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As the 90+ degree heat and humidity of July takes hold I think of being near cool water and it’s hard to be near water in this part of New Hampshire without noticing all the beautiful flowers that live in and around our lakes, rivers and ponds. Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) Unless you happen to be in a kayak or canoe it’s all but impossible to get a shot of one from above, but this one was right at the shoreline of a small pond and it gave me a rare look at the beautiful golden flame that burns in the center of each one. They’re said to smell like honeydew melons, but I’ve never gotten close enough to one  to find out. I could have picked this one, but why would I?

A small sampling of what can often be very large colonies of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots of this pretty plant and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Pickerel weed has small purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured above is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close. Though they must be full of pollen I can’t remember ever seeing an inset on one.

Bur reed stems twist and turn in odd configurations, and only they know why.  

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see a beautiful blue color. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The plant likes wet places and I find it near ponds and ditches.

Vervain flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep standing water. Since they grow with their lower stems submerged being able to see the entire plant is rare, but there are basal leaves growing at the base of each stem underwater. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize. The stem has a twist to it with 7 ridges and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort. It is also called hatpins, for obvious reasons.

Most pipeworts grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of very tiny white, cottony flowers. Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which of course is exactly what pipewort looks like. Pipewort is wind pollinated.

As their name implies swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. This plant is easy to identify; I can’t think of another that has loose, yellow flower spikes (racemes) like this one unless it is broad leaved goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis,) but its leaves are very different. This is a native that grows to about 3 feet. 

Swamp candle is in the loosestrife family and each of the 5 yellow petals has two red dots at its base, which makes the flowers look a lot like those found on whorled loosestrife, but slightly smaller. A major difference between the two plants is how the leaves don’t grow in whorls on swamp candles.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. The pretty flowers are about an inch across.

It’s easy to see how arrowhead gets its name. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

Purple loosestrife will grow in standing water but usually grows just onshore. It is an invasive plant that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant like the one pictured above is becoming more difficult each year. 

Though it is much hated you can’t deny the beauty of purple loosestrife. I’ve worked for nurseries and have had people come in wanting to buy “that beautiful purple flower that grows in wet areas,” but of course it can’t be bought, sold or traded here because it is a prohibited invasive species. The law says that “No person shall collect, transport, import, export, move, buy, sell, distribute, propagate or transplant any living and viable portion of any plant species, which includes all of their cultivars and varieties, listed on the New Hampshire prohibited invasive species list.” So, don’t even collet the seeds.  

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and can grow in great numbers when conditions are right. This rose, like many other water loving plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. 

How I wish I could find fields full of beautiful swamp milkweed plants (Asclepias incarnata) but the truth is I only see one or two plants each year if I’m lucky. This is a flower that made me gasp the first time I saw it because it was so beautiful. It is not a flower from my childhood so it is relatively new to me and I think I could just sit and stare at it for hours. I wish I had some growing here at home.

Three years ago I followed a trail through a swamp and was astonished to see a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) growing right there beside the trail. There was another one nearby but it was off in the swamp, all but inaccessible unless you wanted very wet feet. This year the plant beside the trail was gone and I felt my heart sink, but as I looked around I saw the other one still there, out in the swamp. Without even thinking I stumbled through the black, sucking muck  until I reached it, and these photos will hopefully show you why. It’s like seeing a bush full of beautiful purple butterflies and I still can’t believe I ever found such a thing.

How can anyone not want to fall on their knees before something as beautiful as this? To find yourself absorbed by it to the exclusion of everything else is to visit that place of deep peace from which all flowers come. Once you’ve been there you never forget it, and you’ll ache to return. Natural science writer Loren Eiseley also visited that place and explained: “The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time.” Maybe that’s why I’m willing to wade through the mud of a swamp to see such a thing.

I came out of the swamp with mud up to my knees, but also with a smile on my face. I know that nature isn’t static; everything is changing constantly and I don’t usually have trouble accepting that fact, but the loss of something so rare and beautiful is painful, and even though I was happy to see this plant I was sorry to not find the other one. I’ve read that orchids can disappear and then suddenly reappear a year or even years later, so I’ll keep checking the spot. Hopefully it will come back and help beautify this earth as only it can.  

Of course, flowers aren’t the only things you’ll see near water.

A monk asks: Is there anything more miraculous than the wonders of nature?
The master answers: Yes, your awareness of the wonders of nature.
~Angelus Silesius

Thanks for stopping in.

It takes about a half hour to get there from my house but the trip to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is always worth the effort at this time of year. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and is one of those places that approaches what true wilderness must have looked like before European settlers arrived. It is a botanical park; the only one of its kind in the state. People from all over the world come here to see the native rhododendrons (Rhododendron maxima) that grow here. The park contains the largest grove of these rhododendrons known to exist in New England. Common in south eastern states, they have reached the northernmost point of their growth here. Rhododendron state park was even designated a national Landmark in 1982.

