I spend a lot of my plant hunting time near ponds, streams and rivers because that’s where the wildflowers like to grow. This post is about the flowers I found on 2 or 3 recent visits to the Ashuelot (pronounced Ash-will-lot or Ash-wee-lot) river in both Keene and further south in Swanzey, New Hampshire. Because of a long stretch of dry weather the river is about as low as I’ve ever seen it.You can see by the dark areas on the stones how much lower the river is than is normal. You can also see that it isn’t taking long for plants to start colonizing those parts of the bank that are normally under water. False pimpernel (Lindernia dubia) was growing in the wet mud nearly at the water’s edge in a spot that would have normally been under water. These flowers are quite small and I had to re-shoot them three or four times before I had pictures I could live with. This plant sheds all its flowers each evening so all you see is blue / purple flowers all over the ground around it, then the following morning more flower buds open with that day’s flowers. What is strange is that I can’t find any reference to this habit either in books or online, even though I witnessed it on several evenings. False pimpernel is listed as endangered in New Hampshire. A side view of false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia.) Looking down the throat of a false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia.) This flower has 4 stamens, 2 fertile and 2 infertile. Under its hood, 2 of its stamens curve down like cobra fangs, but no matter how many pictures I took from any angle in any light, I couldn’t really capture the curved stamens. I sure was covered with river mud from trying though! I wasn’t the only one who got muddy. The mud was so soft that even the raccoons were sinking into it. You have to be careful where you step because there are some spots on this river-mostly in still backwaters- that contain quicksand. I don’t know if there are any areas of quicksand near this backwater, but there sure was plenty of algae. It’s clear that the river hasn’t stirred here for a while. Dwarf St. John’s Wort (Hypericum mutilum) is another tiny flowered native plant that likes to grow at the water’s edge in sandy soil. Dwarf St. John’s Wort’s foliage usually looks untouched by insects or animals because it is slightly toxic. Each flower has 5 petals and 5 light green sepals and is maybe half the size of a pencil eraser. Be careful when identifying those bedstraws! Most have 4 petals but two of them, three petaled bedstraw (Galium trifidum) and stiff marsh bedstraw (Galium tinctorium) pictured here, have three petals. The flowers are very small-even smaller than those of the dwarf St. John’s wort described previously. Its whorled leaves usually appear in groups of 5 or 6. The odd fruits are pairs of tiny black spheres that each contains 1 tiny seed. This native stiff marsh bedstraw plant grew in moist sand very close to the water’s edge. Another common name for the plant is Clayton’s bedstraw.You don’t have to get much closer than this to our native nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) to know what it is. This is also called curly top smartweed-obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. Each flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. These plants are big-the picture shows just a small part of a colony that must have been 7-8 feet across and 3-4 feet tall and there were several colonies just like it dotting the river bank a foot or two from the water. There are other smartweeds that droop but their flower spikes aren’t as densely packed as these. Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum ) thickets grow along the top of the river bank and the weight of the berry clusters pulls the long branches down to hang out over the water. These bushes are big-most are 10 feet across-and are loaded with fruit. This plant has blue berries that start out white and because of that it might be confused with red osier dogwood, which has white berries that sometimes have a bluish blush. The easiest way to identify them is to remember that silky dogwood is named for the soft, downy hairs that cover the branches and red osier dogwoods have red branches. In fact, red osier dogwood is also called red twigged dogwood. Native Americans used dogwood branches to make fish traps and twisted the bark into rope. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum ) weren’t growing at the water’s edge but grew close enough so the spot will be under water in the spring. There was quite a large colony of 15-20 plants growing here. It’s interesting that Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide says that this is a “plant of dry soil, often found along railroad tracks.” I’ve never seen them along railroad tracks but they seem real happy here in this damp river sand. No matter where they grow I’m always happy to see them-I love the blue color and the crazily bent stamens. Fellow New Hampshire blogger jomegat took the best picture of this flower that I’ve seen. It can be seen by clicking here. Native panicled tick trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) also grows midway up the river bank. As wildflowers go, this one is quite easy to identify with its pinkish, pea like blossoms, hairy stems, flattish flower buds and flat, segmented seed pods. I chose this picture more for the flower buds than the flowers because tick trefoil buds don’t look quite like any other wildflower that I can think of, and the flattish buds are a help with identification. One day I walked through a colony of these plants without realizing it and got absolutely covered with its sticky seed pods. No amount of brushing will get them off-they have to be picked off, one by one. Panicled tick trefoil starts blooming quite late in summer when other tick trefoils have just about finished. Another trefoil, bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) grows on the side of the river that gets the most sun. Lupines and chicory also grow here-it seems to be quite a fertile patch of ground, for legumes especially. This plant was imported from Europe for use as a forage plant, but it has escaped cultivation and is now found just about everywhere. Its common name came about because someone thought its seedpods looked like a bird’s foot.Partridge pea (Chamaechrista fasciculate) grows further up the river bank, above the normal water line where it is drier. The nickel size golden yellow flowers come right off the stem in the leaf axils. Every time I see one of these flowers it seems like it’s only three quarters of the way open-apparently that is just one of its habits. The many small leaflets that make up each leaf are a good way to identify this plant. Partridge pea is an annual and grows new from seeds each year. They are native plants that stand about a foot tall. Downy willow herb (Epilobium strictum) has at least 3 cousins that look much like it, so it can be hard to identify. I think downy willow herb is the only one that doesn’t have a stigma (sticky tip of the center pistil) that is 4 lobed. The hairy stems and knob shaped pistil also help identify this one. This plant is a native and can be found on river banks and other moist areas. It is related to fireweed and has lavender petals and anther filaments that are slightly darker than the petals. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) grows away from the water, but still on the river bank. This is one of my favorite wildflowers and I’m glad that it grows here where it is so easy to get to. I love it mostly because of its sky blue color. One thing I didn’t know about this plant is that the large, half dollar sized flowers shrink up to a small, dried out looking bud in the evening. In fact, the first time I looked at these recently I thought they were done blooming for this year, but then the following morning they were covered with flowers. This plant hails from Europe. It’s easy to see why it was brought to the U.S. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) goldenrod, evening primrose, pilewort and wild lettuce grow at the tree line, just before the bottomland becomes forest. This land farthest from the river might get to taste of its water once in a century, when the river floods badly. It is home to plants that can take the driest soil and it supports some of the largest, showiest wildflowers. New England asters have large flowers that are bigger than a quarter and are densely packed with purple ray florets surrounding the central yellow disc. At this time of year they are everywhere you look. I like asters but I don’t like that they signal the end of summer.Common dodder (Cuscuta gronovii ) is a parasitic vine that starts life growing from a seed but then, once it attaches itself to a host plant loses all contact with the soil and gets everything it needs from its host. I found quite a large tangle of dodder growing on a stand of goldenrod at the forest edge and the dodder had killed nearly every goldenrod plant. Since it has no leaves and couldn’t photosynthesize, the dodder literally sucked the life out of them. When its host plant dies the dodder simply twines its way around another host. It is considered a noxious weed, and you don’t want this one in your garden. The vine pictured is growing on oriental bittersweet, which is also a noxious weed. The easiest way to identify the plant is by the bright orange-yellow, twining stems and the tiny white flowers.
I choose to listen to the river for a while, thinking river thoughts, before joining the night and the stars ~ Edward Abbey
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