Posts Tagged ‘Elderberry’

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was spending most of my wildflower hunting time deep in the woods, peeking around trees and under bushes. Now all of the sudden fields and roadsides are bursting with color. This certainly makes a plant hunter’s job easier and also means there are even more flowers to show you. If you, when you saw this picture, wondered if it wasn’t a little early for Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) to be blooming the answer is yes it is, but then everything is blooming early this year.  Still, I was surprised when I found what I usually don’t see until July. Black Eyed Susan is a native plant whose seeds are an important winter food source for birds. That’s why when they are grown in gardens they shouldn’t be cut back in the fall. The small, furry, light purple flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) are easy to miss. At a glance this plant might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is common along roads and in fields. This is another flower that it is easy to walk right by, because it grows at about ankle height. The small, white, tubular blossoms of the native narrow leaf cow wheat plant (Melampyrum lineare ) have a yellow lower lip which also helps make them a little more visible. The flowers always seem to grow in pairs and the plants usually form a colony, which also makes them a little easier to find. I found this plant growing alongside a shaded path in a forest of mostly pine and tamarack trees. It always grows close to shrubs and trees because it is partially root parasitic. There is another plant called Small Cow wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum) with lemon yellow flowers, and another called common cow wheat (Melampyrum pretense) that doesn’t have the two sharply pointed lobes at the base of the leaf like those seen on the narrow leaf cow wheat.  A calyx (at the base of the flower) that curls upward like an eyelash is a good clue to the identity of this plant. This one is a real stinker, and I’m not exaggerating. This is the female blossom cluster of the smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea.) One of its pollinators (the fly) was kind enough to stop in for our photo session. These female pistillate flowers with their stubby, three-lobed stigmas are much shorter than the male staminate flowers, which are shown below.  The plants carry only male or female flowers, so they can usually be found growing quite close together. This is the male flower cluster of the smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea.) Male blossoms have six white stamens. Each of these flower clusters, both male and female, are the size of a golf ball. Personally, I thought that the male flowers were much more malodorous than the female flowers.  This plant is a vine that can reach 8 feet long. Later on the female blossoms become globular clusters of dark blue fruit that will appear like Christmas ornaments all along the vine’s length.  The fruit is said to be edible, but you won’t catch me eating it! Crown vetch (Securigera varia) is very different in both appearance and color than cow vetch (Vicia cracca L. ssp. tenuifolia ) or hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) but the three plants are continually mistaken for one another.  Another vetch is bird vetch (Vicia cracca L.,) which cow vetch is nearly identical to. Hairy vetch, crown vetch and bird vetch all grow in New Hampshire but according to the U.S.D.A., cow vetch does not. Crown vetch is in the pea family and was imported from Europe and Asia for soil erosion control. As is usually the case, it has escaped and the long, wiry vines can now be found along roadsides and in fields. This plant is toxic and has killed horses. I can’t say if our native striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is rare but I can say that, other than on this one occasion I have never seen it, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the woods. Unfortunately I missed its white, nodding blossoms and got there just after it had formed the seed pods seen in the photo. This was on June 4th and the plant isn’t supposed to bloom until late-July. This plant is also called spotted wintergreen, striped pipsissewa, and prince’s pine. According to the U.S.D.A. it is endangered in Canada, Illinois, and Maine, and is considered vulnerable in New York. It seems strange to me that there are so few of these plants found in an area that has huge colonies of its close relative, pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate,) which is called umbellate wintergreen.I was being eaten alive by hoards of hungry mosquitoes when I took this picture so it isn’t the best one I’ve ever taken. This is the nodding, cup shaped flower of the shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica.) Unlike striped wintergreen, this plant is plentiful in pine woods and grows near trailing arbutus and pipsissewa.  The greenish white petals look waxy and sometimes will have greenish veins running through them. These plants were always thought to be closely related to the wintergreens because their leaves stay green all winter, but DNA testing now puts them in the heath (Ericaceae) family. Shinleaf foliage looks a lot like that of trailing arbutus, but the leaves are shorter.  A better photo of it can be seen by clicking here. The plant’s crushed leaves were applied to bruises in the form of a paste or salve and the aspirin-like compounds in the leaves would ease pain. Such pastes were called “shin plasters,” and that’s how the plant got its strange common name. The tiny flowers of Heal All (Prunella vulgaris) appear together on a club-like, squarish stem in enough numbers to make them noticeable. This plant is native to Europe but is found all over the world. Heal all  is also called self-heal and heart of the earth and has been used medicinally for centuries. It is edible and is one of those plants that most certainly would have appeared in medieval cottage gardens. Heal all tea was used by Native Americans, which makes me believe that it is native to North America as well as Europe.Even smaller than the flowers of heal all are those of Rabbit-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense.) If you look closely you can see 2 or 3 of the almost microscopic white flowers poking out of the feathery, grayish- pink sepals. These feathery sepals are much larger than the petals and make up most of the flower head. This plant is in the pea family and is used to improve soil quality. It is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered an invasive weed. It gets its name from the fuzzy flower heads, which are said to look like a rabbit’s foot.  I found a few plants growing on a river bank. This is another clover called golden clover (Trifolium aureum.) The 1/2 inch long yellow flower head is made up of tiny yellow flowers that resemble pea flowers. The flowers have 5 petals and are said to be decumbent, which means “lying along a surface, with the extremity curving upward.” As the photo shows, they overlap much like roof shingles.  These individual flowers turn brown as they age, and some think they look like hops when they are in that stage. This gives the plant one of its common names; large yellow hop clover. Like other clovers it has three leaves. These plants are common in waste areas and along roadsides. This one was growing near our local airport.Native Lance Leaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) is liable to be found in the garden or the meadow. Coreopsis is a large family of plants that includes many natives and hybrids that come in yellows, oranges, pinks and maroons. This plant was in a meadow with many others which were all being swarmed by bees. A common name for this plant is tickseed because the seeds are said to resemble ticks. They are one of the easiest plants to grow and will virtually grow in any soil that gets plenty of sunshine. I’ve even seen them thrive in almost pure sand.The native Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) blossoms have finally opened and are seen along almost every road at the edges of forests. If you aren’t colorblind the red stems make this plant easy to identify, otherwise counting the 4 petals (bracts) will be the clue to its being a dogwood. The flowers are fragrant and bees and butterflies love them.  By the end of summer the flowers will turn into clusters of light blue berries that birds and deer feed on. These shrubs get quite large, sometimes reaching 15 feet tall and twice that across. Red osier dogwood is an excellent choice for large shrub borders because their red branches stand out against the snow in winter. Growing right alongside the red osier dogwoods in many instances are native elderberry (Sambucus) shrubs.  Though they like the same growing conditions, elderberry leaves are quite different than those of dogwoods and the small flowers have 5 petals instead of 4 bracts. Elderberry flower clusters are usually much larger than those of dogwoods and the stamens aren’t as long.  Elderberry flowers become small, dark blue, almost black, berries. These berries are edible if they are cooked but can cause severe stomach distress if eaten raw. The leaves, stems and roots contain cyanide-causing gliconides and are toxic. When I was a boy we lived across the street from an Italian family who made elderberry wine from bushes that grew along the river but since I wasn’t old enough, I never got to taste it.

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous ~ Aristotle

That’s some of what’s blooming right now here in New Hampshire. Thanks for visiting.

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