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Archive for May, 2021

Last spring when I visited Yale Forest in Swanzey I stumbled upon one of the prettiest horsetails I had ever seen, the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.) I have since read that it is indeed considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails and I wanted to see it again, so on a recent beautiful spring day off I went, back into Yale Forest. My chances of finding a single plant in such a huge forest might seem slim but I knew this horsetail liked wet feet, and I knew where the water was. 

An old road winds through this part of the forest and there is still plenty of pavement to be seen. Yale University has owned this parcel of land since the 1930s and allows public use. The old road was once called Dartmouth Road because that’s where it led, but the state abandoned it when the new Route 10 was built and it has been all but forgotten ever since.

Cheery little bluets (Houstonia caerulea) grew along the sides of the old road.

Many thousands of violets also grow alongside the old road. They reminded me that I have to get up to the Deep Cut rail trail in Westmoreland to see all the violets that grow there. It’s a beautiful sight.

Fern fiddleheads were beautiful, as always.

New oak leaves were everywhere, and they were also beautiful. New leaves are one of the things I love most about spring.

New oak leaves are multi colored and soft, like felt.

Beeches were also opening up for spring. This one showed how all of the current season’s leaves and branches grow out of a single small bud. The miracle that is life, right here for everyone to see.

There are lots of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) out here and many were showing off their new spring flowers. They’re pretty, the way they dangle and move with the breeze.

It was such a beautiful day to be in the woods. The only sounds were the bird songs, and they came from every direction.

Sarsaparilla leaves (Aralia nudicaulis) still wore their spring reds and purples when I was here. At this stage they are often mistaken for poison ivy and that’s another reason to know what poison ivy looks like. From what I’ve read the color protects young leaves from strong sunlight. After a time as they become more used to the light they slowly turn green.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew here and there in small groups and I would guess if it were left alone it might one day carpet the forest floor as I’ve seen it do in other places.

I saw an old dead tree, or what was left of it.

As I’ve said here before; you can find beauty even in death.

I was hoping I’d find some mallards in the beaver pond but instead I found that someone had taken apart the beaver dam. I’ve done it and it’s hard work but sometimes it is very necessary.

It was certainly necessary in this instance; the beavers had miscalculated and built the dam too high and the water finally spilled over the banks of the small pond and into the old road. If something hadn’t been done this whole area could have flooded. I’m all for letting animals live in peace without being disturbed but there are times when you have to do something to persuade them that maybe they haven’t made the best choice.

Shadbushes ( Amelanchier canadensis) grew by the beaver pond but they were about done flowering and their fruits, called June berries, were beginning to form.

It looked like the beavers had built their lodge partially on land, which I don’t see them do very often. I have a feeling this might be a young male beaver just starting out on its own, hoping a mate will come swimming upstream.

But I couldn’t concern myself with what the beavers were doing. It isn’t my land so I have to let them and Yale University straighten it out. I headed off into the woods, following the outflow stream from the pond. Right off I saw hundreds of goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum,) most still in in flower.

What pretty little things they are, just sitting and waiting for an insect to stop by and sip their nectar. Which they can’t do without getting poked by one of those long anthers. A dusting of pollen for a sip of nectar sounds like a fair trade.

Water plantain (Alisma subcordatum) grew by the outflow stream. I’ve read that it is also called mud plantain and its seeds are eaten by waterfowl. Something also must eat the leaves because they looked fairly chewed up. Maybe deer or bear. Native Americans cooked and ate its roots but I haven’t found any information about them eating the foliage. Though it is a native plant I rarely see it.

NOTE: I was thinking of another plant I’ve seen with huge leaves like this one when I wrote this; swamp saxifrage, but this is not that plant and neither is it water plantain. The swamp saxifrage I’ve seen had leaves that were chewed just like these but these leaves are very different when I compare the two photos. This could be skunk cabbage but I’ve never seen it out here and I’ve never seen its leaves get this big. I’m sorry for any confusion this might have caused.

And then there it was; the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.) Its foliage is very lacy; different somehow than that of other horsetails, and it is this laciness that makes it so beautiful. In the garden horsetails can be a real pest but out here where they grow naturally they’re enchanting.

I got my knees and pant legs soaking wet taking these photos but it was worth it to see such a rare and beautiful thing. Or I should say, rare in my experience. I’ve never seen it anywhere else but it is said to grow in the U.K and Europe. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forests,” and that’s where the title of this post comes from.

Landscapes have the power to teach, if you query them carefully. And remote landscapes teach the rarest, quietest lessons. ~David Quammen

Thanks for stopping in.

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On May 17, 1854 Henry David Thoreau wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and indeed that is exactly what it is doing now. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is in the rhododendron family and is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada. Both Its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. It was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes wet roots and needs cold winters.

Rhodora flowers appear on short (3 feet or less) upright shrubs that like to live in wet places. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water in full sun but they usually grow just on shore. The flowers appear before the leaves and light up the edges of swamps and bogs for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will be only a memory here.

Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) is our third and final trillium to come into bloom, and in my opinion is the prettiest of the three. Unlike its two cousins its flowers don’t point down towards the ground but usually face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. This one was different however; its flower pointed directly at the sky.

Each bright white petal has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. According to the USDA, painted trilliums grow as far west as western Tennessee and south to Georgia.

Native starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are everywhere in the woods right now and grow in either dry or moist soil. Starflowers are a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, and seven sepals, but I’ve seen them with fewer or greater than seven.

If nature was to have a rule it would be that no rule in nature is hard and fast and the starflower with 8 petals in the above photo proves that. It does however still have seven anthers. Starflower leaves turn yellow and fade away in mid-summer, leaving behind a leafless stalk bearing a tiny round seed capsule.

Native blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) blossoms are decorating our roadsides right now but I doubt you’ll ever see them while driving. This beautiful little aspirin size flower is in the iris family and is said to have some of the same features. The leaves look like grass but are the grayish color of German iris leaves. All of the iris family is usually thought of as very poisonous but Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant. I still think I would have called it yellow eyed grass.

