Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Orchids’ Category

Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata,) another sign of summer’s passing, have come into bloom. Some of these flowers can be extremely fragrant and they’re a valuable addition to any garden. A walk along a garden border full of fragrant phlox on a summer evening is something you probably won’t ever forget. Many people think of English gardens when they think of phlox but this is actually a native plant with a range from New York to Mississippi.

Another sign of summer’s passing comes in the form of eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) but many people miss seeing these ankle tall plants full of tiny but very beautiful blue flowers. They bloom in the morning and each flower only blooms for one day before falling off the plant. Its common name comes from its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on the flower’s lower lip. It’s one of our prettiest mid summer natives and is worth getting down on your hands and knees to see. It likes poor, sandy soil like that found along roadsides, and that’s where I found this one.

One of the oddest plants you’ll meet at the end of July is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) Odd because it was introduced from Europe and of course almost immediately escaped gardens and is now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. According to the USDA it was first found in the wild in North America near Syracuse, New York, in 1878 and has now spread to 31 states. I see only a few plants each year and they’re usually growing in shade but in some areas they come up in lawns. They stand about knee high, but they can get taller with more light. The leaves, though smaller, closely resemble those found on false hellebore and the name helleborine in Latin means “like hellebore.” That’s another oddity about this plant; neither false hellebore leaves nor the leaves of this orchid look at all like hellebore leaves.

A third oddity about broad leaved helleborine orchids is how two plants growing side by side (it is said from the same bulbous root) can have different color flowers. The flowers, maybe slightly bigger than a pencil eraser, can be green with a hint of purple, or purple with a hint of green, as these examples were. In fact, this year the flowers have more purple in them than I’ve seen.  

The fourth and oddest oddity about this plant in my opinion, is how scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting one flower’s pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the intoxicating orchid for the buzz.

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. Once the flowers go by (as this example was) 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.

Here is a fresh buttonbush flower head. Each small white flower is relatively long and trumpet shaped, with 4 short stamens and a single, long white style that is longer than the flower’s corolla, and that’s what makes them look like pincushions. Buttonbush is said to be poisonous to animals but beavers have been seen taking the wood. Whether for food or for the construction of their dams and lodges isn’t known.

One of the things that surprises me most about burdock (Arctium minus) is how, even though it grew everywhere when I was a boy and we used to throw the burs at each other, I never saw the flowers until I became an adult. I suppose my priorities changed; back then there was nothing more fun than covering your friends in the sticky burs. 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. When fully open long white styles grow from the often darker purple anthers, which form a type of sheath around it. Burdock 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.

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) is also called false violet because of its leaves, and I think the resemblance might be part of why a lot of people never see it. Its small white flowers dot the forest floor like so many other small white flowers, and that also makes it easy to pass by with just a glance. Though I know of two colonies of them they are rare here, and are endangered or threatened in many other states.

Dewdrops have a secret; they produce flowers other than the ones we see. The hidden flowers don’t open but still produce seeds. They are called cleistogamous flowers and grow down beneath the leaves. The showy flowers like the ones in the photo are mostly sterile. In plants like hobblebush these bigger, showier, sterile flowers are used to attract insects to the smaller, less showy fertile flowers but I doubt that it works that way on dewdrops, because cleistogamous flowers are self fertile and don’t need insects to pollinate them. So why are the bigger, showier flowers even there? Maybe they’re just another way that nature expresses itself. Maybe all of creation rejoices when they come into bloom. Maybe that’s true of all flowers. Maybe it’s true of all life.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) gets its common name from the way the chopped and boiled leaves produce a soapy lather that is particularly good at removing grease. This plant is a native of Europe and is thought to have been brought over by colonists to be used as a soap substitute. Another common name for this plant is bouncing Bet. I’ve heard several stories about how this name came about but I like the one that claims that the curved petals catch the breeze and make the plant bounce back and forth in the wind. The flowers are very fragrant.

Bee balm (Monarda) is a native plant that is seen more in gardens than in the wild in this region. It is also called Oswego tea and bergamot. Many Native American tribes used this plant medicinally and a tea made from it can still be found in many stores. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew. It isn’t doing well here this year. The plants I’ve seen this year don’t have mildew but still seem weak and the flowers are small.

There are more than 43 different species of liatris so I’m never sure which one I’m seeing but I do know that though it is a native plant I’ve only found it outside of a garden just once in this area.  It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies and bees to the garden. I think it would be more striking planted in drifts rather than the one or two plants spotted here and there that I see. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of the plant; they are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

When you take a close look at the flowers the plant’s other common name, blazing star, comes to mind. It is grown commercially as a cut flower, so you might have seen it in an arrangement.

The beautiful blue of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) is hard to match in a garden. I and my color finding software see blue but some call it purple so if you see purple that’s fine. The plant is an Asian native with a common name that comes from its buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. In nature it grows on hillsides and in meadows. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. 5 white anthers surround a central stye that becomes 5 lobed as the flower ages. This example hadn’t been open long.

Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) is in the ginseng family but its flowers are hard to mistake for those of ginseng. In fact, the entire plant isn’t easily confused with any other natives because of its bristly lower stems and foul odor. The plant can reach 3 feet tall but its weak stems give it a sprawling habit in the shade.  I almost always find it growing in dry gravel under pine trees at forest edges. Medicinally, the dried bark can be used in place of sarsaparilla. This plant is also called dwarf elder, wild elder, or angelica tree. Its leaves look nothing like those of wild sarsaparilla. Its fruit changes from green to dark blue and finally to black.

Bristly sarsaparilla is listed by the USDA as endangered in many states. The stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. The lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter, so technically it is considered a shrub. Each small, 1/8-inch flower sits at the end of a long stalk. They have 5 white petals that almost always curl back away from the center. 5 white stamens surround a central shorter style. I almost always see black ants swarming all over the flower heads of this plant but on this day there were only one or two.

Though when I was a boy hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) flowers were always pure white, I’m having a harder time finding white ones these days. Now most of them seem to be bicolor pink and white and I’m not sure why, other than natural selection. It could be that insects are more attracted to the bicolor flowers, which means that they have a higher probability of pollination and seed production. I took this photo because the flowers looked white to me but then when I saw them in a photo I thought I could see a blush of pale pink here and there.

I found a garden variety yarrow (Achillea) that I haven’t seen before. Its color was eye catching. Many tiny flowers packed together make up a yarrow flowerhead and this plant showed that off beautifully.

NOTE: A reader wrote in to say they were quite sure this plant is a cultivar called ‘New Vintage Violet’. Thank you!

