Tiptoe Through The Trillium
(Tromp on the Lesser Celandine)

-- by Ann Marie Cunningham

Sycamore Islander, May 2003

A Box Elder tree in bloom along the canal.
The first thing we learned on the Spring Flower Walk was to identify the lesser celandine. This was the beginning of a lesson on native plants and invasive species. The lesser celandine, while it does have a pretty yellow blossom, is an invasive species that is crowding out many of our more fragile native plants. When we were walking in areas where the ground was covered with wildflowers, we were encouraged to step on the lesser celandine and garlic mustard, and to try to avoid damaging the native plants. The lesser celandine made a nice rounded clump that was an excellent stepping stone.

The leaders' briefing at the ferry landing.
Our guides, R.G. Steinman and John Parrish were very knowledgeable and interesting. They shared cooking tips with us as they discussed the flavors of many of the wildflowers. Spring beauties were abundant. They have a delicate pink blossom with dark pink lines running through them. Theyíre relatively common in the floodplain just above the Island in the area between the canal and river. Iíve seen them many times before, yet I have trouble remembering such a simple name. Perhaps this time the name will stick.

John Parrish identifying a plant on the forest floor.
John challenged us to find trillium and ramps. The trillium is one of the native species that we saw, which had a large dark purplish bud and three broad green leaves. Ramps are in the onion family, but with broader, softer leaves than I would expect from an onion. They werenít yet in bloom.

Have you ever paddled up about a half mile from the Island and seen two very large trees close together? They are probably the Shumard oak. Itís one very large and very old tree with a split trunk. While no one knows for sure, we wondered if it was there during the Civil War.

These gorgeous Trout Lilies were a special find.
English ivy, another invasive plant, was growing up the trunks of trees. If left alone, the roots, digging into the bark, would eventually kill the tree. RG was pleased to see that the ivy had been cut, enabling the tree to recuperate. I was pleased to tell her that some of our members had led an attack on English ivy and kudzu. John and RG showed us the difference between the way the ivy dug into the bark, while the Virginia creeper, a relative of grapes, has tendrils that coil around whatever it can get a grip on. The creeper does not hurt the trees at all. Our leaders also pointed out a grapevine that was the biggest specimen they had ever seen, a huge, massive vine on its supporting tree. Another invasive vine that we saw, with which, hopefully, no one had a close personal encounter, was poison ivy. Many in the group were surprised to learn that poison ivy could cause an allergic reaction at any time of the year. Even the bare vine in winter and the dried leaves can cause a rash. Remember Ė leaves of three, let it be.

RG Steinman has a rest on a convenient grape vine.
John and RG also had helpful advice about growing native plants in your back yard. They gave us web pages to the Maryland and Virginia Native Plant Societies. When I told Tryon about them, he surprised me by telling me that there are links to them from www.sycamoreisland.org.

Our trip ended on the Island where we sat on the Captainís float, ate our lunch, and admired the Virginia bluebells. The bluebells were covered with pinkish buds. Two weeks later, at the workfest, the buds had blossomed into blue trumpet-shaped flowers and covered the Island with their beauty.

The group that participated in the walk was larger than usual, and I know that we are all grateful to John and RG for guiding us. We are thrilled to hear that they are willing to do this for us again.

The author (left) lunches with friends on the Island.

Ann Marie Cunningham was elected President of the Club this year. Although she writes the monthly commentaries about the meetings, this is her first full article for the newsletter.

Ann Marie and her husband, John, have been very enthusiastic members of the Club for eight years.