Many plants that can take a lot of shade have large, light gathering leaves and the shade tolerant purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) shows that very well. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at a glance. It has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it as much as roses, as you can see by how they’ve eaten parts of the maple shaped leaves. They’ve even eaten holes in the flower petals as well. The fruit looks like a large raspberry but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.
Flowering raspberry once got me a job as a gardener, so it holds a special place in my heart. A man called me to his house and asked me a few plant related questions and finally said that if I could tell him what the plants in his hedge were, he’d hire me. I told him they were flowering raspberry and he hired me right there on the spot, and I worked for him for many years afterwards. That was back when I could remember the names of most plants. This native shrub makes a great landscape specimen, especially in shade gardens, and it’s too bad that more people don’t use it. It attracts both birds and butterflies and can take anything that a New England winter can throw at it.
Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite. Its long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests.
While we’re on the subject of small flowers, I can’t think of many that are smaller than those of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.) This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in late July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.
Each tiny flower has 2 deeply lobed white petals, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a slender style. They can be very hard to get a useable photo of, both because of their small size and because they grow in heavy shade. They’ve taught me a few things about flower photography over the years.
Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) flowers are smaller than their cousins maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) and bloom at least a month later. They don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center, and that’s a good means of identification. These plants will get quite tall and don’t seem to have the clumping habit of maiden pinks. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide shyly just at the sunny edges of the forest.
We have many different native lobelias here and I think this one might be pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata,) which gets its common name from its pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, as I was lucky enough to do on this day. There is also a purple variant but I’ve never seen it. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma. The plant must have worked well because early explorers took it back across the Atlantic where it is still used medicinally today. It has to be used with great care by those who know how to use it though, because an overdose of this little beauty can kill.
Each small, 1/4 inch flower of Lobelia spicata has an upper lip that is divided into 2 lobes and a larger lower lip that is divided into 3 lobes. A dark blue stigma sits between the upper 2 lobes. The petals are fused and form a tube. This plant reminds me of blue toadflax, which is also blossoming now.
A tip from a friend about a field I had never visited led me to this narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata); a plant that I’ve never seen before. It is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense because it grew in standing water in full sun at the edge of a field. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelia, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.
Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice.
Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) has pretty flowers that all grow on one side of the stem, which almost always leans in the direction the flowers grow in. This plant is originally from Europe and Siberia and is considered an aggressive invasive weed. It shouldn’t be allowed to spread because it chokes out natives and once it forms colonies it can be nearly impossible to eradicate. Just a small piece of root left behind will become a new plant. I usually find it on forest edges.
Each year at this time soft pink ribbons about a foot or two wide line the edges of our roads, made up of thousands of rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) plants. These plants are annuals which, judging by how many plants grow and blossom each year, must produce a fair amount of seed. This plant was introduced from Europe and Asia but nobody seems to know when, how or why.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) has unusual spherical flower heads that are about the same size as a ping pong ball. It is made up of tiny cream colored, tube shaped flowers. Each flower has four short stamens and a long white style that makes the whole thing look like a pin cushion. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is one of our native wintergreens that grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer.
The plant forms a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids.
Pipsissewa flowers often show a blush of pink. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of the wintergreens in my opinion.
The goldenrods have started blooming and when they grow alongside purple loosestrife they make our roadsides breathtakingly beautiful for a time. Soon we will be at the peak of summer bloom and the unmown meadows will look like Monet painted them.
It is the mind which creates the world around us, and even though we stand side by side in the same meadow, my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours, my heart will never stir to the emotions with which yours is touched. ~George Gissing
Thanks for stopping in.