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Archive for August, 2018

It’s aster time here in New Hampshire and the will appear in all sizes and colors from now until a freeze. What I believe is crooked stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) has just started blooming. This native aster gets its common name from the way the stems zig zag between the leaves. The stems are smooth and the leaves clasp it. The flowers are about an inch across and are usually pale lavender but this one was in the shade when I took its photo and that made it appear darker. This plant was about three feet tall.

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. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall. 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.

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.

I often find purple stemmed beggar’s ticks (Bidens connata) growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers. This example was growing at the edge of a pond.

Purple stemmed beggar’s ticks have curious little yellow orange ray-less disc flowers that never seem to fully open and dark, purple-black stems. It is closely related to bur marigold (Bidens tripartita), and is also called water hemp because of the leaf shape. The name beggar’s tick comes from its barbed seeds that stick to fur and clothing like ticks. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year so there’s no telling where it might turn up.

I was surprised to find showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) still blooming. This plant is a legume in the bean family and it gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals.

The flowers of tall blue lettuce have just about finished for this year. They can be white, deep blue, or ice blue. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. I haven’t seen a single one this year though. This one had hardly any blue at all until I looked closer.

If it was early June I wouldn’t have been surprised to find the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo at the edge of a meadow, but it’s almost September. They must be having a good year. These flowers look like their cousins the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does and it blooms later, usually in July. 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. Their colors can vary from almost white to deep magenta.

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees like it’s doing in this photo. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. These plants are annuals and grow from seed each year.

The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

Wild cucumber climbs by the use of tendrils and, as Mike Powell noted on his blog recently, they look like the coiled stretchy cords that we used to see on phones. (If you can remember that far back.) If you aren’t reading Mike’s blog and you’re a nature lover, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You can find it over in the favorite links section on the right.

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of wild cucumber have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. They look prickly but the spines are soft until the fruits dry out and drop their seeds. By then they’re so light and desiccated that they can’t be thrown at anybody. The fruit is not edible and doesn’t really resemble a cucumber.

Pretty groundnut (Apias americana) flowers are still blooming. They come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. The plant is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

Field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) doesn’t seem to be having a good year. I found a single plant with a single flower, and this is it. Or maybe I was just late; this flower head was showing yellow, which is something I haven’t seen. What look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green. I know of only one place where it grows and its beautiful flowers always make it worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and quite often that’s just what I do.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the slender, sword shaped leaves. The blossoms are very hairy and have a long curved protruding pistil and especially from the side look nothing like foxglove to me.

Slender gerardia is a shy little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of meadows and I usually find it growing in full sun. It has the unusual habit of dropping all of its opened flowers each afternoon. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

Native common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is unusual because it grows in woods or meadows and I see it in both. It’s considered a weed by many and is largely ignored by most, but it’s a very interesting plant. Its raw leaves can be chewed as a thirst quencher if you forgot to bring water on your hike. The Native American Kiowa tribe called it “salt weed” and used it that way for long walks. Its seed capsules can also be chewed but they can also explode when mature and can fling seeds up to 13 feet away. They are said to be tart with a flavor similar to rhubarb. The plant is high in vitamin C and it can be pressed to make a passable vinegar substitute.

When you’re trying to identify plants there are enough hawkweeds to make you crazy. While many have thin, wiry, leafless stems this one has thick, stout, one and a half foot tall stems with tough leaves most of the way up it. For those reasons I think it might be Gronovi’s hawkweed, which is also called queendevil (Hieracium gronovii.) I’m guessing that ranchers and pasture owners gave it that name, even though it’s a native plant.

Hawkweeds are slippery and hard to pin down, but I can’t find a reference to another hawkweed with leaves like this one except maybe rough hawkweed (H. scabrum.) The leaves actually make it look like it’s in the lettuce family, but the flowers are what you’d expect on a hawkweed and not the tiny flowers found on the various lettuce species. I find this one along trails right at the edge of the forest.

Since I started with an aster I might as well end with one. I think this one might possibly be a smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides.) It grew along the shore of a pond and stood about knee high.

There are other asters this could be but knowing its name isn’t that important to me. More often than not just being able to see such a pretty thing is enough for me these days.

He who does not become familiar with nature through love will never know her. ~Friedrich Von Schlegel

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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I keep doing these mushroom posts for two reasons: First, we’ve had so much rain and warm weather they’re everywhere right now, including many I’ve never seen before. Second, I hope to convince you that mushrooms can be every bit as beautiful as flowers. You just have to look a little closer to see them, that’s all. Who could not see beauty in this little group of butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea)?

More and more coral mushrooms are beginning to appear. Many coral mushrooms get their common name from the way they resemble the corals found under the sea, as this one did. I think it is an ashy coral (Clavulina cinerea.) Not the prettiest perhaps, but it’s the first time I’ve seen one.

This one was very pretty. I think it might be a golden coral (Ramaria aurea.) I don’t see many yellow coral mushrooms of this kind so I was happy to find it.

Yellow spindle corals (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) are much easier to find and this year they’re everywhere. Each tiny cylinder is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. The tips are usually pointed but on this example they were rounded. This species usually grows in tight clusters, often in the hard packed soil on the side of the trail, but lately I’ve found them on the forest floor as well.

Another fungus I’ve never seen is called worm coral or fairy fingers, though it is said to be common. It’s a white spindle mushroom named Clavaria vermicularis. There were several clusters of it growing in a large group in a mossy lawn. They are said to be so fragile that just a touch will break them.

Some of the white coral cylinders had begun to curl around the others in this group and others had broken. This fungus grows straight up out of the soil and usually doesn’t branch. The tips sometime become pointed and turn brown like some of these did.

I finally saw a yellow patches mushroom (Amanita flavoconia) with its patches still on. The patches are small pieces of the universal veil that covers the mushroom when it is young. The veil is made of very thin tissue and as the mushroom grows it tears through it, and bits are left on the cap. Apparently the rain can wash them off because I’ve seen many with no patches showing. This mushroom is in the Amanita family, which contains some of the most toxic mushrooms known. I’ll say it again: never eat a mushroom that you’re not 110% sure is safe. They don’t call some of them death caps and destroying angels for nothing.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are not mushrooms but they like dark forests and plenty of moisture just like mushrooms, so when I go mushroom hunting I usually find them as well. These plants slowly turn their single bell shaped flower from looking at the ground to looking straight up to the sky, and that is the sign that they’ve been pollinated. They are also called ghost plants. Fresh stems contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that the Natives smoked.

Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) are everywhere this year. These tiny mushroom almost always grow in clumps like that seen here. This is a gelatinous mushroom that often feels slippery and another name for it is slippery cap. It is also called green slime fungus and the gumdrop fungus. The lubrica part of its scientific name means slimy. They are very small; usually a clump this size could sit on a penny with room to spare, so you have to train your eyes to see small.

How do mushrooms that have just come out of the soil stay so clean? These had just pushed their way up through the wet leaves and had hardly a speck of soil on them. You’d think they’d be at least a little muddy. I think they were orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana,) but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Mushrooms don’t always have to have a cap and a stem to be beautiful. I love this orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) and look for it every year at this time. It’s color is so bright it’s like a beacon in the woods and it can be seen from quite far away on fallen branches. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself” and that is often just what it does.

I found this reddening lepiota (Leucoagaricus americanus) growing in a sunny meadow that had been logged recently. It was big; the cap must have been 4 inches across, and it was a beautiful thing. It is called reddening lepiota because it is said to turn red wherever it is touched, but since I didn’t touch it I can’t confirm that.

I saw one of the largest black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) I’ve ever seen on a beech log. This is just one part of a mass that must have had a total length of a foot or more. Some of it was shiny and some had a matte finish like that pictured. When it comes to jelly fungi, spores are produced on the shiny surface. They can absorb up to 60 times their weight in water and when dry shrink down to little flakes. This fungus is also called black witch’s butter and black jelly roll.

There are three bolete mushrooms that I know of that have webbed stalks that look similar to this one, so the caps have to tell the story. Russell’s bolete (Boletus russellii) shown here has a yellow-brown velvety cap that gets scaly and cracked on top as it ages. The shaggy stalked bolete (Boletus betula) has a small cap that looks far out of proportion to the stem; like it was stunted somehow. Frost’s bolete (Boletus frostii) has dark red sticky caps with red undersides and is also called the apple bolete. Sometimes amber colored drops appear on the surface of that one’s cap. Boletes have pores on the cap underside instead of gills.

Nothing in nature is done on a whim; everything is done for a reason, so how does a deeply grooved stalk like this one benefit a mushroom?  Does it keep slugs from crawling up it? These are the kinds of questions that come to me when I’m in the woods and I don’t really expect anyone to try and answer them. Unless you happen to know the answers, that is.

I’m seeing a lot of puffballs this year. These examples were common earth balls (Scleroderma citrinum,) which are also called the poison pigskin puffballs.  Though these grew on a well-rotted log they normally like to grow on compacted earth and are not common in this area. They often have a yellow tint on their surface and are called citrine earth balls because of it.

One of my favorite fungal finds for this post is called the tiger’s eye mushroom (Coltricia perennis.) One reason it’s unusual is because it’s one of the only polypores with a central stem. Most polypores are bracket or shelf fungi. The concentric rings of color are also unusual and make it look like a turkey tail fungus with a stem. The cap is very thin and flat like a table, and another name for it is the fairy stool. They are very tough and leathery and can persist for quite a long time.

I showed a young and very dark purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides) in my last post so this time I thought I’d show one further along to illustrate how they lighten with age. The handy acorn helps show the scale of this pretty mushroom.

One of the prettiest mushrooms in the woods right now are black chanterelles (Craterellus cornucopioides.) I met a mushroom forager once who told me that this mushroom was considered a choice delicacy and at that time restaurants were paying him $50.00 per pound for them, and they’d buy all he could find. But the trouble was finding them; mushroom hunters say they are very hard to find because looking for them is like looking for black holes in the ground. Some say they can look right at them and not see them but for me they seem very easy to find, and I think that’s due to my colorblindness. I’ve read that armies keep colorblind soldiers because they can “see through” many types of camouflage, and I think that must be why I can see these mushrooms so clearly when others can’t.

Black chanterelles are really deep purple. They are also called the deep purple horn of plenty. They seem to like growing on hillsides; that’s the only place I’ve ever found them.

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread like hyphae. When mushroom spores grow they produce mycelium, which eventually produces fruit, which is the above ground portion that we see. The beautiful mycelium in this photo grew on the underside of a log and I never would have seen it if I hadn’t rolled the log over. Mycelium growths are thought to be the largest living things on earth. A huge honey mushroom (Armillarea ostoyae) mycelium in Oregon’s Blue Mountains covers 2,384 acres and holds the record for the world’s largest known organism. It is thought to be between 2,400 and 8,650 years old.

I met a  twenty something girl and her dog on a wooded trail recently. I had a camera around my neck as usual and she must have thought I was birding because she stopped and told me where to find some ducks and a heron. I thanked and told her that actually I was looking for mushrooms, and that’s when she lit up. “Oh,” she said, “I just saw one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was a red mushroom with what looked like white mold on it, and the mold sparkled like crystals. Who would ever believe that a moldy mushroom could be so beautiful?” I had to laugh, and I told her that I had a photo at home that almost matched what she had just described. “So I’d believe it,” I told her, and then we both laughed. It was nice to meet someone so full of the love and beauty of nature. She smiled from ear to ear and her eyes sparkled when she spoke and she was just bubbling over with joy at what she had seen. Well my fungal friends, I thought as I walked on, it seems we have a new convert.

All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child. ~Marie Curie

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Lush is the word to use here right now because there has been an explosion of growth due to all the hot weather and rain. Some lawns have to be mown twice each week and both flowers and fungi are competing for my attention.

As you can probably tell from the previous photo, we don’t have much sunshine available right now. But we do have sunflowers.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is having a good year, probably because of all the rain. I learned last year that monarch butterflies love these flowers but, though I’ve seen a few monarchs, I haven’t seen one on this or any other flower. I’ve only seen them near damp spots in the sand of gravel roads. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name.

Diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa) is shorter and more branched than some other knapweeds, and is generally short lived. It looks like spotted knapweed but there are differences.

