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Call of the Wild . . . Flowers, That Is

Sunday, April 19, 2009

WHY: Wild weekend of flowers, hepatica by horseback and plant-your-own ephemerals.

HOW FAR: About 160 miles from start to finish.

Spring has sprung with a bumper crop of wildflowers blooming all over Virginia.

More than 3,500 native or naturalized plant species populate the Old Dominion's craggy mountains, verdant valleys and sandy shores. The state's lumpy topography creates disparate topsoil and, in turn, a bride's bouquet of flora. High in the Shenandoah Mountains dolomite and limestone deposits produce basic soil ideal for flowers such as trillium and wild columbine. Down in the piedmont and coastal plains, the acidic soil lends itself to blueberries, heath, trailing arbutus and azalea.

"We have more different species of wildflowers per land area than just about any other state," said Sally Anderson, president of the Virginia Native Plant Society, a volunteer-run organization that protects and promotes floral habitats.

Spring is the most florid time of year, with a burst of bluebells, spring beauty and other colorful buds. However, native wildflowers bloom in all seasons. Skunk cabbage, the society's 2009 wildflower of the year, presents itself in January, growing in swampy meadows and forests.

For a high concentration of petals, Shenandoah National Park boasts 862 species, including bright-white bloodroots that poke through dead leaves on forest floors, and yellow and orange touch-me-nots that blossom along creeks and riverbeds. In spring, look for wildflowers in the lower valleys; in summer and fall, find flora beside the banks of Skyline Drive and in open meadows. The park's Wildflower Weekend runs May 9-10, with hikes, lectures and more, all free and centered on flowering native plants. But remember: You can look, but do not pluck.

-- Ben Chapman

Wildflower Weekend is May 9, 9:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m., and May 10, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., at various locations in Shenandoah National Park (540-999-3500, http://www.nps.gov/shen). Free, but park entrance fees apply (through November, $15 per vehicle, $8 per pedestrian).

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