It is still very dry here and some small ponds and streams have dried up completely just over the past week. There are shady woods and moist places near the larger ponds and rivers where plants still bloom though. Here are some tough plants that are more used to adverse conditions. Our native rhododendron (Rhododendron Maximum) blooms much later than cultivated varieties-usually about mid-July. A 16 acre grove in Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is the northern limit of these plants. The grove is the largest in northern New England and was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1982. There are also wildflower trails through the park, but there is little to be seen in the deep woods at this time of year.Whorled Wood Asters (Oclemena acuminate) have also just started blooming. The aster family is very large and many asters can be hard to identify but the strange, fly away petals on this one make it a little easier than most. Other common names for this native plant include Mountain Aster and Sharp-leaved Aster. The name “whorled aster” comes from the leaves appearing to grow in a whorl even though it isn’t a true whorl. Another common name for all asters is “goodbye summer.” I found them growing at the edge of the woods.Another plant that says goodbye summer is goldenrod. The plant pictured is gray stemmed goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis.) Goldenrod is a family with 125 or more species that are often hard for even botanists to identify, but this one is easy because of the way the flower grows mostly on one side of the stem, like they’ve been in a strong wind. The grayish stem usually arches slightly as well and the plant has small leaflets in the leaf axils. Goldenrod is usually blamed for people’s hay fever but goldenrod pollen is so heavy and sticky that you couldn’t get it to go up your nose if you buried your head in a stand of it and sniffed as hard as you could. The real cause of allergic reactions is ragweed, which blooms at the same time and has fine, dust like pollen grains that are carried on the wind. This is my favorite goldenrod because it is very fragrant. I found this slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) growing in a crack in a sidewalk. This plant is similar to lance leaved goldenrod, but the two can be told apart by leaf veining; slender fragrant goldenrod has only one vein running down the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has several veins. Other common names are Sweet goldenrod, wound weed, Blue Mountain tea, sweet-scented goldenrod, anise-scented goldenrod, and true goldenrod. Goldenrods like dry, sunny places and don’t mind sandy soil. This native grows much shorter than most-usually about knee high.Native smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) flowers look much like those on stag horn sumac, but that’s really the only thing about this plant that looks like it. The leaves are very shiny and leathery feeling on smooth sumac and are a kind of dull, matte finish and thin on stag horn sumac. The main difference though, is the lack of “velvet” on smooth sumac stems and leaves. Stag horn sumac stems and leaves are covered in fine hairs, but you won’t find any on this plant. Smooth sumac stems are also apt to be crooked and somewhat shorter. This butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris) plant was growing happily beside a sidewalk. This is a beautiful plant that is in the toadflax family with flowers much larger and showier than blue toadflax. It was introduced from the Mediterranean region of Europe and quickly escaped and began colonizing its new home. I can think of worse plants to have as weeds-at least this one is showy with its snap dragon like blooms. This plant is also called Yellow Toadflax. Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is a familiar sight around these parts, but we usually expect to see it later in the year. Like many of the plants in this post, it is blooming nearly a full month early. This one is easy to identify because of the strange way all the flowers line up on one side of the stem and all point in almost the same direction. The bracts at the base of the flower that fold back away from it are also good identifiers. This plant is another European native that has escaped garden borders and become an invasive pest. But it’s a pretty one. It looks like it’s going to be a good berry year for American Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned, because I like to eat them. My grandmother always called this plant checkerberry but I have always called it teaberry because the berries taste just like teaberry gum. A handful of berries from these native plants are quite refreshing on a hot autumn hike. Many birds, small animals and even not so small animals like black bears like the minty, bright red berries so you have to be quick. Wild Canada Lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) has sent up its tall spikes and is just starting to blossom. Every time I see this plant I wonder why it needs a 7 or 8 foot tall flower stalk to support tiny flowers that aren’t as big as a dime. This plant grows in every state except Arizona and Nevada, so it might look familiar. Anyone who has had their garden lettuce bolt and go to seed knows how bitter it can be afterwards. Wild lettuce has the same bitterness virtually all the time, so even though it is edible not many will eat it. Native Americans used the white sap to cure warts. Some native lettuce species have blue flowers, and I’m hoping to find them.Tall milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) is a native plant that I don’t see very often. I found a few plants growing at the edge of a forest under some pine trees where they couldn’t have gotten very much sun or rain. I have read that tall milkweed grows as tall as swamp and common milkweeds, but these plants were so short that at first I wasn’t sure that they were tall milkweed. The drooping, bicolored flowers finally convinced me that I had the correct plant. This is also called poke milkweed. Unless it is flowering it could be easily confused with swamp milkweed. I found this spotted knapweed growing along the very edge of a busy road. There were so many cars going by that the plant acted like it was caught in a strong wind storm, swaying this way and that constantly. Finally there was a gap in the traffic and I was able to snap a few pictures. If I’d had my wits about me and wasn’t wondering when I’d be run over I would have taken a closer shot of the bracts under the flower head. A while ago I posted a picture of a brown knapweed which looks nearly identical to the spotted. The best way to tell them apart is by the color of the tips of the bracts, but unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of them. Spotted knapweed has very obvious vertical veins under the black triangular spots on the tips of the bracts. This plant is considered a noxious weed and some people find it toxic, breaking out in a rash if they touch it. Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a plant that seems to go to seed overnight so I felt lucky to catch this one still blooming. It is also another fall plant that is blooming a month or so early. I found it draped over some viburnums at the edge of the forest. Virgin’s bower is also called Devil’s darning needles and Old Man’s Beard because of the feathery, twisted seed heads that appear after the female blossoms. If you can stand seeing another goldenrod I’d like to show you this rough stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) because it is one of the few species of goldenrod that is easily identified. What makes it so easy is its branching habit that gives the flower head the look of an elm tree. An elm has a straight, tall trunk that suddenly branches out in all directions to form a vase shaped crown, and that is exactly what this goldenrod does. It is one of the few that I recognize because of its shape.Bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis) gets her common name from the way the strangely curved petals bounce in a breeze. This plant has 5 petals and 10 stamens. Those two things along with the backward bending petals make this one easy to identify. The flowers will be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They open toward evening, which is a habit directly opposite of plants like blue eyed grass and evening primrose. Another common name for this plant is soapwort, and that is because its leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather will appear. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. Bouncing bet hails from Europe and is considered toxic. Some people have violent toxic reactions to it. The flowers of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) are quite small but easily identified by the two stamens that protrude from the flower, the two pink, curved sepals behind the 2 petals, and the round calyx that is covered in fine white hairs. If you don’t notice this plant in the moist, shady woods where it grows, you might notice it when you get home because the small round seed pods will readily stick to your clothes. Enchanter’s nightshade isn’t a nightshade at all, but is related to evening primroses.
In Homer’s Odyssey Circe the enchantress drugged Odysseus’ crew and turned them into swine. Circe, “the dread goddess who walks with mortals,” who was the daughter of the sun and granddaughter of the oceans, gives enchanter’s nightshade its scientific name Circaea, and some say the plant was included in the potion she gave to Odysseus’ crew.
Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. ~Henry David Thoreau
As always, I appreciate you stopping in.