Some of you might be thinking what, another aster? Well yes, asters are everywhere at this time of year and though I showed a New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) in my last flower post it was much lighter in color than this example. I like the dark colored ones, but they’re much harder to find than the lighter colors. It’s said that if you rub the flower heads of this plant between your fingers they’ll emit an odor similar to that of camphor or turpentine, yet the Native American Ojibwe tribe smoked the root to attract game. I’m guessing that the smoked root didn’t smell like camphor or turpentine.
The swollen, air filled, modified leaf stems of the native small floating bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) radiate out from a point on the stem like the spokes of a wheel and keep the flower above the water while currents carry it over the surface of ponds. The parts of the plant that trail under the water look like roots and are where the bladders are located. Each bladder has small hairs on it which, when touched by an insect, trigger a trapdoor that opens quickly and sucks the insect inside. Once trapped inside there is no escape, and the insect is slowly digested.
According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffee, Henry David Thoreau didn’t think very highly of this plant. He wrote that it was “A dirty conditioned flower, like a sluttish woman with a gaudy yellow bonnet.” That’s a side of Thoreau that I’ve never seen and it seems an odd reaction for a nature nut like him to have had. I would think he’d have happily studied and written about such an unusual plant.
Gaudy or not bladderwort flowers are among the most challenging to get a good photo of, both because yellow is a challenging color to begin with and the plants float offshore, often just out of reach. Luckily the wind pushed this example very close to shore. You can get to these plants by kayak or canoe but even so, it’s a job to get a good photo.
Big leaf asters are never going to win a blue ribbon at a flower show but I enjoy a special bond with them because they were the subject of the first flower photo that I ever sold, and the biology textbook publishing people who bought it wanted it because it showed both the flowers and leaves. Since the leaves are almost ground hugging and the flowers rise up on 2 foot tall stems, showing both isn’t as easy to do as it might sound. Depth of field is important in the world of flower photography and both the leaves and flowers should be shown whenever possible. This plant’s large leaves are used for gathering as much light as possible because it grows in shade, usually on forested slopes. It can form huge colonies of several thousand plants.
Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in dry places that get full sun. This is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom, so I was surprised to see it. It is an invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It will choke out weaker native plants. I usually find it on forest edges.
Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) blossoms quite late along the river. It always seems fitting to me that a plant that can produce a soapy lather should grow so near water. This introduced plant doesn’t seem at all invasive; in fact I often have a hard time finding it. It’s a plant that always seems to look a bit ragged and weedy and is probably ignored by most that frequent the riverbank, but I like seeing its simple, beautiful white flowers when little else is blooming.
I see false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) almost everywhere I go at this rime of year. If you look at the yellow flowers on tall wiry stems without paying attention to the foliage this plant might look like hawkweed, but its leaves are very different and look more like narrow dandelion leaves.
Both dandelions and false dandelions have a rosette of edible leaves and a central taproot. The flower stems of false dandelion are solid, tall and wiry while those of true dandelions are hollow and much shorter.
No matter how often I look at turtlehead plants (Chelone) I don’t see turtle heads, but I know that a lot of people do. This pink flowered plant was given to me by a friend years ago and I’ve divided it and given pieces away several times, so it has brought pleasure to many. Our native turtleheads (Chelone glabra) are white. Since I don’t know the history of this plant I don’t know if it’s a pink version of the native or if it’s a cultivar. Butterflies and hummingbirds love these flowers so it’s a good addition to a garden. The plant is also maintenance free. In the time I’ve had it I’ve done nothing to it but divide it up to give away. Native Americans thought highly of this plant and used it medicinally to cure a variety of sores and miscellaneous external ailments.
Beech drops (Epifagus americana) grow in deep shade and can be hard to photograph, but a sunbeam came along and lit this one up for me. This plant grows near beech trees and is a parasite that fastens onto the roots of the tree using root like structures called haustoria. It takes all of its nutrients from the tree so it doesn’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. These plants are annuals that die off in cold weather.
Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish stripe are the only things found on a beech drop’s leafless stems. On the lower part of the stem are flowers that never have to open because they self-fertilize. They are known as cleistogamous flowers. On the upper part of the stem are tubular Chasmogamous flowers, which open and are pollinated by insects and are shown in the above photo. Science doesn’t know much about which insects pollinate this plant. Sitting and watching a group of these plants and recording which insects visit them would be a good project for a budding biologist, but they would have to know their insects well or be very fast on their shutter button.
Native arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open I’ve discovered recently that they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible.
But that isn’t all there is to the story of tearthumb. It comes by that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its red stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. It actually uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I find it near ponds, blooming quite late in summer.
Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.
Thanks for coming by.