Due to the ongoing drought meteorologists say we need 8 inches of rain just to get back to normal. Some streams have gone dry but the one in the above photo had water in it. Though it was about a foot lower than it normally would be it supported a good stand of goldenrod and purple loosestrife. Many flowers like yarrow and Queen Anne’s lace are opening and then quickly browning from the dryness, but goldenrod and purple loosestrife are tough so their flowers dominate the landscape right now.
I seem to be having good luck at finding heretofore unseen plants without really trying this year. The latest one I stumbled onto is what I think is native grass leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea.) It was growing in the outlet stream of a pond. I say “I think” because there are a lot more species of arrowheads out there than I ever knew, (about 30) and many of them are similar. Common to all of them is how they grow in shallow, still waters at pond and stream edges, or in the wet ground of ditches and swamps. In this photo there are at least two species of arrowhead. The grass leaved example is over on the left, with flower stalks shorter than the leaves.
This flower looks a lot like the flower of common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia,) but the center stamens on the male flower shown here seem fatter, and more spatula shaped. Colonies of arrowheads in full bloom are very pretty against the blue water they grow in.
If you know arrowheads at all then this photo probably surprises you, because this leaf looks nothing like the usually seen common arrowhead leaf. The plant is also called slender arrowhead, and I’m assuming it’s due to the leaf shape.
Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. Flowers are about an inch across. The center stamens seem much narrower on common arrowhead than those of the grass leaved arrowhead.
The shape of this leaf is much more what I think of when I think of an arrowhead plant. Each leaf has three lobes which are usually about equal in length; though the two lower (basal) lobes can sometimes be longer than the main terminal lobe. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.
Native clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is also called summer sweet because of its sweet, spicy fragrance. If you have low spots in your yard that get wet occasionally, this is a good shrub to plant in them because it likes moist soil and grows naturally along stream banks and in swampy ground. Bees love it too, and these plants are covered with them every time I visit them in bloom. If you’re trying to attract pollinators this shrub should be in your yard.
Each long upright clethra flower head is packed with small white flowers. Small yes, but also very fragrant; it has the name summer sweet for a reason. Some older nurserymen might also know it as sweet pepperbush. Whoever gave it that name thought its fruits resembled pepper corns. Clethra was named wildflower of the year by the Virginia Wildflower Society in 2015. An odd fact about this native shrub is that it doesn’t seem to have any medicinal or culinary uses. I can’t find a single reference regarding its use by Native Americans but I feel certain that they must have used it in some way.
A reader wrote in to ask if she could send me a photo of a plant she was having trouble identifying. This isn’t the shot she sent but brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) is the plant. After I had identified it for her that I realized it had never appeared on the blog so I had to go out and find a few plants. These were about knee high.
Brittle stem hemp nettle is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched. They have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower.
The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.
Whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata) gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaves of this aster really don’t fit the definition. Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length. Indian cucumbers have tiers of whorled leaves as do some loosestrifes. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall.
August is when our many asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster. It’s one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time and because the narrow white ray florets look like they were glued on by chubby fingered toddlers. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths. I love the beauty of asters but I don’t like their message of summer’s passing, so when I stop and admire them I always feel a bit of wistfulness and wonderment that a season could pass so quickly.
Rosebay willow herb (Chamerion angustifolium) doesn’t grow in New Hampshire according to the USDA Plants Database, but fireweed does, so I’d better call this one fireweed. The name willowherb comes from the way its leaves resemble those of the willow and the name fireweed comes from how it quickly colonizes burned areas of forest. No matter what you call it it’s a very beautiful flower and I wish we had more of them. Its dangling stamens and large white center pistil make it very easy to identify. This plant is a favorite of bee keepers and is an important nectar producer for the honey industry throughout Canada and Alaska. The honey is much sought after and commands premium prices. I know of only one small colony at the edge of a swamp in Nelson, so chances are we won’t be tasting any fireweed honey here in this part of the world.
I don’t mind driving for 45 minutes to see narrow leaf gentians (Gentiana linearis) because I can count the times I’ve seen gentians on one hand and still have fingers left uncounted. These examples live on the side of a dirt road up in Nelson and I went to see them and the rosebay willow herb last Saturday.
Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I hope this small colony will spread. Luckily readers have told me that there are also other hidden colonies of it in Nelson as well.
Turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) are blooming early in some places. I have a pink flowered one (Chelone obliqua speciosa) in my garden that a friend gave me many years ago but it won’t blossom until mid-September. The plant gets the first part of it scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. The gray spots of powdery mildew on this plant’s leaves are a testament to the high humidity we’ve had this summer.
When a friend of mine saw a photo of a turtlehead flower he said that he thought “turtle head” immediately, even though he had never seen the plant and didn’t know its name, but I don’t see turtleheads when I look at them and I wonder why that is.
Nope, no matter which direction I study it from I don’t see a turtle’s head, but if you do that means you agree with the person who named it.
Thyme grows in the lawns at a local cemetery and I always make sure I’m there when it blossoms, because it’s a beautiful sight. I didn’t want to get much closer to the plants than this photo shows though, because they were covered in bees. I was happy to see so many. This plant has been used by humans for a very long time; most likely before recorded history. The plant was used as early as 3000 BC by the Sumerians as an antiseptic, and it was one of the ingredients Egyptians used for embalming. Ancient Greeks burned it as incense in their temples because they believed that it gave them courage, and Romans used thyme to purify their rooms and to flavor to cheese and wine. The word Thyme comes from the Greek and means “to fumigate.”
Stop every now and then. Just stop and enjoy. Take a deep breath. Relax and take in the abundance of life. ~Anonymous
Thanks for stopping in.