Some friends of mine live on a local pond and recently we went exploring in our kayaks. The pond is fed by a wide, shallow stream that was as smooth as glass. It winds in and out between small wooded islands and the shore line and was a beautiful place to explore. None of us knows the name of the stream so I told my friends that I was going to call this photo Kayaking with friends on the old Skatahootchie. I don’t know why the word Skatahootchie popped into my mind, but it did. Maybe it means botanical abundance.
I’ve been walking the shores of ponds and lakes for many years and have found one or two mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants here and there, but in this place great bunches of them grew along the shoreline. I would have gotten a good close up of one for you but I’ve discovered that keeping a kayak from moving while trying to get a photo is darn near impossible. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. There is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten.
Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) grew here and there but wasn’t as prevalent as I’ve seen in some other ponds. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid.
It was easy to be stunned into silence by the beauty of this place and at times floating through it seemed like floating through a dream. There might not be a heaven on earth, but there are still pieces of Eden left.
Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are still in bloom. There are certain flowers that are beautiful enough to make me want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. Some say the scent of fragrant white water lilies reminds them of honeydew melon. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds, so if you see some and come back a week later and find that they’re gone, you aren’t imagining things.
It isn’t often that we get to see a yellow pond lily (Nuphar luteum) seed pod, so I thought I’d get a photo of one while the kayak was handy. This one still had its petals attached. The seeds of this plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.
Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area. In fact, I know of only one pond that it grows in, so I had to hike a bit to see it. The plants grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers. I’ve found that this plant is very hard to get a good photo of.
Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I wish I had a better photo to prove it.
Bur reed is another plant found growing just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down. The female flowers are less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a shrub that I often find overhanging rivers and streams. It’s very easy to identify when it’s flowering because the inch diameter spherical flower heads don’t resemble those of any other native shrub that I know of. The fragrant, long white, tubular flowers each have an even longer style that makes the whole flower head look like a spiky pincushion. Once pollinated the flower heads become hard brown seed heads made up of small, two seeded nutlets that are a favorite of ducks and shore birds. Not surprisingly the first part (genus) of the scientific name Cephalanthus comes from the Greek words cephalo, meaning head and anthos, meaning flower.
Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. These flowers are about the same diameter as a pencil eraser and, since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.
Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is another plant that grows just off shore in ponds but it can also be found it ditches and other wet places. The tuberous roots of this plant are said to have the texture of potatoes but to taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.
All the arrowhead leaves pointed heavenward and looked as if they were about to lift off, and the damselflies hung on for the ride.
Mr. Frog knew that if he stayed very still I wouldn’t see him and neither would the damselfly. I think he’s a green frog rather than a bullfrog but I can’t ever seem to feel 100% certain of my amphibian identifications.
Note: Jim at the jomegat blog has identified this frog as a female bullfrog, so I wasn’t even close. Thanks Jim!
When I saw this old raft my boyhood came rushing back in the form of many pleasant memories of building rafts with friends. They never did float us down the Ashuelot River to the Atlantic but we sure had fun building them, imagining all the while the great adventures we would find. Kayaking is kind of like a rafting-maybe that’s why it’s so much fun.
Discovering this idyllic place, we find ourselves filled with a yearning to linger here, where time stands still and beauty overwhelms. ~Anonymous
Thanks for coming by.