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Archive for the ‘Wildflowers’ Category

Five years ago this past Wednesday on the twentieth of May, 2015 I walked into Yale Forest in Swanzey and found that it was being logged. Since Yale University has a forestry school this wasn’t a huge surprise but I like to see how a forest recovers after being cut, so that was my mission last Sunday as I started up the old abandoned road that was one known as Dartmouth College Road. It had that name because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. After being abandoned by the state it became part of Yale Forest, which is slowly reclaiming it.

I saw lots of blooming violets. They’re very cheery little things that always remind me that spring has finally come.

We had a tornado warning the Friday before this walk and though we didn’t see a tornado we had some strong winds that took down trees and knocked out power, so that was another reason for my wanting to come here. I thought I’d see trees down everywhere and I saw a few but they were the same ones I saw in January, the last time I was out here. Thankfully someone had cut a path through them with a chainsaw so I didn’t have to leave the road and go way out in the woods to get around them like I did in January. Thank you for cutting through them, whoever you are.

The turkeys have missed a lot of partridge berries (Mitchella repens.) They looked fresh despite being under the snow all winter. Each red berry has two dimples left by the twin flowers whose ovaries fuse to form one berry. This small trailing vine can form colonies that are several feet across under the right conditions and I saw lots of them out here.

I saw lots of starflowers (Trientalis borealis) but no flowers yet. The flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

All on saw on the starflowers on this day were tiny buds. That bud from stem to tip is about half the diameter of a pea. It’s hard to believe such relatively large flowers will come out of it, but they will.

I saw lots of mosses out here of course. I like the little start shaped shoots of juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum.) They were one of the mosses that had spore capsules ripening.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. It is very hairy as is seen here and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid, seen at the top of the capsule and called the operculum, will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square.

At this time of year last year’s fronds of the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) lie flat on the ground due to the weight of the snow that has covered them all winter but they are still photosynthesizing, and that gives the plant the extra energy needed to ensure that new growth quickly replaces the old. That’s what gives evergreen ferns their leg up on other, non-evergreen species.

Evergreen Christmas fern fiddleheads are covered with silvery hairs.

I was happy to see that the forest has recovered nicely, with so much new growth I couldn’t even see the tree stumps.

The university is protecting the forest with insect traps as well, probably against pests like the emerald ash borer, which is killing off our ash trees at an alarming rate. This is a wing trap which holds sex pheromone baits for specific insects. The inside is very sticky and the number of insects caught will help pest control advisers determine how best to control insect pest invasions.

Much of the new growth in this and other logged forests is made up of black birch (Betula lenta.) It is also called sweet birch or cherry birch. I was happy to see so many of them because black birch was once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen, and so many were taken that they were once very hard to find. The twigs have an unmistakable taste of wintergreen, so nibbling on a twig is the easiest way to identify it. The trees can be tapped like sugar maples in spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer. 

I saw lots of beautiful, velvety new oak leaves.

I saw lots of new beech leaves too, along with lots of buds still breaking. Bud break on beech and other trees is one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see in a northern forest, in my opinion.

I found an old trailer hitch, I’m guessing from maybe the 1930s or 40s. The ball that the trailer would have attached to is up in the left hand corner by the stick. I would have liked to have taken it back with me but it must have weighed twenty pounds.

The power company here in New Hampshire was called Public Service of New Hampshire for most of my life and someone had found one of their old utility pole badges and put it on a log. Since there are no utility poles out here I can’t imagine where it originally came from.

This spot was once very active, with busy beavers building dams and ponds but I think they left some time ago. I haven’t seen any fresh cutting or dam building and this small stream runs normally.

Wood horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) is one of the prettiest horsetails of all and this was the first time I’ve ever seen one. They are commonly found in wet or swampy forest, open woodlands, and meadow areas, which is a surprise because those are places I spend a lot of time in. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name means “of the forests.”  I’ve read that they are an indicator of a cool-temperate climate and very moist to wet, nitrogen poor soil.

