Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that’s what this little two foot tall shrub does each spring. The flowers appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because it isn’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.
Because of their habit of growing in or very close to the water I couldn’t get close enough to this rhodora to get a shot of a single flower, but if you’ve ever seen an azalea blossom then you know what they look like. It’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.
The waxy shine on buttercup (Ranunculus) petals is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed.
Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is usually seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. Their color comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments.
Though it looks big in this photo this witch alder is barely 6 feet tall, and it’s the largest one I’ve seen. Most others I’ve seen are 2-3 feet tall. As you can see they flower profusely and are said to make an excellent hedge.
Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, which you can see in this photo. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned groundcover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years.
We have several invasive honeysuckle species here in New Hampshire and I’ve given up trying to identify them all. Most or all are banned from being sold but birds love their bright red berries and that makes the shrubs impossible to ever eradicate. This example had the pinkest flowers I think I’ve ever seen on a honeysuckle.
Apple trees grow throughout our forests and this is what makes people believe they’re seeing “wild” apples, when in fact every apple tree in this country (except crabapples) has been imported from somewhere else or was planted by seed; either by man, bird or animal. That’s why John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) did what he did. I love apple trees for their fragrance and so did my grandmother. Each year at this time I used to give her all the apple blossoms I could pick and for a day or two her house would smell like an orchard.
Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in forests so they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They’ll go dormant quickly when it gets hot and since it’s already getting hot here I thought I should get a couple of photos of them. It’s one of the oldest perennials in cultivation and it is called old fashioned bleeding heart. I’ve always liked them and they were one of the first flowers I chose for my own garden.
The flowers of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) look like bells dangling on a cord. They usually hang down under the leaves and can be very hard to get a good photo of, but every now and then a wind will come along and blow them up over a leaf, and that’s what happened here. The yellowish green bell shaped flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers.
Another view of the unusual striped maple flowers. Each flower has 5 green sepals and 5 greenish-yellow petals with outward turning lobes that are a bit longer than the sepals. Their six to eight stamens show that those in the photo are male flowers. A striped maple needs to be at least ten years old to produce seeds. They like cool moist woods and their large, hand size leaves mean they can take quite a lot of shade, so they grow in the understory. Native Americans are said to have used the wood of striped maple to make arrows and its bark for tea.
Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. As the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them, in my opinion. Each bright white petal has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. Unlike its two cousins its flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.
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.
Some flowers invite you to sit and admire their beauty. Others would like you to understand them, and most can make you smile, even on cloudy days. I find that all three are true of fringed polygala. They are with us for a relatively short time so I’m always very happy to find them in spring. I just found another small colony on Thursday and getting to know them over the next few months will be a pleasure.
Many of us pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we hurry past it. ~Søren Kierkegaard
Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.