Sunday, April 29, 2012

How to Identify the Yellow Violets of the Mid Atlantic Region

One of the joys of Spring are the wildflowers and no flower is more emblematic of the season than a violet.  The family Violaceae is an extremely large family with over 90 species found throughout the United States and Canada.  For this post we are going to explore the yellow violets of the Mid Atlantic region.  Of the 33 species of violet that grow from New York to North Carolina only four have a yellow flower: Viola hastata (Halberd-leaved Violet), Viola pubescens (Downy Yellow Violet), Viola rotundifolia (Round-leaved Yellow Violet), and Viola tripartita (Threepart Violet).

Photo: Viola hastata, Tom Ward

In the Mid Atlantic region violets can be found in most habitats, from the dry shale barrens of the Appalachians to the marshy areas of the coastal plain.  The yellow violets are typically found growing in moist soils often along stream banks and river plains.  Bloom time depends on location, but it can be safely said that from late March into mid May is the time to keep your eyes peeled for these beautiful flowers.

Viola rotundifolia (Round-leaved Yellow Violet)

Photo: Viola rotundifolia, Blue Ridge Kitties

Viola rotundifolia is one of the most common and the smallest of our of the yellow violets.  This is the only yellow violet in the east where the flower and the leaves grow on separate stems.  In botanical terms this is referred to as the flower being unstemmed or acaulescent.  

Photo: Viola rotundifolia, Blue Ridge Kitties

The range of the Round-leaved Violet in the United States is from Maine south into Pennsylavania and New Jersey.  South of PA and NJ the plant is typically restricted to the Appalachian Mountains with scattered populations reaching into the piedmont.  In the Mid Atlantic region there a only a few populations that touch the coastal plain north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Map of Viola rotundifolia, USDA Plant Database

Identification of the Round-leaved Yellow Violet is very easy.  As stated above, this is the only unstemmed yellow violet in the east.  This, along with the small size and rounded leaves makes for an easy id.

Photo: Viola routndifolia, Jason Hollinger

Viola pubescens (Downy Yellow Violet/Smooth-leaved Yellow Violet)

Photo: Viola pubescens, Pearl Pirie

The Downy Yellow Violet is another common yellow violet that grows throughout the Mid Atlantic region. The current taxonomy of Viola pubescens is somewhat muddy.  Viola pensylvanica used to be a species called Smooth-leaved Yellow Violet. These plants were discovered to produced hybrids with Viola pubescens when there were populations of both species present in the same area.  This hybridization caused some concern over the validity of the Viola pensylvanica, which resulted in the species being lumped into Viola pubescens.  The end result is that there are two varieties of Viola pubescens: Viola pubescens var. pubescens and Viola pubescens var. scabriuscula. Fortunately, it is not difficult to tell the two varieties apart and it is still very easy to differentiate either of Viola pubescens varieties from all the other yellow violet species in our region.

Photo: Viola pubescens var. pubescens, Nicholas T.

Viola pubescens var. pubescens can be identified by the hairiness of the plant's stem and leaves.  Unlike the Round-leaved Yellow Violet, Viola pubescens is stemmed, meaning that the leaves and flower share the same stem.  Along with being hairy, the leaves of the Downy Yellow Violet are heart-shaped or cordate.  The photograph below is an example of a cordate shaped leaf.

Photo: cordate shaped leaf, Zen Sutherland

Viola pubescens var. scariuscula is virtually identical to Viola pubescens var. pubescens except that the top of the leaves of var. scariuscula are not hairy but smooth. 

Photo: Viola pubescens var. scariuscula, Dan Mullen

This is the only yellow violet in our area that regularly grows on the coastal plain.  It is found throughout all the states of our region except the coastal plain of North Carolina and the southern portion of the Delmarva Peninsula.  Below are two maps from the USDA Plant Database that show the state ranges of the two varieties of Viola pubescens.

Map of Viola pubescens var. pubescens, USDA Plant Database

Map of Viola pubescens var. scariuscula, USDA Plant Database

Viola hastata (Halberd-leaved Violet)

Photo: Viola hastata, Jason Hollinger

Viola hastata is not as common as the previous two species.  This stemmed yellow violet is easily recognized by it halberd shaped leaves.

