The sky was a clear, robin’s egg blue when I met up with a group of folks dedicating their Saturday morning to cleaning up a portion of the upper reaches of the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River that flows through Montgomery County. The cleanup, sponsored by the Neighbors of the Northwest Branch, was the last of three scheduled spring tidy-ups for the watershed.
After checking in with the organization’s president, Ann Ambler, and picking up our gloves and supply of bright orange collection bags, we headed down the woodland trail to scatter out and scour the floodplain of trash. Though we managed to collect a total of 9 large bags of discarded plastic cups, bags, bottles, cans and other assorted refuse, the highlight of the outing was the profusion of spring ephemerals carpeting the slopes and lowlands. What a bonanza!
Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) were by far the most prevalent wildflower dotting the ground everywhere like the skirts of dancing fairies. Also spied was an inconspicuous group of Virginia pennyworts (Obolaria virginica) poking their compact flower stalks above the leaf litter, as well as a sprinkling of great chickweed (Stellaria pubera) along the pathways’ upper slopes.
While the cutleaved toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) was wrapping up its spring floral display, the jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema tryphyllum) was just getting started. The party was over for the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) with only its leaves left behind as a parting gift to the landscape.
The low, wet areas of the floodplain offered the leafy luxury of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), spikey clumps of soft rush (Juncus effusus) and the lovely belle of the springtime ball, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiana). The demure white blossoms of the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and the snowy cymes of the blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) decorated the boughs above the forest floor. The flowers of both understory trees presage the nutritious fruit to come later in the season that will feed hungry birds.
While the primary objective was to remove trash from the stream valley, the visit also gave witness to the fleeting spring spectacle of our native wildflowers along the Northwest Branch on a clear, sunny April morning.