Common chokecherry trees (Prunus virginiana) are blossoming everywhere along our roadsides and they’re very easy to see. Chokecherries are small trees that sometimes can resemble shrubs when they grow in a group as these did.

If pollinated each chokecherry flower will become a dark purple one seeded berry (drupe) which, though edible but can be bitter or sour. Many Native American tribes used the fruit as food and used other parts of the tree such as the inner bark medicinally. They also used the bark in their smoking mixtures to improve the flavor. The flowers are very fragrant and resemble those of black cherries which bloom a bit later, but black cherry leaves don’t have fine teeth around the outer perimeter like choke cherry leaves.

This wisteria vine has been trying hard to make it all the way to the top of a cherry tree for years now and though I usually forget it’s there on this day I remembered and I was glad I did, because it was beautiful.

Big, beautiful, fragrant flowers dangle from a wisteria and they’re beautiful but you have to watch where you plant them because they can be aggressive. A lady I once worked for made the mistake of planting one on a pergola that was attached to the back side of her house. Each year I had to lean out of a second story window with a pole pruner to cut it away from the eaves because it had once again reached the roof. She wouldn’t hear of removing it though, and these flowers explain why.

In spite of a few faults I can’t think of many flowers more beautiful than a wisteria. They always remind me of lupine flowers.

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen.

Each sarsaparilla flower is tiny enough to hide behind a pencil eraser but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. Sarsaparilla roots were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

Thyme leaved speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia) has started showing up in lawns. The blossoms are about 1/8th of an inch across and aren’t very easy to get a photo of. Thyme leaved speedwell is considered a noxious lawn weed, but I like it. Speedwell blossoms have one petal that is smaller than the others and though it’s hard to see here the lower petal is indeed smaller than the others.

This little garden speedwell has plagued me for years now because, though I’ve tried to tell you what it is I can never be sure. From what I’ve seen online it is called spreading speedwell or creeping speedwell (Veronica filiformis.)

The flowers cover the plant and though small they’re very pretty.

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is usually seen in gardens rather than in the wild. They flower profusely and are said to make an excellent hedge.

The fragrant flower heads of witch alder are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. Their color comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments.

The pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) is the New Hampshire state wildflower and they have just come into full bloom. Once collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better this native orchid is making a good comeback. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will die if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be. They’re one of our most beautiful native orchids and everyone should have a chance to see them.

Bees pollinate pink lady’s slippers and they start by entering the flower through the center slit in the pouch. Once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in but luckily guide hairs inside the flower point the way to the top of the pouch or slipper, and once the bee reaches the top it finds two holes big enough to fit through. Just above each hole the flower has positioned a pollen packet so once the bee crawls through the hole it is dusted with pollen. The flower’s stigma is also located above the exit holes and if the bee carries pollen from another lady’s slipper it will be deposited on the sticky stigma as it escapes the pouch, and fertilization will have been successful. The seeds of this orchid are as fine as dust and will for in a single seedpod.

When you find a large colony of early azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum) in the forest you understand the true meaning of the word “breathtaking.” They’re doing better this year than I’ve ever seen. They’re also called roseshell azalea.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. Another common name, wooly azalea, comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, and that fragrance is said to induce creative imagination. It’s just such a beautiful thing and I’m so glad to have found them scattered here and there throughout the countryside. For a while I knew of only one but now I’ve found several.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

Thanks for coming by.

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This post will be, more than anything else, about some of the beautiful things in nature that you may have been passing by without noticing, like the immature Colorado blue spruce seed cones in this photo. The color only lasts for a week or two on these cones and science doesn’t see that the color serves any useful purpose. Since evergreens are wind pollinated they don’t need color to attract insects, so maybe it’s there simply to attract our attention. They certainly caught my eye.

There are beautiful things happening all around us right now and bud break is one of them. There isn’t much in the spring forest that is more beautiful than the appearance of new beech leaves, in my opinion. Delicate as angel wings they dangle from the branches in the state you see here for just a very short time.

Each spring the miracle of life unfolds all around you. Just stop for a moment and see. Don’t just look; see. There is a difference.

“Unfolding” is a good description for what happens. You can see it in this oak; bud break has happened and now all of the current years’ leaves and branches unfold themselves from what was a tiny bud. Actually uncurling might be an even better term; you can see how they spiral out of the bud.

They start out in a spiral when just out of the bud and you can watch that twist straighten out as they grow.

Once they’ve straightened themselves they begin to look more like what we’re used to seeing, but if we wait to catch up to them until they’ve reached this stage, we’ve missed a lot.

Fern fronds start life wound like a spring and this process has a name: circinate vernation. They are curled into what look like the carved head of a violin and the growing tip of the frond and all of its leaflets are within the coil. In this photo you can see this particular fern frond just beginning to unfurl. The scientific term describes the process; circinate means circling or spiraling and vernation comes from the word vernal, which means spring.

All the fiddleheads that make up a fern plant spring from a root which might be 100 years old in some cases. These were some of the darkest fiddleheads I’ve seen. Lady fern, I believe.

Once again you can see the uncoiling of all that will be a single fern frond. Everything that will become a frond possibly three feet tall comes from a coil that might be a half inch across.

Solomon’s seal is another plant that spirals out of the bud and you can see that in this plant. The spirals are all about leaf placement, so each leaf can get the optimum amount of sunshine. Scientifically it’s all about ratios and Fibonacci numbers and other things that I don’t have the time or the knowledge to talk  about but I will say this: spirals work and they have for many millions of years. That’s why they’re found in everything from our inner ear to nautilus shells to spiral galaxies many light years across.

This mountain ash tree reminded me of the child’s game where you clench your fist and the child pries open your fingers one by one until they find that there is nothing there, but when the fist is a mountain ash bud there is something there; flower buds. The leaves open to reveal flower buds, already there.

Some native dogwoods have the same secret as mountain ash; the leaves unfurl to reveal flower buds.

Sugar maple buds are very beautiful with their pink bud scales and I’m always grateful to have seen them in spring when they’re at their best. And there is that spiral again.

Some maple leaves are quicker than others, even when they grow on the same branch.