I knew this plant was a hydrangea but it didn’t look like any hydrangea I had ever seen. It was like a lacecap, but not entirely. The colors were unusual and seemed to be several different shades all at once. Then I realized that I had been out of the professional gardening game for quite a long time. This was the tea of heaven hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata,) also called sawtooth hydrangea or blood on snow. It is a hybrid and I haven’t kept up with newer developments; my subscriptions to garden catalogs and horticultural magazines ran out long ago. But none of that matters; its beauty is what caught my eye and I thought it might catch yours as well. By the way, the leaves contain a natural sweetener called Phyllodulcin and they are used to make tea in some Asian countries. That’s where the name tea of heaven comes from. As for the name blood on snow, we’ll leave that for another post.

Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) had me going around in circles for a while because the USDA said it didn’t grow here, but what I wasn’t picking up on for some reason on was that this plant grows in a garden here, and not in nature. It was obviously in the mallow family like hollyhocks but the small, quarter size flowers were unusual in my experience. Then the helpers came to the rescue, and that’s why I’m adding this plant to this post; I should never forget to thank the many people who write in to help with identifications. They do it quietly, often in the background unknown by readers, but they are an important part of this blog and I’m very fortunate to have them there, waiting for me to get tangled up. So thank you, one and all. I do appreciate your help.

I’ll end this post with this peachy daylily, for no other reason than the fact that it is extremely beautiful.

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom. They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful.  ~Jim Carrey

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Milkweeds are blooming now here in New Hampshire but so far I’ve only seen one monarch butterfly. If past years are any indication they’ll increase in numbers as summer passes. Though I grew up walking through fields of milkweed I never really saw how pretty the flowers were until I started photographing them. Cameras help you see, and anyone really interested in nature should have one whether they show the photos to anyone or not.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks. You can just see them in this photo where the flower stalks meet the leafstalks. When the flowers appear they face the ground and look as if their faces are pasted to the leaves, as can be seen in this photo. It is this habit which makes it easy to tell this plant from whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia,) which has very similar flowers that face outwards.

Each fringed loosestrife flower is about an inch across. Though it appears to have 5 petals they are actually 5 petal like lobes with pointed tips. Each flower has 5 stamens and a slender style. The flower produces both pollen and floral oil (instead of nectar) and is pollinated by oil bees that only feed on Lysimachia species, like  nude yellow loosestrife bees (Macropis nuda.) They roll tiny pollen balls using the oil and pollen and feed them to their young. Native Americans used all of our yellow loosestrifes medicinally for various ailments, usually in the form of tea.

Hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) have just started blooming. When I was a boy all I ever saw were pure white flowers but now I see far more bicolor pink and white flowers than the pure white ones, even though they are the same species. We kids used to call them morning glories but they aren’t that plant.

Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves. You can just see an out of focus leaf or two in this photo.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. I almost always find it near water.

I usually find arrow leaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) by feeling it rip at my clothes when I walk through tall grass. It is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible. It often grows in deep shade but it will also grow in full sun.

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and may make you sorry that you ever touched it. They point down toward the soil so when you pull up on it you get a nasty surprise. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late into summer.

Narrow-leaf cow wheat seems like a humble, shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite.  Its long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests. It looked like something had been eating the leaves of this one.

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is also found in cemeteries, often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. These days it is called the “ditch lily” and is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common. It was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental.

By the way, daylilies are not “tiger lilies.” There is only one tiger lily and that is Lilium tigrinum, now called Lilium lancifolium.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Saratoga Woods and Waterways, when I saw something I had never seen; the flowers of deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum.) For those not familiar with this native grass, its common name comes from the way its leaves resemble a deer’s tongue.

This is what the flower heads of deer tongue grass looks like; tiny beads (spikelets.) Each one is about a sixteenth of an inch around. The odd looking background in this shot is the granite rock the grass was leaning over.

And here are the brushy flowers (stigmata,) so tiny I didn’t think I’d ever get a photo of them. I finally had to put a piece of white paper behind them so my camera could find them. They’re one of the smallest things I’ve ever tried to show you. If you read the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog you too will discover beautiful treasures like these.

If you like the look of deer tongue grass there is at least one variegated cultivar that I found in a local park. I’ve tried to look it up but couldn’t find it, so I’m afraid I know nothing about it.

Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) is also called grass pink and will often reach two feet tall. They don’t always grow in the same large clumps as their cousins the maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) do, and they also don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center as maiden pinks do. The petals on Deptford pinks are narrower as well. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide their beautiful little faces in the sunny edges of the forest.

This flower shows that Deptford pinks don’t always have five petals. The name Deptford comes from the area in England where they used to be common.

Silky dogwoods (Cornus amomum) are the last of our native shrubby dogwoods to finish blooming in this area, following the gray and red osier dogwoods.

The flowerheads of silky dogwoods are quite flat, not mounded like those of gray dogwood.

Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. The silky dogwood will have berries that start out green, then blue and white and then turn fully blue. They are beautiful things that always remind me of blue and white Chinese porcelain. Cedar waxwings love these berries and they come to the river bank where the dogwoods grow each year to eat their fill.

We have three native wild roses here in the U.S., the Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana,) the prairie rose (Rosa arkansana) and the wild rose (Rosa acicularis.) We also have roses that appear to be wild but which have escaped cultivation. None are truly invasive here and I think it’s safe to say that all are welcome. I found this beautifully scented example near a stream.

I’ll never forget the day I was walking down a trail through a swamp and saw this orchid growing in a shaft of sunlight. It was such a beautiful thing, but finding it in a swamp was a bit surreal. I remember having a hard time understanding what I was seeing.

I hurried through the wet swamp muck to reach it and realized that I had stumbled upon one of the most beautiful flowers I had ever seen. It was a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) and it looked like a bush full of exotic butterflies. That first time there were two plants but now there is only one. It has reappeared at the end of June for several years now, and each year I feel very lucky to have seen it.

I can only stand and look when I see it. It makes me quiet and strikes me dumb, lost in its beauty. Once I get around to them photos are easy; how can you take a bad photo of something so beautiful? I’ve read that the flowers are pollinated by large butterflies and moths, but I’ve never seen an insect near them. I do hope they get pollinated and produce plenty of seeds. I’ve read that there was a time when the swamps were full of them. I can’t think of anything I’d rather see more.

In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. – Christopher Morley

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

When I thought about the title of this post I wondered if anyone would really want to look back at the last year, but then I thought that these “looking back” posts are as much about looking forward as they are looking back, because in nature it’s a pretty fair bet that what happened last year will happen this year. To a point anyway; I hope the drought will ease this year so I can see mushrooms and slime molds again. The above shot is from last January, when I was stunned by the beauty of fresh snow.

I was also stunned by pussy willows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in January before.

In February the first skunk cabbages appeared from under the snow. A welcome sign of spring in February, which can sometimes be the coldest and snowiest month of all.

It was in February that I also saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Very small but beautiful, and with a fragrance that you can smell from two blocks away.

In March I saw the first of the American hazelnut blossoms; truly the first wildflowers of the year.

