Plant resources within the watershed include more than 60 tree and shrub species, 20 fern species, 200 wildflower species, including 9 native orchids. Rare plants within the watershed include the leather flower, tawny ironweed, elephant’s foot, fall witch grass, putty orchid, and cranefly orchid.
The trails of the White Clay Creek Preserve are filled with a riot of wildflowers, especially in Spring. Walk slowly or hop off your bike and keep a sharp eye out for them! Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Earth laughs in flowers”
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Unless otherwise noted, all photos are from Ellen Scavia
Scarlet Beebalm (Monarda Didyma)
Don’t miss the scarlet beebalm blooming along the PennDel trail by South Bank Road! This native perennial wildflower attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bumblebees as primary pollinators. Beebalm was traditionally used to heal and soothe injuries and it’s crushed leaves produce a fragrant oil. It tends to grow on the edges of moist woods and along stream banks!
Photo by Sarah Sato
Philadelphia Fleabane (Erigeron Philadelphicus)
If you have traversed the trails at White Clay Creek Preserve, chances are you’ve probably seen Philadelphia Fleabane. These native wildflowers grow along roadsides and in fields and woodlands. Native American tribes used Philadelphia Fleabane for multiple medicinal purposes such as to treat headaches, colds, and coughs!
Photo by Sarah Sato
Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), also known as River Oats, Flathead Oats, Indian Wood Oats, Wild Oats is a native grass captured by Liz Steichen. Note the texture and pattern of the graceful seed head. Seeds are enjoyed by birds and other wildlife.
Sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary. Thank you Liz Steichen for this common wild onion.
Blue Flag Iris bloom along the Penndel trail. Start walking from Parking lot#1 towards the beaver dam. On the right side of the trail, there are wetlands created by this dam. Nestled among the cattails are clumps of iris. Unlike the garden variety iris, the lowest petals (sepals) are beardless (no bristles). They spread by toxic, horizontal underground roots (rhizomes), which many cultures have used as medicine.
One Flowered Broomrape, One Flowered Cancer Root (Orobanche uniflora). This plant does not contain chlorophyll and is dependent on other plants to produce nutrients. The species is parasitic on a wide array of species but does not harm them
“How lovely is the silence of growing things.” Evan Dickens. Golden Alexander is related to parsley and is part of the carrot family. It was once used to heal wounds, and relieve fevers. They are now along the Charles Bailey trail.
One of the most common, native, spring wildflower along the PennDel trail is Yellow Trout Lily. The common name “trout” comes from its mottled leaves, which resemble the coloring of the skin of Brown Trout. While it may carpet the forest floor, it may take up to 7 years for a plant to be mature enough to flower. “Life’s Beauty is tied to the fragility of life”. Dr. Susan David.
Jacob’s Ladder is blooming in the White Clay Creek Preserve. Its blue-violet flowers look like bells. Its paired leaflets give it the ladder name. There is a bible story about Jacob climbing a ladder to heaven. The flower is indeed heavenly.
Blue Cohosh has flowers that range from greenish-yellow to purplish-brown. A single main stem is a blue-purple in the spring. In the summer it will grow a dark blue poisonous berry. Found on the Nivins Trail.
It feels like winter in the Preserve but there are still treasures to find along your hike. This is Striped Wintergreen also known as Pipsissewa, and Rheumatism Root. Some of these names refer to the medicinal uses of this plant. Striped Wintergreen contains chemical compounds with antiseptic, antibacterial, and astringent properties, among others. One of the compounds, ursolic acid, is effective in treating arthritis and other causes of pain and inflammation. Striped Wintergreen and a close relative that is also called Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) have been used to treat urinary tract infections and kidney stones. The name Pipsissewa is derived from a Creek Native American word that means ‘to break into small pieces, referring to stones in the urinary tract. This time of year it is easy to spot among the leaves but in the summer it is well hidden.
Long before the trees in White Clay Creek Preserve leaf out, spring ephemerals send up flowers from the forest floor. First up are usually snowdrops (sometimes growing out of snow). They were introduced from Europe and Asia and today 3/2/21 can be seen in abundance behind the Parson’s House on Sharpless Road. They have also naturalized throughout the forest.