I thought these new red maple leaves with the sun shining on them were very beautiful. The scene only lasted a few moments but that was enough. It stayed with me all day.

The fuzzy pink and orange bud scales of a striped maple pull back and what happens thereafter happens quickly, so you’ve got to be aware of what the plant is doing and what stage it is in. This is why, once bud break begins to happen, I check them regularly.

Because I wouldn’t want to miss the unusual strings of bell shaped flowers that appear on striped maples. Some trees have hundreds of them, and just the slightest breeze gets them all swaying back and forth up over your head.

Here was a Norway maple (Crimson king) with everything showing; open bud scales, new purple leaves, flowers. and even seeds. Invasive yes, but beautiful as well.

This is what poison ivy looks like when it first appears in spring; beautifully red. I know the plant well and would never intentionally touch it but I got into it when I was taking this photo and I just finally stopped itching. You can get the rash even from the leafless stems and that’s usually where I get it.

Poison ivy can be beautiful enough so you want to touch it, but if you do you’re liable to be sorry. I’m not super allergic to it but I get a rash from it every year and itch for a week or two. Luckily with me it stays on the body part that touched it and doesn’t spread, but I’ve known people who became covered by its rash and had to be hospitalized. Admire it from a distance.

I wondered and wondered what kind of tree this was until I finally noticed a tag on it. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I scanned the tag and learned that it was a dawn redwood, which is an ancient, once endangered species of tree from China. It was once so rare that in 1941 it was declared extinct but then two small groves were discovered in a valley in central China. Before that there were only fossils from the Mesozoic Era which were 150 million or more years old. So what is a beautiful dawn redwood doing in Keene, New Hampshire of all places? Seeds from living trees were distributed all over the world and now you can actually buy a dawn redwood from a nursery for your front yard if you’d like. Chances are you’ll be the only ones on the street to have one. Mankind does do things right every now and then.

So here we are in the middle of May, a flowery month if there ever was one, and we’ve seen all of this beauty without hardly seeing a single flower. I remember how surprised I was when I saw my first shagbark hickory bud opening, like the one in the above photo. I couldn’t believe that something as simple and everyday as a tree bud could be so beautiful. It helped open my eyes to the fact that all of life is beautiful, everywhere I looked and in any season of the year. I hope you’ll go out and see it for yourself if you are able. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere. ~Vincent van Gogh

Thanks for stopping in. I hope all of your days will be beauty filled.

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The appearance of little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) tells me that it’s almost time to come out of the woods where the spring ephemerals bloom into the sunny meadows, where more summer wildflowers than you can count bloom. These little beauties will sometimes grow in a sunny clearing in the woods but more often than not I find them along the edges of the forest. They’re easy to pass off as “just another violet” at a glance so you’ve got to look closely. And there is no such thing as just another violet.

Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the little wings. The little whirligig at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect lands on the fringe the third sepal, called the keel, drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. They’re beautiful little things and it’s easy to see why some mistake the flowers for orchids. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

You might have notice a whitish blur under the flower in that last shot. It was a little crab spider that dropped off the flower when I started taking photos. As is often the case I didn’t see it until it saw me and started moving. Crab spiders can change their color to match the color of the flower they’re on but I’ve read that it can take days for them to change.

Hawthorns (Crataegus) have also just come into bloom. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify, so I don’t try. The flowers usually have large plum colored anthers but I think I took this photo before they had matured. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today. There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

I like the buds on hawthorns as much as I do the flowers.

Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) is blooming. This plant is also called cemetery weed because it’s often found in them. It was introduced from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. Of course, it immediately escaped the gardens of the day and is now seen in just about any vacant lot or other area with poor, dry soil. This plant forms explosive seed pods that can fling its seeds several feet. Here it grew by a stream, which was a bit of a surprise.

Shy little nodding trilliums (Trillium cernuum) are the second of out three trilliums to bloom. Red trilliums are about done and painted trilliums will come along soon. Nodding trillium flowers open beneath the leaves almost like a mayapple and they can be very hard to see, even when you’re standing right over them.

When the buds form they are above the leaves but as they grow the flower stem (petiole) lengthens and bends, so when the flower finally opens it is facing the ground. At barely 6 inches from the ground there isn’t a lot of room for a camera so I hold my camera in one hand and with the other I very gently bend back the stem until I can see the flower. It doesn’t hurt the plant at all; they snap right back up.

My favorite thing about the nodding trillium blossom is its six big purple stamens but you’ve got to be quick to see them. This flower’s swept back petals means it was just about done blooming and they have just started. Nodding trillium is the northernmost trillium in North America, reaching far into northern Canada and Newfoundland. It is also called whip-poor-will flower because it blooms when the whip-poor-wills return. And that’s true; a friend heard the first whip-poor-will on the same day he saw the first nodding trillium.

Many plants are showing an abundance of bloom this year like I’ve never seen and creeping phlox is one of them. If you’re a flower lover this is your year for most of them.

Blueberries are blooming so well this year I doubt there would have been room for any more blossoms on this bush. The bears will eat well. Both low and highbush varieties are loaded with flowers.

I don’t usually “do” small yellow flowers because I have found that you could devote your entire life to them and still not identify them all, but I think this one is a common cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex.) They’ve just opened this past week.

Dandelion is another plant that is having a fantastic year; I’ve never seen them bloom like this. My phone camera made these look like they had just come out of a flower shop.

My mother died before I was old enough to retain any memory of her but she planted a white lilac before she died, so now the flowers and their scent have become my memory of her. Whenever I see a white lilac she is there too, as she was on this day when I was taking photos of them. Once the lilacs have passed the cabbage roses, heavy with wonderful scent, will start to bloom. She also planted those in the yard before she died, so in fragrance she is with me all summer long. Her gifts and her memory are carried on the breeze.

The first iris of the season was dark purple with yellow beards. I’m hoping for native blue flag irises soon. They usually come along around the first of June before garden irises bloom, so this one might be an early one.

Magnolias are still blooming. There was no wind but you’d never know it by looking at this flower. The wind was in the bud.