This native rhododendron isn’t like others; it blooms in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since Captain Samuel Patch settled here in 1788. The higher surrounding land was farmed but not where the rhodies grew. In 1901 a subsequent owner almost had the land logged off for timber but instead it was bought and given to the Appalachian Mountain Club with the stipulation that it be protected and open to the public forever after.

The National Park Service calls them pink, but I see white when I look at the blossoms and though most of these plants are quite tall it is still easy to get close to them. Though the plants are much bigger than your average rhododendron the flowers and flower clusters are pretty much the same size as those found on other rhododendrons.

I did see lots of pinks and purples on some of the buds, and on the backs of some of the blossoms.

Included in the park is the center chimney cape that Captain Samuel Patch built with his son sometime before he died in 1817. Captain Patch served in the Revolutionary war and took part in the battle of Bunker Hill and, though his house has changed hands a few times since being built, it looks to be true to its original footprint. Surrounding it are a few garden beds containing various plants, including this moth mullein. Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) gets its common name from the way the flowers’ stamens resembled moth antennae to the person who named it. This plant was introduced from Europe and found in Pennsylvania in 1818 and immediately escaped gardens to become a roadside weed now found in every state except Wyoming and Alaska. It isn’t very common in this area however. I only know of two plants and they grow right here at the old Patch place. Its flowers can also be white.

If you visit the park be prepared to be surprised. I remember being shocked at the size of the rhododendrons the first time I came. People are interested; the parking lot was full of cars on this day. I saw many children on the trails too, and since getting children on the trails is one of the main things this blog is about, I was very happy to see them.

The big plants tower overhead in places and in a good year the white blossoms are everywhere you look. Anyone who loves rhododendrons or serious collectors of the shrubs should definitely see this.

Of course, rhododendrons aren’t all there is to see. There is a wildflower trail here as well and I saw many plants here that I had never seen before the first few times I came. Wildflowers bloom throughout the 2,723-acre park from early April into October. False Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) like the one in this photo are through blooming but they have plenty of fruit at this time of year. They can reach three feet tall where they’re happy.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal turn from green to red and for a short time they are speckled with both colors.  I’ve read that soil pH can affect the fruit color, but I think that means a deeper or lighter red. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) is one of our native wintergreens. It get its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. Its nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June. I find them in sandy soil in forests under pines.

I saw the fruiting bodies of a coral slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, V. porioides.) These objects that resemble geodesic domes are so small that I can’t see any of the detail until I zoom in on them with a camera. They are very fragile; a single swipe of a finger can destroy hundreds of them.  According to my mushroom books this slime mold is “very common and fruits in scattered clusters on well-rotted logs.”  That’s exactly where these grew.

Also known as rosebay and great laurel, these rhododendrons normally reach a maximum height of 15 feet but may become “tree like.” In the park their branches intertwine as they grow and for the most part you wouldn’t ever get through the thicket they’ve formed.

You may feel a bit small as you wander through and under these giant plants. Visitors might find that the common landscape shrubs they are used to seeing never seem the same again. 

A 0.6 mile-long, wheelchair accessible trail meanders around and through the grove and allows visitors close up access to these beauties. This is a good viewing spot, and popular; I had a hard time getting a photo of it with no people on it.

This is one of the views from the bridge in the previous photo. Rhododendrons as far as the eye can see.

There are also Mountain Laurels here but they bloom as much as a month earlier than the rhododendrons.

A hoverfly worked over a dewberry blossom and didn’t seem to mind me watching.

Other insects went unseen but their pathways told their stories. The thought of an insect so small that in can eat its way between the upper and lower surface of a leaf boggles my mind, but I see leaf miner trails everywhere I go.

Rhododendron State Park is open all year during the daytime but isn’t maintained in winter. During the summer months from May through October, you may find a State Park Ranger at the park. He or she is there to answer questions and to collect the $4.00 per visitor admission fee. When there isn’t a ranger on duty you can find the collection box shown above near the trailhead. Part of the money collected I assume is used for trail maintenance, so it’s important. I saw several trees that had fallen across the trail and had been cut up. Children and seniors are admitted for free. Pets are not permitted on the wild flower trail or other nature trails, but I think they can still be taken to other parts of the park. Just follow the instructions on the many signs and maps found throughout the park. The best time to see these spectacular rhododendrons in full bloom is mid-July.

On my way hone I stopped in the town of Troy to admire one of my favorite views of Mount Monadnock. I’m sure there were plenty of sightseers over there too; it is said to be the second most climbed mountain, after Mount Fuji in Japan.  