Spring Beauty, the pink flower pictured below, often grows in large patches in wet deciduous woods. It reproduces from a small underground tuber.
photo by Tom Needles
This is the time of year we see the fruit of milkweed plants. Ripe pods split to release fluffy seeds. Seeds are equipped with hairy filaments which facilitate dispersal by wind. During windy days, seeds often travel 25 to 100 feet away from the mother plant. The fluffy seeds of milkweed were used as stuffing for floatation devices in the USA during WWII. Seeds of milkweed are still popular in the industry of pillows and life jackets. Native Americans used nectar isolated from the flowers of milkweed as a sweetener. They used fibers from the stem of milkweed in the manufacture of ropes and twines. Fibers extracted from milkweed can be used in the manufacture of paper, while milky sap can be used in the manufacture of rubber. Milkweed can survive from 2 to 25 years in the wild, depending on the species and environmental conditions. Photo by Dan Sparks-Jackson.
Sensitive fern, also known as the bead fern, is a native, medium to large-sized deciduous perennial fern. The name comes from the observation by early American settlers that it was very sensitive to frost and drought. It is toxic and therefore seldom grazed by deer.
Both Early Meadow Rue and Tall Meadow Rue can be found along the White Clay Creek. The tall Meadow Rue is much taller than the spring Early Meadow Rue and has a dark stem. It also blooms in September while the other blooms in April. It is wind-pollinated but butterflies will visit it. There is a long history of the medicinal use of this plant among Native Americans and of a similar species in Europe. Hippocrates called it a “soothing herb.” In America, it was used as an antispasmodic and the smoke from the burning leaves was blown into the ear as a cure for deafness.
Rue Anemone is an early spring bloomer along the Charles Bailey trail. Flowers are white-to-pink-to-lavender. The flower lacks nectar, attracting pollinators by color and shape of the flower. It reproduces mainly by underground roots.
The Great Blue Lobelia is blooming along the Charles Bailey trail. It is a tall showy plant that grows in wet woodlands and floodplains. A native perennial, it is named after the Flemish botanist Matthias de Lobel (1538-1616). It attracts hummingbirds for pollination.
From a bird’s point of view, this is the season of berries and seeds. White Baneberry also known as doll’s eyes produce white berries with deep purple “pupils” that give them the appearance of a doll’s eyes. All parts of this native plant are toxic to humans and animals. Although birds can eat the berries without issue.
Ironweed (Veronica gigantea). This tall late summer-blooming, perennial is a stunning deep purple. It flourishes in moist fields and floodplains. “The Plants of Pennsylvania” by Ann Fowler Rhoads and Timothy Block”.
Common chicory is a somewhat woody, perennial herbaceous plant, usually with bright blue flowers, rarely white or pink. Native to the Old World, it has been introduced to North America and Australia. Many varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, chicons (blanched buds), or roots (var. sativum), which are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and food additive. In the 21st century, an extract from chicory root, has been used in food manufacturing as a sweetener and source of dietary fiber. It is grown as a forage crop for livestock.
On PenDel trail near Parking lot #1, a couple of years ago beaver built a dam along a tributary to the creek. The newly formed pond created water quiet enough for the native Yellow Water Lily to grow. Because it is rooted in the lake or pond bottom it requires quiet water. Its roots produce large rhizomes that are often eaten by muskrats and beavers. Lovely addition to our preserve.
Golden Ragwort also is known as Golden Groundsel. It is a member of the Daisy Family. It has 2 distinctly different leaves; one heart-shaped and one long with fine cuts. It spreads on wet ground, low woods, and wet meadows. It can be purchased at native plant sales. Do not confuse ragwort with ragweed. They are entirely different plants
It’s easy to find Blue and Yellow Violets in the Preserve, they are abundant. Have you found White Violets? They are native but less abundant. Called Canada Violet it grows in patches and is one of the few violets that emit a fragrance.
They are called Virginia Bluebells but they are native throughout the eastern half of the US, north of Florida. Virginia bluebells are found in moist, rich woods and river valleys. These were found on the White Clay Creek banks along the PennDel trail. Like other spring ephemerals, Virginia bluebells must grow, blossom and set seed quickly during the brief interval, after cold temperatures, before trees form enough leaves to shade them out. By mid-summer, the plants have faded away. They are pollinated by bumblebees as seen in this photo and other long-tongued bees.
Look how tiny this woodland perennial is! The globe of flowers is about 1/2 inch in diameter. This Dwarf Ginseng was found along the Edwin Leid trail near the Middle Branch of the White Clay Creek off New Peltier Road. Dwarf Ginseng is also called Ground Nut. The root was both eaten by Native Americans and used as medicine. It is mainly found in 2 ecological communities; Beech Maple forest and Maple Basswood forest. The trail where it is found is mainly a Beech Maple forest.
Bloodroot can be seen on many of the trails. Its flowers open on sunny days and close at night. The leaf curls up around the stalk on cloudy days and during the night. It gets its name from the red juice in the stem and roots, used by many cultures as a dye and insect repellent. It is a native perennial in our deciduous forests.