I’ve never seen so many violas in one place as there are in this bed on the grounds of the local college. I’d say they’re having a very good year.

As I’ve said here before two of my great loves are history and botany, and they come together in the poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus.) It is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on, and it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. Its scent is spicy and pleasing but it is said to be so powerfully fragrant that people can get sick from being in an enclosed room with it. It blooms later than other daffodils so I wait impatiently for it each spring. I’m guessing that it must be used to a Mediterranean climate since the antient Greeks knew it.

It’s already time to say goodbye to trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) even though it seems as if they just started blooming. They had a poor showing this year and I’m not sure if it was the early heat or the May cold or last summer’s drought, but hopefully they’ll be back to normal next year. I usually see many thousands of blossoms and this year I’m not even sure that I saw hundreds.

I think this is common chickweed (Stellaria media,) but chickweeds can be tricky. It was little; this blossom could easily hide behind a pea. I’ve read that chickweed is edible and is said to be far more nutritious than cultivated lettuce.

I believe that this is a plant in the mustard family called winter cress or yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris) but it is very easy to confuse with our native common field mustard (Brassica rapa or Brassica campestris.)  If I’m right it is native to Africa, Asia and Europe and is found throughout the U.S. In some states it is considered a noxious weed. In the south it is called creasy greens. It is also known as scurvy grass due to its ability to prevent scurvy because of its high vitamin C content. Winter cress is about knee-high when it blooms in spring and stays green under the snow all winter. This habit is what gives it its common name.

Heart leaved foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. These cheery plants usually form large colonies and are quite common in this area. There are also many hybrids available and they are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

Each foamflower stalk is made up of multiple tiny white flowers. The “foam” comes from their many anthers that make them look like they’re frothing. Or at least they did to the person who named them. They’re pretty little things by themselves but when you see large drifts of plants in the woods you don’t forget it right away.

I wasn’t sure if I’d see Jack in the pulpit blossoms (Arisaema triphyllum) this year. They seem a little late but here they are. In this shot the hood of the pulpit is pulled down over “Jack” and this is the way you will find them in the woods. They like sunny, damp, boggy places so when you get down to take photos you can expect wet knees.

Jack in the pulpit is in the arum family and has a spathe and a spadix much like another arum, skunk cabbage does. In this case the spathe is striped and beautiful on the inside as you can see if you gently lift the hood. And there is “Jack,” which is the spiky spadix. Though in this photo the spadix looks black it is actually plum purple in the right light. Later on in the fall it will be covered by bright red berries and if a deer doesn’t come along and eat them I’ll show them to you. Another name for this plant is tcika-tape, which translates to “bad sick” in certain Native American tribal language. But they didn’t get sick on the roots because they knew how to cook them to remove the calcium oxalate crystals that make them toxic. That leads to another common name: Indian turnip.

By the way, when I’m done taking photos of Jack I always gently fold his hood back down to leave him the way I found him.

My relationship to plants becomes closer and closer. They make me quiet; I like to be in their company. ~Peter Zumthor

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I wanted to see if the wild columbines were blooming so on a recent sunny day I walked the rail trail up in Westmoreland to the ledges they grow on. There are lots of other wildflowers here as well so you always find something blooming along this trail in spring.

I was surprised to find coltsfoot still blooming. I haven’t seen any in Keene for two weeks.

I should say that I saw a single coltsfoot blossom; most looked like this.

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) had started blooming, but the flowers hadn’t opened completely.

Each greenish white red elderberry flower is tiny at about 1/8 inch across, but has a lot going on. They have five petals which are called “petaloid lobes” and which curve sharply backwards. Five stamens have white filaments and are tipped with pale yellow anthers. The flower is completed by a center pistil with three tiny stigmata. If pollinated each flower will become a small, bright red berry. Though the plant is toxic Native Americans knew how to cook the berries to remove their toxicity. They are said to be very bitter unless prepared correctly. Birds love them and each year they disappear quickly.

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) grew here and there and was already budded. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from this plant’s burning roots to treat headache and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

The tiny flowers will be part of a large terminal flower head and will become bright white. The berries will form quickly and will turn bright red but before they do they are speckled red and green for a time. The plant is also called treacle berry because the berries taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative so moderation is called for.

True Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) also grew along the trail. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and it won’t be long before it blooms. It already had buds on it.

The Solomon’s seal flowers will dangle from the stem under the leaves and will be hard to see, so you have to look for them. They will eventually become small dark blue berries.

Ferns were yawning and stretching, happy to be awake and greening up once again.

Though the trail looks long in photos it doesn’t take that long to get to where the columbines grow.

Algae grew on the stone ledge you can see just to the right in that previous photo.

I believe it was spirogyra algae which always seems to have lots of bubbles. Looking at it is almost like being able to see through the skin of a frog. Spirogyra has common names that include water silk and mermaid’s tresses. It is described as a “filamentous charophyte green algae of the order Zygnematales.” I’ve read that they grow in nutrient rich places. They’re always interesting and they don’t feel slimy at all. They feel like cool water.

The trees are getting very green. All shades of green.

Some of that green came from the new leaves of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum). The road seen far below is route 12 north. It lets you know how high up this rail trail is; this part of the rail bed was cut into the side of a steep hillside.

New red maple leaves lived up to their name and were tomato red. The same pigments that color them in the fall color them in the spring.

Here we are at the ledges. What is left of the hillside after the railroad cut its way through is home to a large variety of plants.

Spring shoots of Jack in the pulpit grew up out of the moss. If you know anything about Jack in the pulpit you know that it grows from a bulb like root called a corm, much like a gladiolus corm. That’s fine until you start wondering how such a root works on stone. I’ve also seen dandelions growing on these ledges and they have a long tap root. Again, how does that work on stone? There are lots of questions here that I can’t answer but that’s okay; nature knows what its doing.

When I first found this place a few years ago there was a single group of red trilliums (Trillium erectum) growing here. Now that small group is much larger and there re trilliums all along the base of the ledges so they’re obviously happy here.