The way to identify knapweeds is by their basket like bracts, which are hidden by the flower unless you look from the side. Diffuse knapweed bracts end in a sharp terminal spine which is about a quarter inch long and from what I’ve read spotted knapweed does not have this spine. Below that are 4 or 5 pairs of lateral spines to each side of the top part of the bract. These curve slightly, and give the overall look of a crab or tick. All of the spines are sharp enough to puncture skin. The brownish black tip of the bract is common to both diffuse and spotted knapweed, so at a glance they look the same. Flowers can be white, purple or a combination of both. Knapweeds are invasive and can quickly overtake pasture land. If I’ve identified this plant correctly it has crossed the Massachusetts / New Hampshire border, which is supposed to be the northern part of its range in New England.

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is a strange plant with inch long flower buds that never seem to open beyond what you see in the above photo. Even after they open they still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely.  The Native American Algonquin people used the plant to treat poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) rashes. It has also been used as a source of a blue dye for cotton and wool.

This is just about all you get when you look at a pilewort blossom. The common name comes from the way they resemble suppositories. At one time that fact made people believe that they would be a good cure for hemorrhoids (piles.)

These wasps (?) must love pilewort because they were swarming all over it.

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.

Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is a pretty flowered plant that was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in dry places that get full sun. It 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 and seems to love colonizing gardens when it is left alone. I usually find it on forest edges, rarely in large colonies.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) just started blooming and won’t be finished until we have a freeze. I try to remember to crush a few blossoms and smell them, because they smell like maple syrup. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as these examples show. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

It’s hard to tell when a sweet everlasting blossom is actually open but you can see a hint of yellow on a couple of these.

Nodding smartweed (Persicaria lapathifolia) gets its common name from its drooping flower heads and the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. It doesn’t seem to bother ducks, geese, and all of the other animals that eat it, though. This is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never seem to fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles.

I saw these pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) blooming in a local garden and that’s all I’ve seen of turtleheads this year. Both the native white flowered plant and the pink flowered plant in my garden don’t seem to want to bloom and I’m not sure why. I don’t know the origin of the garden variety pink turtlehead and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar, but it does very well and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

I saw this cosmos in another roadside garden and thought it was quite pretty. I’ve never seen another like it but I suppose they’ve probably changed a lot since I used to grow them. Cosmos is the Greek word for harmony or ordered universe. Spanish priests in Mexico named the plants cosmos because of their (usually) evenly spaced, orderly petals. This one opted for chaos, apparently.

I thought these daylilies (Hemerocallis) seen in a friend’s garden were very beautiful.

I’ve been trying to rid my gardens of obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) for several years and, though there are no large colonies of it left, small groups of two or three plants will still appear. They are among the most invasive native plants that I have seen. Obedient plants get their common name from the way the flower stalks stay where they are if they are bent; they are “obedient.” I like the flowers, but don’t like having to weed the plants out of just about everywhere.

Many flowers have a visible inner light but few shine it out as brightly as this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow. Maybe the postal workers stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just as I do.

In my travels I found no answers, only wonders. ~Marty Rubin

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Last Saturday it rained most of the day but Sunday had hit or miss showers so I hoped for the best and went for one of my favorite walks along the Ashuelot River in Keene. It was a damp, humid day.

I’ve known this section of river all my life. I used to fish here at the dam when I was a boy and they still fish for trout, pickerel and sunfish here today. All I ever caught were perch and dace but the river was a lot dirtier in those days. This dam is known as the Faulkner and Colony dam because it was built around 1777 by that company to power their mill. A few years ago there was talk about removing it to open up the river and another idea would refurbish it to generate power but I haven’t heard anything lately about either idea. I like the thought of restoring the river to what it once was without any dams on it. Two other dams have been removed in the past 20 years; one in Swanzey and one in Hinsdale.

Twelve Native American sites have been found along this section of river so far. At least one site dates back 10, 500 years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these trails were originally made by the Natives, because they hug the river closely and have many good fishing spots along them.  The word Ashuelot means “collection of many waters” in Native American language and many small tributaries pour into it throughout the area. The Ashuelot in turn, empties into the Connecticut River before it finally finds its way to the Atlantic.

Arrowwood viburnum berries (Viburnum dentatum) were ripe along the shore but hadn’t been touched by the birds.

Elderberries on the other hand, were being eaten the minute they ripened. There were green berries and half ripe red berries, but no fully ripe purple-black berries on this bush. I don’t suppose I’ll ever understand why birds choose to eat what they do. We still have staghorn sumacs full of last year’s fruit, and what’s wrong with viburnum berries?

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) still blooms alongside rivers and ponds but its cousin steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) has finished. Native Americans used both plants medicinally.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) was ready to call it a summer. The leaves on this plant sometimes turn a beautiful purple color at the end of summer. Some Native American tribes used this plant to treat nosebleeds and others used it as a spice. It likes to grow in disturbed soil near water.

The most popular spot for turtles in this part of the river is the end of this old log. You can almost always see a turtle or two on it at any time of day so it’s a good place for children to walk. When I was a boy it seemed like this place had everything a boy could want, and I spent many happy days here.

In places the trail widens enough so that 4 people could walk side by side, but this width doesn’t last. On most of the trail 2 people side by side is more like it.

The prize for the most unusual thing I saw on this day has to go to what I think is a bleeding tooth fungus (Hydnellum peckii.) This large fungus gets its common name from the many droplets of blood red liquid it exudes when young. Though some of the droplets on this example were red most were more amber colored. The “tooth” part of the common name comes from the spines on its underside. The liquid the fungus oozes contains a chemical called atromentin, which has anti-bacterial and anticoagulant properties.

Here is a look at the mushroom under LED light, which shows that most of the droplets are not red. Because of the color of the liquid and the fact that I found it growing on a tree rather than on the ground I question my identification, but I can’t find another mushroom that “bleeds” and grows on trees. If you know of another species that does this and grows on trees I’d love for you to tell me about it.

A large tree had fallen into the river on the far side. This is a fairly regular occurrence and it always reminds me that, however slowly, the river is always getting wider. It was also quite high due to all of the rain. I think we’re up to about 10 inches in three weeks, according to the rain gauge where I work. This is after a moderate drought in the first half of summer and the dry land has been sponging it up fairly well until lately. Now there aren’t many places for more water to go. Even the forest floor has standing water on it in many places, so we need a dry spell. As I write this it’s pouring rain yet again.

