Riverbend Park’s Bluebell Watch Has Begun

FINAL UPDATE: April 10, 2013

We've finally reached the peak time to view the Virginia bluebells at Riverbend Park.

We’ve finally reached the peak time to view the Virginia bluebells at Riverbend Park.

With the blast of warm weather this week the Virginia bluebells are really blooming. For the next 10 days or so the bluebells will put on a beautiful display. In places along the river trail you are virtually surrounded by them. Don’t wait. Now is the time to come out and witness this spectacular display, because by May they will virtually disappear until next spring.

The Virginia bluebells are in full bloom.

The Virginia bluebells are in full bloom.

Don’t forget to join us at Riverbend Park this Saturday, April 13 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our first annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. The event costs just  $5 person and features live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities. For more information, call Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.

Come enjoy the trails lined with Virginia bluebells.

Come enjoy the trails lined with Virginia bluebells.

UPDATE: April 2, 2013

Virginia bluebells are beginning to carpet the floodplain.

Virginia bluebells are beginning to carpet the floodplain.

The bluebells seen carpeting the floodplain on April Fools Day were no hoax. Despite late March cold and snow the hardy plants are continuing to grow and take over the forest floor. The dark leaves have now taken on their familiar succulent green color and the deep purple flower buds are clustering.

Deep purple buds are beginning to flower.

Deep purple buds are beginning to flower.

The coming weeks will offer visitors one of nature’s finest floral displays. Spring beauties, cut-leaved toothworts, sessile trilliums, and a host of other beautiful wildflowers will mix in and add texture to the lavender bluebell palette.

Don’t forget to join us at Riverbend Park on April 13 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our first annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. The event costs just $5 per person and features live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities. For more information, call Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.

UPDATE: March 18, 2013

Last year the bluebells peaked in March with early warm and dry conditions. This year the bluebells are on their more “typical” schedule and should peak between April 5 through 15. Usually a good rule to follow is get your taxes done a little early and then come out and enjoy the bluebells.

Virginia bluebells are beginning to spread across the floodplain.

Virginia bluebells are beginning to spread across the floodplain at Riverbend Park.

If you can’t make it out during that time, do not be discouraged. There will still be plenty of wildflowers in bloom from the end of March through April. Also, because of the park’s topography not all bloom at once, so you will always find patches of blooming plants in the spring.

Flower buds are beginning to appear.

Flower buds are beginning to appear.

Once blooming is over and the plants develop seeds, they rely on some busy insects to help plant more. Myrmecochory, from the Greek myrmeco “ants” and chory “dispersal,” is seed dispersal by ants. This ecologically significant ant-plant relationship is worldwide and beneficial to both.

The plants produce seeds that have a fatty rich substance attached to them called eliasomes. Worker ants collect the seeds and take them back to their colonies where the eliasome is removed and fed to growing larvae. Once the eliasome is removed the ants either discard the remaining seed underground or they eject them from the colony in nearby soil. This act accomplishes two things. Seeds are deposited in more favorable locations for growing and they are spread, ultimately adding more plants to the population of wildflowers.  So when you visit Riverbend Park to see the bluebells, stop and give thanks to the marching ants at your feet.

UPDATE: March 8, 2013

March has arrived with a mix of warm, cold, wind, rain, and, yes, a little snow. Despite the ever changing weather, the Virginia bluebells continue to push through the soil. Leaves are beginning to change from deep purple to hints of delicate green as chlorophyll is formed from longer days.

The purplish leaves of Virginia bluebells are turning green.

The purplish leaves of Virginia bluebells are turning green.

Bluebells, along with many other spring wildflowers including spring beauties and cut-leaved toothwort, are called spring ephemerals. They bloom early, and then by May all that is left are withering leaves and seeds. Come mid-May, bluebells pull a vanishing act leaving no visible trace of their existence. All of these hardy wildflowers take advantage of the sunlight reaching the forest floor before the towering trees grow their leaves. In March, more than 50% of the available sunlight reaches the forest floor. By mid-April this drops to 30%, and then by May only 10% is reaching the ground.  

Check out next week’s update for a prediction of when the bluebells will peak! Also, learn about some amazing insects that help plant more wildflowers.

Don’t forget to join us at Riverbend Park on April 13 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our first annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. The event costs just  $5 person and features live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities.

March 4, 2013
It is the beginning of March with snow in the forecast but there are signs of spring everywhere. Tree buds are swelling, birds are in motion, singing as they go, and the Virginia bluebells (Mertensia Virginica) are poking their leaves through the sandy floodplain soil. Virginia bluebells, also called Virginia Cowslip, Tree Lungwort, Roanoke-bells, Mertens, and Oysterleaf put on a dazzling display at Riverbend Park from late March to mid-April. These flowering plants burst with intense purplish blue flowers that literally carpet the forest floor next to the river.

Virginia bluebells poke through the sandy soil.

Virginia bluebells poke through the sandy soil.

Bluebells line the trail at Riverbend Park.

Bluebells line the trail at Riverbend Park.

The scientific name honors German botanist Franz Karl Mertens (1764-1831). The species name refers to Virginia, where the plant was first identified. Thomas Jefferson grew Virginia bluebells at Monticello which inspired the garden writers of the 18th century to call them “Jefferson’s blue funnel flowers.”  

Virginia bluebells are native wildflowers that are beneficial to early pollinating insects including bumblebees, honeybees, and butterflies.  Check back regularly to see the progress of the bluebells as they prepare for their annual spring show.

Virginia Bluebells

Join us at Riverbend Park on April 13 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our first annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. The event costs just  $5 person and features live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities. For more information, call Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.

Written by John Callow, assistant manager, Riverbend Park

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 11 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2008. Another Park Bond Referendum will be held in November 2012. Today, the Park Authority has 420 parks on approximately 23,168 acres of land. We offer 371 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park System is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: o Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist. o Eight golf courses including Laurel Hill, our newest, upscale course and clubhouse located in Southern Fairfax County o Five nature and visitor centers. Also seven Off-Leash Dog Activity areas o Several lakes including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax o The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter o Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel o An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter o Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel o Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent o A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly o A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale o Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community o Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center o Provides 274 athletic fields, including 30 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 500 school athletic fields PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: • A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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