Photo: Viola hastata, SWG101

While the leaves are still considered cordate, they are much longer and pointer than the previously mentioned violets.  The leaves of Viola hastata can also have silvery mottling like in the above photo.  The yellow flowers of the Halberd-leaved Violet usually have a purplish wash to the back of the top petals.

Photo: Viola hastata, Jason Hollinger

Viola hastata is almost completely restricted to the Appalachian Mountains except in northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York and it also grows in the piedmont of North Carolina.

Map of Viola hastata, USDA Plant Database

Viola tripartita (Three-parted Violet)

The Three-parted Violet is the rarest of the Mid Atlantic regions four species of yellow violets.  One of the reasons for the plants rarity might be because it is difficult to identify because of the variability of the plants leaves.  I could only get one photo of Viola tripartita to use in the blog, so I am going to give links to various websites to help give examples of the plants structure.

Photo: Viola tripartita, William Tanneberger

Viola tripartita at first glance closely resembles Viola hastata.  There is one major difference between the two species.  Viola hastata's leaves are always cordate, while Viola tripartita's leaves are always cuneate (wedge-shaped).  On the website Alabama Plants, there is a photo showing the cuneate leaves of the Three-parted Violet.  It can be seen here ALABAMA PLANTS.  So if you find a yellow violet with halberd shaped leaves make sure you check tthe base of a leaf to see if the leaf is cuneate or cordate.  This will give you the correct identity of the flower.  Another website that gives more information on this species is Native and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas & Georgia.  There are more photos and some more technical info on Viola tripartita.  It can be viewed here Plants of the Carolinas & Georgia.  There seems to be two varieties of Viola tripartita, although there seems to be no consensus among botanists.  The two varieties are separated by leaf structure.  Viola tripartita var. glaberrima has cuneate leaves like we have discussed above and seems to be the more common variety in the Mid Atlatnic region.  Viola tripartita var. tripartita has deeply divided leaves typically in three lobes.  Var. tripartita seems to be the less common of the two varieties.  More information and a photo of the leaves of Viola tripartita var. tripartita can be viewed at the website Wildflowers of the United States.  It can be viewed here Wildflowers of the United States.

Map of Viola tripartita, USDA Plant Database

Viola tripartita seems to be extremely local throughout its range and seems to become increasingly rare in the northern portions of its range.  In the Mid Atlantic it is found exclusively in Appalachian Mountains except for populations that grow in the piedmont of North Carolina.  Since the above map has been published the plant has been found in Virginia and has become extirpated in Pennsylvania.

I would like to thank all the photographers who made this post possible, especially William Tanneberger who supplied the only only photo of the Three-parted Violet. Please go and check out their photo sites.

Maps were provided by the USDA Plant Database --
County level maps are available for all species at the Biota of North America --

There doesn't seem to be any books that have been published in the past 20 tears that are exclusive to the wild violets of North America.  If anyone knows of any books that I might have overlooked please let us know by putting the title and brief description in the comments section.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Coppers (Lycaena) of the Mid Atlantic Region

One of my favorite families of butterflies are the Coppers.  Coppers belong to the family Lycaena.  They are a world wide family with sixteen species represented in the United States.  The Mid Atlantic region has three representatives of the family;  American Cooper, Bronze Copper, and Bog Copper. Coppers are not terribly common in our region, but with an understanding of habitat it's not that difficult to find all three species.

American Cooper (Lycaena phlaeas)

Photo: American Copper, Jim Brighton

American Copper is the most common of the three copper species in the Mid Atlantic region.  They are well represented throughout the region.  From New York to Virginia and West Virginia they are found through out, but in North Carolina they seem to be absent from the coastal plain.  American Coppers are often found in disturbed areas like road sides, fields, and barren areas.

Photo: American Copper, Jim Brighton

Strangely, the American Copper's hostplants are non-native buckwheats like Sheep Sorrel and Curled Dock.  A hostplant is the type of plant that a butterfly species will lay her eggs on.  Once the eggs hatch into caterpillars, the caterpillars use the hostplant as food. Some experts feel that since the hostplants of the species are not native that it is possible this butterfly was an early colonizer that came from Europe with early settlers (American Copper is found throughout Europe and Asia).  Other scientist's disagree, and point out that other butterfly species have changed their hostplants to alien species and argue that there isn't enough supportive evidence to prove the theory.  Below are photos of Sheep Sorrel and Curly Dock, the most common hostplant of American Copper.