Something had been munching on the starflowers (Trientalis borealis.) The Trientalis part of the plant’s scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin, and that’s just about how tall this pretty little plant gets. The spring woods wouldn’t be the same without its white star shaped flowers. This one had a seed pod; you can just see the tiny white dot between the leaf at 12 o’clock and the one at 1 o’clock.

Tiny starflower seedpods always remind me of soccer balls. They’re just about the same size as an air gun BB. The few brown seeds inside need a cold period to germinate and will not do so until the fall of the second year. Ants and other insects “plant” the seeds.

I saw some colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor,) the first fresh ones I’ve seen this season. I’m hoping to see lots of blue and purple ones this year.

Woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata) looks almost like goldenrod from a distance. The small yellow flowers grow on long spikes (racemes) on a short, knee high plant.

Woodland agrimony is said to be rare in New England and I believe it because this is one of only two places I’ve ever seen it. It grows in the shade near a tangle of many other plant species. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years dating back to at least ancient Egypt. Though the plant is said to be native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans, and that’s unusual. It is also called roadside agrimony.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is one of my summer favorites, mostly because it dresses in my favorite color. This is another plant that loves water and it grows near ponds and rivers, and even wet roadside ditches. The bitter roots of this plant were used by native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into flour by some tribes, and others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to treat nosebleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the Europeans and they used it in much the same ways.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit this place was because I had seen narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) blooming in Nelson the previous week and I wanted to see if the closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) were blooming. Not only were they not blooming, they were barely budded. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. These leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian.

The trail narrowed and got muddy after a time, but I was too busy enjoying all the wildflowers to care.

One of the wildflowers I saw was spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis,) which gets its name not from its orange flowers but from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

I turn around at this little bridge because not too far beyond it you come to one of the main roads through Keene, and I didn’t need to see it again. Though this was a wet walk I made it all the way back and never did get rained on. It always does me good to be close to the river. I always come away feeling recharged, as if the 12 year old me has joined the me of today. I think that must be mainly due to the memories, because there isn’t a bad one to be found here.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her. ~ Buffalo Joe

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Because I have trouble seeing red I doubted I’d ever be able to show cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) on this blog but finally, after years of searching for them, here they are. Judy from the New England Garden and Thread blog wrote and told me she had seen them along a stream up in Stoddard and her excellent directions led me right to them. The color red when it is against the color green becomes invisible to me, but these bright red flowers were against gray stones and blue water and for the first time in my life I saw cardinal flowers. Though I couldn’t get close they were even more beautiful than in photos.

Here’s a closer look. Unfortunately because of all the rain the stream had come up on the stems and the plants swayed back and forth wildly, which made getting a photo almost impossible. Out of probably close to 50 attempts I got exactly one useable photo and this one is cropped out of that single shot we saw previously. But the beauty of it all is now I know what the plants look like, where they grow and when they blossom, so I’ll be able to go back and see them next year. Thank you Judy, it was worth the drive!

I can’t think of a single time that I have found northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing away from water. It’s an odd little plant that might get knee high on a good day, and often leans toward the water that it grows near. Its tiny flowers grow in round tufts at each leaf axil and remind me of motherwort, which has the same habit. It is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. It is also closely related to American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and the two plants are easily confused. Paying close attention to leaf shape helps tell them apart. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food.

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. The tiny things are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed. I think this is the earliest I’ve ever seen it flower.

Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) have just started to bloom. I love their bright color and always look forward to seeing them as soon as August arrives.

Eastern forked blue curls have beautiful flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day and the entire plant barely reaches ankle high, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can just see the white pollen granules on the ends of the arched stamens in this photo.

The insect is guided by the spotted lower lip of the flower. This plant is an annual that grows new from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and sometimes roadsides, and sometimes in my own yard.

This very beautiful rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) grows just off the side of an old dirt road at the edge of a swamp. At least I think it is rosebay willowherb; there seems to be some confusion among sources about the regions it grows in. According to the USDA it doesn’t grow in New England, but the University of Maine lists it in its database. Another name for the plant is fireweed and Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it in 1857, so I’m wondering if the USDA map is incorrect. If you live in New Hampshire and have seen this plant I’d love to hear from you.

Narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis) grow alongside the same road that the rosebay willowherbs were on. Gentians of any kind are extremely rare in these parts and I’m always as excited to see them as I would be to see a field full of orchids.

Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often, because our soil is generally acidic. 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.

It isn’t uncommon to see a carpet of knee high, white blooms in the woods at this time of year. White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is known for its drought tolerance and will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant. The small, one inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

A roadside stream was filled with fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) and I had to stop and see.

It’s hard not to just sit and stare at something so beautiful, lost in the fire that burns at its center.

I first met the beautiful little marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) when I was in a kayak and I remember what a time I had getting a photo of them then. Luckily though, I found them growing in the wet soil at the edge of a pond so getting their photo is easier these days. Sort of, anyway; this plant closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine the following afternoon, so you’ll never find them blooming on a cloudy day or in the morning.

This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow. The plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline. The flowers are small, about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This beautiful little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

Like the cardinal flower seen earlier the club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata) has never been seen on this blog, because I’ve never seen one until very recently. I jumped a roadside ditch, looked down and discovered that I was almost stepping on a group of 5-7 plants. They’re small plants, no taller than 6 inches, and the flowers are also very small. Each plant has a single leaf at the base of the stem and another about half way up.

The flowers of this orchid seem to go every which way, spiraling up the stem as they do, so getting a photo of just one is impossible. I couldn’t even seem to get a shot looking into one. My orchid books say this orchid is “occasional“, meaning it isn’t rare but it isn’t common either. It self-pollinates so it doesn’t have to rely on insects. Orchids are notorious for disappearing from one year to the next but I hope to see these again.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. Once the blossoms reach the very top of the flower spike the plant is done. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

Mullein is a biennial and flowers and dies in its second year of growth. It is considered a weed but if all of its flowers opened at once along its tall flower stalk I think that it would be a prized garden specimen.