I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.
~Jack Kerouac

Thanks for coming by.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has just started to bloom and this is the first one I’ve seen, even though in the past they’ve bloomed in June. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this European plant according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

Though I’ve seen sales signs that read “Bee bomb” the correct common name of this plant is Bee balm because of the way the juice from the crushed leaves is said to sooth a bee sting, but since that’s something I haven’t tried I can’t say if it works one way or the other. I have trouble seeing red against green due to colorblindness and that’s why you don’t see much red in these posts, but bee balm blossoms usually stand high enough above the surrounding foliage to be clearly visible. Our native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) is also called Oswego tea, because the leaves were used to make tea by the Native American Oswego tribe of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for tea when they ran out of the real thing. It’s a beautiful flower that I’m always happy to see. Hummingbirds love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

Pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) gets its common name from not surprisingly,  its small pale flowers. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma. The plant must have worked well because early explorers took it back across the Atlantic where it is still used medicinally today. It has to be used with great care by those who know how to use it though, because it can kill.

The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the bases of the 5 petals are fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers but I haven’t seen any yet this year. There is also a purple variant but I’ve never seen it.

Perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is a beautiful little flower that I hadn’t seen until last year. Originally from Europe it has been grown in gardens here in the U.S. since the 1700s. Of course it has escaped gardens and now can be found along roadsides and in waste areas. I found these plants growing along a small stream and I was surprised that I had never seen them before. It is a vining plant that I’ve read can reach 9 feet, but these weren’t more than a foot tall, so maybe they’re young plants. It is also called wild sweet pea, everlasting pea, and hardy sweet pea. The pods and seeds are toxic though, and shouldn’t be eaten.

For sheer size I think Canada lilies are the biggest single blossoms of any plant you’ll find on this blog. Each blossom is 2 to 3 inches across and is about the same length. They can grow to eight feet tall and a stalk full of the nodding flowers towering over my head always reminds me of a chandelier. They are also called meadow lilies and that’s where I find them. They also come in red and orange, but all I ever see here are the yellow ones.

Their habit of nodding towards the ground can make getting a photo difficult, but I (very gently) tilt the stem back with one hand while I take the photos with the other. It’s not the ideal set up but it lets me show you the brownish purple spots on the inside throat of the trumpet and the huge red anthers, which darken with age. Speaking of anthers; many have found out the hard way that the pollen from those and other lily anthers will stain a white tablecloth permanently. The flower buds and roots were gathered and eaten by Native Americans; the scaly bulbs were cooked and eaten with other foods, such as venison and fish. They were also cooked and saved for winter use. They are said to have a very peppery flavor. I’ve always heard that lily bulbs were poisonous though, so I’d want to speak to an expert before I ate any.

Sumacs are blooming everywhere you look. I love their feathery, palm tree appearance. This was a drive by photo and I was too lazy to get out and see which sumac they were. We have 4 species here that I know of, smooth, staghorn, poison and shiny.

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It’s hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that; it’s a very sharp, almost acrid odor and on a hot summer day your nose will tell you that you’re near this plant long before you see it. Black swallowwort is a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. It is believed to have come to North America from Ukraine in the 1800s.  Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level. In Canada it is called the dog strangling vine and Canadians are testing the use of Hypena opulenta moth caterpillars as a means of biological control. So far they say, the results look promising. The caterpillars come from Ukraine and are a natural enemy of the plant. This plant illustrates the biggest danger of importing plants; the animals and insects that control them are left behind in their native lands, and once they arrive in their new home they are able to grow unchecked.

Seeing black eyed Susans reminds me that summer will end all too soon. This plant will always be a fall flower to me, probably because they have such a long blooming period and are seen everywhere in the fall. I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by. At least this year they waited until July to bloom; I often see them in June.

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is also found in cemeteries, often planted beside the oldest graves, and many of the graves on my father’s side have them growing near so it is one of the few flowers that make me think of him. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. These days it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common.

This plant was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes and all of which have the potential to spread just like the original has. If you find yourself doing battle with a particularly weedy daylily, no matter the color, there’s a very good chance that the common orange is one of its parents.

Last year I saw a beautiful flower on the roadside. A closer look told me it was a campanula and after some research I thought that it might be a clustered bellflower (Campanula glomerata,) which is a garden escapee. It is said to be a “vigorous rhizomatous perennial” originally from Europe and Japan. This year I found this example in the garden of friends, who said it did indeed want to spread everywhere. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be like the highly invasive creeping bellflower.

A glance at this Queen Anne’s lace flower head might not seem different than any other but the barely visible purple thing in the center is actually a tiny, infertile flower that’s less than half the size of a pea. Not all plants have these central florets that can be purple, pink, or sometimes blood red. From what I’ve seen in this area it seems that as many plants have it as those that do not.

