As if someone flipped a switch, all of the sudden New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are blooming everywhere. Though they’re usually a light purple color I’m seeing more of the deep purple ones that I like so much this year. Asters are very beautiful things that provide one last ecstatic pollen gathering fling for the bees.
But the bees aren’t choosy and this bull thistle blossom (Cirsium vulgare) was as good as an aster, even though the asters bloomed just a few yards away. Last year I was in a field where light and dark colored asters grew side by side and I saw bees go for the lighter colored aster blossoms nearly every time as they all but ignored the darker blossoms. I’ve wondered since if that’s why I don’t see as many of the deep purple asters.
Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have bloomed quietly all summer; so unobtrusive but always able to coax a smile and warm a heart. Maybe that’s why they’re also called heart’s ease. Long used medicinally in Europe, here it is a welcomed alien. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare wrote that the juice of this plant placed on the eyelids of a sleeping person would cause that person to “dote upon the next live creature that they see.” In that play it was also called “love-in-idleness.”
Johnny jump ups might have some historical baggage but humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.
According to one source each tiny yarrow blossom is supposed to have 5 ray floret “petaloids” but I can count more than that on some of these so I checked another source, which said 3 to 8. That seems more like it. 15 to 40 off white or pale yellow disc florets fill the center.
Beech drops (Epifagus americana) grow in deep shade and can be hard to photograph. This isn’t a good shot but it does show the plant’s growth habit and lack of leaves, which is what I’d like you to see. Beech drops grow near beech trees and are a parasite that fasten onto the roots of the tree using root like structures. They take all of their nutrients from the tree so they don’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. Beech drops are annuals that die off in cold weather, but they can often be found growing in the same place each year.
The root like structures on beech drops, called haustoria, can penetrate a beech root. Once inserted the plant takes nutrients from the tree.
Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish or reddish 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. This example had what looks like a yellow pistil poking out of it; the first time I’ve seen this. Science doesn’t know much about which insects pollinate this plant.
Beech drop blossoms are quite small and hard to get a good photo of because they grow in such deep shade. No plant can live in complete darkness though, so they usually have a sunbeam or two that finds them at some point each day. You just have to be lucky enough to find the plant and sunbeam at the same time. It’s not as hard as it sounds if you’re willing to wander a bit.
Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful blue veins.
I thought this was hairy goldenrod (Solidago hispida) but its stems and leaves aren’t hairy. Instead the leaves have a downy coating, so I think it must be downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula.) Both plants reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil.
Though still small the bright yellow 1/4 inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. 9-16 ray petals surround the central disc. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.
This isn’t much of a photo of a bindweed blossom but I wanted you to see it because of the tiny black dot just to the right of center. It’s a deer tick. Adult ticks will climb onto grasses, plants, and shrubs and perch there sometimes for months waiting for an animal or human to come by. We have two kinds of common ticks in New Hampshire; deer ticks and American dog ticks. Adult deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed and dog ticks are about the size of a watermelon seed. Ticks carry many diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. If you spend most of your waking hours outside as I do, ticks are impossible to avoid and I’ve been bitten several times. I’m very thankful that I’m still healthy.
Friends of mine grew sunflowers from seed and they all looked like sunflowers except this small pale one, which decided it wanted to be a dahlia.
Red clover (Trifolium pretense) is originally from Europe and was brought to this country by English colonials, who used it medicinally and agriculturally. It is a very beautiful thing that glows with its own inner light, and I have to stop and admire it every now and then. Had I been an early settler I surely would have had a few of its seeds in my pocket.
Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.
~ Zenkei Shibayama
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