Cheery little Johnny jump ups (Viola cornuta) have done just that; it seems like one day they weren’t there and the next day they were. The unusual spring heat is causing some plants to bloom two weeks or more ahead of when they normally do and it has been hard to keep up with them.
I was surprised to see a painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) already past its prime. You can see how the bright white has gone out of the petals and how they have become translucent. These are sure signs of age even though it should be just starting to bloom. Each white petal has a pink V at its base and that’s how it comes by its common name. Painted trilliums grow north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia. I hope I find a better example before they go by.
The only time pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have appeared in May on this blog was in 2013 because they usually bloom in June. It’s a beautiful thing and I was happy to see it but all the flowers that are blooming early will also be passing early, and I wonder what there will be to see in June. Nature will take care of things and I won’t be disappointed, of that I have no doubt. Native Americans used lady’s slipper root as a sedative for insomnia and nervous tension. I never pictured natives as being particularly nervous or tense, but I suppose they had their fair share of things to worry about.
If you were hiking with me and saw an eight foot high native roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) in full bloom and didn’t stop and gasp in astonishment I think I’d have to check your pulse just to make sure that you were still with us, because this is something that you don’t see just any old day. It had a rough time over the winter and isn’t blossoming as much as it did last year but it’s still a sight to behold.
There are few things more beautiful than these flowers on this side of heaven. They are also very fragrant with a sweet, clove like aroma. This old azalea grows behind an even older hemlock tree in a very swampy area, surrounded by goldthread plants and cinnamon ferns.
Here is one of the little goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum) that grow near the azalea. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. This plant usually grows in undisturbed soil that is on the moist side. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, and it was most likely sold under its other common name of canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.
New goldthread leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and flowers will appear.
Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms and its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. They’re a good indicator of where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes. If you are one of those people who mow around this native fleabane you might want to visit a nursery, because there are also many cultivated varieties of this plant.
This is the first appearance of skunk currant (Ribes glandulosum) on this blog. I know a place where hundreds of these plants grow but I’ve never seen one blooming so I was never sure what they were. I’ve read that the plant gets its common name from the odor given off by its ripe dark red berries, which doesn’t sound too appealing but they are said to be very tasty. If you can get past the smell, I assume. This is a very hairy plant; even its fruit has hairs. The Native Ojibwa people used the root of skunk currant to ease back pain but it is not a favorite of foresters or timber harvesters because it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.
Another name for Jack in the pulpit is Indian turnip (Arisaema triphyllum) because Native Americans knew how to cook the poisonous root to remove the toxic calcium oxalate crystals. They called the plant “tcika-tape” which translates as “bad sick,” but they knew how to use it and not get sick. They also used the root medicinally for a variety of ailments, including as a treatment for sore eyes. This plant is also called bog onion because the root looks like a small onion and it grows in low, damp places. It is in the arum family and is similar to the “lords and ladies” plant found in the U.K.
I always lift the hood to see the beautiful stripes and to see if Jack is being pollinated. Jack is the black, club shaped spadix surrounded by the showy spathe, which is the pulpit. The plant has a fungal odor that attracts gnats and other insects and if they do their job Jack will become a bunch of bright red berries that white tail deer love to come by and snack on.
I love lilacs so they always have a place included here. Many people here in New Hampshire think that lilacs are native to the state but they aren’t. They (Syringa vulgaris) were first imported from England to the garden of then Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower.
Until I saw this photo I never realized how suede-like lilac flowers look. I was too busy sucking the sweet nectar out of them as a boy to notice, I guess.
Lily of the valley always reminds me of my grandmother because I can remember bringing her fistfuls of them along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw. She would always be delighted with my rapidly wilting bouquet and would immediately put it in a jelly jar of water. These plants are extremely toxic but I never once thought of eating or putting any part of one in my mouth, so I hope all of the mothers and grandmothers out there will give the little ones a chance to see your face light up as they thrust out a chubby fist full of wilted lily of the valley blossoms. I can tell you that, though it might seem such a small thing, it stays with you throughout life. It also teaches a child a good lesson about the great joy to be found in giving.
It’s time to say goodbye to purple trilliums (Trillium erectum,) which are another of our spring ephemerals that seem almost like falling stars, so brief is their time with us. You can tell that this trillium is on its way out by the way its petals darken from red to dark purple, unlike the painted trillium we saw earlier with petals that lighten as they age.
Fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers often grow in pairs like those shown in the photo. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen. That pollination happens at all seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.
I tried to get a “bee’s eye view” of one of the flowers, which also go by the name of gaywings. What beautiful things they are; I could sit and admire them all day.
I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — an endless prospect of magic and wonder. ~Ansel Adams
Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day!