Things start happening in gardens in March as well. That’s usually when reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) appear. They are one of the earliest bulbs to show growth. They’re very cheery after a long winter without flowers.

April is when our spring ephemerals start to appear, and one of the largest and showiest is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum).These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. 

With so many flowers appearing in spring it’s very hard to choose the ones to put into these posts but one I felt I had to choose for April is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and I chose it because most people never see it. They aren’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They will for the most part bloom only when the sun shines on them but you can occasionally find them on a cloudy day. Their common name comes from the bright red or orange sap in their roots.

One of my personal favorites among the spring ephemerals is the spring beauty (Claytonia carolinana.) Though they sometimes appear in April, May seems to be the month I can really count on seeing them. I know where a colony of many thousands of plants grow and I have happily knelt in last year’s leaf litter taking photos of them for years now. I love their aspirin size, pink striped blossoms.  

Around the end of May is when I start seeing the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia). Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets make them easy to miss so you have to pay attention. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in quite large colonies but not always. They are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. Once you’ve found some you can go back to see them year after year. They seem quite long lived.

June is when our most well known orchid, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) blooms. Once collected into near oblivion by people who thought they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens, they have made a strong comeback and I see quite a few now. They’re beautiful and unusual, and should be left alone so we can all admire them. If transplanted they will not live long.

June was also when I found some larch flowers (Larix laricina). These tiny but beautiful things are so small all I can see is their color. I have to point the camera at the color and “shoot blind” until I get a shot. They can appear in mid May but I usually expect them in late May to early June. If you know a larch tree you might want to have a look. These tiny things will become the cones that hold the tree’s seeds, so if you look for the cones first that will give you an idea of which branches the flowers are most likely to appear on.  

Around the end of June and the first week of July I start looking for one of the most beautiful wildflowers I’ve seen; the purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). The big, two foot tall plant looks like a bush full of purple butterflies. They are quite rare in this area and that’s most likely because they grow in swamps. I can usually expect to have wet ankles after taking photos of this one.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blossoms right at the same time every year; just in time for the 4th of July, and its flowerheads just happen to look like fireworks. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo.

One of our prettiest and smallest wildflowers bloom in early August. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. 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 see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

In my last post I described how colorblindness prevented my ever seeing a cardinal. It works the same way for cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) unfortunately, so I was elated last August when a coworker and I stumbled upon a group of them. I knew what they looked like, and once I was right on top of them I could see their color, which was beautiful. Note how this much larger flower with its arching stamens uses the same strategy as the tiny forked blue curl we saw previously. The chief difference is, these stamens dust hummingbirds with pollen instead of bees.

It wouldn’t be September without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and this one just happens to be my favorite color aster. Unfortunately it’s also the hardest color to find so each year I have to go hunting for them. I can’t complain though; hunting for flowers is a pleasure, not a chore.

I could have shown a fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) in any month following May but this is the only photo from last year that showed the center of the flower, where a golden flame burns. I remember standing on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of these beautiful flowers last summer and being able to smell their glorious scent on the breeze. It was one the most amazing things, and I suspect that it wall last in my memory until I no longer have one.

I did see things other than flowers last year; things like this beautiful cedar waxwing I saw eating the berries of silky dogwoods at the river one September evening.

In October I went to see if the old stone staircase was still standing; all that’s left of Madame Sherri’s “castle” in Chesterfield. The castle was actually more of a chalet but it had quite a lot of elaborate stonework. It also had trees growing through the roof. How they kept the rain out is a mystery. Though I didn’t mention it in the original post I walked to the spot I had chosen and promptly tripped over a tree root and fell flat on my face in front of about 15 people who were all jostling to get a shot of the stairway. The camera was unscathed and I got my shot. The fall foliage was beautiful that day and the weather was perfect but the stairway was in need of some immediate help from a mason.

I also went to Willard Pond in October and walked through one of the most beautiful hardwood forests I’ve ever seen.

In November witch hazels bloomed. Also in December, but I doubt I’ll see any in January.

Also in November I was looking at lichens, including the smoky eye boulder lichen seen here. It’s one of the most beautiful in my opinion and I’ve put it here as an answer to the question “What is there to see in winter?” There is as much beauty to be seen in winter as there is at any other time of year. You just have to look a little closer, that’s all.

What could be more beautiful that this mossy hillside? It was like a green carpet covering the earth. What I like most about the colder months is how you can see the bones of the forest. There is no foliage to block your view in December.

One thing I’ll remember about the past year is how it was too dry for fungi. I saw very few until December, when I saw these mock oyster mushrooms (Phyllotopsis nidulans). They were big and beautiful, and looked as if they had been covered in orange velvet. They were well worth the wait but I hope to see more in 2021.

I hope this look back at 2020 wasn’t as bad as what you might have imagined. I’d rather have this blog be an island of calm in a sea of chaos than a running commentary on current events. Current events come and go like the tides and have no permanence, so about all you’re ever going to find here is nature, which is timeless. I do hope that’s why you come.

You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you’ll all have a happy, heathy new year.

Read Full Post »

Last weekend I felt the urge to climb, so off I went to Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I know better than to deny the urge because it only gets stronger as time passes. The town History of Swanzey, New Hampshire says that Mount Caesar was named after Caesar Freeman, a freed black slave and one of the original settlers here. Some believe that he is is buried somewhere on it.

One of the first things I saw was a nice clump of lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids. Its beautiful pouch like pink flowers appear in May and last for a week or two, depending on the weather. I was happy to find them growing all along the trail, almost to the summit.

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. This one had apparently been pollinated because it had a seed pod.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) bloomed in sunnier spots along the trail. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

Indian Tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I saw a bright yellow, very hairy caterpillar on a twig. I believe it might be a Virginian tiger moth caterpillar (Spilosoma virginica.) This caterpillar is also called yellow bear and I think this is the first time I’ve seen one. I’m not sure what those four yellow bumps are.

Up and up I went. Mount Caesar is the most difficult climb I do these days but by normal standards it really isn’t that difficult unless you have breathing issues. I saw two or three people race up and down it before I even made it to the top but they weren’t interested in what they might see along the trail. Only the end of the trail is important to many people and they miss a lot of the beauty of nature by thinking that way. Some are even more interested in listening to their phones than the birds and I saw that happening here as well. All I can say about that is, if you are in the woods to enjoy nature racing through them as fast as you can go and plugging your ears so you can’t hear anything is not considered being in nature. Being in nature means allowing it to fill all of your senses while you are there. It means being completely immersed in the experience. When you are there be there, fully. You’ll enjoy it more and you’ll get far more out of the experience.

