water. On the river banks, I saw that Horse Nettle and Ground Cherry (Physalis sp.) were blooming.

June 7, 1995

The Canal Towpath is pretty much of a green jungle these days, at least in the miles that I have been on in the last two days, mileposts 64-73 and 88-100. Most of the plants that I did see in bloom were exotics: Multiflora Rose, Japanese Honeysuckle, Dame's Rocket, Poison Hemlock, and Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare), in addition to native Fleabane. I'm usually not very happy to see the exotics, but the cheerful clump of the bright blue Echium, just upriver from McMahon's Mill around mile 88 was a treat to see. In the same vicinity, the towpath is very narrow, with a rocky cliff bordering one side and a drop-off to the river on the other side. On the limestone cliff, the delicate Lyreleaved Rockcress was still in bloom, along with some Alumroot (Heuchera americana)(or possibly some other Heuchera - I didn't take time to inspect it very carefully as I was trying to outbike the rain...). One plant of Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum) was still in bloom a little bit upriver from milepost 71. The other had been whacked down by the towpath maintenance folks, as it unfortunately was fairly close to the path and they didn't distinguish between it and the weedy stuff around it...

May 26, 1995

Today I had a bit of a look at the canal just upriver from Harpers Ferry. The first couple of hundred feet of the canal bed is mowed in this area, but beyond that a lot of weedy species are growing and flowering. At the moment these include: Dame's Rocket, Fleabane (Erigeron sp.)(the only native in this bunch), Poison Hemlock, Moneywort, and some sort of yellow-flowered mustard family plant. On the drier river side of the path, the Japanese Honeysuckle and the Multiflora Rose are about the only things one can see in bloom. These exotics don't leave much room for anything else. On the other side of the road that parallels the towpath in this area the Venus' Looking Glass can be seen. One native tree that's currently blooming is the Black Locust. The Princess Tree (from Asia) is shedding its violet flowers and causing confusion to some when they find one of them on a shrub below and at first don't realize that what they are seeing is a fallen flower!

May 15, 1995

I decided to go up the little trail that goes from the Rumsey Bridge parking area to Ferry Hill to see if I might catch any Shooting Stars still in bloom. A few stragglers were still holding on. I also saw quite a few One-flowered Cancer Roots along the trail, more than I remember ever having seen. There were also a few Jack-in-the-Pulpits, some Sedum and Golden Alexanders. (Actually, I'm not sure about the latter. They were either Thaspium or Zizia, one of which has the common name cited above.) There was also a Dwarf Larkspur in bloom. While this plant can be found in numerous spots along the canal, I suspect that this particular plant may have been planted there as there are no others in the greater area that I'm aware of.

May 13, 1995

Another perfect May day on the towpath. The Paulownias or Princess Trees are out in full and fragrant bloom, with their clusters of bell-shaped lavender flowers. They are another of many species which have been introduced here from Asia. Nice specimens of this kind of tree are often stolen as their wood is reputed to be of very high value in Japan.

Some native wildflowers that I saw this week were Miterwort which was along some rocky ledges a bit away from the canal bed, some nice False Solomon's Seal, along with its less showy kin, Solomon's Seal, and a bit of Virginia Waterleaf. The bedstraw (Galium aparine) is still flowering but will soon be making life miserable for any animals that wander amongst the plants and manage to cart off multitudes of the small, round, bristly fruits of this abundant and clever plant. A fairly uncommon plant, Miami Mist, can be seen right along the right-hand side of the towpath as one is going from the Rumsey Bridge parking area downstream towards the railroad bridge.

Some of the exotics now flowering: Dame's Rocket, a mustard family plant and said to have been the favorite flower of Marie Antoinette, is out, as well as the Indian Strawberry. When the red fruit of this strawberry appears, it looks quite inviting - but if tasted proves to be extremely disappointing. A bit of Greater Celandine can be seen now and again. This poppy family plant has one rather interesting characteristic, namely its leaves produce a bright yellow-orange sap. The Star of Bethlehem is out now in some of the grassy areas of the canal.

May 4, 1995

My favorite time of the year is quickly fading. The Dogwoods are still in bloom, but many of the Redbud trees have already lost their flowers. Their place is being taken by the Pawpaws, which are currently in full flower, however I don't think it's likely that many people will even notice because of the dark brown color of that tropical family plant.

The local Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is flowering on the limestone cliffs along portions of the path. The Virginia Bluebells are still hanging on, but the leaves of the two species of Dicentra (Dutchman's Breeches and Squirrel Corn) are yellowing and will soon be a dim memory. Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza sp.) is just beginning to flower, along with Mayapples. And the rather diminutive False Mermaid (Floerkea proserpinacoides) can still be seen (if one knows what to look for!) That little plant happens to be the logo flower of the "Flora of North America" and ongoing project out of the Missouri Botanical Garden to produce a many-volumed series on all the plants of North AMerica. Scattered populations of Wild Blue Phlox and Sickle-pod (Arabis canadensis) can also be seen at this time.

There are also horrendous amounts of the introduced Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) plant which is doing all in its power to replace the native vegetation with itself.

Later the same evening: Upon walking over a portion of the same part of the towpath, I realized I had ridden right by some things that were in full bloom, the shrub Bladdernut (Staphylea) and the small tree, Viburnum prunifolium.

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