Years ago I found some painted trilliums out here but I couldn’t find them on this day. Instead what I found were thousands of goldthread blossoms (Coptis trifolia,)  easily more than I’ve ever seen in one place. Since this plant was once collected into near oblivion because of its golden, canker sore relieving roots, I was happy to see them. The Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find until they couldn’t find anymore, so this is a success story. 

It’s such a beautiful little flower but those who were after the plant’s roots probably paid them little attention.

Eventually after jumping the stream you come to and old beaver pond and, though this is usually the end of the road, today I walked a little farther to see if I could find any more wildflowers. Not too far from here is the new highway that replaced this old road I was following, and I could hear the traffic.

But traffic noise didn’t bother this beautiful mallard, which fit the definition of serenity as it swam in the beaver pond. Though it quacked a few times it didn’t seem mind me being there, and that is odd behavior for a duck in this part of the state because they usually fly off at the first sign of a human.

There are times in nature when a great peace will settle over you, as if someone had placed a cloak of calmness over your shoulders, and that’s how I felt here alone with this bird. My presence must have bothered it at least a little but it seemed completely unperturbed and swam around as if I wasn’t even there. The mallard made me wonder if true serenity comes from simply letting go of the things that are disturbing us.

It is in the still silence of nature where one will find true bliss. ~Anonnymous

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone will find a puddle full of serenity to paddle in.

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In a normal year painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the red / purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, for some reason painted trilliums have bloomed before the nodders. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three. I’ve read that trilliums can live for up to 25 years. Native Americans used them to ease the pain of childbirth and for that reason they are also called birthroot.

The small fertile flowers in the center of hobblebush flower heads have opened. The larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge opened about a week ago, and this photo shows the difference in size. Technically a hobblebush flower head is a corymb, which is just a fancy word for a flat topped, usually disc shaped flower head. It comes from the Latin corymbus, which means a cluster of fruit or flowers.  All flowers in the cluster have 5 petals, and that’s a good way to identify viburnums versus dogwoods, which have 4 petals. The large sterile flowers do the work of attracting insects and that’s why so many viburnums have this kind of arrangement. It seems to work well, because I see plenty of fruit on them later in the summer. Hobblebush is one of our most beautiful native viburnums.

One thing good about working 25 miles from where I live is how I almost get to see spring happen twice. Shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) just finished blooming here but in Hancock they’re just getting started. They are also called Juneberry because in June they’ll be full of small reddish purple berries that birds love. Cedar waxwings will even nest by this shrub each year so they can get first crack at the fruit.

I went to get a goodbye photo of trout lilies and found that they had already gone. In their place were anemones, and that was fine. I should have looked for the trout lilies last week but I completely forgot. The word ephemeral means “lasting for a very short time” so I wasn’t really surprised that I missed them. Leaves are on the trees and it’s warming up.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) are sun lovers so there’s a good chance they won’t be blooming much longer with the trees leafing out. They dance in the slightest breeze and Greek legends say that Anemos, the Wind, sends anemones in early spring to warn of his coming. He has certainly moved right in here because it has been windy for almost two months, and last Friday we even had tornado warnings. We didn’t have a tornado but many large trees fell.

The bell like shape of a blueberry blossom must be very successful because many other plants, like andromeda, lily of the valley, dogbane, leatherleaf, and others use it. This photo is of the first highbush blueberry blossoms (Vaccinium corymbosum) I’ve seen this season. It is said that blueberries are one of only three fruits native to North America, but the crabapple is a fruit and it is native to North America as well. The others are cranberries and concord grapes. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms. Choke cherries have just started blossoming as well.

This one I’ve never seen before, so I’m going to need help with it. I found it growing in a local park so it is obviously a cultivated garden plant but I can’t seem to find it, either in books or online.

It’s a very pretty plant that stands maybe a foot tall and the flowers look like they belong in the legume family along with peas, beans, locusts and lupines. If you happen to know its name I’d love to hear from you.

