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Nature

Spring Ephemerals on the C&O Canal

By Blog, Nature

Bluebells along C&O Near Lock 51 by Cathy Hoyt

Spring is a beautiful time of year to explore the C&O Canal National Historical Park. As nature begins to awaken from its winter slumber, I find my eyes are no longer drawn upward to the tops of the majestic white sycamore trees along the river’s edge, but instead downward to the wildflowers at the towpath’s edge. Spring ephemerals are like Mother Nature’s announcement that spring has arrived, and their cyclical appearance reminds me of the rhythms of the earth and the promise of warmer days ahead. 

One of the first spring ephemerals I typically spot along the towpath are dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). The dainty white blossoms of these woodland perennials, which resemble a pair of pantaloons hanging upside down, are my signal to be on the lookout for other wildflowers. Squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis), in the same family, seems to follow and bloom soon after. It is very similar to dutchman’s breeches, but has heart-shaped blossoms with a pink and sometimes lavender tint to them. The name comes from the resemblance of the plant’s root tubers to corn kernels and the fact that squirrels and other small animals are often responsible for digging up and spreading the roots. 

Bloodroot by Charissa Hipp

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) also appear in the early days of spring along the towpath. Bloodroot flowers only last for a few days and on cold days, the petals stay closed, like they also do at night. When the petals are fully open, bloodroot flowers are quite lovely with their solitary flower and the contrast of the golden-orange center against the white petals. The unique lobed leaves of the bloodroot plant often catch my attention long after the blooms have gone away. The name is derived from the red juice in the underground part of the plant’s stem that was used by Native Americans as a dye for baskets, clothing, and war paint, as well as for insect repellant. 

Spring Beauty by Charissa Hipp

Spring beauty is abundant in large patches along the towpath. The petals of this petite woodland perennial are white with very fine pink stripes that vary from light pink to bright pink. Sometimes they’re so faint that the flowers look almost entirely white and other times the vibrant hot pink is impossible to miss. Spring beauty has blooms that last about a month. 

It’s impossible to talk about spring ephemerals along the C&O Canal without mentioning bluebells (Mertensia virginica). Bluebell season is one of the most anticipated times of year in the Park, waiting for the beautiful blooms that range in color from white to pink to shades of periwinkle. I’m drawn to the bell-shaped, tubular flowers and I love discovering bluebell alleys along the towpath, when there are large swaths of bluebells in bloom on both sides of the towpath. Once I was standing in such a space, enjoying the beauty of the bluebells when a hummingbird make a brief appearance, attracted to the fragrance of the bluebells.

Trout Lily by Charissa Hipp

Yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum) reminds me of origami with its unusual and intricate-shaped, nodding blooms. I think the blooms are prettiest when they’re just starting to open and I’ve learned to notice the spotted leaves of the plant long before the blooms even appear. It grows in large patches along the towpath and sometimes I’ll spot a few white trout lily among the yellow ones. Trout lily tends to bloom a little later in the spring season and can last well into May. 

These are just a few of the most common spring ephemerals that bloom throughout the C&O Canal National Historical Park. There are many more. Do you have a favorite? Is there a particular one that signals the arrival of spring to you?

Written by Charissa Hipp

Bird is the Word on the C&O Canal

By Blog, Nature
Calling all bird enthusiasts! If you love bird watching, the C&O Canal is the spot. The canal is home to over 120 species of birds, according the NPS website. We have collected some of the most iconic photos of birds around the Park thanks to you, our canal visitors! Read more below and get your birding on.

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5 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day From Home

By Blog, Nature, Things to Do

Happy Earth Day! Find out how you can make a difference this Earth Day by implementing the five tips below!

1. Give Extra Love to Your House Plants
Got plants? Give them some extra attention by watering them and singing to them. Do some transplanting for those plants that have gotten too big for their pot.

Don’t have plants? You can find seeds without leaving your home! Save those cores from consumed fruits and veggies and plant them in small containers. You will be amazed at how quickly the ends of lettuce or an apple or lemon seed will grow.

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Invasive Plants: How You Can Help Prevent Their Spread

By Blog, Nature
One of the most common threats to the natural ecosystems of the C&O Canal National Historical Park are invasive plant species. Invasive species are not native to the area and have a negative impact on the surrounding ecosystem. Many invasive plant species not only outcompete the native plants, but they have little to no native predators, allowing invasives to thrive and spread in the Park. Read More

The Bald Eagle Has Landed

By Nature

The Bald Eagle, considered a sign of strength since the times of the ancient Romans, has been our national symbol since 1782. Fun fact: Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to his daughter in 1784, described the bald eagle as “a bird of bad moral character”. This regal bird has now become an icon symbolizing American strength and fortitude. Read More

Why Fish Need Ladders

By Nature

Fish was a principle food source for early settlers in Maryland and Virginia. As settlements began to creep westward, the demand for fish meant that this valuable food source also needed to move westward from the Chesapeake Bay to its western tributaries. The Great Falls area on the Potomac River posed a challenge since the migrating fish could not go upstream beyond the falls. Industry, canals, and dams also negatively affected this migration.

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