Photo: Sheep Sorrel, Moosicorn

Photo: Curly Dock, Roy Randall

Photo: American Copper, Jim Brighton

Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus)

Bronze Coppers are much larger than American Coppers and they are typically found in different environments.  Bronze Coppers prefer moist to wet weedy meadows, pond and ditches with tall grassy edges, and freshwater marsh edges. 

Photo: Bronze Copper, Jim Brighton

Unfortunately, Bronze Coppers have been disappearing from many of their known locations.  Disturbance and destruction of much of their habitat in the east is definitely one of the reasons this beautiful butterfly is becoming scarce.  In the Mid Atlantic region they are found from New York, south through to Maryland and West Virginia.  Although I believe there are records for Virginia, I don't believe there are any extant populations.  In the Butterflies and Moths of North American website they only have two records for Virginia, one on the Eastern Shore and one near Manassas.  Bronze Copper has not been recorded in North Carolina.

Photo: Bronze Copper, Eric Haley

Like the American Copper, Bronze Copper also uses docks as hostplants.  Our native Water Dock is the preferred hostplant, but Curly Dock and knotweeds have also been reported as hostplants.

Photo, Water Dock, Phillip Merritt

The Bronze Copper is considered endangered in New Jersey and is threatened in West Virginia. I know of a few populations in Queen Anne's County and Dorchester County, Maryland.  They seem to be doing quite well over the five years that I have been checking on them.

Photo: Bronze Copper's mating, J. Ward

Bog Copper (Lycaena epixanthe)

Bog Copper is by far the rarest of the Mid Atlantic regions coppers.  Bog Coppers are only found in acidic bogs that have cranberries.  Maryland and West Virginia have a disjunct population that is separated from the population that lives from New Jersey north into New England.

Photo: Bog Copper, Bill Boughton

Bog Coppers are smaller coppers that spend the entirety of their lifespan in the same bog where they were born as caterpillars.  They are very weak fliers and spend much of their lives sitting on their hostplant.  Their flight season in the southern portion of their range is in late June and early July while farther north they can fly into August.

  Photo: Bog Copper, Bill Boughton

The hostplant for Bog Coppers is cranberry.  In the southern portion of the copper's range the species of cranberry is Vaccinium microcarpa (Large Cranberry) and in the north it is Vaccinium oxycoccos (Small Cranberry). 

Photo: Large Cranberry, In Awe of God's Creation

Because acidic bogs with cranberries are rare in Maryland, I only know of one population.  Thankfully, the bog is protected, so hopefully this population of Bog Copper will continue to thrive.  New Jersey seems to be a good place to view Bog Coppers because of the many abandoned cranberry bogs where they used to harvest the berries for commercial use.  Bog Coppers are considered endangered in Maryland and West Virginia and it is listed in Pennsylvania as vulnerable.

Photo: Bog Copper's mating, Jim Brighton

I would like to thank the photographers who made this post possible.

Bill Bouton
Eric Haley
Jane Ward
Moosicorn Ranch
Roy Randall
Phillip Merritt
In Awe of God's Creations

Some books that might be of interest to those who might want to pursue butterflies of the Mid Atlantic region.

Butterflies of the East Coast: An Observer's Guide. Cech and Tudor.

Butterflies through Binoculars: The East A Field Guide to The Butterflies of Eastern North America. Glassberg

Butterflies of North America. Kaufman and Brock.

Here are a couple websites that pertain to butterflies of our region

Butterflies of America
Butterflies and Moths of North America
Rick Borchelt's Butterfly Blog is awesome. Use Rick's long list of resources.  Hours of fun can be had here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mid Atlantic Nature Goes International!

On Monday Mid Atlantic Nature had two milestones.  The blog received its 4000th hit and recorded its 50th different country visitation.  To celebrate I am going to post a bunch of photos of wildlife from said country.  From looking at the photos see if you can guess what country was Mid Atlantic Nature's 50th country hit.

