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)


  1. You do live in a beautiful part of the world! Wow, it's stunning blooming en masse like that along the shore. Great photos, as always!

  2. What that sign should say is 'Stop look at me' At this time pf year we have a similar display from Golden eye, Viguera dentata. Beautiful photographs.

  3. Good sleuthing! Thanks for the delightful views.

  4. We have a similar beggartick growing on our property:

  5. Oligohaline? A tongue twister for sure but a good "Word of the Day". A big contrast between the first group of photos that brightened up a stormy Seattle Sunday morning, to the second group of monochromatic drama in the second group. All are beautiful, as always. I know something about going down an internet wormhole...Ha!

  6. Thanks for a fascinating post. I love people who figure out plant id's, even though I mostly just get frustrated doing it. And I love to virtually paddle with you. Especially since I just got thrown off my last paddle before shoulder surgery due to my friend having damaged hatch covers on her kayak.

  7. I really enjoyed reading about your plant ID process!

  8. I needed a respit from the election drama....your posts are always so dreamy. Thanks for the mini-holiday.

  9. I love the sign about stopping men at work !

  10. Looked like a sunflower to me, but what do I know. Whatever it's name, it's beautiful - especially massed in that setting. Great photographs.

  11. I love those golden bank shots. There is nothing like being alone on the smooth water, is there!

  12. The Internet is a great way to identify those beautiful wildflowers and plants that grow in natural spaces.

  13. What a lovely wildflower and location! I enjoyed these photos and yes I've used the internet and blog buddies to ID flora and fauna. I thought of you when I blogged about Japanese temples and gardens today. I'm abroad for two months, researching a new novel and wifi has been unsteady. It looks like most of my old blog buddies haven't been updating frequently either.