The Shasta daisy was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank over 100 years ago and was named for the white snow of Mount Shasta. These plants are a hybrid cross of the common roadside ox-eye daisy and an English field daisy called Leucanthemum maximum. They are one of the easiest perennials to grow and, other than an occasional weeding, need virtually no care. Dwarf varieties are less apt to have their stems bent over by heavy rains. I haven’t seen many of them this year, and this one was quite late.

I’m still seeing scenes like this one here and there along roadsides and I always try to stop and get a photo when I do. That leads to a few curious stares from people but I hope they also notice the flowers when they stare. Next time maybe it will be they who will stop and take photos.

Many people have never learned to see the beauty of flowers, especially those that grow unnoticed. ~Erika Just

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Mushrooms are 90-95% water and since we’ve had plenty of rain they’re popping up literally everywhere I go right now. When mushrooms appear you can’t dilly dally like you can with flowers; you’ve got to get to them relatively quickly, because animals like deer and squirrels will eat all they find in a matter of hours. What mushrooms animals don’t eat slugs and molds will. Nothing is wasted in nature and everything gets eaten in one way or another eventually, like the mushrooms in this photo; mold had started to cover them before they could even release their spores.

Here are a couple of slugs eating this mushroom; a common sight. Mushrooms don’t stay around long, so I’ve been in the woods every chance I had to get the photos that follow. I show them here not so you’ll run out and pick mushrooms to eat, but simply so you can see what is happening in the woods right now, and so you can enjoy their beauty as much as I do.

A jelly fungus called Calocera cornea covered this log. This tiny fungus appears on barkless, hardwood logs after heavy rains. The fruiting bodies are cylindrical like a finger coral fungus and it looks like a coral fungus, but microscopic inspection has shown it to be a jelly fungus. This photo shows only part of what covered this log. The huge numbers of what looked like tiny yellow flames licking out of the log was quite a sight.

Calocera cornea is called the small staghorn fungus, for obvious reasons. Each fruit body comes to a sharp looking point.

These are a good example of a coral fungus called spindle or finger corals (Clavulinopsis fusiformis.) They look quite different from the jelly fungus we just saw. The taller ones might reach an inch and a half high and their diameter is close to a piece of cooked spaghetti. They have the odd habit of growing in the packed earth of trails so I often find that they have been stepped on and broken. One fact helpful in identifying these yellow finger coral mushrooms is that they always grow in tight clusters, while look alikes do not.

There are many types of coral fungi in the woods at this time of year. They can be very hard to identify without a microscopic look at the spores but I think this one might be cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina coralloides.) Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips and these tips will often turn brown. I don’t see these as often as I do other types of coral fungi.

I’ve seen photos online of slime molds very similar to this one but the people who took the photos didn’t have any more luck identifying it than I did. For now all I can say is that it is a white slime mold, possibly a Physarum, in the plasmodium stage. I should also say that I had to use a flash for many of these photos because of the cloudy days and forest darkness. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate nuclei until they come together in a single mass, when they shift from the growth to the fruiting stage.

One of the most fascinating things about slime molds is how they move. They are thought of as a giant single cell with multiple nuclei which can all move together as one at speeds of up to an inch per hour. They can also climb as they have on this tree.

As slime molds go, this many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum) is usually large and easy to see. This one covered a beech log. According to Wikipedia “A plasmodial slime mold is enclosed within a single membrane without walls and is one large cell. This super cell (a syncytium) is essentially a bag of cytoplasm containing thousands of individual nuclei.” Slime molds aren’t plants and they aren’t fungi. They come closer to being amoebas than anything else and are believed by some to have simple brains. My question is how they know what the others are “thinking?” They seem to have the same “group think” abilities as a school of fish or a flock of birds, and that is quite amazing.

People will tell you that there aren’t any blue slime molds but I tend to believe what I see over what people tell me so here is a blue slime mold that I’ve seen each year for the past three. These tiny things are so small all I can see is their color, like a blue smudge on a log. I can’t see any real detail by eye, so I have to let the camera see for me-quite literally “shooting in the dark.” From this blue stage they go on to become white.

NOTE: A helpful reader has identified this as a fungus called Chromelosporium coerulescens.

We go from the tiny to the huge; this tree stump was about 7 feet tall and was absolutely covered with oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus.) The fallen part of the tree was also covered with them. I’ve never seen so many growing together.

Oyster mushrooms are pure white and seem to always grow in overlapping clusters like those in the photo. Oyster mushrooms have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap when seen from above. That little insect might want to be careful; scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun [nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

I’ve read that large amounts of water will cause deformation in chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) and I wonder if that’s what is going on here. We have certainly had a lot of rain lately. Chanterelle mushrooms are considered a delicacy.

From the side chanterelles look like trumpets, but so do many other mushrooms including the false chanterelle. That’s why mushrooms should never be eaten unless you are absolutely sure you know what you’re eating. I’ve had mushroom experts tell me that you can never be 100% sure of a mushroom’s identity without examining its spores under a microscope. Since I don’t have a microscope that means you can never be sure of my identifications either, so please don’t eat any mushroom you see here until you have an expert examine it first. There are mushrooms so toxic that one or two bites have killed. We have mushroom walks led by an expert or experts here. If you want to become serious about mushroom foraging they are a good place to start.

If they’re small, sticky and orange with bell shaped caps and grow on a cluster on a log they must be orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana.) These little (less than an inch across) mushrooms fruit from June through September and are fairly common. If you touch them the orange color will stain your fingers. Mycena mushrooms also come in bright red, pink and purple. Some also bleed a blood colored latex when cut.

Young purple cort mushrooms (Cortinarius iodeoides) are very purple but lighten as they age. Squirrels and chipmunks won’t touch this one, possibly because it’s covered with a very bitter slime. This slime often makes the young examples look wet. Slugs don’t have a problem eating it and I often see white trails on the caps where they have eaten through the purple coating to the white flesh below.

Considering the weather we’ve had red hot milk caps (Lactarius rufus) seem appropriate. Milk caps get their name from the white milky latex they exude, which is said to be extremely hot and acrid. Though it looks like it has a ring on the stem just under the cap in this photo I think that must be slug damage to the stem itself, because this mushroom has no ring. Of course, I could also be wrong about its name.