My grandmother loved flowers of all kinds but one of the flowers she loved most were apple blossoms, because of their wonderful fragrance. She lived upstairs and had trouble getting down to see the apple trees that grew near her house so each spring I would cut some of the flowers and bring them to her. Sometimes I would sit on the grass, leaning back against the trunk of one of her old apple trees, daydreaming as I looked up at the blossoms, choosing the best branches; the ones with a few flowers and lots of buds that I’d cut for her. The fragrance of the blossoms on this day brought me back to that boy, who was made of all of the things his senses revealed; the soft grass he sat on, the tree he sat under, the sun shining through its leaves and the bees pollinating its flowers. He was the rain and the wind, he was the universe distilled; he was the blue, the green and the pink. He was the fragrance. He was the bird on the branch and the soft hum of the bees. At ten years old he was all that ever was and all that ever would be, but at the same time he was nothing. He was simply the love that made him want to bring these flowers to his grandmother and he was nothing else, because when you distill the universe down to its very essence love is all that is left.

No matter how wonderful an apple tree can be they are not native to this country. The crabapple is the only apple truly native to North America and there are four species of them. They are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. The crab apple is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. The nine herbs charm was used for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs. The other eight were mugwort, betony, lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, thyme and fennel.

A single male flower of the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is a very hard thing to photograph, but I wanted you to see one. They aren’t as showy as other native maples but they must do their job, because we have a lot of sugar maple trees. Sugar maples can reach 100 feet in height and can live to be 400 years old when healthy. I never knew their flowers were so hairy.

I see many hundreds of this very small white violet in lawns and I wondered if they could be northern white violets (Viola pallens.) They are half the size of the violets that I usually see. In fact they are so small that I couldn’t even tell they were violets from five feet away. The insect guides look black in this photo but they’re actually deep purple. They’re pretty little things and they’re everywhere right now.

Our lilacs are finally blooming, and this photo is of the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s great to smell their wonderful fragrance again. Lilac is the New Hampshire state flower, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower.

Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) is in the euphorbia family, which contains over 2000 species of plants including poinsettia, cassava, and many popular house plants. It’s a plant native to Europe, thought to have been mistakenly imported when its seed was mixed in with other crop seed. It was first seen in Massachusetts in 1827, and from there it spread as far as North Dakota within about 80 years. It can completely overtake large areas of land and choke out native plants, and for that reason it is classified as an invasive species by the United States Department of Agriculture. I find it growing along roadsides and gravelly waste areas but I haven’t seen extremely large colonies of it. All parts of the plant contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts, or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock.

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is usually seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. Their color comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They are said to make an excellent hedge but I’ve never seen them used that way.

I looked inside a tulip and had a hard time looking away from it.  It was a beautiful thing.

The poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) is such an ancient plant that many believe that it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on. It can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and can be found in unmown fields. It is very fragrant and it is quite remarkable to realize, as you sit admiring its spicy fragrance, that the Roman poet Virgil once did the same thing. I love a plant that comes with a good history lesson.

Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis) is not native to New Hampshire and I have only seen two or three of the trees growing in this area until recently, when I found three large trees growing at the local college. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. These were sheltered by buildings, which probably accounts for their large size.

I was surprised to see clusters of redbud flowers surrounding pruned off limbs. They seemed to be coming right out of the bark of the tree. I’m also always surprised by how small the pea like purple flowers are on a redbud but the tree makes up for it by producing plenty of them.

There are more than 500 plants in the veronica family and they can be tough to tell apart, but I’ve always thought that this one might be slender speedwell (Veronica filiformis.) It’s a tiny blossom that I found growing in a lawn, and you could hide a whole bouquet of them behind a pea. This particular speedwell is native to Europe and is considered a lawn weed but there are many others that are native to the U.S., and Native Americans used some of them to treat asthma and allergies.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.
~ Zenkei Shibayama

Thanks for coming by. I hope there are many flowers in your lives.

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Last Sunday I needed to see something new, so I decided on the rail trail that heads south out of Keene to Swanzey, Troy, Fitzwilliam, and eventually the Massachusetts border. I’ve done the northern and southern legs of the trail but never this middle section. I started my hike on this amazing stone arch bridge. Built of granite quarried a half mile away from the site, it was dry laid with no mortar in 1847 and soars 38 feet above the river. The bridge is 27 feet wide with a span of 68 feet, and its arch has a radius of 34 feet. Evidence of the plug and feather method used to split the stones is still visible on the faces of many of the stones. It’s hard to imagine how it was ever built without the use of modern tools and equipment.

