May showers bring roses blooming in Petworth

The roses are popping out on Buchanan Street.

by Steven Feingold

Do you ever find yourself walking around our beautiful neighborhood admiring the flowers, but with no clue what it is you’re looking at? Let me try to help. Welcome to "Petworth Blooming"... every month I’ll feature some of the most common plants seen around Petworth, and give a little info about each one. 

The end of May means that there are roses blooming everywhere! I’m not sure I’ve walked a single block without seeing at least one rose in the last week. The State flower of DC is a variety of rose so it seems the selection makes a lot of sense.  White, yellow and all shades of red are on display for the next few weeks.

Roses in front of the "Here I Stand" sculpture at Georgia and Kansas Avenues, and in front of Roosevelt HS along 13th Street. 

Early May saw our native flowering Dogwood trees in bloom. Dogwood is the state flower of our neighbors Virginia and North Carolina. These trees have an interesting flower because the showy part is not actually made of petals, but rather a botanical structure called a bract. The real flowers are quite small and clustered together in the center of the showy bracts.  

Pink variety of Flowering dogwood near Sherman Circle.

Close up a dogwood ‘flower’ showing the much smaller true flowers clustered in the center. 

In addition to the native dogwoods which finished blooming a couple of weeks ago, we also have Kousa Dogwoods from Japan which are currently flowering.  Overall the trees look similar, but the Kousa has pointier bracts.  

Kousa dogwoods at Barnard Elementary and in front of the Petworth Library.

If you walk past a house and see a bunch Penstemon (aka Beardtongue) there’s a good chance the yard was landscaped by the city’s Riversmart Homes program. It’s a great native plant that is beloved by bees and is very easy to grow.  The common name refers to the hairy stamen which runs along the bottom of this tubular flower.

 Penstemon with purplish stems on 8th Street.  Another getting a visit by a bee on 4th Street.

One of the showiest flowers of May is the Peony. These Asian plants have flowers which are so stuffed with petals that the stem often fails to hold them upright! But that’s just a good reason to use them as a cut flower for keeping the inside of your house looking and smelling great. They come in lots of colors, and at many different price points depending on the variety.

Pink peony on Allison Street.

 And lastly for this month, the flower of my favorite tree, the Tulip Tree. It's not actually very common in Petworth, but EL Haynes has three large ones. A relative of the magnolia, these trees have been around since the time of dinosaurs. Unlike most other large trees, the tulip tree is pollinated by insects rather than the wind. It produces large but inconspicuous flowers high up in the canopy with a tell-tale orange zigzag pattern. The flowers are easiest to see after storms knock them on to the ground. 

The distinctive leaves and flower of a Tulip Tree at EL Haynes Elementary School.

Coming up in June: Hydrangeas, Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susans and much more!

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Steven Feingold

Steven moved to Petworth in 2013, and he and his wife have since adopted three of the neighborhood's finest felines. He works in the biotech industry, programming robotic laboratory equipment. He enjoys gardening, hiking, carpentry and playing pickup soccer. You can email him with any plant or gardening questions you might have.

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