Most states have a native as their state flower but in New Hampshire non-native purple lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are the chosen state flower. They 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 (Cypripedium acaule) was finally chosen as the state’s wild flower in 1991.
Honeysuckles and autumn olives blossom at the same time as lilacs here in this part of New Hampshire, so the air is filled with their mingled fragrances right now. I remembered how as a child I would pick single lilac blossoms and suck the sweet nectar from them, so I tried to get a photo of a single flower.
If you saw the leaves before the flowers appeared you might think that you had found lady’s slippers, but a closer look shows that the leaves of blue bead lily (Clintonia borealis) are really very different. I stumbled onto this large colony of plants last year by accident when I was out scouting for new plants. It’s a very healthy, thriving colony and, since it takes more than 12 years for new plants to produce flowers, is one that has been in this spot for a while.
A close look at the flower shows why blue bead lily is in the lily family. Each one looks like a miniature garden lily. The flowers give way to a single, electric blue berry, which is toxic. One Native American legend says that, when a grass snake eats a poisonous toad, it slithers in rapid circles around a shoot of blue-bead lily to transfer the poison to the plant. Blue bead lily seeds take 2 years or more to germinate, so growing this plant from seed would be a very slow process.
Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) bloom among the blue bead lilies and that’s where I saw my first four flowered one of this season. Now I’ll try to find one with five, if there is such a thing. Since books say that a plant will have no more than two blossoms I have nothing but faith to go on.
Our native state wildflower pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have just turned pink from their off whitish / yellowish stage. I’m lucky enough to have a few plants growing in my woods so I don’t have to go too far to study or admire these beautiful orchids. Note that the leaves look very different than the smooth blue bead lily leaves seen earlier.
I don’t think I could imagine more beautiful colors and shapes in a flower than those found on the perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a local park.
Native blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) with its small blue flowers is an old favorite of mine. Although it is a perennial each plant doesn’t live much more than a couple of years, but if it likes the spot it’s in it will re-seed itself year after year. In spite of its common name it is in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all. Its flowers close at night and at even the hint of a cloudy day, so getting a photo of an open one was a challenge this year.
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.
Dogwood bracts have gone from green to white, but the tiny florets at their center haven’t opened yet.
Last fall I found quite a large stand of white baneberry in a forest near a local park and luckily I remembered to revisit it this year when the plants were blooming. The small white flowers form racemes, which in this case seem to be too heavy for the 2-3 foot stems to hold upright.
Each white baneberry flower will become a white berry with a black stigma scar on one end. In size, color, and shape these berries look like porcelain doll’s eyes, and that’s how this plant got its common name of doll’s eyes. The entire plant is very toxic but the berries are the most toxic part. Eating them can cause cardiac arrest and death, but fortunately their extremely bitter taste keeps all but birds from eating them.
Kerria japonica is blooming in my yard. This six foot shrub is called Japanese rose because it is in the rose family. In its natural form the plant has single, fragrant, 5 petal flowers like that in the photo. There is also a cultivar called Pleniflora with double flowers and one called Albaflora, which is pale yellow. This is a good shrub for people who want a low maintenance garden because it needs very little care. It thrives in shade and if it gets a little scraggly it can be cut right back to the ground, and it has no real insect or disease problems. You can’t ask for more than that from any shrub.
Coming upon an eight foot tall azalea covered with blossoms is enough to take one’s breath away, so beautiful and rare is the sight. I found this native shrub in the forest last year but I was too late to see all but one wilting blossom. I made a point of visiting it early this year so I could watch it and, after visiting it probably a half dozen times, I finally saw its first blossom open just as its leaves began to appear. Now it has too many to count and is just too beautiful for words.
All the signs plus the intense fragrance lead me to believe that this is the roseshell or early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum), but azaleas can be hard to identify. Whichever one it is, its most outstanding feature is its pleasant fragrance. Books describe it as “clove like” but it seems a little sweeter than that to me. It’s hard to describe a fragrance but it’s not hard to imagine that this must be what heaven smells like.
The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man. ~Luther Burbank
Thanks for coming by.