To see very small things you need to re-train your eyes. (And your mind, somewhat) Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) are what led me down that path years ago. One day I sat down on a stone to rest and looked down, and there they were. I was surprised by how tiny they were, but they helped me see that forests are full of things just as small and sometimes many times smaller. You need to be ready (and able) to flatten yourself out on the forest floor to get good photos of jelly babies. Each one in this group was smaller than a pea.

My Mushroom books don’t say much about club shaped fungi but I think this might be Clavaria ornatipes. This fungus is described as spatula or club shaped and greyish to pinkish gray. These fungi shrivel when they dry out and revive after a rain. They grew directly out of the ground and there were hundreds of them.

I’ve seen little orange mushrooms all over the place and they all seem to differ slightly is size, shape and color intensity. I think these might be chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus.) This type of mushroom is considered one of the most colorful and also one of the most aesthetically pleasing, according to mushroom identification books. One of my books even has them on its cover. I have to agree; they even look good broken.

What I think are horsehair parachute mushrooms (Marasmius androsaceus) look a lot like their cousins the tiny little pinwheel mushrooms (Marasmius capillaris,) except for the dark spot in the center of the cap. These mushrooms grow on leaf litter on the forest floor and help break down all the debris that falls from the trees. They usually grow in large groups but are so small many don’t see them. The caps on the largest of these might reach pea size on a good day.

By far the biggest mushroom that I’ve ever seen is Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi.) I put a quarter above and to the right of the center of this one so you could get an idea of how big this monster was. It must have been 2 feet across at its widest point. This mushroom grows at the base of hardwoods in the east and in the west a similar example, Bondarzewia montana, grows at the base of conifers.

If you happen to see a mushroom that looks like it stuck its finger in a light socket you’re probably seeing something rarely seen. Called a “mycoparasitic mucorale,” Syzygites megalocarpes pin mold has been found on about 65 different mushrooms, but it will only appear when the temperature and humidity are absolutely what it considers perfect. It has multi branched sporangiophores that make the mushrooms it attacks look like it is having a bad hair day. This pin mold can appear overnight and starts off bright yellow, but as it ages it becomes paler until finally turning a blue gray color. It looks on the whitish side in this photo because I had to use a flash. It’s best not to get too close to these molds because inhaling their spores can make you very sick.

That’s all I have for mushrooms right now and for most of you that’s probably more than enough. I’m sorry for putting so many photos in this post but once you get bitten by the mushroom bug you can’t seem to stop looking for them, always hoping you’ll see something as adorable as these butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea.) I hope you find all of them as beautiful as I do but if not I hope you will at least find them as interesting. I also hope you’ll see some of them for yourself.

Wild mushrooms and carpets of moss and bumblebees turning figure eights in the slashes of sun in the woods, as if they too are stupefied by the beauty of the place. ~Smith Henderson

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Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) was surprised by all the rain and got its feet wet because it grew too close to the river. Many other plants made the same mistake, but only because we went so long without any real rain. They all thought they’d be high and dry but now we’ve had 2 weeks of rain and they’re swamped. All of their seeds will fall and float downriver to brighten someone else’s world, and that’s a good thing. We have so many flowers blooming here right now I haven’t got time to get photos of them all.

Burdock is the exception; I usually see burdock flowers everywhere but this year I’ve searched and searched and have only seen two plants blooming. But burdock is a biennial that grows leaves the first year and blooms and dies the second year, and last year there was an explosion of burdock blooms, so that means that I’ll probably have to wait until next year to see that many again. I’ve seen many non-flowering small plants, so the promise has been made. Above all else nature study teaches patience, and you either learn the lesson well or you find something else to interest you.

Common burdock (Arctium minus) must have come to this country very early, probably tangled in a horse or cow’s tail, because it was noted as being widespread in 1663. In fact it was so common then that some who came later wrote that it was native. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.  Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. As the above photo shows, when fully open long white styles grow from the dark purple flowers.

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is a goldenrod that’s easy to identify because of its long slender, willow like leaves and its pleasant, vanilla like fragrance that is impossible to describe. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf. It is also called flat topped goldenrod. Insects of all kinds swarm over slender fragrant goldenrod and you have to be careful that you aren’t going to inhale one when you smell it.

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) usually blooms in early July but I’ve been watching this plant and it just bloomed. These are extremely beautiful flowers that seem to glow from within when the light is right, and I have to get a shot of them when I see them. They are of the kind that you can lose yourself in and suddenly discover that you’ve been admiring their beauty for far longer than you had intended. Time might slip away but as the bees taste the nectar, so can you taste the place of deep peace from which flowers come.

I probably see one orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) plant for every thousand yellow hawkweed plants so I thought I’d show some again this season. Orange hawkweed is native to the alpine regions of Europe, so apparently it likes high places. Maybe that’s why I never see it. I’d like to see more of it; orange is a hard color to find among our wildflowers. This is only the second time I’ve found it this summer.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) can get very tall indeed and often towers over my head. A cluster of small, pencil eraser sized, blue flowers sits at the tip of the long stem. This plant is very similar to the wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans but they should only be used by those who know them well, because it is said that they can cause death by cardiac paralysis.

The flowers of tall blue lettuce can be white, deep blue, or ice blue. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. I haven’t seen a single one this year though.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) is sometimes called white lettuce but it isn’t a lettuce, though they are in the same aster family that the lettuces are in. It’s probably thought to be another lettuce because it blooms at the same time and in the same locations as the wild lettuces do, but instead of the daisy like petals of lettuce flowers these look more bell shaped and lily like. The Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of the plant in tea that they used to relieve pain. It is said that the common name comes from the way that some Native American tribes used the plant to treat snakebite.

Nobody seems to know how shaggy soldier (Galinsoga quadriradiata) got from Mexico to New Hampshire but everyone calls it a weed; even in its native Mexico. The plant is also called common quick weed or Peruvian daisy and is common in gardens, where it can reduce crop yields by as much as half if left to its own devices.

Tiny shaggy soldier flowers are about 3/8 of an inch across and have 5 white ray florets widely spaced around even tinier yellow center disc florets. It’s a very challenging flower to photograph.

When I see a rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) I always think of my time spent as a gardener in Florida. I worked in the gardens of a large hotel and the job included trimming what seemed like miles of tropical hibiscus hedges (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and rose of Sharon is a kind of hardy hibiscus in the same family as the tropical hibiscus. The hardy version shown here has large trumpet shape blossoms in early fall.