I’ve seen insects including ants around the tiny floret in the center of the flowerhead. I’ve heard many theories of why this flower grows the way it does but the bottom line is that botanists don’t really know why.  It seems to serve no useful purpose, but it might have at one time. Plants don’t usually do things needlessly because it uses up precious energy, and I’d guess that would include evolving. Just because we haven’t discovered its purpose doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one.

Shaggy soldier (Galinsoga quadriradiata) still blooms prolifically. How this plant got from Mexico to New Hampshire is anyone’s guess, but it seems to love it here. People however, do not love seeing it; everyone agrees that it’s a weed, even in its native Mexico. The plant is also called common quick weed or Peruvian daisy and is common in gardens, where it can reduce crop yields by as much as half if left to its own devices. Shaggy soldier has tiny flowers that are about 3/8 of an inch across and have 5 white ray florets widely spaced around tiny yellow center disc florets. They are among the smallest flowers that I try to photograph.

Until recently I’ve always been too late or too busy to get a photo of white avens (Geum canadense.) I know of only one place where it grows and thimbleweed also grows there. With its bigger, showier flowers thimbleweed has always stolen the show and I’ve forgotten about white avens. Each flowers is about a half inch across with 5 white petals and many anthers. The anthers start out white and then turn brown and you usually find both on each flower. Each flower becomes a seed head with hooked seeds that will stick to hair or clothing.

You know high summer is near when our native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) start blooming. This plant is well known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, as a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. It hasn’t beat the heat by much this year and I’ve already seen brown flowers. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

Garden yarrows come in different shades of pinks and yellows but I’ve never been able to decide what I think of the plant breeder’s work on this one. Every time I see one I feel like I’m fence sitting. What makes me happiest about them is how they don’t seem to care about spreading into the surrounding countryside or cross breeding with the native yarrow. I’d rather not see either one happen.

There was a time when nearly everyone I worked for as a gardener wanted yellow yarrow in their gardens but now I hardly see it. I found this one in a local park.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue. Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and they can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

I found privet (Ligustrum vulgare) growing by a local pond. It’s in the same family (Oleaceae) as lilacs and that should come as no surprise when you look closely at the small flower heads. Privet is a quick growing shrub commonly planted in rows and used as hedging because they respond so well to shearing. Originally from Europe and Asia it is considered invasive in some areas but I don’t see many in the wild. It has been used by mankind as a privacy screen for a very long time; Pliny the Elder knew it well. Its flexible twigs were once used for binding and the name Ligustrum comes from the Latin ligare, which means “to tie.”

This is how I saw the sun shine one recent showery day. We’re in a hot humid spell now with showers possible almost any day. This kind of weather could last into September when it usually cools down. Then the fall rains will begin (hopefully) and will ensure that the trees have nice moist soil going into winter. I can’t believe I just typed that word!

Flowers carry not only beauty but also the silent song of love. You just have to feel it. ~Debasish Mridha

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

Anyone who has been to an outdoor drive in theater has probably heard the “It’s showtime folks!” announcement coming through the speaker that hung on their car window. It came right after the film clip showing all the delicacies found at the snack bar, I think.

Keene had a drive in theater and though this isn’t a photo of that screen it’s very much how I remember it. The drive in held 400 cars and once you paid the entrance fee you parked wherever you wanted. Each of the poles seen in this photo would have held 2 speakers. You parked beside a pole, rolled the window down about half way and hung the speaker on it. I don’t know how many people drove off after the film with the speaker still on their window but I’d be there were a few.

This is what the Keene drive in looks like today; an open meadow full of flowers, birds and insects. I decided to explore it last weekend just to see if I could find anything interesting. There is a gate that is locked but since there is a big missing part of the fence right next to the gate it was easy to walk right in. There were no signs telling me not to.

I found these few photos of Keene Drive In memorabilia, apparently uploaded by Charles Dean, online. I couldn’t find the date the drive in opened but it must have been in the 1940s after the war ended. That was a popular time for drive ins and that’s when many of them opened.  The prices on this menu are certainly from a few years ago. I can’t remember ever paying as little as 35 cents for a hamburger.

But I was here to see nature doing its thing and I wasn’t disappointed. St. Johnswort plants grew here and there. I think these grew somewhere near where the projection booth originally was.

Drive ins did their best to keep people from sneaking in without paying but it was a right of passage for a teenage boy and I went through the main gate in the trunk of a car more than once. Many others did the same and I don’t think I ever heard of anyone climbing the fence. That’s a good thing, by the looks of all the barbed wire.

The grasses were waist high. Even yarrow couldn’t out grow them.

In this spot something had flattened the grass just like a bedding deer would, but it could have been a human. As few as 10 years ago this piece of land had grown up to be almost completely forested and a sizeable homeless population lived in here. I came through once a few years ago just to explore and found a small town of tents and tee-pees tucked into a back corner. The town (I think) came in and cut all the trees and brush and evicted the homeless and now the place is mown once each year. It’s a shame that anyone has to be homeless in this, the richest country on earth, but the reality is almost every town in America has a homeless population.

