Originally Posted in Gunpowder Valley Conservancy Newsletter: Spring 2013
Every spring, thousands of Virginia Bluebells emerge from their long dormancy to create an amazing display of blue flowers along the banks of the Big Gunpowder Falls and Little Gunpowder Falls. So get out your walking shoes and mark your calendars for a visit during the peak season of April through early May. Plan to spend a few hours enjoying the fresh air and beauty along the Gunpowder Valley State Park Trails. My favorite spot is the ‘Lost Pond Trail’ along the Big Gunpowder Falls in Perry Hall. It’s easy to get to the Gunpowder Falls State Park trail head and parking lot located on Belair Road (accessed from the north bound side of the road). Check out a larger version of the the map, shown bottom right, at the following link: www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/pdfs /GFSP_big1.pdf. This flat trail follows the northeast side of the Big Gunpowder Falls. You can take a leisurely walk to Broad Run and back, a little over a mile walk.
Along this trail, you will experience a riverside floodplain forest with dramatic rock outcrops. The soil here is rich and moist, the perfect habitat for native bluebells (Mertensia virginica), a spring ephemeral forb. Light shade is provided by the branching structure of forest canopy trees such as Red Maple, Eastern Sycamore, and American Beech. Understory trees and shrubs include Hornbeam, Witchazel, Arrowwood Viburnum and Spicebush. Keep a look out for associated spring wildflowers such as Wild Ginger, Woodland Phlox, Bloodroot, Trout Lilies and Duchman’s Breeches. You will also see skunk cabbage and a variety of emerging woodland ferns.
Spring blooming plants are an important part of the forest ecosystem. Hungry pollinators just emerging from winter hibernation seek out food sources. The Bluebells are ready to provide much needed nectar to a variety of bees, butterflies, moths and even hummingbirds migrating back from Central America to summer nesting sites. In exchange, the Bluebells benefit from the flower to flower pollen transfer that will create seeds and expand the wildflower colony. After going to seed, the foliage dies back in early to mid summer and the roots remain dormant until the following spring.
Virginia Bluebells (pictured above) is a gorgeous native perennial, and is easy to grow in the home garden.
Pick a spot that receives light shade to part sun and amend the soil with a two inch layer of compost to mimic the rich soil typical of their native habitats along forested flood plains and streams. The prefer good drainage but appreciate extra moisture. The individual plants will expand to create a nice clump with foliage reaching about 1-2 feet in height. They will also spread by seed and create a lovely colony over several years time. Ferns make good companion plants that fill in and create a textured ground cover once the Bluebells go dormant in early summer. The New York Fern, a Maryland native, is pictured center right. Potted plants in one quart or one gallon sizes are readily available at local nurseries and garden centers. Plants should never be collected in the wild, so if you encounter these beauties along the trails, bring a camera to record your experience and memories. Happy hiking and gardening!
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In addition to serving as a board member for the GVC, Kirsten Coffen, ASLA is the owner of Garden Architecture, LLC, a landscape architecture firm located in Fork, Maryland. For additional information about Garden Architecture, LLC, please contact us.