Mountain State Flora:
By P.J. Harmon
Spring is finally here and soon many beautiful wildflowers will be popping up around the state, some of them rare! As early as late February, the tiny flowering sweet pinesap ( Monotropsis odorata ) begins peeping up through the leaf litter, especially in the southern counties. To date, records for sweet pinesap are only known from Summers, Kanawha and Upshur counties, but more may be found by using your nose to “sniff” for their clove-, nutmeg-, cinnamon- or violet-scented pinkish flowers hidden beneath the leaf litter.
By St. Patrick's Day, the Mountain State is a bit greener due to another early rare plant, the delicate-looking but hardy snowy trillium ( Trillium nivale ). A low plant only 2-6 inches tall, its bright white petals are slightly longer than the 0.4-1-inch long sepals. The largest populations, although rare, have been found pushing up through the snow in the mountains from mid-March through May, when nothing else has emerged through the leaf litter and snow. Our largest populations tend to be just above or below Greenbrier Limestone outcrops above 2,000 feet in elevation.
From March to late May, people in Mason and Jackson counties can watch for Virginia cress ( Sibara virginica ), a small annual or biennial mustard that has white or pinkish flowers, and a stem 0.4-1.6 inches high. Its leaves are ‘ lyrate-pinnatifid ' (shaped like a lyre, but dissected like a fern). Curiously, Earl L. Core and P.D. Strausbaugh reported this species from Brooke, Fayette and Ohio counties. Yet in our preliminary atlas of the flora of the state, we only have records from Mason and Jackson counties.
Also from March to May, one may find the rare Wister's coralroot , also called spring coralroot ( Corallorhiza wisteriana ), a member of the Orchid family. Wister's has been found historically in Barbour , Wayne and Cabell counties, but since 1997 it has also been seen in Fayette , Jefferson, Kanawha and Raleigh counties. It prefers to grow in moist, shady hardwood /conifer forests, in swampy woodlands, and along banks of streams and rivers (Williams and Williams 1983 Field Guide to Orchids of North America .) West Virginia records have been made in moist acidic soils, often on east-facing slopes in a forest or woodland. Besides being the earliest-blooming coralroot in West Virginia, the species is also distinguishable from other coralroots by the lower petal lip not being 3-lobed at the base (like C. trifida or C. maculata ) , while the lip's base is narrowed into a claw, its tip is notched, and the lip is white with purple spots throughout and 0.2-0.24 inches long.
Finding these early rare jewels will not only lift your spirits after a long winter but, if you contact us, it will add to our knowledge of the rare spring plants of West Virginia!
— P.J.Harmon is the state botanist stationed in Elkins.