The temperature fell to 40 degrees one night this week. Soon the leaves will begin to turn and the scent of wood smoke will fill the morning air. This means that the season for photographing flowers is coming to an end and soon we’ll all be wondering what else to use as subjects. For now though, there are still a few here and there. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve seen lately.
Native aquatic pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) has had a long bloom period this year, but I’ve never paid enough attention to it to know if this is an unusual year for it. I like its fuzzy flowers. Pickerelweed’s common name comes from the pickerel fish. They were once thought to breed only under this plant’s leaves. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds form the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water. They will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate.
Turtle head (Chelone glabra) is another native that likes water, but not enough to be considered aquatic. It will often grow right at the water’s edge along ponds and streams, so even the slightest rise in water level will put the plant’s roots under water. These flowers had almost gone by but the photo is a good representation of what they look like. The flowers are said to look like turtle heads, but I’m still not seeing it. The blossom in the upper left corner comes closest to the turtle look for me. Native Americans made medicinal tea from this plant and early colonials used it in the same way.
All of the Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) plants in this immediate area came up too early last spring and were blackened by a hard frost. As the photo above shows, it didn’t even slow them down. This, along with purple loosestrife is one of the worst invasives, because it spreads so fast and so thickly that it chokes out all other plants. A viable plant can grow from as little as .7 grams of rootstock.
The flowers are why Japanese knotweed was imported from England back in the late 1800s.
Lady’s thumb (Persicaria vulgaris) gets its common name from a black / brown smudge on its leaves, supposedly left there by a mysterious lady we’ll never know. Small pink flowers crowd the flower stalks (Racemes) on this plant in the knotweed family. Each flower has 5 sepals but no petals. Flowers can be pink, red, greenish white, or purple. All of these colors sometimes appear on the same raceme. This plant is native to Europe and Asia.
The “lady’s thumb print” on Persicaria vulgaris leaves.
Smartweed (Polygonum hydropiperoides) flowers look a lot like those of its cousin lady’s thumb, but the flower spikes are longer and usually droop like the one in the photo. They also usually grow in the water of rivers and streams and have narrower leaves that don’t have the “thumbprint” that lady’s thumb leaves do. This plant is also called water pepper for good reason-the name “smartweed” comes from the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. Many ducks, birds and animals eat the seeds.
Pale jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) looks a lot like spotted jewelweed, but has larger, pale yellow flowers instead of orange. This plant is rarely seen here, but I found several large plants growing beside a stream one day. Native Americans used the crushed leaves of jewelweed to stop the itching caused by poison ivy. I’ve used the plant’s juice for the same thing and it works well, and it also works on bug bites.
The sides of this flower were spotted much like those of spotted jewelweed, but quite often this plant’s flowers will have no spots at all. The nectar spur is shorter and less curved on pale jewelweed flowers as well. I think if I had to choose between the two plants I’d prefer the deep orange spotted jewelweed flowers.
Native sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) looks a lot like pearly everlasting ( Anapahlis margaritacea) but its flower heads are narrower. The two plants are in the aster family, but aren’t closely related. These flowers are made up of a densely packed outer rim of overlapping bracts with many yellow disc florets in the center. The ‘everlasting” part of the common name comes from the way it lasts after it is dried. This plant is also called rabbit tobacco, but I’ve never seen one smoking it. Native Americans had many uses for it.
Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) had a good year and this is just one of many large displays that I saw. Research into exactly who Joe Pye was has been ongoing for many years. The latest evidence says that Joseph Pye was a Mohegan sachem (chief) who lived in western Massachusetts and saved early European settlers from typhus by brewing a tea made from this plant. Joseph Pye was educated by Samson Occam, himself a Mohegan herbalist and Christian convert who kept an extensive diary. Those interested can read more about Joe Pye by clicking here.
I usually stay away from goldenrod identification because even experts have trouble with them, but when I see one that looks like it’s been in a strong wind, with all of the flowers on one side of the stem I know it is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis.) Native Americans used many goldenrods medicinally in the form of salves, syrups and teas.
The purple asters are beginning to peek out here and there among the whites, which are almost done blooming. I think this one is a bog aster (Aster nemoralus,) but there are so many different ones that it’s hard to identify most of them with any real certainty unless you want to spend half a day doing so. All I know for sure is that it isn’t a New England Aster, which has a much larger flower. These were about the size of nickels.
Flowers whisper “Beauty!” to the world, even as they fade, wilt, and fall. ~Dr. SunWolf
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