Field Trip: Mill Mountain, Roanoke, VA

While away recently for a family funeral, spouse and I took two hours off from running errands, making calls, buying and arranging flowers, delivering food, and so on, to visit Mill Mountain Park in Roanoke, Virginia, on a chilly spring day (60F and windy!). Advertising for the park describes the trails at Mill Mountain Park as “some of the best in the area. The trails feature Roanoke’s highest point — the summit of Mill Mountain (1703 ft.) and the Roanoke Star. This area offers 900 acres of park space atop Mill Mountain, picnic areas, two scenic overlooks, access to additional trails, the Mill Mountain Zoo and the Mill Mountain Discovery Center.”



We first ambled through the wildflower garden, 2.5 acres of land “carefully planned, weeded, planted and maintained by [Mill Mountain Garden Club] members since 1971.” (In 2014, the club used the “lasagna method”, a version of sheet mulching, laying down newspapers and leaves to smother invasive plants and prepare the ground for planting.) Having just driven south 13 hours from northern New England, where crocuses were about all that was in bloom, the sight of spring ephemerals and other perennials already in bloom made our hearts sing.

The entrance, with white dogwoods and pink-blooming redbuds:


wildflower garden trail

First, three species of trillium:

white Trillium grandiflorum
closer view of white Trillium grandiflorum (I think … was surprised to see the pink blush)
yellow Trillium luteum in bud
close view of red Trillium sessile, I think (variegated leaves)
small colony of red Trillium sessile (I think)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) leaves (the flowers had already gone by):

Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) flowers; lots of people want to eradicate this little gem from their lawns and garden plots as it spreads quite rampantly:


Another ephemeral, Twin Leaf (Jeffersonia diphylla), the leaves only here; Wikipedia says they’re “uncommon spring wildflowers, which grow in limestone soils of rich deciduous forest:”


Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are also spring ephemerals; “[t]he flower buds of Virginia bluebells are pink due to a chemical called anthocyanin.  When the flower is ready for pollination, it increases the alkalinity of the flower, changing the color to blue.” I guess these were almost all ready for pollination!


May Apples (Podophyllum peltatum) were colonizing and blooming. They always remind me of childhood, when I walked a mile or so to 3rd through 6th grades, mostly through a suburban neighbourhood but also through some woods, the closest of which to the elementary school was filled with these every spring. We called them Maypops, which is one of their common names. It’s said that when the May Apple leaves start to flatten, it’s morel season!


This is a plant commonly in flower early in springtime here in N.H., too, if it’s Uvularia sessilifolia (Wild Oats) as I think. But it could possibly be Uvularia puberula (Mountain Bellwort).


One non-ephemeral perennial in bloom this late April was Honesty (Lunaria annua), also known as Money Plant: “Like all members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), the flowers have four petals. The leaves of Lunaria are roughly heart-shaped with a toothed edge. … The easiest way to  identify honesty is by the unique, circular seed pods that form soon after the plant flowers. The shape of the pod calls to mind a coin, hence the name ‘money plant,’ or sometimes ‘silver dollar plant.'”


Another purple bloom, that of the dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), I think:


This Red-Stem Stork’s Bill (Erodium cicutarium), also called Redstem Filaree, was a new one for me, even though it’s found in northern New England; it’s small, low-growing, and considered a lawn weed:


I also wasn’t previously aware of Primula elatior, oxlip, not native to the U.S.:


I think this is a wood or celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum):


This is a species of Euphorbia, perhaps Euphorbia cyparissias (cypress spurge) or E. virgata (leafy spurge) — I’m inclining toward the latter:


I took this shot of a variety of blooms because I liked the way it looked, and the Plant ID group on Facebook helped me identify Packera aurea (Golden Ragwort — the orange-yellow daisylike flowers) and Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium, the pale purple flowers) blooming.


The dogwoods were fully in bloom in Roanoke, both white and pink!


I had never seen this foliage before; it’s Arum italicum, also called Italian arum, Italian lords & ladies, and large cuckoopint. It’s not native to the U.S. but has been introduced to only seven states: Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Missouri, California, Oregon, and Washington. Its “[g]reenish ivory flowers resemble those of its relative, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and appear in midsummer followed by stunning orange-red berries” (per White Flower Farm). It’s very poisonous.


We saw a bluebird while in the wildflower garden, too, but a bit far away; still, it’s recognisable.



After basking in the wildflowers, we just had time for a 30-minute walk on the Star Trail before prepping for the funeral visitation at 3 p.m.  If I’m ever in Roanoke again, I hope to walk more of these trails; they’re not challenging, if you hike or walk much, through some can be a bit steep, and they are all short — ranging from the .22 miles of the Watchtower Trail to about 1.5 miles, the Monument Trail — but they interlock with each other and the roads up the mountain, so you can create a longer walk or hike, and they are only a few minutes from downtown, though, in fact, it felt to me like the sort of place you might run into a bear. And the views of the Roanoke Valley on a clear day — which we had — from the top of Mill Mountain (where you park), are forever.


There’s a handy sign mapping local mountains in view, with their elevation and distance away:RoanokevalleyviewmountainmapMillMountainRoanokeVA29April2018


The trail map, posted on a kiosk, was useful and seemed accurate for the most part, except that we could not find the Mill Mountain Greenway (inset map) — we walked around for about 20 minutes hunting for it.



Some photos from the Star Trail (yellow).

Star Trail entrance (shows blue marking but it’s actually yellow)
on the trail
Star Trail with yellow trail marking
some of the trail was rock or gravel, some clay, with a bit of washout in places, but it wasn’t a wet day, so no problems walking it
I’m always happy to find Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), here with a trio of tuffet-shaped seedheads
more Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) plants — there were lots of them in multiple locations on the trail
Pearl Crescent butterfly (probably) with some damage but it was flying OK
boulder along trail
a duskywing (Erynnis sp.) butterfly
duskywing (Erynnis sp.) butterfly on blueberry buds
well-marked trails
bench near trail marker
Largus sp. (bordered plant bug) on a rock along the trail

Off the trail, we saw and moved this handsome millipede in the parking lot!



Thanks for taking this field trip with me!


One comment

  1. Trilliums are a popular topic now. I really do not understand their allure. Ours are nothing to brag about. However, they are more impressive elsewhere, particularly the big white ones!

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