Our lack of rainfall continues but in spite of the dryness our roadsides and meadows are starting to blossom. In this photo yarrow and black eyed Susans soak up the sunshine.
I have trouble with black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) because they always remind me how fast summer is passing. It’s probably because I’ve always thought of them as a late summer or even fall flower. I don’t know if they’re blooming earlier or if their blooming later in the year was in my imagination all along. Either way I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by.
Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that. On a hot summer day this plant can be smelled from quite a distance. It’s a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level.
Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) trees can be messy but I’d still love to have one in my yard because they’re one of our most beautiful trees. Imagine a 100 foot tall tree covered in large white, orchid like blossoms and you’ll have a good mental picture of the catalpa. This tree is used ornamentally, but it needs plenty of room because it gets very large.
At 1-2 inches catalpa tree flowers are large. Each flower will become a long, bean like seed pod and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba. Some tribes used its inner bark to make a tea which had a sedative effect and is said to be mildly narcotic. The bark tea was also used to treat malaria.
Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) 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. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The tiny flowers bloom at about shoe top height.
Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.
Common elderberry flower clusters look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. Each flower is tiny at only 1/4 inch across, and has 5 white petals or lobes, 5 yellow tipped stamens and 3 very small styles that fall off early after blooming. Each flower will be replaced by a single black (dark purple) drupe. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a single seed like a peach or cherry. Native Americans dried the fruit for winter use and soaked the berry stems in to make a black dye for basketry.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is not a native plant so I’m always surprised to see it growing along the edge of the forest like I did recently. I don’t see it in the wild often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. There were 5 or 6 plants in this group and they were beautiful.
I like to try to get a bee’s eye view of foxglove blossoms. The lower lip protrudes a bit to give bees a landing pad, and from there they follow the spots, which are nectar guides, up to the top of the blossom where they find the nectar. While the bee is busy with the nectar the anthers above it rub on its back and deposit the flower’s pollen, which will then be taken to another blossom. If successfully pollinated a foxglove plant can produce from one to two million seeds.
Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) has just started blooming in the tall grass along roadsides. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. This example had 3. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.
Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. This shot shows how pitted the leaves can be. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It grows in dry soil at the edge of forests.
Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are another yellow loosestrife that blooms at about the same time as the whorled loosestrife that we saw previously. Not surprisingly, they like to have their feet wet most of the time and are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. These plants stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.
Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.
St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun. I’m not sure why this example only has 4 petals; it should have 5.
The unusual, hairy twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the berries.
Five heart shaped pale yellow petals tell me that this is sulfur cinquefoil. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I found this example in an unmown field.
I don’t see tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) in meadows unless the meadow is wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream and the stream ran under the road. It was down an embankment, which is the only way I could have gotten a view looking down on it because it often grows 7-8 feet tall. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance.
It wouldn’t be the fourth of July without fireworks and every year, right on time, tall meadow rue blossoms with fireworks of its own. At least the male flowers do, with starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.
If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe
Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4 th!