I could see the old crushed gravel parking surface in places.

But mostly all I saw were grasses and flowers, like this ox-eye daisy. I also saw more blue toadflax here than I’ve ever seen in one place.

Can you see the little hoverfly on the extreme right of the hawkweed blossom on the right? I saw lots of insects here including dragonflies, which seemed odd since there isn’t any water close by.

I saw my first mullein (Verbascum thapsus) blossoms of the year here. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

I saw a paved area but I couldn’t figure out if it was part of the original entrance road or if it was where the screen stood. It’s hard to navigate when there are no landmarks to go by but I think I remember the screen being on this end of the lot.

There was just a single light pole left, with its light still on top. These lights used to ring the lot and when they were turned on you knew the show was over and it was time to go. There used to be 2 films shown but I can’t remember if the lights were turned on during intermission or not. I do remember some dark walks to the snack bar and then trying to find the car in the dark afterwards.

There were lots of bristly dewberry plants (Rubus hispidus) growing here. Bristly or swamp dewberry is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves live under the snow all winter. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition, and this plant certainly seems to benefit from it. Swamp dewberry looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands, but I’ve seen it growing in dry waste areas many times. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly.

I was surprised that there wasn’t more vetch growing here. I saw just a few plants. Hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa) was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire. This might have also been cow vetch (Vicia cracca,) but I didn’t check the stems for hairs. Cow vetch is also invasive.

There was lots of rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense.) You have to look closely to see the almost microscopic white flowers poking out of the feathery, grayish-pink sepals on these flower heads. 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. 

You can see the tiny white flowers in this shot. This bee (I think) was gathering a lot of yellow pollen from the clover plants. Its pollen sacs looked to be full of it.

Other clovers attracted other insects. I saw this little skipper on a red clover but I haven’t been able to identify it.

This program is from the year I was born but I don’t remember ever seeing any of these films. The only drive in movie I remember seeing at the Keene Drive In was the original Star Wars. Since it came out in December of 1976 I’m guessing it must have been the summer of 1977 when I saw it. For its time it was an amazing movie. I think I was driving a Volkswagen Beetle at the time. I like the way the program says “Air conditioned by nature,” which was a good thing since my Volkswagen didn’t have air conditioning. Unfortunately it didn’t have heat either so winters were a little more exciting than usual.

In the 1950s, there were around 4,000 drive-in theaters around the United States. Today, there are only an estimated 300 left, and only two or three are in New Hampshire. Most closed because film companies went digital and stopped delivering the films on 35mm reels.  Digital film projectors cost many thousands of dollars and many drive in owners simply couldn’t afford the changes. The Keene drive in closed in 1985 and the screen, snack bar and projection booth were removed shortly after. Now it’s a meadow which, if it was no longer mowed, would return to the original forest that was here before the drive in was built. And it wouldn’t take long; I saw it go from drive in to forest to meadow in my own lifetime.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

Thanks for coming by.

Like a tree full of orchids, that’s what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. These big trees are blooming all over the area right now, about a week later than usual.

At 1-2 inches across catalpa flowers are large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. Each one is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough to put your finger in, with room to spare. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

From huge flowers to small flowers. I can’t call cow wheat blossoms tiny, but they are small. Narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite.

Cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils) but this year I’m seeing more single blooms than pairs. I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The flowers bloom at about shoe top height. I thought I’d put one on a penny so you could see how small they really are.

Cow wheat blossoms seem big compared to the tiny blossoms of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.) This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Here is a tiny enchanter’s nightshade blossom on a penny. They’re among the smallest flowers that I try to photograph for this blog.

Last year when I showed what I thought was bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) a helper wrote in and asked if it could be sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) instead. Since I found the plant growing in standing water and since the flower clusters were terminal, appearing at the ends of the branches, I didn’t think so. But now I’m not so sure because sheep laurel also has terminal flower clusters and the new leaves come out below the flower clusters and grow up around them, and that’s exactly what this plant does. But names of things are becoming less and less important to me as I get older and I can live with knowing it’s one or the other. I hope you can too.

One thing I know for sure is that it is a laurel and you can tell that by the ten pockets in each flower, where the anthers reside under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on the flower the spring loaded anthers release from their pockets and dust it with pollen.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. These flowers are about the same diameter as a pencil eraser and, since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

Beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) started blooming about a week ago. This is a plant that I’ve searched for many years for and could never find until I finally found some growing in an unmown lawn, and now I know of two places it grows in. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flowers are notorious for catching onto the legs of insects and not letting go so I thought that’s what had happened to this fly, especially since it let me take shot after shot without flying off, but I finally poked it with my finger and away it went. Apparently it was simply too involved with what it was doing to pay me any mind.

