I was driving along Spier Falls Road this week, where the road runs close to the river, and mountains rise abruptly from the edge of the road. What a beautiful sight I beheld! Here, on these massive roadside boulders, where tiny springs constantly water the rocks, a veritable garden of lovely spring flowers has sprung from every ledge.
The predominant plant that populates these rocks is Early Saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis), a beautiful little flower with a most appropriate name. Saxifrage literally means "rock splitter." But I wonder if the splits in the rocks came first, allowing the plants to find a home within the cracks and crannies. Their crowded clusters of dainty white flowers almost look like drifts of mist among the dark rocks.
Or did the mosses come first? I have to wonder, since wherever I see the clusters of Saxifrage, I also see cushions of moss.
A number of moss species grow on these rocks, but the one that predominates in the well-watered spots is the spiky bright-green moss called Fountain Moss (Philonotis fontana).
A few other flowers have found these rocks to their liking, too, including these sky-blue miniatures, appropriately called Bluets (Houstonia caerulea).
Here and there, branches of Round-leaved Gooseberry (Ribes rotundifolium) lean out from within the boulders and dangle clusters of long-anthered, pink-petaled flowers.
After admiring the beauty of this rock garden, I wandered off into the nearby woods and came upon several Hobblebush shrubs (Viburnum lantanoides), their enormous clusters of blooms a startling white in the dark of the forest. The big white sterile flowers of the outer circle offer no reward to pollinators, but their very size and brightness attract those insects to come and feast on the tiny pollen-producing florets in the center.
Oh! Yes! Here is the treasure I always hope to find in these woods, and in many years I don't. But this year I did! A whole bunch of Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum), blooming quite a bit earlier than I would expect to see them.
Here was a final treat, and quite unexpected, at that: another congregation of Early Saxifrage, growing out of a moss-covered rock along the banks of a forested stream. I would have thought the shade in these woods was way too dense for their liking. What a pretty surprise!