In my last post were a lot of big, showy flowers. In this post are just the opposite; the tiny natives on the forest floor that are often hard to see. We need to keep our eyes to the ground and watch where we step. The nodding flowers of the native sessile bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) hide under the leaves with their opening towards the ground. Since these plants were only 6 inches tall I couldn’t get under the straw colored, one inch long flower to look into it.So I propped one up in the fork of a twig. Sessile bellwort flowers have three sepals and three petals, but it takes a botanist to tell them apart. They also have six stamens, which can be seen crowded into the flower opening. The word sessile relates to how the long, undulating, stalkless leaves look like they are sitting on the stem but don’t completely surround it. I found a colony of these growing in a moist forest where trillium, anemone, foamflower and meadow rue also grew. A common name of this plant is wild oats. I keep finding large drifts of flowers. Here bluets (Houstonia caerulea) carpet part of a field. Gardeners could learn a lot by paying attention to nature-flowers always look much more natural when they are planted in drifts.I saw both the bluest and whitest bluets I’ve ever seen growing less than five feet apart. I wish I knew what caused such color variations. A book by Maggie Nelson called Bluets begins “Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.” When you look at these flowers it’s easy to understand how she could write such a thing.Though I can’t say what causes the color variations in bluets, I read recently that the color variation in spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) is caused in part by the sun. In the study the lighter colored flowers were those that received the most sunlight. This is the darkest one I’ve seen, but it wasn’t in deep shade.This photo hasn’t been edited in any way-that’s exactly what the flower looked like, and it was a beauty. After it flowers the entire plant disappears until the following spring after having made a brief, 2 to 3 week appearance. Growing right alongside the spring beauties were yellow trout lilies (Erythronium americanum.) I’ve watched this large colony of plants for weeks, waiting for them to bloom. The “trout” part of the name comes from the slightly out of focus speckled leaves. Someone once thought they resembled the fish. The flower has 3 petals and 3 sepals which in full, warm sun, curve backwards to expose the long stamens and anthers. Petals and sepals are known as tepals on plants like these whose sepals and petals are indistinguishable. Trout lilies take from 4 to 7 years to bloom from seed. Before a trout lily’s tepals curl completely you can glimpse the darker bronze or maroon color on their outside surfaces. Each mature plant has two leaves and a single flower which is pollinated by ants and closes each night. This plant is also called the dogtooth violet because its white root is said to resemble a dog’s tooth. An old folk tale says that if a child swallowed one of its milk teeth you had to make him eat a dog violet petal, or his adult tooth would be long, like a dog’s tooth. The plant isn’t related to violets but it is easy to see why it is in the lily family. A spring beauty sat quietly watching nearby while I snapped pictures of the trout lily. The flower of the small flowered crowfoot (Ranunculus abortivus) was so small that I wasn’t sure if I could even get a picture of it. It is a member of the buttercup family and is also called kidney leaved buttercup, named for the round leaves at the base of the stem. Leaf shape changes on this plant so that the leaves further up the stem look nothing like those at the base. The flower has five petals, five sepals that usually bend downward, and many stamens surrounding a berry like center. This is all packed into a flower that is smaller than a pencil eraser. This unusual native, also called the kidney leaf buttercup, likes wet places and is considered poisonous. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) is another tiny flower that you have to sprawl on the ground to get a picture of. What look like white petals on this flower are actually sepals; the petals are the club-like tiny yellow balls at the end of short stalks. The inset in the upper right shows the bright yellow root that gives the plant its name. The shiny, 3 lobed leaves make this one easy to spot. Native Americans chewed the roots of goldthread to treat canker sores, which is why the plant is also called canker root. The natives shared the plant with the English settlers and it became such a popular medicine that by 1785 shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for it dried, which meant people dug up all they could find. After a couple of centuries the plant has recovered enough to be relatively common once again. I played peek-a-boo with this wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) for over a week, visiting each day to see if the flower would be open. All I saw were pink buds like that on the right. Wood anemones refuse to open up if the temperature and light aren’t to their liking, and as soon as the sun moves enough to give them the signal they begin to retreat back into their buds. I kept missing the open flowers until one day when I found one in the act of closing, but still open enough to get a glimpse of the hidden wonders. This is another native wildflower that doesn’t have petals but has 4 to 9 sepals that look like petals. These plants grew in very damp soil and were about 3 inches tall, with tiny flowers. This plant is considered poisonous. The Chinese call it the “Flower of Death,” and in some European countries it is thought to be a bad omen, though nobody seems to remember why. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen as many wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) plants as I have this spring. They must prefer mild winters. Later on if the bees do their job, each of these flowers will become a small but delicious strawberry. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons,) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454. After taking pictures of such very small flowers this red (or purple) flowered trillium seemed like a giant. It was only five inches tall but stood on a bit of a rise, so at least I was able to get my chin off the ground to photograph it. Those who read the last post will remember that this is a real stinker whose common name is stinking Benjamin. This trillium likes moist soil and all the sun it can get. Though it might seem that a flower like this one would be easy to see, that isn’t always the case. I’ve walked right by them many times and have even stepped on one or two over the years, unfortunately. Here in New Hampshire the trilliums I’ve seen grow singly or in groups of 3 to 5, but under the right conditions they can form huge colonies. If you would like to see an excellent example of that take a look at the photo of white trilliums by Jerry over at his quietsolopursuits blog. It’s an amazing sight to behold.
I hope you enjoyed seeing these tiny forest dwellers and hope you will find some too. Thanks for coming by.
“Perchance we may meet on woodland trails where drifts of trilliums and singing robins still greet the spring.” ~Don Jacobs