They’re very pretty flowers but they won’t be with us much longer. Once the tree leaves come out that’s pretty much it for these plants.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) grows in abundance here. I’ve never seen so much of it in any other place. It is named after a French monk who lived in the year 1000 AD and is said to have cured many people’s illnesses with it. 

And then there they were, the wild columbine blossoms (Aquilegia canadensis) I haven’t seen since last year. They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. 5 funnel shaped holes lead to nectar spurs and long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

This shot of a the back of a white garden columbine blossom that I took several years ago shows what I think is a good example of why columbines have always been associated with birds. As soon as I saw this shot I thought of five beautiful white swans with outstretched wings, come together to discuss whatever it is that swans discuss.

This shot is for those who have never seen how and where columbines grow naturally. When it rains all that moss soaks up water like a sponge and then releases it slowly, and I think that is why the columbines and all of the other plants do so well here.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts. ~Susanna Clarke

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It seems like every flower I see comes with memories and lilacs remind me of carrying huge bunches of them to my grandmother when I was a boy. Lilacs, apple blossoms and anything else that had a fragrance found its way into my hands and up her stairs.

If the lilacs hadn’t bloomed yet I picked lily of the valley and violets for my grandmother and I can remember more than once carrying a fist full of wilted flowers up to her, even dandelions. Her name was Lilly and she loved all flowers, even the weeds.

I don’t remember seeing dog violets (Viola labradorica) back then but she would have loved their pale blue color, I’m sure. But she would have had a surprise when she smelled them because the name “dog violet” means a violet without a scent, as opposed to sweet scented violets. I don’t see many of these but I’d like to see more because they’re very pretty.

I can’t explain how they did it but these bluets (Houstonia caerulea) came up in a strangely circular pattern.

I’ve seen lots of ajuga (Ajuga reptans) and have spent a lot of time weeding it out of lawns but I can’t ever remember seeing flowers this pretty on it, so I’m not sure if this is a cultivar or not. It did not have the deep bronze / purple leaves I’m used to seeing on ajuga.  Ajuga is a groundcover originally from Europe and it can be very invasive. It is also called “bugle weed” and in times past it was called “carpenter’s herb” for its supposed ability to stop bleeding.

From the very common to the very rare; dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) is one of those plants you have to look for because it doesn’t like disturbed ground and so will only grow in soil that has been untended for many years. It is very small and hard to see; the plant in the photo could have fit in a tea cup with room to spare. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine and it should never be picked. I only know of two places to find it and between the two there are probably only a dozen plants growing.

Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. Little seems to be known about which insects might visit the plant.

Our native hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) have now fully opened and they are blossoming beautifully this year. Easily one of our most beautiful native shrubs, they can be seen along roadways and rail trails, and even mountainsides.

The larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge of the hobblebush flower heads (corymbs) opened earlier and the small fertile flowers in the center have just opened and can now be pollinated. Hobblebush gets its name from the long wiry branches that are often under the leaves. They can trip you up or “hobble” you as was once said, and I’ve fallen a few times while walking through a colony of them.

There are thought to be over 200 species of viburnum and one of the most fragrant is the mayflower viburnum (Viburnum carlesii,) named after the mayflower or trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) because of its scent. It is an old fashioned, much loved shrub that is also called Korean spicebush. The flower heads are on the small size, maybe as big as a small tangerine, but the scent from one shrub full of them can be detected from a long way off.

Red currant (Ribes rubrum or Ribes sativum) bushes were once grown on farms all over the United States but the plant was found to harbor white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola,) so in the early 1900s, the federal and state governments outlawed the growing of currants and gooseberries to prevent the spread of the disease. The fungus attacks both currants and white pines (Pinus strobus,) which must live near each other for the blister rust fungus to complete its life cycle. Black currants (Ribes nigrum) are especially susceptible. The federal ban was lifted in 1966 but some states still ban the sale of currants and gooseberries.

The plant’s flowers might not win a blue ribbon for beauty but that’s okay because currants are grown for their berries. Fruits range in color from dark red to pink, yellow, white and beige, and they continue to sweeten on the bush even after they seem to be fully ripe. Though often called “wild currant” red currant is native to Europe and has escaped. I found these examples on land that was once farmland.

Peach trees are blooming. I don’t know the name of this one but its fruit only reaches the size of a walnut before dropping off each year. I think it gets too late a start here to fully develop its fruit.

This phlox has had me scratching my head for years, wondering what it was. Google lens says it is the native wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) but I don’t think that is correct. Wild blue phlox isn’t native to New Hampshire but since it’s in a local park it could be. It’s a beautiful plant that stands about two feet tall and has five petaled, fragrant flowers that are the palest blue. (Or maybe lavender) The petals are fused at the base and form a tube. If you happen to recognize it I’d love to hear from you.

Note: A reader agrees that this is indeed wild blue phlox, so hooray for Google lens.

I also find spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) growing in a local park. It’s a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to.

The small flowers are quite pretty. Like orchids, in a way.

Tulips are still blooming by the hundreds. The hot temperatures in April brought them along early and they’ve enjoyed the cool weather since, so it seems like they’ve gone on and on.

These lily flowered ones caught my eye but they don’t really remind me of lilies. Instead they reminded me of a lady I once worked for who had me plant hundreds of tulip bulbs each fall so she could cut the flowers and bring them inside in the spring. Once all the flowers had all been cut I had to dig all the bulbs from the garden and plant annuals. It was a lot of work even though the bulbs weren’t saved from year to year.

Even daffodils are still blooming.

I’ve been going to see the wild ginger (Asarum canadense) for a couple of weeks now and finally found it in bloom. Its heart shaped leaves are quite hairy and I can’t think of another plant it could be easily confused with. I’d guess that it’s blooming about a week or two later than usual this year. I think the cool weather held it back some despite all of its hairiness.

The flower buds are also very hairy.

A wild ginger flower has no petals; it is made up of 3 triangular shaped calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. You might think, because of its meat-like color, that flies would happily visit this flower and they do occasionally, but they have little to nothing to do with the plant’s pollination. It is thought they crawl into the flower simply to get warm. Several scientific studies have shown that they are self-pollinated. The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage. Native Americans also used the plant medicinally for a large variety of ailments.