As you walk through the drab brown leaves of the forest floor, look for a singular green leaf poking through the leaf cover. You may find a rare woodland orchid called Cranesfly (Tipularia discolor figure 1).
They have an unusual lifestyle, similar to that of another orchid in the Preserve, Puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale). Cranefly Orchids depend on the presence of special fungi in the soil for germination and to obtain essential nutrients for growth and survival. Plants provide food in the form of carbohydrates to the fungi, and in return, the fungi work with other soil microbes to provide nutrients and water from the soil to the plants.
Like Puttyroot, a Cranefly Orchid typically produces only one oval-shaped leaf, deep green on the top with a purple underside. The leaf emerges in fall, and withers before the flower cluster appears in mid to late summer. Without competition for sunlight from the canopy of leaves that shade it during the growing season, Cranefly Orchid is able to photosynthesize during the winter, gathering the energy it needs for its summer bloom, usually in July or August).
Cut-leaf Toothwort is another perennial, native wildflower that can be seen throughout the preserve. It flowers early before the forest trees sprout and block out sunlight. By midsummer, it dies back to the ground. Its common name refers to its deeply cut lobes of the leaves which resemble teeth. The word “wort” means common. The plant is a host plant for the Checkered White butterfly caterpillar. (Stan Tekiela).
Princess Pine, Lycopodium obscurum, a ground pine that is a species of clubmoss.
How about the delicate lavender petals of wild geranium? It is also known as Crane’s-bill geranium because it’s seed capsule’s long narrow shape looks like that of the bill of a crane.
Christmas Fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, an evergreen fern common in White Clay Creek Preserve.
Touch-me-not grows along the shaded banks of White Clay Creek. It gets its name from its long, thin seed pods which when ripe explode when touched, sending seeds in all directions. It is also called Jewelweed because water droplets on its leaves shine like tiny jewels. The juice from its stem can be used to soothe the sting from stinging nettle or poison ivy. The spur of the flower contains nectar which hummingbirds love.
Wild Columbine is a perennial native wildflower within the Preserve. At one time it was considered for our national flower because its flowers resemble the talons of the Bald Eagle. Hummingbirds and long-tongued moths enjoy the nectar of this flower. Never dig native plants from the Preserve. This plant is available commercially for home gardens.
Spiderwort can be found along the Charles Bailey trail. It looks somewhat exotic for a native plant. The ending “wort” means common.
False Solomon’s Seal
Star of Bethlehem
Have you seen this one yet? Wild Ginger’s large flowers are located at ground level to accommodate ground-dwelling insects such as beetles. While it has a strong ginger-like odor when the heart-shaped leaves are crushed, it is not the same species used for Asian cooking.
How about a perennial native wildflower with green blooms? Solomon’s Seal grows from a large underground rootstock (rhizome).
Wild Blue Phlox
Here’s a perennial favorite in the White Clay Creek Preserve; Jack-in-the-Pulpit. It’s also called Indian Turnip because American Indians gathered its taproot as food. Inside a green or purplish hood is a stalk, at the base of which are tiny separate male or female flowers. Its berries are bright red in the fall.
Here’s one to look for Sharp-lobed Hepatica. It’s called Hepatica because the lobes of the leaves resemble the 3 lobes of the liver. Early herbalists thought it was good for the treatment of the liver – not true!
Native Wildflowers on the Charles Bailey Trail are in their full glory. Dutchman’s Breeches look like upside-down pants and the leaves are soft and feathery. Only bees with mouth parts long enough can delve deep enough into the flower to reach the nectar. Some insects “cheat” by chewing a hole in the spur of the bloom to access the nectar
Jacob’s Ladder bloom in the White Clay Creek Preserve. Its blue-violet flowers look like bells. Its paired leaflets give it the ladder name. There is a bible story about Jacob climbing a ladder to heaven. The flower is indeed heavenly.
Large colonies of Mayapple have opened their umbrella-like leaves in the moist woods of the preserve. Its common name refers to its blooming time. The leaves, stems and leaves are toxic but the lemon-shaped berries it produces later in the summer are edible.
Skunk Cabbage along PennDel trail.
Indian pipe, (Monotropa uniflora), also called ghost plant, corpse plant, convulsion root, or ghost pipe, nonphotosynthetic perennial herb of the heath family (Ericaceae). The plant is mycoheterotrophic, meaning it lives in close association with a fungus from which it acquires most of its nutrition. Photo by Gary Monroe.
Joe Pye Weed