What I believe were ink cap mushrooms grew in the middle of the trail, but just because something is obvious doesn’t always mean it is seen and I doubt anyone noticed them because a few had been stepped on. I think they might have been the hare’s foot ink cap (Coprinopsis lagopus) but I could be wrong. I do know from personal experience that ink caps can appear very different at different times; even at different times of the same day, because their lives are very short. I liked the maroon shimmer of these examples. These mushrooms often grow in the forest, as these did.

Once they produce spores they’re done, and that usually takes one day but on this day there were plenty more coming. They’re called ink caps because their caps liquify and turn into what looks like ink.

I saw things here on this day that I’ve never seen before and one of them was shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) producing spores. The yellowish club like spore producing sporophylls at the tip of each plant are where the spores are produced and once the spores are released to the wind they can take up to 20 years to germinate. In my experience sporophylls aren’t common on this clubmoss. The leaves, called microphylls, resemble scales more than actual leaves and for some reason they are very shiny. Shining clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Note: A helpful reader has pointed out that this is actually bristly clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum,) which I’ve never heard of. Shining clubmoss doesn’t produce sporophylls, which explains why I never see them.  

Another thing I discovered on this day was that the unripe berries of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) are white. This plant is also called checkerberry and it is the first plant I ever learned well enough to know on sight, probably when I was just 5 or 6 years old. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed to relieve pain because they contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin. Since I’ve known these berries as red my entire life seeing them white was quite a surprise. I don’t suppose I’ve ever wondered what they would look like in their unripe state.

I was trying to capture the beautiful luminosity of the forest when I heard a loud crashing behind me. I thought “Oh great, another bear” but no, it was a deer. It stopped and watched me for a bit, blending into the forest so well that I couldn’t get a shot of it from where I was. Of course as soon as I started moving so did the deer, and it was off like a shot. The odd thing was it didn’t really run away; I could hear it jumping and thrashing in the woods for a while afterwards as I continued climbing, as if it was running along beside me.

I saw the deer clearing stone walls with ease, jumping so high it had feet to spare. I was wishing I had legs that could do  that.

A young oak had fallen and split lengthwise to reveal that it was completely hollow, most likely chewed up by carpenter ants. There are far more hollow trees in the woods than most people realize. If you have a tree on your property and you see what looks like sawdust around its base you should call an arborist, especially if it is near your house. Friends of mine had their barn cut in half by a hollow white pine that fell on it just a few years ago.

I could look at this all day. It is worthy of hanging in an art gallery, in my opinion.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is also called arrow wood. Its beautiful white flowers turn into blue-black berries, which aren’t often seen. This plant’s fall foliage is some of the most colorful in the forest and I always look for it in the fall. The shrub is called arrow wood because its branches grow very straight and some believe that Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. 

Yellow spots form on wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves before fall even arrives, and they slowly grow larger until the entire leaf is yellow. This is one of the earliest plants to start turning color in the fall.

I couldn’t get over the beautiful light coming through the trees. At times it was hard to focus on anything else.

Before you know it (unless you’re climbing with me) you’re at the summit. I remember how surprised I was the day I realized that I had been climbing a huge piece of granite. The trail ends just as it begins; with bare granite bedrock.

There is a glacial erratic up here that is nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It is said to rock back and forth like the 40 ton glacial erratic over on Hewe’s Hill called Tippin Rock, but I didn’t feel like heaving and grunting over boulders on this day.

Instead I wanted to visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulose.) Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily. They are naturally a deep pea green but when dry they turn ash gray as this one has. They will simply sit and wait for rain for eons if necessary and they, along with great blue herons, have taught me a lot about patience.

All those black dots on the lichen in the previous photo are this lichen’s fruiting bodies, where it’s spores are produced. I’ve noticed that they often seem to form where the lichen stays wettest longer after a rain. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecium) could easily hide behind one. The apothecium is where the lichen’s spores are produced and in this case it is tiny black disc with a sunken center that makes it look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This photo isn’t great but I was happy that it showed the detail that it does. What looks like a piece of wood in the upper right is actually a bit of a white pine needle, if that tells you anything about scale.

The views weren’t very good but that didn’t bother me. As I’ve said before, if I climbed for the view I’d be disappointed most of the time, because views are weather dependent. On this day there was a milky sky and that almost always means that far off scenes and landscapes will not reproduce well in the camera. In fact it isn’t that I don’t enjoy the views, it’s the trying to reproduce them that I don’t enjoy. If I ever stop blogging I can easily see myself no longer carrying a camera when I’m in the woods.

This is what I mean by a milky sky; almost pure white. Still, in my opinion there’s no such thing as a bad photo of Mount Monadnock, so I’ll just leave you with this one. 

No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. ~Ansel Adams

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Our locust trees are now in bloom. The one shown here is a bristly locust (Robinia hispida,) which is more shrub than tree, though it can reach 8 feet. What sets this locust apart from others are the bristly purple-brown hairs that cover its stems. Even its seedpods are covered by hairs. Bristly locust is native to the southeastern United States but has spread to all but 7 of the lower 48 states, with a lot of help from nurseries selling it for ornamental use. The beautiful pinkish purple bristly locust flowers are very fragrant and bees really love them. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge.

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) are also blooming and are loaded with white, very fragrant blooms. One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains. You can just see some of them unfolding in this photo.

If you don’t know this flower then you don’t know beans. Or peas, or lupines, or chickpeas, or soybeans, or peanuts, or any other of the more than 18,000 species in the legume (Fabaceae) family. Most have flowers much like the black locust example shown here but some tropical species can resemble orchids. Only the orchid and sunflower families have a larger presence in the plant kingdom. The huge legume family is made up of shrubs, trees, vines, and herbs which grow all over the world and feed its populations. Many plants in the family like clover have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots that convert inert atmospheric nitrogen into a form which is useable to other plants. That’s part of the reason Native Americans planted beans, squash and corn together. Legumes have fed mankind for thousands of years and this world would be a very different place without them.

You can see the same type of flower as the locust has on the puffy little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus.) It is also in the legume 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.

If you Google “Herb Robert” (Geranium robertianum) you find two very interesting things. First is how it is named for a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases with it, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb.

Second is that many people, scientists included according to an article in The Healing Journal, have discovered that it grows most abundantly in areas that have high levels of radiation and is said to absorb radiation from the soil in powerline corridors. It is thought to absorb the radiation from the soil, break it down and disperse it. Obviously I can’t confirm that but it’s a story that I first heard years ago and which persists; I just heard about it again the radio the other day.

I’m sure everyone has seen a buttercup (Ranunculus) but I wonder how many have seen their shine? The waxy shine on the petals is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed. Capturing the shine in a photo is a challenge I’m glad I only face once each year because it means taking many photos before I get it right.