Cranberries are one of the native fruits that grow abundantly here in the northeast. I usually find them in wet, boggy areas but they will grow in drier areas near water. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries and that has evolved into what we call them today. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

Sometimes if you’re lucky you can catch a cranberry blossom before its petals have recurved, but on this day I only saw one or two out of many hundreds.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) has just started blooming in the tall grass along roadsides. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.

Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It grows in dry soil at the edge of forests.

It’s hard to believe that something as tiny as a river grape blossom (Vitis riparia) could be fragrant but in places right now you can follow your nose right to the vines, so strong is the fragrance. And this isn’t the end of the joy they bring; in the fall the fermented fruit on a warm day will make the woods smell just like grape jelly.

I don’t see tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) in meadows unless the meadow is wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. Meadow rue can grow 7-8 feet tall so getting above it can be next to impossible. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance.

It wouldn’t be the fourth of July without fireworks and every year, right on time, tall meadow rue blossoms with fireworks of its own.  At least the male flowers do, with starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens. Knowing when flowers bloom is a fun thing; they give you something beautiful to look forward to all summer long.

None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones. ~Forbes Watson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

I see this view of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock almost every morning on the way to work. Sometimes there are ducks, geese or great blue herons here so I always at least slow down and look. The view from here reminds me of total wilderness, where all you really have is you. At the very edge of a pond the growth is thick and hard to get through because that’s where all the sunlight is. Back away from where the water meets the land, back where the forest is dark and there is less undergrowth, there is usually a way around. I think, long before Europeans showed up, Native Americans most likely had trails around every pond and lake in this area.

Ponds are great places to see waterfowl of all kinds and I’ve seen plenty of Canada geese this year. This family swam quite close and I think it’s because they’ve been fed by humans sometime in the past.

These goslings on the other hand swam away as fast as they could, with mom and dad just out of view, bobbing their heads up and down frantically. Personally I don’t feed wild animals because I’d rather have them rely on nature. Nature will provide all they need, just as it has since the time began.

But nature doesn’t discriminate and it also provides all that snapping turtles need, and some of what they need are small birds like goslings that swim on the surface of their ponds. If you watch a family of geese over time they might start out with 6 or 7 goslings, but then often end up with only one or two that reach adulthood. Foxes, bobcats, snapping turtles and other animals all thin the flock.

The big turtles have been on the move until recently and I’ve seen quite a few females out looking for suitable places to dig their nests and lay their eggs. Once they do many of the nests are almost immediately dug up and the eggs eaten, but there are thousands of eggs around every pond. Nature allows for the losses, so there will always be turtles and there will always be goslings. I should say that you don’t want to get too close to a snapping turtle because though it doesn’t look it they have long necks that can stretch out quickly. They also have very strong jaws.

Rosy maple moths appear at about this time each year and are easy to identify because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like them. This is a cute little thing with its wooly yellow body and pink and creamy yellow wing stripes. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

Virgin tiger moths are large, butterfly sized moths and I’ve read that its hindwing color can vary from yellow to scarlet. Unfortunately they can’t be seen in this photo. The larvae feed on various low growing plants. Though there are countless photos of this moth online there is very little information on it. It is certainly one of the prettiest moths I’ve seen.

I saw a wolf spider crawling on one of the buildings where I work. Wolf spiders carry their egg sacs by attaching them to their spinnerets. They have eight eyes and two of them are large, which helps them see their prey. They will sometimes chase prey but usually just wait for it to happen by.

Here is a closer view of the wolf spiders egg sac. According to Wikipedia “the egg sac, a round, silken globe, is attached to the spinnerets at the end of the abdomen, allowing the spider to carry her unborn young with her. The abdomen must be held in a raised position to keep the egg case from dragging on the ground. However, despite this handicap, they are still capable of hunting. Another aspect unique to wolf spiders is their method of care of young. Immediately after the spiderlings emerge from their protective silken case, they clamber up their mother’s legs and crowd onto the dorsal side of her abdomen. The mother carries the spiderlings for several weeks before they are large enough to disperse and fend for themselves. No other spiders are currently known to carry their young on their backs for any period of time.”

A cedar waxwing sat on a lawn and let me walk right up to it and takes as many photos as I wanted before finally hopping away into the undergrowth. This is odd behavior for a bird but it must have either been a juvenile that couldn’t fly yet or maybe an adult that was stunned. I saw a Baltimore oriole fly into a window once and knock itself out. I thought it had died but an hour later it woke up and flew away. I love the beautiful sleek look of cedar waxwings, and the little bandit masks they wear. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see at the tips of its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol, so maybe this one was simply drunk.