Photo: Mediterranean Mon Seal, Eltpics'

Photo: Smew, Tee Time Tony

Photo: Pied Avocets, Davis Kwan

Photo: Green Woodpecker, Lutz-R. Frank

Photo: Ural Owl, Sergey Yeliseev

Photo: Hoopoe, S. Fitzgerald

Photo: Bearded Tit, Tony Sutton

Photo: Fire Salamander, Only Point Five

Photo: Fire-bellied Toad, Roberto Verzo

Photo: Green Lizard, Frederic Saunier

Photo: Purple-edged Copper, Frank Vassen

Photo: Alcon Blue, A. Sancheza

Photo: Southern Festoon, Thijs Calu

Photo: Bumblebee Orchid, Sonnentau

Photo: Orphys lutea, Copepodo

Photo: Lizard Orchid, Natural England

Photo: Landscape, B. Monginoux

Photo: Landscape, Roman Avdagic

Photo: Landscape, Happy Fellus

Did you figure out what country it is?

I would like to thank all the photographers for helping me make this post.  All photos were gleaned from Flickr Creative Commons.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chasing Venus Flytraps: A One Day Trip to Southeastern North Carolina, Pt. 2 The Animals

The last post described the plants that Tom Feild, Jared Satchell, and I found on a short trip to southern North Carolina to find Venus Flytraps.  This post is going to be on the animals we saw during the trip.  Because our trip focused mainly on plants, we didn't get as many animal photographs.  For the purpose of this post, I have used a few photos to illustrate the species we saw, even though the photos may not have been taken on the trip. If there is an asterisk by the photo description, it means that the photo was not taken during the trip.

Most of our day was spent exploring the Nature Conservancy Preserve at Green Swamp in Brunswick County.  This area is dominated by Longleaf Pine savannas that are periodically burned to reduce understory flora that if allowed to grow would block the rare plants that are prevalent in this type of habitat.  It was still early in the spring season so animal life was sparse, but we did see a few very cool species.

When we pulled into the Nature Conservancy's parking lot in the predawn the first bird songs we heard were coming from Bachman's Sparrows.  Bachman's Sparrows are residents of Longleaf Pine savannas and can be tricky to spot.  We were lucky to have four birds singing all around our car. Once it got light we were able to get fairly close to one singing bird.

 Photo: Bachman's Sparrow, Jared Satchell

Even though birds were not our main priority, you couldn't help noticing all the singing birds.  Pine and Yellow-throated Warbler songs were being heard from almost every pine tree.

*Photo: Yellow-throated Warbler, Bill Hubick

Most of the birds we saw or heard were fairly common species.  When we walked through an Atlantic White Cedar swamp later in the day there were a few Black-throated Green Warblers singing.  I believe that these birds were the waynei subspecies that breed on the coastal plain from southern Virginia through South Carolina.  They are a disjunct population from the nominate population that breed in the conifer forests of the northeastern United States and Appalachian Mountains.  The waynei subspecies is smaller and has a shorter bill than the nominate population.  Since most of the Atlantic White Cedar swamps, which the birds seem to favor, have been lost to logging and urbanization, the subspecies is in serious decline.  Alligator River NWR in North Carolina is considered by many to be the last area where there is a large breeding population of this unusual bird.  I couldn't find any photos of the waynei Black-throated Green Warbler to use in the blog, so I am going to use one of Bill Hubick's great photographs that shows the nominate race of the Black-throated Green Warbler.

*Photo: Black-throated Green Warbler, Bill Hubick

Other neotropical migrants that we heard or saw included White-throated Vireo, Northern Parula, and Black-and-white Warbler.

When we arrived predawn at the Nature Conservancy's Preserve at Green Swamp there was a frog calling from the small pond by the parking area.  Tom called it out right away, Southern Cricket Frog.  When it got light we went down to the wet area and tried to find one of the small frogs.  We were lucky. Tom was able to catch one and it sat nice and still for a photograph.

Photo: Southern Cricket Frog, Jim Brighton

Southern Cricket Frogs reached their northern limit in southeastern Virginia.  In the Mid Atlantic region they are exclusive to the coastal plain.  Below is a range map for Southern Cricket Frog provided by the USGS National Amphibian Atlas.

Map: Southern Cricket Frog, USGS National Amphibian Atlas

Just after a period of heavy rain had ended Tom heard a Squirrel Tree Frog and we also heard Little Glass Frogs calling.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to see these two species.

Other than viewing the Venus Flytraps, the highlight of the trip was an Eastern Glass Lizard that we were able to catch and photograph.  We were fortunate to be walking in the pine savanna when an Eastern Glass Lizard decided to slither across the trail right at our feet. Tom was able to scoop him up without damaging the lizard's tail.  Glass Lizards are so named because they have a defense mechanism that causes their tails, which make up half their body length, to easily break off, often into several pieces.  The lost tail will grow back over the months.  The other cool thing about Glass lizards is they do not have any legs or feet.  They look like a snake.