This yellow daylily (Hemerocallis) is very early, blooming just after the Siberian irises bloom. This plant was given to me many years ago by a friend who has since passed on and I have divided it many times for family and friends. Two things make this plant special: the early bloom time and the heavenly fragrance that smells of citrus and spices. I have a feeling this is a Lemon daylily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) which is a very old species brought to America in colonial days and originally from China and Europe.  The Greek word Hemerocallis means “beautiful for a day,” and that’s how long each flower lasts. It’s a shame that many of today’s daylilies, bred for larger and more colorful flowers, have lost their ancient fragrance.

There are two times when our wild grapevines tickle my nose; once in the fall when their ripening fruit makes the woods smell like grape jelly, and once in the spring when their tiny flowers emit a huge fragrance that can be detected from many yards away. These flowers are so small that I really can’t come up with an accurate way to describe their size. When you smell them your first thought will probably be “no, that fragrance can’t be coming from these tiny things,” but it is.

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that few people grow. It’s one of the last to leaf out in late spring and its fragrant hanging white flowers give it the name old man’s beard.  Male flowered trees are showier but then you don’t get the purple berries that female flowered trees bear. Birds love the fruit and if I had room I’d grow both.

Here’s a closer look at the male fringe tree flowers. I’ve read that these trees are very easy to grow and are pollution tolerant as well.

I felt bad when I accidentally knocked a columbine (Aquilegia) flower off while mowing near it but once I got down on my knees to get a photo I felt nothing but joy, because by then I was lost inside its beauty. Evolution yes; flowers have evolved to be appealing to the birds, bats and insects they want to attract, but that doesn’t explain their beauty. Or maybe it does; do birds and insects see it as we do?  If not then why are they so beautiful? It’s easy to think that maybe all that beauty is there just to please humanity, but that might be too crooked a path to follow.

When I was a boy I read books like Ivan Sanderson’s Book of Great Jungles, and I dreamed that one day I’d go to those jungles as a plant explorer and I’d bring back plants with flowers so beautiful they would make the people of the world weep with joy. The plant shown here wasn’t quite as beautiful as all that and it might make you weep for different reasons, but my sharp intake of breath and quickening heart rate told me that I had discovered something I’d never seen before.

After some searching I found that these small white flowers belong to a plant called flowered cancer root, also called naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora.)  The naked part of the name comes from its lack of leaves. It doesn’t need them because it is parasitic on the plants that surround it, in this case mostly raspberry, from what I could see. It pierces the roots of other plants and slowly sucks the nutrition from them, weakening them, so it isn’t as innocent as it might appear. The small flowers are white and fuzzy with a yellow center and tiny purple hairs around the outside that make it appear to have an aura in the right light.

According to a New York Times article by Dave Taft, there are records of medieval medical uses of the plant as an astringent healer of “old green wounds.” It is said that Native Americans used the plant to treat skin infections but little seems to be known about how they used it. According to Wildflowers of the United States, the broomrape name comes from the way a European cousin of the plant parasitizes certain species of broom, an old world name for vetch, and the orobanche part of the scientific name means “vetch-strangler.” According to Wikipedia this plant is considered rare or vulnerable in 17 states. In New Hampshire it is simply listed as “present” but since I’ve seen it exactly once in 60+ years its presence isn’t common. It is listed as rare in the Midwest.

It’s finally clematis time here in New Hampshire, and here is Ramona to prove it. She starts off with dark flowers…

…and then the flowers lighten as they age.

Orange is a hard color to find in wildflowers here in New Hampshire so luckily we have orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca.) I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed and I’m not sure why that is. The plant might be from Europe but it’s far from invasive. Maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. They do reflect ultraviolet light though, so that means that some insects must find them. The only other orange wildflower I can think of is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis.)

The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does. 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 but they will also grow in abandoned lots and other waste areas. I see them by the hundreds.

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) has just started flowering. Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

It’s already time to say goodbye to one of our most beautiful native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper. As can be seen here New Hampshire’s state wildflower had a good year.

Humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

If there is a sweeter name for a flower than fawn’s breath, I haven’t heard it. It comes from the way the flowers, which sit at the ends of long thin stems (pedicels,) will move and dance even in the gentle breath of a fawn. Since I’ve never seen a fawn near one I can’t confirm that but I do know that even the slightest breeze will set them all dancing. Of course that’s a flower photographer’s worst scenario but while I wait for the flowers to stop dancing I can admire their beauty.

Asymmetrical is what the flowers are, with petals that look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler, but it gives the plant a certain charm I think. It makes me search the plant for that one flower that must be perfectly symmetrical, but of course I never find it. The plant is also called Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata.) It is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, so another common name is American ipecac. 

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Last Sunday I decided it was time to give my tired lungs a little more exercise by climbing 962 foot Mount Caesar in Swanzey. This is the longest climb that I do these days. I’ve done it many times, but not lately. The COPD I have makes it a little more difficult but I believe lungs are just like any other body part; they need to be used. This photo shows the start of the trail. The end of the trail at the summit is also granite bedrock. In fact after you’ve climbed it you realize that you’re on a huge granite outcrop with a little bit of soil on it.

Did you see that depression in the granite in that first photo? For years I’ve wondered if it was natural or man-made. “Man” would have been the red man; Native Americans had been here for thousands of years before Europeans and according to the town history of Swanzey, they are said to have used this mountain as a lookout. The Native Squakheag tribe (I think) burned the town to the ground in the 1740s but it was rebuilt some time later.

There are lots of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) here. Huge drifts of them line both sides of the trail at its start. These lichens are quite fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades to reappear. I’m guessing the large colonies found here must be hundreds of years old. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

I was surprised to see that native evergreen goldthread had melted its way through the ice in a shaded spot. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

When I see soil configurations like this I know what to look for…

…Ice needles. I just talked about them in a previous post so I won’t go into great detail but as they grow up out of the soil they push up and lift any soil in their way, and you can tell you’re walking on them by the crunching sound the soil makes.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I doubt that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well and often only one stone has done this. I think the ground must have heaved up and lifted all the soil that surrounded it. I saw that this had happened in several places along the trail. It’s a common sight in the spring.

It was a beautiful day to be in the woods. I saw many friendly people (and their dogs) and we all said the same thing; We were glad to see the end of winter.  

The beeches backlit by the sun made me want to just sit and admire them. They’re so beautiful at all times of year but especially in the spring and fall.

I didn’t see any signs of movement in beech buds but it won’t be long. By mid-May the newly opened buds will be the most beautiful things in the forest. It’s something I look forward to all year.

The old stone walls that line the trail tell a lot about the history of the place. At one time the flanks of this mountain were cleared of trees, most likely for sheep pasture. When the industrial revolution came along and farmers went to work in the mills all of that hard won pasture reverted back to forest. This means that most of the trees here aren’t much older than the mid-1800s, if that. They may have been cut again and again since that time.

There are still a few big trees left though; pines and an occasional oak. This huge old white pine was emptying itself of all the rotted wood within. I’m guessing that it’s probably full of carpenter ants but it can still stand and live for years, even when completely hollow. I wouldn’t want to be near it in a windstorm.

