This dark colored aster was caught in the act of unfurling its petals. I think that New England asters have several natural color variants from light to dark purple, and even pink. This shade is my personal favorite.
The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod are blue because they are coated with a waxy “bloom” much like a grape, plum, or blueberry. Quite often though, the blue coloring will have weathered away and the stem will be green, so it’s best to look for the little tufts of flowers that appear in the leaf axils on a usually horizontal stem. Zigzag goldenrod also blooms in the leaf axils but it has much larger, rounder leaves.
This photo shows a closer look at the blue stem. Blue stemmed goldenrod can stand quite a lot of shade and I often find it in places that get only morning sun.
Lobelia inflata is called Indian tobacco because its round seed pods resemble the pouches that Native Americans carried their smoking materials in. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year. I think it should be called Catch me if you can because its tiny flowers are very hard to get a good photo of. Native Americans used all parts of the plant medicinally, and some tribes also used it in their religious ceremonies.
Beech drops (Epifagus Americana) is another plant that is hard to photograph, but only because it grows in deep shade under beech trees. It’s a parasite that fastens onto the roots of the beech using structures called haustoria and takes all of its nutrients from the tree, so it doesn’t need leaves or chlorophyll. These plants are annuals that die off in cold weather.
Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish stripe are the only things found on beech drop stems. On the lower part of the stems are flowers that never have to open because they self-fertilize. They are known as cleistogamous flowers. On the upper part of the stem are tubular Chasmogamous flowers, which open and are pollinated by insects. There isn’t much known about which insects pollinate this plant but in almost every photo I’ve seen of it the flowers are draped in webs.
Cheery little Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have suddenly appeared at the edge of my lawn. Every time we admire a pansy we have this plant to thank, because all of today’s pansies came from it. The word pansy comes from the French pensée, which means thought or reflection. I’m not sure what thought has to do with it but folklore tells us that, if the juice from the plant is squeezed onto the eyelids of a sleeping person, they will fall in love with the next person that they see. Another name for it is love in idleness, and it can be found in its love potion form in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Some see a turtlehead when they look at these flowers and that’s how they got their common name. I find the white ones, called Chelone glabra, in nature and the pink ones pictured here grow in my garden. Their name is Chelone oblique and they are sold in nurseries now. Pink turtleheads are a tough, very pretty, late summer / early fall perennial that prefers afternoon shade and needs absolutely no care at all. I planted mine many years ago and have done nothing to it since except remove the dead stems.
Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) gets its common name from the way it produces lather when the roots or flowering stems are added to water. It gets soapy enough to be used to wash clothes and another common name is bouncing bet, which is an old name for a washer woman. As the fragrant flowers age the white petals begin to curve backwards. I find it growing along river banks.
Sweet everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium) is another plant that warns that fall is coming. Its common name comes from the way it holds its scent for years after drying. Some say that, even after it has been dried for a long time, the plants will suddenly release a burst of scent as if they had just been picked. Sweet everlasting was an important medicinal plant for Native Americans, who used it to treat asthma and other lung ailments. To this day it is often used by herbalists for the same purpose.
Just as its common name implies, sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) grows in sand, and I find it growing in very hot, dry sand where only the toughest plants grow. It stands about a foot tall and have thin, wiry stems and tiny white, pink, or rarely red flowers. The leaves are also very small and lie against the stem, making the plant appears leafless. The plant gets the second part of its common name from the odd way that the stems are jointed.
I put a penny in the sand and leaned a flowering stem of sand jointweed over it so you could get a sense of how small its flowers really are. I can’t say that this plant is the hardest to photograph that I’ve ever seen, but it has to be right up there in the top five. It’s a beautiful little thing though, and is worth the effort.
Flowers are the plant’s highest fulfillment, and are not here exclusively for herbaria, county floras and plant geography: they are here first of all for delight. ~John Ruskin