The Washington Post

In Prince William, spring’s bluebells chase away the winter doldrums

Far from the huge crowds that descended on Washington’s famed cherry blossoms last week, Prince William County’s own distinctive springtime flowers were blooming in some of the county’s most remote spots.

The Virginia bluebell, the official flower of the county, reached its peak bloom period in the past week, and many county residents navigated muddy trails to catch a glimpse of the wildflower, which grows only on flood plains.

At Merrimac Farm, a 300-acre public park in Nokesville, about 600 people took walking tours last Sunday of a one-mile stretch of Cedar Run that was banked by the dainty blue blossoms, according to Kim Hosen, the executive director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, which manages the farm.

Hosen stopped by Wednesday to snap photographs with her son before the brief bloom season came to an end.

“It’s almost impossible to capture the big expanse in a photo,” she said. “It kind of glows blue.”

Sandra Menzel, who traveled from Milwaukee to visit her family in Haymarket, picked bluebells on Wednesday at Manassas National Battlefield Park. (Julie Zauzmer/The Washington Post)

Hosen said that on tours of the flooded stream banks where the flowers grow, she points out the natural properties of the bluebell: It is never planted, but is pollinated by bees or reproduces through underground offshoots. When it reaches the end of its brief bloom season, it disappears into the earth until the next spring.

“It happens all by itself — they vanish, leaves and all. You won’t see hide nor hair of them until next spring,” she said. “They’re one of the first signs of spring. They really like the sun, but they also grow low to the ground. They’re very clever. They bloom before the leaves come out on the trees, and they catch all the sun. Tricky timing.”

Hosen said her tour groups tend to stop listening and slowly wander away into the field when they reach the most impressive part of the tour, where bluebells do not merely dot the stream’s border but carpet the land all around.

“These flowers, it’s the sheer quantity. They grow in the low, wet places that are dark and mysterious, and they light them up,” she said. She recalled one Marine from nearby Quantico who took her tour and said it was like walking through Oz.

The stone bridge at Manassas National Battlefield Park offered visitors another vantage point for seeing bluebells without driving down the unpaved road to Merrimac and wading through the mud.

On Wednesday, a park ranger at the battlefield said he had fielded many phone calls from people wondering where to find the flowers. Several walkers stopped to point at the line of blue spots below the bridge, and one visitor from Milwaukee eagerly left the path to pick a bouquet.

Janda Sample, a lifelong resident of Prince William and an amateur photographer, said she often goes to the stone bridge to take pictures, whether of spring blossoms or fall foliage, and she makes sure to stop by during bluebell season every year.

“I like the mass of them. You don’t usually see that many of one thing. It’s like a carpet,” she said. “I love the color blue, and there’s not a whole lot of truly blue flowers.”

Julie Zauzmer is a local news reporter.


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