Our white pines have been growing pollen cones, which are the tree’s male flowers. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of smoke like yellow-green pollen can be seen coming from them on windy days. The trees look like they’re on fire and virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, houses, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in, but pine pollen is a strong antioxidant that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its numerous health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago.

I like lake sedge (Carex lacustris) because I like the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds. Even when it isn’t blowing in the wind it seems to have movement.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blooms in rings around the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. But it is taking hold and it has gone from a plant I rarely saw just a few years ago to one I see just about everywhere now. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else. It is wind pollinated so it hangs its stamens out where the wind can blow the pollen off the anthers. Each stamen is made up of a white bag like anther sitting at the end of a thin filament. If pollinated each flower will bear two tiny seeds in a small seed capsule.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum,) is as rare as hen’s teeth but I know of one or two. Some confuse it with royal fern but maidenhair fern really bears little resemblance to royal ferns. The name maidenhair comes from the fine, shiny black stalks, which are called stipes. This fern is very rarely seen in a natural setting in this area.

Grasses like this orchard grass have started flowering and I hope everyone will take a little time to give them a look, because they can be very beautiful as well as interesting. They are also one of the easiest plants there are to find. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze, which of course blows the pollen to other plants.

Someone carved a heart into a birch tree. I did the same once but mine was carved into a maple and wasn’t as elaborate. Still, I’d guess the reasons for doing the carving were the same.

It might look like the hills were on fire in this shot but this was mist that the warmth of the sun was wringing out of the forest one morning after a rainstorm the night before. Marty Rubin once said “Mist around a mountain: all reality is there.” And for me, on that morning, it was. I thought it made a beautiful scene, and losing myself in it almost made me late for work.

Mists like the one in the previous photo usually mean high humidity in the forest, and if there’s one bit of nature that loves high humidity it’s a slime mold, and I’ve been seeing a few. I think this one is the scrambled egg slime mold (Fuligo septica.) It gets quite big and will grow in full sun on wood mulch or chips, so it is easily seen and is often people’s first introduction to slime molds. It also produces the largest spore-producing structure of any known slime mold. Slime molds move using a process called cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass,  and I was fortunate enough to find this one on the move. Though its movement is imperceptible you can tell it has moved if you watch it over time. In fact it can climb onto stumps, logs, and living plants.

Scrambled egg slime mold is the perfect name for this one. According to mycologist Tom Volk of the University of Wisconsin, a plasmodium is essentially a blob of protoplasm without cell walls and only a cell membrane to keep everything in. It is really nothing but a large amoeba and feeds much the same way, by engulfing its food, which are mostly bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. Slime molds are a very important part of the ecosystem; it isn’t hard to imagine what this world would be like without decomposers like fungi and slime molds doing their work.

Scrambled egg slime in the plasmodium stage will eventually come together into a sponge-like mass called an aethalium, which is pictured forming here. An aethalium  is a “large, plump, pillow-shaped fruiting body.” Over time this slime mold forms a smooth, brittle crust which breaks easily to reveal a black spore mass.

My fungal offering for this post is a tiny bird’s nest fungus, which few people ever get to see. I think they were fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) and this is a view of them from the side. They grow in a funnel or vase shape and have flutes around the rim of the body, which is hollow like a cup. They are so small not even a pea would fit inside them.

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs, which really can’t be seen here, are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

Here is a shot of a fluted bird’s nest cup with two disc shaped “eggs” in the bottom that I took earlier in 2015. It’s another of those miracles of nature that tend to boggle the mind.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July tomorrow.

 

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is not a native plant so I’m always surprised to see it growing along the edge of forests. I don’t see it in the wild often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. I’ve also seen one or two older, large colonies which were very beautiful.

I like to try to get a bee’s eye view of foxglove blossoms. They apparently start life with yellow spots which turn to white as they age. The lower lip protrudes a bit to give bees a landing pad, and from there they follow the spots, which are nectar guides, up to the top of the blossom where they find the nectar. While the bee is busy with the nectar the anthers above it rub on its back and deposit the flower’s pollen, which will then be taken to another blossom.  If successfully pollinated a foxglove plant can produce from one to two million very small seeds.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like on roadsides as this one was but I think most are escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers on this example look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. I like its wrinkled petals, which look like they were cut from crepe paper. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) has just come into bloom and I’m happy to see it because I think it’s a beautiful flower even if it is invasive. It’s one of those that often seem to glow with their own inner light and I enjoy just looking at it for a time. Crown vetch has seed pods look that like axe heads and English botanist John Gerard called the plant axewort and axeseed in 1633. It is thought that its seeds somehow ended up in other imported plant material because the plant was found in New York in 1869. By 1872 it had become naturalized in New York and now it is in every state in the country except Alaska.