It’s hard to believe but the tree leaves have come along already so our forest dwelling spring ephemerals like red trilliums (Trillium erectum) are all but done for another year. Their time is brief but they bring much joy while they’re here with us.

Beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) are the hardest of all the spring ephemerals to say goodbye to for me. They come early in spring and gladden the heart for a month or so and then disappear until the following spring. I visit them regularly while they’re here and miss seeing them the rest of the time, but I know they’ll be back. There is nothing quite like finding them blooming in the dead leaves on a cold, windy March day. All thoughts of winter are instantly erased from the mind.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change. ~Buddha

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I haven’t been seeing many trout lilies blooming in the usual places that I find them so last Saturday I decided to take a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene to a colony of a few hundred plants that grow there. It was a beautiful spring day but the river was quite high. The Thursday before we had an inch and a half of rain and that brought all the rivers and streams up.

I thought I might be in for a solitary stroll but by the time I got back I had seen a dozen or more people.

The water had covered the base of a leatherleaf shrub (Chamaedaphne calyculata) but it didn’t seem to mind. I think I can also see some sweet gale catkins (Myrica gale) mixed in, and that’s a surprise because I didn’t know it grew here. I see it up in Hancock 25 miles to the north east regularly but never here that I can remember.

Blueberry buds were just about ready to open. The river bank is lined with native bushes.

Dandelions bloomed happily along the trail.

Cinnamon fern fiddleheads (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) were still surprisingly a week or more behind their cousins the interrupted ferns (Osmundastrum claytoniana).

Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense) are up and bent on taking over the world. Thought they’re a native plant they can be very invasive and are almost impossible to get out of a garden. If you try to pull the plant the leaf stem just beaks away from the root system and it lives on. This plant is sometimes called two leaved Solomon’s seal or false lily of the valley. The “May” part of the name refers to its flowering time. Native Americans used the plant to treat headache and sore throats.

Canada mayflower can form monocultures and I’ve seen large swaths of forest floor with nothing but Canada mayflowers, as the above photo shows. 

The tiny flower buds were already showing on many of the plants. They’ll be followed by speckled red berries that birds and small animals love.

I saw a very hairy fiddlehead of a fern I can’t name but if I had to guess I’d say bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum).

Canoeists were paddling upstream, probably thinking about how easy returning downstream would be. There are lots of underwater hazards in this river, mostly fallen trees, so canoeists and kayakers wait until high water in spring to navigate the river.

I always wonder what is over on the other side of the river. It’s a sizeable piece of land and is posted no trespassing so maybe it will remain in its natural state.

In the backwaters where the current doesn’t interfere, duckweed grows. If the ducks aren’t eating it yet they will be soon.

I saw a dozen turtles sunning themselves on a log. I told a man and his wife I met on the trail about how I’ll often tell small children that I meet out here about the turtles they always seem to miss. I’ll ask them “did you see the turtles?” “No”, they’ll say, getting excited. “They’re right there on the log. See them?” Then a parent will lift them up and they’ll spot the turtles and squeal with delight and all the turtles will slide into the water with a plop. The man’s wife thought it was a hilarious story, apparently, but it has happened again and again in just that way. The delightful squeal of a child is not something a turtle can appreciate, so if you have a little one you might want to warn them to just squeal on the inside.

These two obviously weren’t speaking. They didn’t even want to see each other. I didn’t ask.

A willow was golden against the sky.

And an old apple tree bloomed off in the woods.

And the red maples were so very red. Even I can see their color, and that’s always a surprise.

And there were the trout lilies, in shade so deep they thought it was evening and so had all closed up. It was only just after noon but they know more about when their day is done than I do. At least I got to see some that were actually blooming. I still wonder what is going on with them, because they seem to be blooming much later these days.

They’re a flower pretty enough to seek out and admire, so my walk wasn’t wasted. Far from it.

The trout lilies grow right near the bridge, which is always my turning point because there is a highway up ahead.

I had the radio on in my car when I was driving here and the song that was playing when I arrived was Grazing In The Grass, by The Friends of Distinction. I remembered it as I walked back:

Flowers with colors for takin’
The sun beaming down between the leaves
And the birds dartin’ in and out of the trees
Everything here is so clear, you can see it
And everything here is so real, you can feel it
And it’s real, so real, so real, so real, so real, so real
Can you dig it?

I could, and I did.

Your deepest roots are in nature.  No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.  ~Charles Cook

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Mother’s day to all you moms out there!

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I’m opening this post with an old fashioned shrub that many of you may not know, even though it’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves. The plant is in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. It is also the toughest shrub I know of. If you have a sunny spot where nothing will grow just plant a quince there and your problem will be solved. It is indestructible and 100% maintenance free, unless you feel the need to trim it. In the 1800s this plant was often called simply Japonica.

If you don’t like the orange pink color of the quince flowers in these photos there are also red, pink and white flowered cultivars.

I knew I was too far away from this shadbush to get a good shot but I’m showing it here so you can see how shadbushes grow naturally and so you can see the painterly quality that is sometimes found in photos. If I was still painting I’d be all over this because I think it shows the beauty of spring.

Here is a closer look at what was so impressionistically out of focus in the previous photo; the beautiful blossoms of the shadbush, named after the shad fish that once swam in our rivers in numbers so great they couldn’t be counted. And if you want names this one has many; shadblow, serviceberry, June berry, and Saskatoon among them. Its Sunday go to meeting name is Amelanchier canadensis, and there are many cultivars that have been developed for gardens. In nature it tends to be a bit tall, narrow and lanky and bends into the sun, so hybridizers have come up with smaller trees that are bushier and more compact. Native Americans made arrows from its wood and used its fruit for food, often in pemmican. Its fruit is said to taste better than even blueberries, and that’s high praise in New England.

New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms, which are very early. Choke cherries come along soon after.

