An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

October 12, 2016

Mystery on Queens Creek

     I love the internet, especially for sleuthing out mystery plants. A few carefully considered questions asked in the right places will usually lead me to what I am looking for. Of course I am also just as likely to head down some wormhole and forget what I was looking for in the first place. What recently kept me busy was trying to ID a plant I saw blooming earlier this month while kayaking on Queens Creek, a small tributary of the James River in Charles City County. In places the flowers smothered the shoreline in bright yellow, which was a nice contrast to the gray storm-threatening skies. I first thought it could be any one of those yellow composite species that all begin with h-e-l (Helianthus, Helenium, Heliopsis) that are difficult for me to tell apart. Although Helenium autumnale (sneezeweed) is very common here, and was blooming elsewhere on my trip, I knew that was not it. I next guessed it might be Helianthus angustifolius (swamp sunflower), as I was indeed in a swamp, but after paddling closer for further inspection all I could confirm was my cluelessness. So I took close up photos of foliage and flowers to look up when I got home, and resolved just to enjoy the site of it.

     After a few minutes on the internet I narrowed the plant down to one of the Bidens. A little while later I think I fixed it to Bidens laevis (smooth beggartick, smooth bur-marigold, showy bur-marigold). To help in the identification of this plant I used two of my favorite sites; the Native Plant Database at, and the Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora, which is a decades long project to map all of the state's native plants. From the atlas I learned that B. laevis inhabits tidal freshwater marshes to oligohaline marshes. I had to look up the definition of oligohaline, which means having a very low amount of salt, and I decided to make it my word of the day, and wondered if health conscious snack companies could successfully market oligohaline chips or crackers. I digress. If any of you know this plant to be something else, please feel free to correct me. Regardless of its exact ID, it was a lovely thing to see, especially in such proliferation. 
Queens Creek - Bidens laevis (1)

Queens Creek - Bidens laevis (2)

Queens Creek - Bidens laevis (3)

Queens Creek (14)

Queens Creek (12)

Queens Creek (13)

     During my trip I had the creek to myself, no one else was on the water, though I did speak with a couple of guys on the shore getting their duck blind ready for the coming season. Judging from the number of blinds I saw, I will avoid this place in-season. I wouldn't want to be mistaken for a duck. Below are some of the other sights I saw.
James River - Transmission Tower (2)

James River (3)

Queens Creek (3)

Queens Creek (4)

Queens Creek (5)

Queens Creek (18)

Queens Creek (24)

Queens Creek (26)