These seed heads at the edge of the trail caught my eye.

I moved a few leaves aside and found the orchid the seed heads were attached to; downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens.) There are about 800 different species of Goodyeara orchids and telling them apart can be tricky because they cross pollinate and create natural hybrids. These leaves look fragile but they’ll remain green throughout winter. They’re a very pretty but also very small plant. Many aren’t more than two inches across.

In places the trail gets steep and an occasional side trail veers off, but all in all it’s an easy trail to follow. I’ll never forget the day I saw a high school aged boy run up the trail to the top and then he ran back down, all before I could even reach the summit. I think that I could have done it at his age but not now.

Signs help show you the way.

There is a an old , very large log near the summit and I often pretend that I’ve seen something interesting on it so I can stop and catch my breath. On this day I didn’t really have to catch my breath but I did see something interesting on it.

The green bits in the photo are eastern hemlock needles. If you know that tree that should give you an idea of how small these unusual growths were. A lichenologist friend looked at this photo and he said he’s quite sure they aren’t lichens. I’ve looked through every one of my mushroom books and haven’t found anything there either, so if you should happen to know what they are I’d love to hear from you. I used to collect cacti and succulents and they remind me of the succulent called “living stones” (Lithops) but of course they aren’t those.  

NOTE: A kindly reader has identified this mystery being as the Ceramic parchment fungus (Xylobolus frustulatus.) Many thanks to all of the kindly readers out there. You’ve been a lot of help over the years!

The views were hazy on this day, a good illustration of why I don’t climb for the view.

I was surprised to find that I had no fear of falling when I took this shot. Since I fell out of a tree and fractured my spine when I was a boy I haven’t been a great fan of heights, but I thought this cliff face was interesting enough to chance a couple of shots. I didn’t look down but if you look over to the bottom left corner of the photo you’ll get an idea of how high this was. You don’t want to go back down that way.  

When the light is right there’s a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey from up here. Of course the best photos are found where you have to dance a little closer to a cliff edge than I like.

All in all this day was as close to perfect as one could get. Full sunshine, warm temperatures, easy breathing and getting to see a whole solar system in a toadstool lichen no bigger than a penny would be hard to beat. I hope all of you will have such a day in your near future.

Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

The hardest part of these looking back posts is choosing which photos to use when I have hundreds to choose from. I try to choose a photo that speaks to the month it was taken, so I chose this photo for January because it says it all about what the weather was that month; cold enough for ice but very little snow.

In February we had both ice and snow, as this photo from the deep cut rail trail shows, but it’s a bit deceiving because it stays cold in the man made canyon. In the surrounding countryside we had a mild enough winter so, for the first time in almost 30 years, I didn’t have to shovel my roof. It would snow and then warm up and melt it and then do the same, and it did that all winter long. So far it appears that this winter is following suit.

March is when nature begins to stir, and one of the first signs is sap buckets hanging on maple trees. It really is a relief to see them because I know that even though we might still see a lot of snow the ground has thawed enough to let tree sap flow and buds to swell. Seeing breaking buds in spring is something I look forward to all winter.

But before the tree leaves appear many beautiful things will happen for just a short time, and they are the spring ephemeral flowers. In April I found these beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) blossoming in an old patch of woodland and I knew that spring was really, finally here. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to see the first wildflower in spring, but I’ve been known to kneel beside them for quite a long time taking photo after photo, making sure I don’t miss any of their fleeting beauty.

It was late April when I thought I’d walk along the rail trail to where wild columbines blossom but then I met up with a huge black bear, the first of two I’d see last year. This animal was closer than I ever want to be to another one; this photo was taken with a 50mm lens, not a zoom. It could have easily been on me in seconds but thankfully it just stared at me and let me walk away. The bear I ran into on Pitcher Mountain just a month later in May did the same thing, so I’m thinking 2019 was a lucky year. I was totally unprepared for each encounter and didn’t even have bear spray.

This is what the state of New Hampshire recommends we do when it comes to bears. I’m all for it but I just hope the bears have seen the posters.

In May I finally did get out to the ledges where the beautiful wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) bloom and though I didn’t see another bear I found that a lot of the shine had gone from this particular hike. This is the only place I know of to find these beautiful plants so I’ll be back out there this coming May, but this time I’ll be better prepared to meet up with old Mr. Bear, just in case.  

Every bit as beautiful but not quite as colorful as a flower is a spring beech bud (Fagus grandifolia) opening. A tree full of these looks like it has been festooned with tiny angel wings and they are one of my favorite things to see in spring. But you have to watch closely because they don’t stay like this for more than a day. A good sign that beech bud break is about to happen is when the normally small, straight buds grow longer and curl like a rainbow. Once that happens they are ready to break and let the leaves unfurl. I start watching for them in early May.

Some of the most beautiful things in the forest go completely unnoticed, like breaking tree buds. As this just opened bud of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) also shows, bud break is an event worth watching for. Many other buds like oak, maple, and elm also open in May and are just as beautiful. I hope you’ll look for them this spring.

Though we see flowers in March and April it doesn’t truly warm up until May, and that’s usually when some of the more fragile flowers like these beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) appear, but last year I didn’t find any of these until early June. This is a flower that is so complex it really is a wonder that it is pollinated at all. 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. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual little flower. 

One of the flowers I most look forward to seeing in June is our native pink lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium acaule.) I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce, so if plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will die if the fungus isn’t present. They should never be dug up or moved.

In July we had a hot, humid spell and I saw a beautiful blinded sphinx moth (Paonias excaecatus,) which is something I had never seen before. The minute I saw it I thought it looked like a blue eyed baboon face and I still think so. I’m guessing that it would scare a bird away.

One of the things I most look forward to in July is the blooming of the greater purple fringed bog orchids (Platanthera grandifolia) I found growing in a swamp a few years ago. It is easily one of the most beautiful flowering plants I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a few. At one time there were so many of these plants Native Americans made tea from their roots, but I’ve only seen two plants in my lifetime and those grew almost beside each other, so I’d say they are very rare in this area. Last July I found that the two plants had become one, and I had to wade through a swamp to get to it. I’m hoping I get to see at least that one again this July. Orchids are notorious for simply disappearing with no warning.

August is when some our most beautiful aquatic wildflowers bloom, and one of the most rare and beautiful is the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum.) I find them growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds. It can be tricky getting their photo though, because 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. Once they show buds I check on them every day until I find them blooming and it’s always worth the effort. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow.