The bell shaped dangling flowers of sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) are so humble and unassuming you could walk by a forest full of them and not know it. And that’s where they like to grow; on the forest floor. In botanical terms the word sessile describes how one part of a plant joins another. In sessile leaved bellwort the leaves are sessile against the stem, meaning they lie flat against the stem with no stalk, and you can see that in the photo. New plants, before the flowers appear, can resemble Solomon’s seal at a glance. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats.

You’ll see one or two strawberry blossoms (Fragaria virginiana) each day for a week or so and then all of the sudden you’ll see them everywhere. I found this one along the shores of the river but I have a small sunny embankment in my yard that becomes covered with wild strawberry blossoms each year at this time. The soil there is very sandy and dry so I’m always surprised to see such large amounts of blossoms. The fruits are very tasty but also very small so it takes quite a bit of picking for even a handful. My daughter and son used to love them when they were small.

I saw the first highbush blueberry blossom (Vaccinium corymbosum) of the year. If all goes well and we don’t have a late frost we should have a good crop this year. Blueberries are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America. The other two are cranberries and concord grapes, but then I wonder about crabapples, which are also native fruits. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

Crabapples have just come into bloom and we have many, both cultivated and wild. This one grows in a field near an old abandoned factory. I like its deep color. The crab apple is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. The nine herbs charm was used for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs. The other eight were mugwort, betony, lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, thyme and fennel.

Apple blossoms are one of those flowers that always make me think of my grandmother, because she loved them and I loved bringing them to her.

The hand size flower heads on hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) were spaced evenly all along a branch. They’re blossoming beautifully this year and I’ve never seen so many; they grow alongside many of our roads and are easily seen. The large sterile flowers have opened but the tiny fertile flowers in the center are holding back. Moose and deer will eat the shrub right back to the ground, and ruffed grouse, brown thrasher, Swainson’s thrush, cedar waxwings, red-eyed vireos, and pine grosbeaks eat the berries. They are one of our most beautiful native shrubs; George Washington thought so highly of them he planted two at Mt. Vernon.

The flowers on two of the three eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis) that I know of were killed by frost and that’s really too bad, but the hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. Even though these trees were sheltered by buildings the cold still found them.

Common blue violets (Viola sororia) have just appeared and though I’m happy to see them I doubt many flower gardeners are. Though pretty, these little plants can over take a garden in no time at all if left to their own devices.

Violets are known for their prolific seed production. They have petal-less flowers called cleistogamous flowers which fling their seeds out of the 3 part seed capsules with force. They do this in summer when we think they aren’t blooming. Personally I tired of fighting them a long time ago and now I just enjoy them. They’re very pretty little things and their leaves and flowers are even edible. Though called “blue” they’re usually a shade of purple. We colorblind people don’t mind.

White violets seem shyer than the blue / purple ones.  I see one white for every hundred purple. I think they are the white wood violet (Viola sororia albiflora.) Note how the blue lines in its throat guide an insect to where the prize is found.

I was surprised to find a small group of yellow violets blooming. I think this is only the third time I’ve seen yellow violets, and I think they must be on the rare side here. I think these were either the round leaved yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) which likes to grow in rich woods. Or the downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens,) which likes the same conditions. Native Americans had many uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers.

One of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen was a large field of dandelions and violets blooming together. Nature brings the two plants together naturally, as this small grouping reminded me the other day. In my opinion it’s the perfect combination.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) have just started blooming but they are sun lovers so there’s a good chance they won’t be blooming much longer with the trees leafing out.

Wood anemone is very similar to false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum.) Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) which is also similar, also grows in New Hampshire, which complicates being able to identify these plants. While false rue anemone is native to the eastern U.S., the USDA and other sources say that it doesn’t grow in New England, so that leaves wood anemone and rue anemone. False rue anemone always has 5 white sepals, while wood anemone and true rue anemone can have more.

I first saw this very pretty little plant for the first time last year. It stands maybe a foot tall and the pretty flowers cover the plant. It is called the perennial sweet pea (Lathyrus vernus) and this example grows in a local park.

Bradford pear blossoms (Pyrus calleryana) have pretty plum colored anthers but that’s about all this tree has going for it. Originally from central Asia and the Middle East the tree was introduced by the USDA in  1966 as a near perfect ornamental urban landscape tree, loaded with pretty white blossoms in spring and shiny green leaves the rest of the time. But problems quickly became evident; the tree has weak wood and loses branches regularly, and birds love the tiny pears it produces, which means that it is quite invasive. In the wild it forms nearly impenetrable thickets and out competes native trees. And the pretty flowers? Their scent has been compared to everything from rotting fish to an open trash bin, so whatever you do don’t plant a Bradford pear.

I found an old ornamental cherry in bloom where I work. Since there are over one thousand varieties of cherry in the U.S. it’s doubtful that I’ll ever be able to tell you its name but its beauty was welcome on a cool spring day.

This bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) grows in a local park. It gets its common name from its pretty, heart shaped blossoms. Each blossom, if looked at from the right angle, appears to have a drop of “blood” dripping from it, and that’s where the name comes from.

A few trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have finally come into bloom, quite later than usual. Their flowers remind me of small versions of Canada lilies because except for their leaves, that’s just what they look like. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked their small bulbs or dried them for winter food.  Black bears also love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

My favorite part of a trout lily blossom is its back, because of the very beautiful markings. Of course beauty as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, so why not just take a little time and behold?

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. ~Marcus Aurelius

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On Friday, April 16th nature decided to surprise us. This photo shows what I saw on my way to work that day. Parts of the state ended up with a foot of heavy wet snow but it was too warm for it to last..

…and in a day or two it was all gone.

It did get cold for a while but that didn’t slow things down for too long. Ferns like this lady fern  (Athyrium filix-femina) still showed off their stamina with their naked spring fiddleheads. Lady fern is the only fern I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk in the fiddlehead stage. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers. They don’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there.

Interrupted fern (Osmundastrum claytoniana) fiddleheads wore fur and huddled together to keep warm.

Red maple (Acer rubrum) seeds (samaras) are growing by the many millions. These are one of the smallest seeds in the maple family. It is estimated that a single tree 12 inches in diameter can produce nearly a million seeds, and if the tree is fertilized for 2 years seed production can increase by 10 times. It’s no wonder that red maple is getting a reputation for being a weed tree.

