Most wildflowers will be found in full sunshine away from the forest now and meadows and roadsides are just coming into bloom. The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows.
Puffy little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is suddenly everywhere. It’s in the pea family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods, which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives.
Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) was imported for cultivation from Japan in 1830 and is now one of the most invasive shrubs we have. It’s a plant that’s hard to hate though, because its berries are delicious and their content of lycopene is 7 to 17 times higher than tomatoes. Also, the pale yellow flowers are extremely fragrant just when lilacs finish blooming. It is a very vigorous shrub that is hard to eradicate; birds love its berries and spread it far and wide. Its sale is prohibited in New Hampshire but that will do little good now that it grows along forest edges almost everywhere you look.
Autumn olive was originally introduced for landscaping, road bank stabilization and wildlife food. The undersides of the shrub’s leaves are scaly and silvery and grow alternately along the stem. A closely related shrub, Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), has narrower silvery leaves with a smooth underside that appear oppositely arranged along the stem.
I think Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is the only plant in this post that grows in the shade of the forest and, as the above photo shows, it does very well there.
Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe Canada mayflower as invasive but it does form monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. Its tiny white four petaled flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals.
Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis.) originally came from China and is popular as an ornamental, but it has escaped cultivation in this area. I found the above example growing at the edge of a forest in dry, sandy soil. I find it only in this spot so it doesn’t seem to be at all invasive. It gets quite tall-sometimes 8 feet or more-and can get as wide, so it needs a lot of room. It is sometimes used as a hedge but it is difficult to trim once it gets above 6 feet tall, so it’s best to keep it on the short side. The trimmings are very itchy if they get inside your shirt as you’re trimming overhead.
Fleabane continues to bloom and always remind me of spring blooming asters. I believe this example is Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus,) which is our earliest blooming fleabane. It has inch to inch and a half diameter showy white to purple flowers. 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.
Our rhododendrons follow the native azaleas into bloom. This one blooms in my yard. I’ve never known its name but I like it.
Invasive multiflora rose originally came from China and as the old story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by hogging all the available sunshine and I’ve seen it grow 30 feet into a tree. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.
It’s easy to see why it is in the rose family but if it wasn’t for their heavenly scent you might as well be looking at a raspberry blossom because multiflora rose blossoms are the same size, shape, and color, and raspberries are also in the rose family.
Upright bedstraw (Galium album) is also called upright hedge bedstraw, and that name is perfect because it describes where this plant is found growing. Where the meadow meets the woods there can be found millions of tiny white, honey scented flowers lighting up the shade. Bedstraws hail from Europe and have been used medicinally for centuries. In ancient times entire plants were gathered and used as mattress stuffing and that’s where the plant gets its common name. The dried leaves are said to smell like vanilla in some species of Gallium and honey in others.
When I see it’s foliage before it blossoms the plant always makes me think of sweet woodruff, because its leaves grow in whorls along the stem just like sweet woodruff, which is also in the Galium family.
Smooth arrow wood (Viburnum dentatum) has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and is blooming along stream banks and drainage ditches right now. Native dogwoods are also beginning to bloom, but they have four petals and the viburnums have five. Dogwood flower clusters also tend to be much flatter on top and seem to hover just above the branch. Smooth arrowwood viburnum has a much more rounded flowering habit. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.
There’s an awful lot going on in a viburnum flower head but taking a close look and counting a single tiny flower’s petals is the best way to tell it from a dogwood.
Heal all’s (Prunella lanceolata) tiny hooded flowers always remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure virtually every disease known, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.
Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have just come into bloom. Last summer I was with someone who crawled out on a plank to smell one of these beauties and he said the fragrance was very pleasant but impossible to describe. When I told him that others thought the fragrance was close to that of honeydew melon he said yes, maybe that’s it. Each beautiful blossom lasts only 3 days before the stem coils and pulls it underwater to set seeds. After several weeks the seeds are released into the water so currents can carry them to suitable locations to germinate. The stamens that glow at their center always remind me of a golden fire, and I love to see it burn.
A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions — so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect. ~Terri Guillemets
Thanks for stopping in.