Tag Archives: Virginia Bluebells

Riverbend’s Bluebell Watch Has Begun

FINAL UPDATE: April 9, 2014

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Our phone has been ringing constantly this week and the main question is “How far along are the bluebells?” One caller said that she has a friend who visits every year around this time and that her two favorite things to do are see the cherry blossoms and come to Riverbend to experience the bluebells. Some of the flowers are blooming now, and for the next two weeks the bluebells will put on a spectacular show.

As I walked the river trail this morning I saw all the tightly packed pink blossoms that look like they are about to burst. Insects were flying around and crawling on the leaves. For me, I like to take in the whole forest floor covered with wildflowers and then kneel down for a close inspection of all the life on and near each plant.

“What could be better than sitting near a patch of Bluebells on sunny afternoon, watching a bumblebee foraging for nectar among the flowers.” Marijke Gate, naturalist, Riverbend Park

Don’t forget to join us this Saturday (April 12) at Riverbend Park from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our second 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

UPDATE: April 2, 2014

Bumblebees are big fans of bluebells, too.

Bumblebees are big fans of bluebells, too.

 

UPDATE: March 28, 2014

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Snow earlier this week and frigid nights can’t stop the progressing bluebells. Their leaves continue to push through snow, ice and whatever else the weather brings. These hardy plants are starting to 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.

Riverbend Park visitors Mona Enquist-Johnston and Gary Johnston describe the annual explosion of color this way: “Carpets of purple and blue ring in the spring.”

The coming weeks will offer visitors one of nature’s finest floral displays. Spring beauties, cut-leaved toothworts, trout lilies, and a host of other beautiful wildflowers will mix in and add texture to the bluebell palette. One of the earliest wildflowers, harbinger of spring, is already in bloom. This small member of the parsley family stands only two to three inches tall.

When the flowers are in bloom, take time to thank a pollinator. Pollination of spring wildflowers is completed by a host of insects. Bees and butterflies visit the colorful blooms spreading pollen. Some wild flowers like the sessile trillium do not rely on brightly colored blooms that attract visual pollinators. Their flowers produce a rotting smell which attracts beetles and flies to spread pollen. Stop at a cluster of wildflowers for five minutes and observe the wide variety of bees, butterflies, flies, and beetles hard at work.

Julie Gurnee, senior interpreter at Riverbend Park, said, “When the bluebells blanket the woods of Riverbend, it reminds me to take a closer look, for this is the time of year there are many more elusive treasures to be found.  This is the time to stop, look, and discover other spring ephemerals that may be tucked away in the woods.”

Don’t forget to join us at Riverbend Park on April 12 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our second 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.

Written by John Callow, assistant manager, Riverbend Park

UPDATE: March 14, 2014

Virginia bluebells push through the floodplain at Riverbend Park.

Virginia bluebells push through the floodplain at Riverbend Park.

March has arrived with snow, sun, and temperatures that are bouncing around like a rubber ball.  Despite the dramatic weather, Virginia bluebells continue to push through the fallen leaves and soil as they progress toward their breathtaking explosion of color in April. Leaves are just starting to transition from deep purple to hints of delicate green.

The cherry blossoms are predicted to peak April 8 through12. At Riverbend Park, we expect the bluebells to peak between April 8 and April 15, just in time for the Bluebells at the Bend Festival slated for April 12, 2014. Unlike the cherry blossoms, which were a gift from Japan, the bluebells are a native gift to river floodplains and Riverbend Park provides the perfect garden.

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 re-grow their leaves and close the forest canopy. In March more than 50 percent of the available sunlight reaches the forest floor. By mid-April this drops to 30 percent and then to 10 percent come May.

The bluebells and other spring wildflowers produce a different experience for everyone. The experience is personal and cannot be duplicated by pictures or stories. I enjoy talking to visitors and staff about the bluebells and hearing their stories. Each experience is unique and private, but I am glad they decide to share it with me.

“When you’re standing at a certain point on the trail and you can see just a covering of this cheery blue color all over, it gives you this sense of peace and tranquility that couldn’t possibly be found in any other setting,” said Michelle Brannon, an interpretive naturalist at Riverbend Park. “My favorite part about walking through the bluebells is finding the odd ones; the random little bursts of pink or the rarer blooms of white are like the flowers are sending you on their own little scavenger hunt.”

February 24, 2014

Virginia bluebells resemble dark purple spinach leaves.

Virginia bluebells resemble dark purple spinach leaves.

Winter’s grip gradually relaxes with each passing day. Patches of snow cling to every bit of shade as the late winter sun shines through the leafless trees. Something stirs just under the surface that reminds us of nature’s yearly cycle and the interaction between ecosystems.

Spring wildflowers are taking in nutrients and available water and pressuring the soil as they prepare to erupt with an array of blooms that magnificently display the season. One wildflower in particular shows its colors like no other, the Virginia bluebell (Mertensia Virginica).

“The most important part of bluebell season is when the purplish green leaves start breaking the soil in late winter early spring. It gives one hope that spring is riding the longer days to arrive,” Fairfax County Park Authority Naturalist Jim Dewing said.

The scientific name honors the German botanist Franz Karl Mertens, a German botanist (1764-1831.) The species name refers to Virginia, where the plant was first identified. Thomas Jefferson grew Virginia bluebells at Monticello. The bluebells at Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Va., were not planted by anyone; the river, wildlife, and climate have all pitched in to create this native garden.

Bluebells thrive in rich floodplain soils that are replenished each year by floods. This time of year they superficially resemble dark purple spinach leaves slicing through the sand and silt. By mid-April their purplish blue blooms will adorn acres and acres of forest floor at Riverbend Park.

Bluebells spread like a carpet of blue at Riverbend Park.

Bluebells spread like a carpet of blue at Riverbend Park.

I invite you to come to Riverbend Park on Saturday, April 12, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as we celebrate spring at our Second Annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival with live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities. Admission to the event is $5 per person. For more information, call Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.

This page will be updated weekly with photos of the blooming bluebells, so check back often.

Author John Callow is the assistant manager at Riverbend Park.

Spring Ephemerals In Bloom At Hidden Oaks

Longing to enjoy the beauty of spring but don’t have the time or energy to hike out and find the elusive native wildflower spring blossoms? Walk one hundred feet of sidewalk from our driveway to the front door and enjoy a burst of spring color from over a dozen native plants!

Blooming today are Virginia bluebells, toad trillium, squirrel’s corn, violets, golden ragwort, spring beauties and the unusual Dutchmen’s breeches. Also marvel at the redbud tree with the bright pink blossoms popping right off the limbs and the last of the tiny yellow flowers of the spicebush. Wander a short woodchip trail to see more flowers plus mayapples and ferns. 

Jacob’s Ladder will be blooming soon, so head over to the nature center to see these spring ephemerals before the shade of the trees wraps up one of nature’s glorious shows. If you have a few minutes more, head over to the pond around the other side of the nature center. Thousands of yellow-spotted salamander eggs are catching some rays and wood frogs are munching on plants in their tadpole stage. Any day now the male toads will arrive, trilling for their mates and strings of toads eggs will be added to this busy little pond.

Suzanne Holland, visitor services manager, Hidden Oaks Nature Center

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