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms and you can see certain roads that are lined with the glossy leaved, white flowering shrubs. They seem fussy about where they grow but when they find a spot that they like they can form dense thickets that are nearly impossible to get through. In this spot they grow to about 10 feet tall.

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. You can see some relaxed anthers in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the tough wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

This plant goes by many common names but I’ve always called it peach leaved bluebells (Campanula persicifolia) which comes from its leaves resembling those of the peach tree. It is very easy to grow; literally a “plant it and forget it” perennial. I planted one in my garden years ago and not only is it still growing, but many seedlings from it are also growing all over the yard. I usually give several away each summer to family and friends. It’s a good choice for someone just starting a garden.

Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) might look like an exotic import from China or Japan but they’re native to the east coast of the U.S. It’s a beautiful and fragrant tree that you rarely see anywhere, and I wonder why it’s so under used. It is said to be tougher than dogwood, more dependable than saucer magnolia, longer-lived than cherry, and smells better than Bradford pears. So why don’t more of us use it? Fringe trees are one of the last to show new leaves in spring and they can look dead until the leaves and flowers appear, so maybe that has something to do with it.

 

Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) reminds me of fireworks. This one grows in my garden and also reminds me of the friend who gave it to me several years ago. Hers grew to towering heights but this one usually stays at about three feet. I think it gets a little too much shade, and dry shade at that.

We have a couple of Japanese tree lilacs (Syringa reticulata) where I work and they’re so fragrant you can smell them throughout the grounds. But don’t expect the familiar vulgaris lilac scent from this one because it is very different and hard to describe. I’ve looked it up and most people have a negative opinion of the scent but I find it simply different and not something I’m used to. It’s a kind of heavy scent on a hot summer day. Tree lilacs do indeed look like single trunk trees and grow to about 20-25 feet tall, so this one needs some space.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) must be one of the longest blooming wildflowers we have here but this year it’s about a month late. It usually starts blooming in May but it has just started now. It should bloom well into September now that it has gotten started. I love the shade of blue that it wears. According to John Gerard’s 1597 Herbal, toadflax flowers “be yellow, having a mouth unto a frog’s mouth.” He was of course writing of yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris,) but I don’t see a frog’s mouth in either yellow or blue toadflax.

Blue toadflax is common enough but I’ve never seen a white toadflax. I’m not sure how to describe it; it was the same size and shape, and had the same growth habit as a blue toadflax, so I guess you’d say it was a white version of a blue toadflax. I found a couple of photos of similar flowers online but no explanation or description was given so I can’t really tell you much about it.

Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) has pale yellow flowers similar in color to those of the sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) but they can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. I always find it growing at the edges of corn fields at this time of year, not because it likes growing with corn but because it likes to grow in disturbed soil. Wild radish is in the mustard family and is sometimes confused with wild mustard (Brassica kaber,) but that plant doesn’t have hairy stems like wild radish. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

Many years ago, so long ago I can’t even remember its name, I planted a clematis. It did fantastic for many years and then insects attacked it two or three years in a row and it disappeared. Until now that is; it’s back and is loaded with blossoms. Maybe it should be called the resurrection plant.

There are over 200 viburnum varieties and some of our native ones are just coming into bloom like the arrow wood viburnum shown here. Smooth arrow wood (Viburnum dentatum) has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and is blooming along stream banks and drainage ditches right now. Native dogwoods are also beginning to bloom, but they have four petals and the viburnums have five. Dogwood flower clusters also tend to be much flatter on top and seem to hover just above the branch. Smooth arrow wood viburnum has a much more rounded flowering habit. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

Heal all’s (Prunella lanceolata) tiny hooded flowers always remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure virtually every disease known, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

One of the things I like most about native pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is the way a child’s face will light up and break into a smile when they crush it and smell it. Usually when I tell them that it smells like pineapple they don’t believe it, so it’s a surprise. The conical flower heads are easiest to describe by saying they’re like daisies without petals, or ray florets. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and the leaves are also scented and have been used to make tea. The plant was used by Native Americans in a tonic to relieve gastrointestinal upset and fevers. The Flathead tribe used the dried, powdered plants to preserve meats and berries. It is said to make a nice pineapple flavored tea.

Puffy little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) has just come into bloom and soon yellow ribbons of it will grow on our roadsides. The plant is in the pea family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods, which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives. Those are maiden pinks in the background.

Rough and unloved by many, sulfur cinquefoils is just a roadside weed; a denizen of waste places and abandoned pastures. It’s not a tall plant; it hardly lifts its head up above the surrounding grasses, so you have to look for it. And I do look for it because I love its buttery yellow petals that no other flower that I know of except wild radish seems to have. Though it was originally introduced from Europe and is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses, I’d grow it in a garden because I think it’s very pretty.

Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music. They relax the tenseness of the mind. They dissolve its vigor. ~Henry Ward Beecher.

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