For a short time between when they appear and when they ripen and fall American elm (Ulmus americana) seeds have a white fringe. When they ripen they’ll become dry and papery and finally fall to the wind. I grew up on a street that had huge 200 year old elms on it and those trees put out seeds in the many millions. Elm seeds contain 45% protein and 7% fiber and in the great famine of 1812 they were used as food in Norway.

As I write this the large, infertile white blossoms of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) have most likely fully formed, but when I last went to see them this is what they looked like; almost there. Hobblebush flower heads are made up of small fertile flowers in the center and large infertile flowers around the perimeter. The infertile flowers are there to attract insects to the much less showy fertile ones and it’s a strategy that must work well because I see plenty of berries in the fall. They start out green and go to a beautiful bright red before ripening to a deep purple color.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb. If we ate them maybe they wouldn’t be such a bother. Maybe in pies?

This mullein plant was one of the biggest I’ve seen; as big as a car tire. I loved the pattern the leaves made. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. They also used the roots to treat coughs, and it is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid. The Cherokee tribe are said to have rubbed mullein leaves in their armpits to treat prickly rash and the Navaho tribe made an infusion of the leaves and rubbed it on the bodies of their hunters to give them strength. Clearly this plant has been used for many thousands of years. It is considered one of the “oldest herbs’ and recent research has shown that mullein does indeed have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum), also called ramps, are up. They look like scallions and taste somewhere between onions and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable in many parts of the world, but they’ve been over collected so harvesting has been banned in many parts of the U.S. and Canada. They’re slow growers from seed and a 10 percent harvest of a colony can take 10 years to grow back. They take 18 months to germinate from seed and 5 to 7 years to become mature enough to harvest. That’s why, when people write in and ask me where to find them, I can’t tell them. The two small colonies I’ve found have less than 300 plants combined.

This photo is from a few years ago when I foolishly pulled up a couple of ramps, not knowing how rare they were. It shows their resemblance to scallions though, and that’s what I wanted you to see. They are said to be strongly flavored with a pungent odor, but they’ve been prized by mankind since the ancient Egyptians ate them. Each spring there are ramp festivals all over the world and in some places they’re called the “King of stink.” The name ramp comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum,) which is a cousin of the North American wild leek.

In one of the spots I go to find ramps I find false hellebore (Veratrum viride) growing right beside them. There is a lesson in that, and it is know your plants well if you’re going to eat them. Ramps are one of the most delicious wild plants and false hellebore one of the deadliest. As you can see from the photos they look nothing alike but people do still confuse them. As recently as 2019 a physics professor and his wife wanted some spring greens for breakfast at their cabin in Vermont. The greens they chose, instead of the ramps they thought they were picking, were actually false hellebore. They spent 2 weeks in the hospital and almost died. From 2014 to 2019 in Vermont 18 people were poisoned by false hellebore so again; know your plants. In this case it is simple: ramps smell like onions and false hellebore does not.

And then there is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) which is also up at the same time as ramps and false hellebore. Though I haven’t heard of anyone mistaking skunk cabbage for ramps,. when the leaves of skunk cabbage just come up and start to unfurl I could imagine some thinking they were ramps. In any event skunk cabbage won’t kill a person but after smelling it I can picture it giving a person a good tummy ache.

There are is magic in the woods; beautiful things that many never see, and the glowing spring buds of the striped maples are one of them. Velvety soft and colored in pink and orange, they are one of the things I most look forward to seeing in spring.

But you have to be quick and pay close attention if you’re going to watch spring buds unfold, because it can happen quickly. This striped maple bud was all ready to break.

I saw a porcupine in a tree where I work. This porcupine, if it is the same one, had a baby with her last year. This year she doesn’t look well but since you could fit what I know about porcupines in a thimble and have room to spare, I can’t be sure. I do know that three or four of us thought she looked as if something was wrong.

I felt as if I was being watched one day when I was taking photos of violets and turned to find a very suspicious robin wondering just what it was I was up to. I said hello and it hopped even closer. It looked very well fed and I wondered if it was hopping in the grass because it was too heavy to get off the ground. Of course I didn’t ask. Instead I stood and walked across the lawn and when I turned to look again I saw that it was still watching me. Probably making sure I wasn’t making off with any of its worms.

I don’t see many wooly bear caterpillars in spring but here it was. Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. We did indeed have a mild winter but I doubt the wooly bear cared either way because wooly bears produce their own antifreeze and can freeze solid. Once the temperature rises into the 40s F in spring they thaw out and begin feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually they spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live. Since this one was on a step I’m guessing that it was looking for a place to make a cocoon.

The new shoots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are up and leafing out. Usually even plants this small will have tiny flower buds on them but I didn’t see any on this one. Each year the above ground stem leaves a scar, or “seal” on the underground stem, which is called a rhizome. Counting these scars will reveal the age of the plant but of course you have to dig it up to do that and I never have.

I finally found the female flowers of sweet gale (Myrica gale.) They’re bushy little things that remind me of female alder catkins. Sweet gale is also called bog rosemary and likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent.

These are the male catkins of sweet gale. They’re much larger than the female catkins and much easier to spot.

If there is anything that holds more promise than new spring leaves I’ve never experienced it.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud.” It’s happening right now to a lot of trees like this sugar maple. I love the veining on sugar maple leaves just before they unfurl.

I complained in an earlier post how, though maple leaves often come out of the bud colored red, all I was seeing this year were green. Of course as soon as I say something like that nature throws me a curve ball and on this day all I saw were young red leaves. Actually my color finding software calls them salmon pink and orange.

All of the snow in that first photo ended up like this; spring runoff. That means of course that I get to enjoy the moisture in its two forms; first when it clothes every branch and twig and second when it becomes a beautiful waterfall. This is one of my favorite spring scenes. I call this the “disappearing waterfall” because it comes and goes depending on the weather. It was in fine form on this day but it could be gone completely the next time I go to see it.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

Thanks for stopping in.

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