This is the time of year that our roadside landscapes begin to look like a Monet painting. Right now purple loosestrife dominates with sprinkles of goldenrod here and there. Soon we’ll see the pink of Joe Pye weed and the white of asters and boneset.
The chocolaty brown flowers of the groundnut (Apias Americana) are among the most unusual flowers seen at this time of year. They are borne on a vine that twines its way among other sunny meadow plants. This plant is also called potato bean because of the walnut sized, edible tubers that grow along its underground stem. They are said to taste like turnips and were a favorite of Native Americans.
I tried to get a bee’s eye view looking into a spotted touch me not blossom (Impatiens capensis.) When I saw the photo I could see that I had failed that but I was surprised when I saw so much red on the lip of the blossom. It looked like candle wax had dripped on it. This plant gets its common name from the way its seed pods snap and release the seeds when touched. Other names include orange Jewelweed, common jewelweed, spotted jewelweed, and orange balsam. The name “jewelweed” comes from the way that raindrops sparkle on its wax coated leaves.
Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is a legume in the bean family. This plant gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals.
Gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) always looks like it has been in a strong wind with all of its flowers blown over to one side of the stem, but this is the way it grows naturally. It is one of the earliest blooming goldenrods, coming along right after early goldenrod (Solidago juncea.) It can be seen leaning out of the growth at the edge of forests, reaching for the sun.
I think our native Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is at its most colorful when it is in bud, just before it blooms. There are many varieties of Joe Pye weed and some are sold in garden centers. They can get up to 7 feet tall and often tower over other plants. They are named after Joe Pye, who the latest research says was a Mohegan sachem (chief) that lived in western Massachusetts and saved early European settlers from typhus by brewing a tea made from this plant. Joseph Pye was educated by Samson Occam, himself a Mohegan herbalist and Christian convert who kept an extensive diary.
Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) was imported from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental and, as the all too familiar story goes, escaped cultivation to become a noxious weed. It’s a pretty weed though, and in this area isn’t as prevalent as our native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis.) Blue toadflax seems to be having a banner year. I’ve never seen so much of it, or seen it bloom for so long. Yellow toadflax is very similar to Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica,) another import, but Dalmatian toadflax has broad, heart-shaped leaves and yellow toadflax has long, narrow leaves.
Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) is an odd plant that can reach 10 feet tall in some cases, with a cluster of small, pencil eraser sized, light blue flowers at the tip of the long stem. I always wonder why the plant needs such a tall stem and such large leaves if it is only going to produce tiny flowers, but that’s nature-it always leaves me guessing. This plant is very similar to wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans.
When I was a young boy the only hedge bindweed flowers (Calystegia sepium) that I saw had simple white flowers, but over the last few years I’m seeing more with pink and white bi-colored flowers. Each flower usually only lasts for a day, so you’ve got to be quick with the camera if you see one that you like. Hedge bindweed is another plant that was introduced from Europe. As invasive as it is, it isn’t as bad as field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis,) which is close to impossible to eradicate. Bind weeds are so hard to get rid of because they are perennials, while true morning glories (Ipomoea) are annuals.
Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) gets its common name from the shape of its flower clusters. The only other shrub that blooms at the same time and has similar shaped flower clusters is meadowsweet (Spiraea alba,) but it has white flowers. It’s easy to see that steeplebush is related to the Japanese spireas that are used in gardens; the flowers look much the same. Steeplebush likes to be near water and can be found at pond and stream edges. Native Americans used tea made from the plant’s leaves as a medicine.
There were red clover plants (Trifolium pretense) growing in the shade all along the edge of a field, but this single flower head had a ray of sun pointing right at it, so of course I had to see what made it so special. As I knelt before it to take its photo I could see that it was such a beautiful thing that it was no wonder the sun had chosen to illuminate it.
On field milkwort plants (Polygala sanguinea) what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green.
Long time readers of this blog know that part of the reason I spend so much time walking through the woods is because I’m hoping to find orchids. They don’t just grow along the sides of the road here like they do in England and Scotland; here you have to search long and hard to find them, and if I’m lucky I find one new one each year. This year’s find is the northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) pictured above.
The northern club spur orchid will most likely never win a blue ribbon at any flower shows but it is a native orchid and I was very happy to find it. This plant has a single leaf and a single flower stalk that grows to about 4 inches tall. The flowers are tiny-no bigger than a pencil eraser-and have long, curved nectar spurs. If the nectar doesn’t work and insects don’t pollinate the flowers the plant can self-pollinate. Its seeds are like dust and are carried by the wind. One unusual thing about the flowers is the slight twist they have in relation to the stem. It is one of the smallest Platanthera species in the northeastern U.S. and likes to grow in wet woods and bogs.
I’ve tried off and on for years to show you an accurate depiction of what the deep woods of New Hampshire look like but have rejected every attempt. Finally, this photo that I took to lead me back to the northern club spur orchids is the one that shows them best. An old tree fell and opened a gap in the canopy that let in a little sunlight, and that’s probably why the orchids chose to grow here. The forest is a quiet, peaceful place where you can hear the true music of life played as it has been for millions of years.
I did find Calypso [orchids] — but only once, far in the depths of the very wildest of Canadian dark woods, near those high, cold, moss-covered swamps. I felt as if I were in the presence of superior beings who loved me and beckoned me to come. I sat down beside them and wept for joy. ~John Muir
Thanks for stopping in.