Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The ancient Greeks knew it well and it was grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. The flat flower heads are made up of many button-like disc flowers that have a peculiar, medicine like fragrance that some compare to camphor. The plant has a long history of use as an insect repellant and colonials added it to the straw in mattresses to keep bedbugs away.
Asters can be difficult to identify but I know a few of them well enough to feel comfortable making an identification. This one is one of the difficult ones. Its flowers look like New England asters but where those flowers are quarter size, these are barely nickel size. I think it might be the purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum,) which is also called the swamp aster or glossy leaved aster, and I think that because it was growing near water and has a somewhat crooked, dark purple stem.
I often find purple stemmed beggar ticks (Bidens connata) growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers. It has curious little yellow orange ray-less disc flowers that never seem to fully open and dark, purple-black stems. It is closely related to bur marigold (Bidens tripartita), which is also called water hemp because of the leaf shape. The name beggar ticks comes from its barbed seeds that stick to fur and clothing like ticks. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year.
Nodding bur marigold likes full sun and wet feet and can often be found growing right beside its cousin the purple stemmed beggar tick that we saw in the previous photo. Its flower is much showier though, and looks something like a miniature sunflower. As they age the flower heads nod towards the ground and that’s how it comes by its common name. Another common name is nodding beggar tick, because its seeds are also barbed and also stick to just about anything that happens by. In this part of New Hampshire this plant grows about knee high, sometimes in standing water.
Though rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) isn’t a wildflower in New Hampshire but I thought I’d add it to this post because there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding it each year at this time. People don’t know if it’s a hibiscus or a mallow or a hollyhock, and that’s because all of those plants are in the mallow family (Malvaceae) and have similar flowers. The easiest way to identify a rose of Sharon is by looking at the plant the flowers are on. If the flower is on an upright, often tall woody shrub it is a rose of Sharon. Mallow and hollyhocks are perennials and / or biennials and will usually die back to the ground each year. Hibiscus resembles rose of Sharon but you’ll only find it growing outside year round in the southern states because it is very tender. I think of rose of Sharon as a hardy hibiscus.
At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them. The flowers are much smaller than those of true dandelions and they sit at the top of long, wiry stems, much like hawkweed.
False dandelion’s other common names include cat’s ear and flat weed; cat’s ear because of the hairs usually found on the upper and lower leaf surfaces and flat weed because the leaves usually lie flat on the ground. As seen in the photo above this plant wanted to be different and its smooth leaves are standing up. If it weren’t for the two wiry flower stems seen on the left you might wonder if I hadn’t taken a photo of a dandelion by mistake. This plant is originally from Europe and is considered a noxious weed in many areas.
I have misidentified this aster in the past as the small flowered white aster (Symphyotrichum racemosum) but after taking a closer look I think it is the white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides). There are many asters that look alike, and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids. This one has 1/4 to 1/2 inch white flowers, and nearly every inch of free stem has a blossom on it all on one side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmown fields and pastures.
This photo shows how all of the flowers grow on one side of the white heath aster’s stem. This habit makes the plant appear very bushy.
The swollen, air filled, modified leaf stems of the native little floating bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) radiate out from a point on the stem like the spokes of a wheel and keep the flower above the water while currents carry it over the surface of ponds. The parts of the plant that trail under the water look like roots and are where the bladders are located. Each bladder has small hairs on it which, when touched by an insect, trigger a trapdoor that opens quickly and sucks the insect inside. Once trapped inside there is no escape, and the insect is slowly digested.
I can’t think of a single time that I have found northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing away from water. It’s an odd little plant that might get knee high on a good day, and often leans toward the water that it grows near. Its tiny flowers grow in round tufts at each leaf axil and remind me of motherwort, which has the same habit. It is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. It is also closely related to American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and the two plants are easily confused. Paying close attention to leaf shape helps tell them apart. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food.
The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. They are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets. I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots.
I’m happy to see that chicory (Cichorium intybus) is still going strong. I love its cheery, bright blue color. Our average first frost happens in mid-September, so this might be the last photo of it this year.
White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) can be tough to identify because even plants growing side by side can have differently shaped leaves, but once they bloom identification becomes much easier. I can’t think of another plant that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms at this time of year. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals. The plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites.
Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.
Stop every now and then. Just stop and enjoy. Take a deep breath. Relax and take in the abundance of life. ~Anonymous
Thanks for coming by.