The bridge is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means it earned a little money for upkeep. Part of the upkeep involved upgrading the drainage and laying a new bed of pea stone where the trains would have run. It seems to be still as solid as the day it was built.

Here is a postcard view of the bridge, probably from the early 1900s. The view and landscape is very different today of course. These postcards were usually actual photos colored by hand but I think this one was a drawing.

The white building in the postcard view is no longer there. This view from the top of the bridge looks west towards Vermont. It was a partly cloudy, very windy day and the gusts felt like they might blow me right off the bridge so I didn’t hang around up here for very long. We’ve had at least some wind nearly every day for over a month now.

I saw some very symmetrical horsetails. This is one plant you do not want in your garden because once you have them you’ll never be rid of them. When I had my gardening business I tried just about everything I could think of including covering them with black plastic for a full year. They loved it and grew on as if nothing had happened.

I also saw some very red new leaves on the staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina.

The trail is wide and dry for the most part because the drainage channels that the railroad built 150 years ago are still working.

Skunk currants (Ribes glandulosum) grew in patches here and there along the trail. I’ve read that the plant gets its common name from the odor given off by its ripe dark red berries, which doesn’t sound too appealing but they are said to be very tasty. If you can get past the smell, I assume. This is a very hairy plant; even its fruit has hairs. The Native Ojibwa people used the root of skunk currant to ease back pain but it is not a favorite of foresters or timber harvesters because it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.

Skunk currant flowers are quite small at about 1/4 inch across. They are saucer shaped with 5 petals and 5 purple stamens.

Unfortunately I also saw a lot of garlic mustard out here. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to what I’ve read, the young spring plants are delicious.

The sunshine seemed to always be just up around the next bend. Until I got to the next bend, that is. By then it had disappeared.

This is a typical New Hampshire mixed forest with mostly pine, hemlock, cherry, beech, oak, maple and white and gray birch. Also this single beautiful golden birch.

I saw a small bird’s nest in a cherry sapling. It was about 5-6 inches across so a small bird must have made it.

Violets bloomed all along the trail. I thought this might be an early blue violet but since my color finding software sees mostly purple, I’ll just call it a violet. It had long above ground rhizomes that I’ve never seen on a violet.

Sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew along the drainage channels in groups. I’ve seen them carpet large areas of forest floor so I had the feeling that they must have just gotten started here. They’re in the lily of the valley family, which can also form large colonies.

This signal post looked new, and that’s because someone had painted it. I’m not sure why anyone would but there it was, looking like it had just been installed yesterday.

I was very surprised to see skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) growing on a wet hillside. I’ve read that eating the leaves can cause burning and inflammation but something had eaten many of the leaves. Often animals don’t have the same reaction to plants that we do. Birds even eat poison ivy berries.

This is a photo of the fruit of a skunk cabbage which is a rare sight, even for those of us who look for such things.

I saw just two red trilliums (Trillium erectum) out here. I also saw Jack in the pulpit, starflowers, and lots of fern fiddleheads. The trilliums and our other spring ephemerals will probably be done by the time this post is read. Leaves on the trees and warmer weather finish their short bloom periods quickly.

I saw lots of wild sarsaparilla plants (Aralia nudicaulis) just unfurling their leaves. At this stage many people confuse wild sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which comes up at the same time and has glossy green leaves. One way to tell the two apart is by the stem. Poison ivy usually has an older, woody stem while sarsaparilla has a fresh, tender stem. The roots of this plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There were already flower buds on some sarsaparilla plants. They’ll bloom in late May, with ping pong ball size flowerheads made up of tiny individual flowers.

I thought these new oak leaves were beautiful, both in color and shape. They were soft like velvet, and there were flower buds as well.

