George Washington National Forest: Buzzard Rock Part 3

Continued from Part 2

We encountered this Aster flower along the trail. I’ve searched for hours on the internet and in books trying to identify it, but to no avail. The detailed wildflower book that I use for reference, National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers: Eastern Region, identifies 18 types of Aster and has pictures for 16, but this one didn’t seem to be included.

The problem is that when I took the picture I was focused on taking a photo of the flowers, and not the whole plant. When it comes to Asters, there are many varieties and sometimes the way to distinguish them is very subtle – the color of the central disk, the shape of the leaves at the top vs. the bottom, how the stem forms, and how many petals are on the average flower. Although most times I remember to take a picture of the whole plant, or at least the leaves, for future reference, I forgot this time. Lesson learned…again!

According to the Virginia Native Plant Society, there are approximately 150-200 species of flowers that bloom in Shenandoah National Park in autumn, 25 of which are Goldenrods, and 25 of which are Asters. I assume there is about the same amount of variety just across the valley in George Washington National Forest. Maybe I’ll be able to identify them all one day! In the meantime, this will be a mystery Aster.

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Northern Rough Greensnake

The Northern Rough Greensnake, or Opheodrys aestivus, is a member of the Colubridae family and is nonvenomous. They can be found throughout the southeastern and central U.S., as well as along the East Coast. This snake is  arboreal and does most of its activity in trees, low bushes, or tall grass. As an insectivore, it consumes insects such as  grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, and spiders.

As we were ambling along Buzzard Rock Trail we came upon this snake. Even though we’ve seen a couple different types of snakes in the woods during our hikes, I must admit, I’m always a bit scared when I see one. We guessed it was benign/nonvenomous because its head was not triangular, but kept our distance just in case. After all, we’re not snake experts.

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel, or Hamamelis virginiana, is a member of the Witch Hazel family (Hamamelidaceae) and blooms September to November. The flowers blossom on a tall shrub/small tree that grow in dry or moist woods and is native to eastern and central North America. The bark and leaves can be used as a topical astringent.

Personally, I use a Witch Hazel toner on my face, applied with a cotton round – it’s cleansing and refreshing. It should be available at any pharmacy.

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Zigzag Goldenrod

Zigzag Goldenrod, Broadleaf Goldenrod, or Solidago flexicaulis, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms July to September (although we’ve also seen it in Shenandoah in October). Native to eastern North America, this wildflower grows in rich woods and thickets. These flowers attract both bees and butterflies.

Most of the flowers that we saw along Buzzard Rock Trail in October were these Zigzag Goldenrods, as well as a few Asters. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, given the statistics cited above – Asters and Goldenrods make up 25-33% of the autumn flowers in the region.

Continue to Part 4

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