Purple cone flowers (Echinacea purpurea) are having a great year and bees, butterflies and other insects are benefiting from it.

There are many little yellow flowers that look much alike so I admire their beauty but leave their identification to someone else, just as I do with little brown mushrooms. It can sometimes take weeks to identify a flower you’ve never seen before properly and life is just too short for all the little yellow ones, in my opinion. But this one is different; it’s called Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) and its flowers are some of the smallest I’ve tried to photograph. You could pick three or four of them and hide the bouquet behind a penny, so small are the blooms. I think they might even be smaller than those of dwarf St. John’s wort. The bright crimson seed pods are a bonus, and surprising for a plant with yellow flowers. I once thought they were flower buds but I’ve watched closely and I know that isn’t accurate.

I find spearmint (Mentha spicata) growing in the sunshine at the edge of the woods. Like wild mint (Mentha arvensis) spearmint has been used since before recorded time both medicinally and as a flavoring. Pliny wrote of it and the ancient Romans cultivated it to scent their bath water. Spearmint is originally from Europe but the Pilgrims brought it on their first trip to America, so valuable was the plant to them.

Instead of growing in the leaf axils as they do on wild mint, tiny spearmint flowers appear near the top of the stem. They are said to be pink or white but these were white, blue, pink and lavender. Their scent is very refreshing on a hot summer day and always reminds me of spearmint gum. Imagine; you are seeing flowers that people admired 2000 years ago.

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a late summer blooming native clematis vine that drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees, but in this photo it has set its sights considerably lower and grew over nearby plants. As long as it finds the sunshine it needs, it doesn’t matter what it grows on.  An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

Another name for virgin’s bower is traveler’s joy which it is, but its small white flowers are another reminder that fall is near.

Puffy little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is 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 but I haven’t seen much of that happening here.

Last year with a lot of help from readers this beautiful little thing was identified as low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis.)  The flowers are tiny; about the same size as those on red sandspurry, and blossom on the ends of wiry stems. Its leaves are also small and sword shaped and very hard to see in this photo. This entire plant shown would fit in a tea cup with room to spare. It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath. Thanks again to all who helped with this one. I had never seen it.

Beauty is something that changes your life, not something you understand. ~Marty Rubin

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As I said in my last post, it rained here every day for a week. The mushrooms are almost jumping up out of the ground and I hope to find enough for a full fungus post in the near future. Meanwhile here is what I think are yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) but since my fungi identifying skills aren’t what they should be I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Yellow patches gets its common name from the yellow bits of universal veil on its cap. You can just see them on the smaller example. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As it grows it eventually breaks the veil and pieces of it are left on the cap. Rain can wash them off and I’m guessing that’s what happened on the larger example. The rains have been torrential.

Without any human intervention trees get wounded in the forest. It can happen when one tree falls and hits another or sometimes when a large branch falls. Squirrels chew bark, woodpeckers drill holes. In any event a wounded tree is not that unusual, even when it is black and weeping like the wound on this oak was, but what caught my eye were those tiny yellow-orange dots in the upper center of this photo.

I was very surprised to find that the tiny dots were eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata.) This is only the third time I’ve seen them and I don’t know much about them, but I thought they only lived on dead wood. Very well soaked dead wood, in fact; the two previous examples I saw were growing on twigs lying in the standing water of a seep. Eyelash fungi are in the cup fungus family. The hairs on them can move and curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body.

I walked through a field of milkweed looking for monarch butterflies or their caterpillars. I never did see the monarchs but I saw an amazing amount of other insects, including hundreds of bumblebees.

An eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was on a milkweed plant but flew off to a Queen Anne’s lace blossom before I could get a photo. These butterflies have been skittish all summer and have hardly sat still at all for me, so I was a bit befuddled when this one finally let me take as many shots as I wanted.

I’ve had quite a time trying to identify what I thought was a common butterfly. It was a small one; much smaller than a swallowtail, maybe about the size of a cabbage white. It liked hawkweed and flew from blossom to blossom in a patch of panicled hawkweed. I think it was a silvery checker spot; at least, that’s the closest I could come by looking at similar examples. It was a pretty little thing, whatever its name.

A Japanese beetle looked like a shiny jewel on a milkweed leaf. These beetles do a lot of damage here but this year they don’t seem to have the staggering numbers they’ve had in the past.

Red spotted milkweed beetles hid on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The scientific name of this beetle, Tetraopes, means “four eyes” in Greek. This longhorn beetle is unusual because of the way the base of its long antennae bisect its eyes. The antennae actually splits each eye in two, so they do indeed have four eyes. It is thought that these beetles ingest toxins from milkweed plants to protect them from predators, just like monarch butterflies do. The red and black colors are also there to warn predators.

I thought a milkweed leaf had a tiny gall on it, but when I tapped on it with my fingernail it started to move.

And it moved pretty fast. That’s because it was a snail and not a gall. I’ve never seen snails on milkweed before but we’ve had snail-ish weather this summer with very high humidity, so maybe that has something to do with it. I believe these are called blunt amber snails. They were almost translucent and quite small.

A fly was on the same milkweed plant that the snails were on and it agreed to sit for a photo shoot. I think it was a tachinid fly. From what I’ve read there are over 1300 species of tachinid fly, so I’m not even going to try to come up with an identification. It reminded me of that movie The Fly with Vincent Price.

What I think was a slaty skimmer dragonfly showed signs of age with pieces missing from its wings, but it was still a beautiful blue. It let me get just one shot before it flew off.  I’ve read that mature males are dark blue with black heads, so I’d guess that this is an example of a mature male.

A beautiful blue river of pickerel weed flowed through a ditch next to a cornfield. When I see things like this I have no choice; I have to stop and admire them because they are so unexpected. It’s as if they were put there specifically to be admired. These are the things that can take you outside of yourself and let you walk in a higher place for a time. As Amit Ray once said: Beauty is the moment when time vanishes.

A great blue heron wanted to be a statue in its own hidden patch of pickerel weed, and it made a good one. I didn’t have time to wait for it to move; that can sometimes take quite a while.

