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West Virginia State Parks – Naturalist Corner
Beyond Wildflowers -
The Fascinating Blooms of Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

Spring arrives with the blooming of wildflowers that dazzle us with their array of colors and shapes, but there are other flowering plants that match and sometimes rival the display of our wildflowers. Trees, shrubs, and vines are included as flowering vascular plants, and even though we don't always notice them, they are actively producing some interesting blooms. We can enjoy these blooms from early spring through fall. Some trees such as the serviceberries may bloom as early as March, while witch hazel blooms in the fall. Many of our native shrubs bloom throughout the first half of summer, providing color from May through July.

Some of the more familiar shrubs include rhododendrons (including the azaleas) and mountain laurel. Two species of rhododendron that produce large showy flowers are great laurel (Rho dodendron maximum) and mountain rose bay (Rhododendron catawbiense). Great laurel can occur statewide. It has pinkish white flowers that appear from June through early July, depending on elevation. Mountain rose bay occurs primarily in the high mountains of the southeastern part of the state. Its bloom is a deep pink to purple, appearing May through June.

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) occurs throughout the s tate but is most abundant in the mountains. It grows in acid, sandy soils and blooms May through July. Mountain laurel is often confused with great laurel when they are both in bloom, but the size, leaves, and flowers are quite different. Mountain laurel is lower in stature, has shorter leaves, and has saucer-shaped flowers with angular lobes.

carolina allspice blooms in west virginia state parksA rarer shrub species is Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus). This shrub occurs sparingly in rich woods of the southern counties. It blooms March through June and is often cultivated as an ornamental in other areas of the state. The bloom is a light maroon.

Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is not a true poplar but a member of the magnolia family. It has a remarkable bloom that is tulip shaped, hence the common name. It blooms May through June. Both the tulip poplar and the magnolias are primitive plants and can be found in the fossil record over 30 million years ago.

Magnolia flowersMagnolia flowers are without true petals and are pollinated mostly by beetles, as these trees evolved before bees and other flying pollinators. West Virginia has three native species-cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata), mountain magnolia (Magnolia fraseri), and umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala). Unlike the often-cultivated southern magnolia, all of our native species are deciduous, losing their leaves in the fall. Umbrella magnolia may get its name from the large leaves that are positioned in a whorl-like pattern around the stem or from the spreading crown of older trees. The large, white solitary flowers appear in May. Magnolias are widely distributed throughout West Virginia.

Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra)Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) and yellow buckeye (Aesculus octandra) both occur in West Virginia. Ohio buckeye is abundant in Ohio (source of the state's nickname, the "buckeye" state) but is restricted mainly to counties along the Ohio River in West Virginia. Yellow buckeye is common in counties west of the Allegheny mountains. Both species have loose clusters of yellow flowers that stand erect at the tips of the branches. The leaves consist of five leaflets arranged in a "palmate" form, resembling the radiating fingers of your hand.

black locust blooms in west virginia state parksBlack locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia) has long, drooping clusters of delicate white flowers that appear in May and June. Black locust is a member of the pea family and produces flat pods called legumes as fruits. It reproduces by seeds and root sprouts and can easily out-compete other species. It is used extensively to reclaim spoil areas. The flowers are sweet and a distinctive honey is produced by visiting honey bees.

Black cherry (Prunus serotina)Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is an important timber tree in West Virginia. Its flowers appear in May and June and occur in racemes (individual flowers arranged along a central stem). The black berries ripen in August and are eaten by birds. Some people use the rather bitter fruits for pies and jellies. This is a favorite food tree of the eastern tent caterpillar. These larvae (caterpillars) create the familiar web-like tents in the forks of branches. See image below.

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans)Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is a deciduous, woody vine that attracts the attention of both humans and animals with its long, tubular orange and scarlet flowers. Trumpet creeper is commonly cultivated and can occur throughout the state. It attracts hummingbirds and is used in gardens as an ornamental vine. The flowers appear in August and September.

Look for the wide variety of flowering shrubs, trees, and vines that occur on West Virginia's state parks or forests. Your search may be rewarded with the discovery of a bloom you have never seen before.

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