It was hot last August like you would expect it to be so I went back down into the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s always a good 10 degrees cooler there with a nice breeze blowing, so it’s a good place to cool off on a hot day. But that isn’t the only reason I go there; it’s the only place I know of to find the beautiful and very reptilian liverwort called great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum), also called snakeskin liverwort, for obvious reasons. If you crush this liverwort it has a very unique, spicy clean scent. The reason it looks so snake like is because of the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surfaces. It is the only liverwort with this feature, so it is very easy to identify. In my opinion it is one of the most interesting and beautiful things found in nature, and it is always well worth searching for.

September is when our fall flowers start to bloom, like the asters seen here. The monarch was a bonus but I saw lots of them last year; many more than in previous years. There is a large field full of common milkweed very near where I took this photo but I always see far more butterflies, including monarchs, on other flowers. I’m not sure why that would be.

2019 was a poor year for fungi and I was never able to even find enough to put together a fungi post but I saw a few in September, including these 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.

October is when the fall foliage that started turning in September really kicks in, and colorful leaves are seen everywhere you go. It’s a beautiful time of year and the foliage colors last year were exceptional, as this view from along the highway in Dublin shows.

In October I finally climbed Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard at just the right time and the foliage colors were at their peak. It was so beautiful I had a hard time leaving. I was up there for a good while, taking far too many photos. This was one of my favorites.

I had looked for red or orange cup fungi for years so I was surprised when friends said they had some growing in their gravel driveway. Fungi aren’t what I expect to see much of in November but there they were. It turned out that, not only was I looking in the wrong places for them but I was also looking at the wrong time of year. Now that I know when and where to look for the orange peel fungi seen here I hope I’ll find them regularly. They’re an unusual and uncommon fungus.

November is when those colorful leaves fall from the trees in earnest, but this view at Halfmoon Pond in Hancock lasted well into the month. What a beautiful season it was.

Life is a circle so of course we’ve ended up right back where we started, in winter. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at 2019 in photos. If I see only half as much beauty in 2020 I’ll be very happy.

Wise is the one who flavors the future with some salt from the past. Becoming dust is no threat to the phoenix born from the ash. ~Curtis Tyrone Jones

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone will have a happy and blessed new year.

Read Full Post »

I was very happy to find a new colony of narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) on my recent trip to Pitcher Mountain. I saw a flash of blue out of the corner of my eye as I drove by and thought it was probably vetch, but I turned around and was surprised by what you see here. These plants are on the rare side in this area so finding more is always a good thing.

These flowers appear identical to those of bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but the foliage is quite different. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them in this area very often. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. I saw several trying to get into the flowers while I was with them on this day. 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.

Pretty groundnut (Apias americana) flowers have just started 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.

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. 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.

Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small and beautiful, but it’s a plant that comes with a lot of baggage. As the story goes author and forager Samuel Thayer calls them ground beans rather than hog peanut because he claims that the name “hog peanut” was a racial slur against Native Americans. He says that the Europeans came to a point where they refused to eat them because even though the small legumes saved many of their lives they insisted they were only fit for hogs (implying that Native Americans were hogs.) Personally I find this story hard to believe because anyone who has ever raised pigs knows that they root around in the soil looking for just the kinds of legumes that grow on these vines, and it isn’t hard to imagine colonials, who raised pigs, saying “look, the hogs have found some nuts.” I call it hog peanut here not to slander anyone but because nine out of ten people will use a plant’s common name when they look for it in field guides, and field guides call the plant hog peanut. If Samuel Thayer can get them to change that, then I’ll be happy to call it a ground bean.

Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds. Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good at tripping up hikers.

I found a forest of downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens) all in bloom.

The tiny flowers look like miniature versions of our native pink lady’s slipper orchid flowers. Each one is so small it could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. This photo shows where the “downy” part of the common name comes from. Everything about the flower stalk is hairy.

I like the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid’s mottled silvery foliage as much as its blossoms.  The flowers grow on a relatively long stalk and though I’ve tried hundreds of times I’ve been able to show the flower stalk and basal leaves together clearly in a photo only once. This orchid grows in the woods usually in deep shade, but I find that most plants get at least an hour or two of sunshine no matter where they grow.

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 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.

I’m seeing more slender gerardia flowers this year than I ever have before. You can see in this shot how the blossoms seem to float in the air because the leaves and stems are so small.  

I know of only one place to find field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) and it is always 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 that’s just what I usually do.

On field milkwort flowers 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 but on this day they were covered in bumblebees. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

I thought I’d show you a field milkwort flower head on a penny so you could get a better idea of their size. You can also see the small sword shaped leaves in this photo, and how the flower heads sit at the very top of the stem. Both field milkwort and the slender gerardia we saw previously grow in gravel in full sun.

Native Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) has deep red seed pods but its flowers come in the more traditional yellow. Though some very reputable websites will tell you that this plant likes wet soil I always find it in dry gravel. It has grown in full sunshine for months now without harm and I think most of the watering it has had has come from morning dew, so it’s a very tough little plant. I wonder if they might have it confused with dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) which likes the wet soil of pond edges, or if I have it confused with yet another variety of St. John’s wort that I don’t know about. Canada St. John’s wort is also called lessor Canada St. John’s wort, so I assume that there must be a greater Canada St. John’s wort. These blossoms are tiny; less than the diameter of a pencil eraser.

It’s almost time to say goodbye to blue vervain (Verbena hastata) and you can tell that because the remaining blossoms are at the tops of the stems. 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.

I just love the color of blue vervain.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) must be one of the longest blooming wildflowers we have here. It usually starts blooming in May and I’m still seeing it in quite large numbers. I love the shade of blue that it wears.

I think I’ve seen more jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) this year than I ever have. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds. Jewelweed gets its name not from its orange flowers but from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

Jewelweed blossoms dangle at the ends of long filaments and sway in the slightest breath of a breeze, so it’s always tricky getting a shot of one. I like to do it for the practice, but it can make you crazy.

I’ve probably shown too many fragrant white waterlily photos already this year but this one was covered by what I thought might be tiny black water lily aphids (Rhopalosiphum nymphaea.) These insects feed by draining sap from the lily’s leaves, thereby weakening the plant so I wasn’t happy to see them. But when I got home and saw the photo I had taken I saw that even covered with insects, fragrant white waterlilies are very beautiful. It’s one of my favorite aquatic plants.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

The little flowers called dewdrops (Rubus dalibarda) are rare here, at least in my experience. I think I’ve seen them only 3 times in 60+ years. I first thought that they needed undisturbed soil to thrive, but I found this one growing in a powerline cut.  It is listed as endangered in several states and is threatened in Michigan and Ohio. It is said to be more common in Canada.

Dewdrop is in the rose family. It is called false violet and is also known as robin runaway and star violet. The name false violet comes from its heart-shaped leaves. Like violets, it has two kinds of flowers, but one of its blooms grows unseen under the leaves. The Native American Iroquois tribe are said to have used the powered plants medicinally, as a blood purifier.

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms and in the past it was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals it is said, the older the flower.

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, even though the town has done their best to cut most of them and other native plants 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.