A yellow bellied sapsucker left its neat rows of holes in a hawthorn. Many other birds, bats, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.  But why does the pattern have to be so neat? I wonder.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time before becoming brilliant red. The plant is called treacle berry because the fruit is said to taste like bitter molasses, which is also known as treacle. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy. They have also been known to act as a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas and also inhaled the fumes from burning roots to treat headaches and body pain.

Though I don’t see a banner year for blueberries this year the crop doesn’t look too bad. I think there will be enough to keep both bears and humans happy. One of the best places to pick blueberries that I’ve seen is from a boat, canoe or kayak, because blueberries grow on the shores of our lakes and ponds in great profusion and the bushes often hang out over the water. You can fill a small bucket in no time.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries start out green and then turn orange before finally ripening to red. They are pretty things but they can be mildly toxic to adults and more so to children, though I’ve never heard of anyone eating them. Tatarian honeysuckle is considered an invasive shrub. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, so the land around dense colonies is often barren.

The seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus) start out looking like tiny seed pearls before ripening to the pretty things seen here. Curly dock is in the rhubarb family and is originally from Europe. The small seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C and were used by many as a green vegetable during the depression. Its common name comes from the wavy edges on the leaves.

What does all this ripening mean? I don’t want to be the one to say it but I shouldn’t have to; just looking around will tell the story.

So many hues in nature and yet nothing remains the same, every day, every season a work of genius, a free gift from the Artist of artists. ~E.A. Bucchianeri

Thanks for stopping in.

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Here we are in high summer and the roadsides are starting to show some beautiful color. So many different flowers are blooming now it’s hard to keep up with them but the standouts in this scene are white boneset and Queen Anne’s lace, yellow goldenrods, and purple loosestrife. For me this is easily the most beautiful time of year. It’s like living inside a Monet painting.

The big bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) have just started to show some color as well. This plant originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant as this one did, and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love these flowers and it is not uncommon to have them flying all around me as I take photos of it.

Globe thistle (Echinops) is a garden thistle that isn’t very prickly at all compared to a bull thistle. This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers, but that’s not going to happen this summer. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony.  On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. I think a reader wrote in last year and said they do.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long yellow tipped, white styles sticking out of the tubular flowers the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey, though the town has done their best to cut most of them down. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person name. I think the flowers have the most intense color when in bud like they are in this photo.

Here are the flowers of Joe Pye weed; in my opinion not as colorful as the buds. Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is a common late summer sight in wet meadows and on river banks. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area. There are also cultivated varieties sold in nurseries.

At a glance common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) looks like white Joe Pye weed. That’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side, but boneset usually blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here. I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

The perfoliatum part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the foliage” and that’s how its stem appears to grow; as if the leaves have been perorated by it. The common name comes from the way that the joined leaves looked like broken bones knitting themselves back together. Joe Pye weed leaves have leaf stems (petioles) and look very different. Boneset was a very valuable medicine to Native Americans and they showed early settlers how to use the plant to reduce fever and relieve coughs and congestion. It was also used to ease aches and pains of all kinds.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. You can just see the tiny skullcaps at the very top of this stem. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

Groundnut (Apias americana) flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years.  Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

Ground nut is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. The roots became such an important food source for the settlers they forbade Natives from digging the tubers on “colonial lands”. And we wonder why Natives were upset with the settlers.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is often thought of as a warmth loving southern plant but I’ve seen it blooming and making berries here in October. Pokeweed flower clusters (Racemes) are unusual because you can often see ripe fruits at the bottom and new flowers at the top.

Pokeweed flowers are about a quarter inch across and have no petals but do have 5 white or pink sepals surrounding green carpels that fold and meet in the center. These green carpels will become a shiny, 8-10 chambered, purple-black berry. The carpels are surrounded by 10 white stamens. Though they were once used to color cheap wines the berries are poisonous and have killed children. People eat the leaves and spring shoots but adults have also been poisoned by eating plants that weren’t prepared properly. There are some powerful toxins in parts of the plant and scientists are testing it for its anti-cancer potential.

Steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) seems more herb than shrub to me but it’s in the spirea family of many shrubs. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin. I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is having a good year and I see the big flower heads everywhere, but despite their abundance I’m not finding more flower heads with the tiny purple / reddish floret at their center like this example has. Though another name for this plant is “wild carrot” you had better know exactly what you’re doing if you dig and eat the root because there are very similar plants like water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) that are among the most dangerously toxic plants known.

Legend says the tiny purplish / reddish flower at the center of the flower head is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators, but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. These flowers are tiny and very hard to see, much less get a photo of. This is the first time I’ve seen several in a cluster like this.

The first time I saw this plant a couple of years ago I thought it was some type of vining honeysuckle but the tiny flowers and its white latex sap pointed me in the direction of milkweeds.

But the tiny flowers weren’t right for a milkweed so I tried dogbane, which is in the milkweed family. I finally found that it is called Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum,) which is also called dogbane hemp. It is a poisonous plant which can cause cardiac arrest if ingested but it’s also a great source of strong fibers and was used by Native Americans to make nets, bow strings, fishing lines, clothing, and twine. Some tribes also used it medicinally despite its toxicity to treat rheumatism, coughs, whooping cough, and asthma.

One of the chief identifiers for Indian hemp are the pretty plum colored stems.

What would a garden be without a phlox or two? They’re so beautiful; it’s hard not to love them. And many are fragrant as well.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) has been in this country for a very long time, having been brought over as a garden flower by a Welsh Quaker in the late 1600s. It was used medicinally at least since the 1400s and modern science has shown the plant to have diuretic and fever reducing qualities. As if that weren’t enough it’s also used as a cut flower by florists because they are so long lasting when cut. I found these examples blooming in a waste area by a music store and I enjoyed seeing them.

I’ve been wondering what these flowers were for at least two years and I think I’ve finally found their name: Lizard tails! (Saururus cernuus.) They look like little hedgehogs to me but somebody saw a lizard tail so that’s their name.

The flowers are pretty and there are many of them on each flower head. Though I’ve never seen it in the wild it turns out that the plant is native to eastern North America, where it grows in shallow water. Its leaves look like the smartweed family to me but I’m not sure if it is related. It is said to have medicinal properties and was once used to treat inflammation, but science has found that it is toxic. The crushed leaves are thought to smell like sassafras.

Little things seem nothing but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air. ~George Bernanos

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