Photo: Eastern Glass Lizard, Jim Brighton

Photo: Tom Feild holding an Eastern Glass Lizard, Jim Brighton

From the above photo you can get an idea of the length of the lizard.  It was probably around 18" long.  It was not mean and never tried to bite.  Eastern Glass Lizards reach their northern limit along the Virginia / North Carolina border.  They are limited to the coastal plain.

Photo: Eastern Glass Lizard, Jim Brighton

Butterflies, while not numerous, were found flying in a few locations.  The most numerous species was Red-banded Hairstreak.

Photo: Red-banded Hairstreak, Jim Brighton

Most of the Red-banded Hairstreaks we saw were nectaring on a flowering shrub that I think is a type of Vaccinium (blueberry), but I'm not positive of the shrub's identification.

Photo: Vaccinium sp? (blueberry), Jim Brighton

Red-banded Hairstreaks are a fairly common spring hairstreak on the coastal plain and piedmont from New Jersey south through the Mid Atlantic into Florida and into the Mid West.

In each of the pine savannas there was usually one or two Palamedes Swallowtails flying about.  Like most swallowtails, we never saw one land so no photos were obtained.

*Photo: Palamedes Swallowtail, Bill Hubick

Palamedes Swallowtails are limited to the coastal plain. They reach their northern range in Worcester County, Maryland and continue south into Florida and the gulf states.

Cloudless Sulphurs were also observed flying.  We were lucky enough to watch one land on a small shrub.  We were amazed at how well the butterfly was camouflaged.  

Photo: Cloudless Sulphur, Jim Brighton

Cloudless Sulphurs are the largest sulphur of the Mid Atlantic region.  The are very common on the coastal plain and become incresaingly rare from the piedmont into the mountains.  The farther south you go the more common they become.

Another common butterfly that we saw flying in the pine savannas were Azures.  The Azure complex is a very confusing group of species that are all very similar but have different food plants and flight times along with minute structural and scale color differences.  I photographed this azure resting on an ilex sp? (holly species).  I expect that this is an American Holly Azure.

Photo: American Holly Azure, Jim Brighton

We also observed a few Pearl Crescents.  These crescents are very common throughout the Mid Atlantic region. Here is a photo of a Pearl Crescent that I took on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

*Photo: Pearl Crescent, Jim Brighton

Once we left the pine savannas and began exploring some of the roadsides, we found a few more butterfly species. Along a small road that ran through an Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, Jared spotted an Eastern Pine Elfin.

*Photo: Eastern Pine Elfin, Bill Hubick

When it wasn't raining we occasionally saw an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail flying along the roadside.

*Photo: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Jim Brighton

We observed a single Silver-spotted Skipper feeding on a flowering Sweetleaf Tree.

*Photo: Silver-spotted Skipper, Bill Hubick

The last butterfly of the day was observed nectaring along the roadside by a small creek.  I was surprised to identify the bug as a Clouded Skipper.  In Maryland, I normally do not see Clouded Skippers until the end of summer and into fall.

*Photo: Clouded Skippers mating, Lynette Schimming

Even with the cloudy cool weather we were able to observe a few dragonflies and a single damselfly.  At the parking lot to the Nature Conservancy Preserve there was a pond with a few boggy areas where we saw Blue Corporals flying and a single Fragile Forktail damselfly.

*Photo: Blue Corporal, Bill Hubick

*Photo: Fragile Forktail, Bill Hubick

At a small stream we were able to finally get decent enough looks to identify a flying Stream Cruiser.

*Photo: Stream Cruiser, Bill Hubick

To round out the insects, we saw a single tiger beetle, which turned out to be the very common Six-spotted Tiger Beetle.  Often, when a lot of time is spent in sandy areas, tiger beetles can be very common.  I was shocked that we didn't see more, but the weather might have been a factor.

*Photo: Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (mating), Bill Hubick

I would like to thank the photographers who made this post possible.

The map I used for the Southern Cricket Frog was obtained through the USGS National Amphibian Atlas.  Lots of great amphibian information can be found on their website.  It can be viewed at

There isn't a ton of information out there on the Green Swamp area.  Here are a few websites I used to plan the trip.