It’s a good year for pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) I saw this beautiful scene along the Ashuelot River in Keene recently. Someone should paint it; the light was amazing.

Brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but is hard to find here. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched. I liked the way the heavy morning dew decorated its leaves on this morning.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

Though as a boy all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) it has gotten to the point where I see these bicolor ones as often as the plain white ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves.

This is closer to the bindweeds I remember as a boy; simple white trumpets. I don’t know when the bi-color pink and white flowers began to appear but I have looked them up and they and the white flowered plants are indeed the same species. But they’re not morning glories.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) starts blooming in late July, so it’s right on schedule. 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. Monarch butterflies love these flowers but they always remind me that fall is almost here, so I’m not always crazy about seeing them, especially in July.

This plant that I find in a local garden bed has taken me on a wild ride over the last few years because it has been so hard to identify. Thankfully a lot of helpful readers identified it as gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) last year. It turns out that it is very invasive but apparently it didn’t do well last winter because this year I’ve only seen about ten flowers, compared to probably a hundred last year. The plant is originally from China and Japan where it grows in moist mountain meadows, near streams and along roadways. Its extensive root system is what makes it so invasive.

There are a few orchids blooming now and one is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) These orchids are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. In fact they grow in shade so dark I couldn’t get a good shot of the entire plant this year, so I’m using this one from 2017. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore, though the pleated leaves are close to those of false hellebore.

After many tries I was able to get a shot of a helleborine orchid flower this year. Scientists have discovered that the flowers of the broad leaved helleborine orchids have a secret; their nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for its intoxicating nectar.

Big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) are one of the first asters to bloom in late summer. They need big, light gathering leaves because they grow in the forest under trees. The leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify. As is common on many asters the wonky flowers look like they were glued together by a chubby fisted toddler.

The leaves on big leaf aster are heart shaped and about as big as your hand. They are especially impressive when they grow in large colonies. I’ve seen whole hillsides with nothing but these big leaves growing on them, so they must shade out other plants or have something toxic in their makeup that doesn’t allow other plants to grow.

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susan and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of some of the more than 43 varieties of Liatris. They are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) has just started blooming. 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 close photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love them and there are usually plenty flying around when I try to take its photo.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.) Pokeweed was called pocon by Native Americans. The Delaware tribe used the plant as a heart stimulant and other tribes made a salve from it and used it as a cure for rheumatism. If it isn’t used correctly pokeweed can be toxic.

I like pokeweed’s very purple stems.

I’m seeing pretty little Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) here and there despite the heat and dryness. I think of them as a cool weather flower but apparently they don’t mind a little heat. This wild form of the modern pansy has been known and loved for a very long time. It is said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heart’s ease and was used in love potions. Stranger names include “three faces in a hood.” Whatever it’s called I like seeing it. This one reminded me of a cartoon cat’s face.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

Thanks for stopping in. Happy August?

Read Full Post »

I thought I’d start this flower post where I left off in the last one and show you pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in full bloom. I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. 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.

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. Many different insects pollinate orchids but in lady’s slippers bees do the job. They enter the flower through the center slit in the pouch, which can be seen here. Once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in.

There is only one way out for a bee trapped in a lady’s slipper blossom; 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. Isn’t evolution amazing?

At a glance the leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) are often mistaken for those of lady’s slippers, but lady’s slipper leaves are deeply pleated and blue bead lily leaves are not, they’re smooth like those seen here. The two plants like the same conditions and often grow side by side.

It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. I like seeing both the flowers and the blue berries that follow them. It’s been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

For years I’ve heard of a very special place up in the woods of Westmoreland where endangered orchids, squawroot, hepatica, Dutchman’s breeches, maiden hair fern and other plants that love a lot of lime in the soil grow, so over Memorial day my daughter and I decided to pay this special place a visit. The terrain was rough, with climbs so steep you had to use ropes tied to trees to pull yourself along, but we made it through and didn’t see a single plant that was supposed to grow there. I did see a hepatica leaf, but that was about it. My daughter found this beautiful long spurred violet in bloom (Viola rostrata); the first example I’ve seen, but it isn’t even mentioned in the list of plants that are supposed to grow here.

This is a pretty little violet but I doubt I’d go through what we went through to see it again.

We also found a yellow violet just opening. This was only the second time I had ever seen one. I think it was a round leaved yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) which likes to grow in rich woods. It might have also been a downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens,) which likes the same conditions.

Like most of the white spring flowering trees, chokecherries (Prunus) and chokeberries (Aronia) grow on the edge of the forest. Though they look alike from a distance, chokeberries and chokecherries are only distantly related in the rose family. The common name is the giveaway here: A cherry is a stone fruit with one seed, so the chokecherry will have one seed. A berry will have multiple seeds; in the case of the chokeberry 5 or fewer. Chokeberry flower clusters are smaller than chokecherry and kind of flat on top. Chokecherry flower clusters are usually long and cylindrical like a bottle brush. Positive identification between these two is important because chokecherry leaves and seeds contain prussic acid which can convert to cyanide under the right conditions, so it wouldn’t be good to eat too many seeds. The simplest way to be sure is by counting the seeds in a piece of fruit before picking and eating from the tree.

A close look at a chokecherry blossom.

Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid to late May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

From above the flowers of eastern larch look like a rose, but at less than the diameter of a pea they are far less showy. Each beautiful little flower will become a small brown cone.

The waxy shine on the petals of a buttercup (Ranunculus) is caused by a layer of mirror flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. These layers act together to reflect yellow light, while blue green light is absorbed. Though the shine is easy to see it’s quite hard to capture with a camera. I’ve been trying since they started opening and I’d bet I had to try 10-20 times before getting it right.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

There just happens to be a phlox plant or two growing near the dame’s rocket and I thought it was good chance to show how phlox blossoms have 5 petals. I’m not sure if these plants were wild phlox or garden escapees but I’m guessing they probably came from a nearby garden.

The yellow flowers seen in the first photo of Dame’s rocket are those of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus.) Pliny the Elder said chewing the root of greater celandine would relieve a toothache, but modern science has found that every part of it contains a range of isoquinoline alkaloids that makes it toxic if used in large amounts. When used in the correct dosage the plant’s yellow sap can be used against warts and moles. If used at all, all of the latex sap should be washed from the hands because it can cause irritation if rubbed into the eyes. Greater celandine is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S.

All the books will tell you that the flowers of greater celandine have four yellow petals but I’ve seen them with 5. When I was a boy we stained our hands with the plant’s yellow sap and called it mustard. Thankfully we never ate it.

Friends of mine grow this beautiful clematis in their garden. This is the first blossom of the summer, just opening when I took its photo.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, much like an Indian cucumber root. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned ground cover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe. I don’t see it often and I’d call it rare in this area.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. ~Aldo Leopold

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »