Monday, April 20, 2020

Episode 521 (4-20-20): Virginia Bluebells Color Springtime Streamsides

Click to listen to episode (4:29)

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 4-17-20. 


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of April 20, 2020.

SOUND – ~4 sec

That’s a recent, mid-afternoon sound of a carpenter bee gathering nectar from a patch of spring wildflowers and, at the same time, possibly helping to pollinate the plants.  While the coronavirus pandemic may have you staying mostly indoors this spring, outdoors the processes of emergence, growth, and reproduction are happening for many plants, including the species that was being visited by the bee you just heard.  Have a listen to that bee for about 15 more seconds, and see if you can guess this species of riverside-inhabiting, spring-blooming plant, whose name includes a familiar state, a primary color, and a ringing device.

SOUNDS - ~14 sec

If you guessed Virginia Bluebells, you’re right!  This plant is known for the striking blue color of its flowers, which actually start out pink and change color as the plant develops.  Virginia Bluebells are found over much of the eastern United States, including in Virginia’s mountains and Piedmont regions.  Their preferred native habitat is forested floodplains along rivers and streams.  In those places, the plants have rich, moist soils; water flow that can spread the plant’s seeds; and, as is adapted to by many spring wildflowers, a tree canopy that allows enough light in springtime for the plant to emerge and reproduce before the summer’s heavy shade develops.  Along some streams, such as the Potomac River tributaries Bull Run and Cedar Run in Prince William County, Virginia Bluebells have established such prolific and attractive populations that visitors flock to see the spring blooms.

Virginia Bluebells is a lovely, descriptive name, but this species have several other names, too, including Virginia Cowslip, Roanoke Bells, Gentleman’s Breeches, Lungwort, and Oysterleaf.  By any name, this plant occupies a significant place along waterways and in plant-lovers’ opinions.  As stated by Nancy Hugo in her account of Virginia Bluebells as the Virginia Native Plant Society’s 1989 Wildflower of the Year, quote, “Few blues in nature rival the blue of Virginia bluebells, and a single clump in a garden or a stand of thousands along a stream is a beautiful sight.”

We close with some music appropriate for Virginia Bluebells and other spring wildflowers.  Here’s about 25 seconds of “Flowers of the Forest,” by the longtime Blacksburg- and Roanoke, Va.-based band, No Strings Attached.

MUSIC - ~ 23 sec – instrumental


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The scientific name of Virginia Bluebells is Mertensia virginica.

The large carpenter bee (a species in the genus Xylocopa) was recorded by Virginia Water Radio in Blacksburg, Va., April 16, 2020.  Thanks to Eric Day, Virginia Tech Department of Entomology, for his help in identification of this insect.

“Flowers of the Forest,” from the 2003 album “Old Friend’s Waltz,” is copyright by No Strings Attached and Enessay Music, used with permission.  More information about No Strings Attached is available from their Web site,  This music was previously used by Virginia Water Radio in Episode 212, 5-5-14 (on spring wildflowers) and Episode 318, 5-30-16 (on Memorial Day’s Civil War origin of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers).

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at


Virginia Bluebells in a Blacksburg, Va., residential yard, April 17, 2020.

Carpenter bee visiting a Virginia Bluebell blossom in a Blacksburg, Va., residential yard, April 15, 2020.

Virginia Bluebells near the South Fork Roanoke River (in background) in Montgomery County, Va., April 2019.  Photo courtesy of Joyce Graham, used with permission.


Used for Audio

Carol Gracie, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 2012; accessed online at this link, 4/18/20.  Information on Virginia Bluebells is in the “Borage Family” section, pages 226-227.

Nancy Hugo, “Wildflower of the Year 1989 – Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica),” Virginia Native Plant Society, online at

John Hilty, “Illinois Wildflowers/Descriptions of Families, Sub-Families, and Tribes of Long-Tongued Bees,” undated, online at

Iowa State University Department of Entomology, “BugGuide/Genus Xylocopa - Large Carpenter Bees,” online at

Maureen McNabb, “Virginia Bluebells Bloom at Ginter” (March 28, 2018), Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, Va., online at

Leslie Middleton, Virginia riverside trails a rhapsody of bluebells, Bay Journal, 3/5/20.

Missouri Botanical Garden, Mertensia virginica, online at

Prince William [Va.] Conservation Alliance, “Bluebell Festival at Merrimac Farm WMA,” online at

Gloria Schoenholtz, “Virginia Wildflowers,” online at  The Virginia Bluebell entry is online at

St. Olaf College, “Virginia Bluebells,” online at

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, “The Natural Communities of Virginia/Classification of Ecological Groups and Community Types (as of March 2020)/Rich Cove Forests,” online at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area,” online at  See “Other Activities” for a description of the Virginia Bluebells along Cedar Run in this wildlife management area in Prince William County.

Alan S. Weakly, J. Christopher Ludwig, and John F. Townsend, Flora of Virginia, BRIT Press, Fort Worth, Tex., 2012.  The Flora of Virginia Project Web site is online at

For More Information about Plants in Virginia and Elsewhere

Oscar W. Gupton and Fred C. Swope, Wild Orchids of the Middle Atlantic States, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1986; Wildflowers of Tidewater Virginia, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1982; and Wildflowers of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1979.

Marion Lobstein, “Spring Wildflowers: Ecological Factors,” by Marion Lobstein (undated), published by the Botanical Society of Washington, D.C., online at‎.

U.S. Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service, “Plants Data Base,” online at

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation/Natural Heritage Division, “Invasive Plant Species of Virginia,” online at

Virginia Department of Forestry, Common Native Trees of Virginia, 2016, available online at

Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, “Virginia Tech Dendrology Fact Sheets,” online at

Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, “vTree app,” online at

Virginia Native Plant Society, online at  The Society provides information about native species and natural plant habitats.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (   See particularly the “Plants” subject category.

Following are links to two other episodes on spring-flowering plants.

Episode 573, 4-19-21 -- Spring forest wildflowers, featuring “Flowers of the Forest” by No Strings Attached.
Episode 216, 6-2-14 – on rhododendrons, featuring “Rhododendron Ridge” by The Floorboards.

Following are links to other spring-themed episodes.

Eastern Phoebe – Episode 416, 4-16-18.
Frog and Toad Medley – Episode 408, 2-19-18.
Spring arrival episode – Episode 569, 3-22-21.
Spring Peepers – Episode 570, 3-29-21.
Spring reminder about tornado awareness – Episode 568, 3-15-21.
Spring signals for fish – Episode 571, 4-5-21.
Spring sounds serenades – Episode 206, 3-14-14 and Episode 516, 3-16-20.
Warblers and spring bird migration – Episode 572, 4-12-21.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources of information, or other materials in the Show Notes.

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 English SOLs

Reading Theme
8.5, 9.4, 10.4, 11.4 – symbols, imagery, figurative language, and other literary devices.

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Virginia natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
4.4 – basic plant anatomy and processes.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 – living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.6 – ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Virginia watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.8 – community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 – adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors, including characteristics of land, marine, and freshwater environments.

Biology Course
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.