A broken whistle post told me that a road was coming up. What looks like an M is really an upside down W. The W stands for whistle and the post is called a whistle post, because it marks the spot where the locomotive engineer was to blow the train’s whistle. When there is a crossing very nearby, where the railbed crosses a road, the whistle would have alerted wagon or auto drivers that a train was coming. Some whistle posts were marked – – o -, which meant “two longs and a short” on the whistle.

There was indeed a road; route 12 south out of Keene parallels the rail trail and I had walked to the Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey. Only 2.2 miles by car from where I started, so I’d guess it was a two mile walk.

And that meant that it was two miles back, but on such a sweet spring day with birds singing in the trees two miles didn’t seem like anything, really. It was one of those days that gets inside you and lets you see how wonderful this life really is, and there was no hurry to get anywhere or to do anything. I felt doubly blessed.

Some journeys take you farther from where you come from, but closer to where you belong. ~Ron Franscell

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is able to find some outdoor time.

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After a warmer weekend many plants are responding and more flower buds are opening. At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. The flower type must be very successful because it is used by many other plants, from blueberries to heather. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to reduce inflammation and to treat fevers, headaches and sprains.

I put a single leatherleaf blossom on a penny so you could get an idea of their size. A penny is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter and a leatherleaf blossom is about half the size of a blueberry blossom.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have finally bloomed, about a week later than average but it seems longer. Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take from 7-10 years to produce flowers from seeds, so if you see a large colony of blooming trout lilies you know it has been there for a while. This colony has tens of thousands of plants in it and I’ve read that colonies of that size can be as much as 300 years old. To think that the first settlers of Keene could have very well admired these same plants, just as I do today.

These blossoms hadn’t been open long and you can tell that by the yellow male stamens in the center. As the blossoms age the 6 stamens quickly turn red and then brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect female stigma will catch any pollen an insect brings by. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and it attracts several kinds of bees. If pollination is successful a 3 part seed capsule will appear. The seeds are dispersed by ants, which eat the rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds behind to grow into bulbs.

I think my favorite part of a trout lily blossom is the back of the petals, which are tinted with maroon. They’re very pretty flowers no matter how you see them.

Spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) must like the cool damp weather because most plants still have buds, even though they’ve been blooming for about a month. This photo shows the variations in color. There are plants that can take me out of myself and cause a shift in my perception of time so that I often have no idea how long I’ve been kneeling before them, and spring beauty is one of them. How could you not lose yourself in something so beautiful?

I’ve never seen trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) bloom like it is this year and as I visited this colony I wished my grandmother could have seen it. She called them Mayflowers and she always wanted to show them to me, but we could never find them. She loved their scent and so did Native Americans, who though this plant had divine origins.

Each trailing arbutus flower has a tiny yellow star in its center.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a plant you have to watch closely if you want to see its flowers, because it can produce leaves and flowers in just days. Two days before these photos were taken these plants had no leaves opened.  

You can see how wild ginger’s unusual brownish flower rests on the ground in this photo. This makes them difficult to get a good shot of. For this one I turned on my camera’s onboard LED light. Because they grow so close to the ground and bloom so early scientists thought that wild ginger flowers must be pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but we now know that they self-pollinate. The flowers have no petals; they are made up of 3 triangular calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. Though flies do visit the flowers it is thought that they do so simply to get warm. The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage. Native Americans also used the plant medicinally for a large variety of ailments.

Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) have just started blooming and if the pollinators do their job each flower will become a small but delicious strawberry. My kids used to love them, and they’d eat them by the handful. The full moon in the month of June was known to many Native American tribes as the “Strawberry Moon” because that was when most strawberries began to ripen. The berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to pemmican, soups, and breads. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons,) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454, so they’ve been with us a long time.

Spring, like fall, starts on the forest floor with the spring ephemeral flowers and then it moves to the understory before finally reaching the treetops. Now is the time for the understory trees and shrubs to start blooming and one of the earliest is the shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis.)

Naturalists and botanists have been arguing for years over the many native shadbush species and hybrids. The 5 white flower petals can appear quite different in each, but none of the several variations that I’ve seen have had blossoms bigger than a nickel. All of them seem to have multiple large stamens. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples and some native cherries. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing.

This is what the flower buds of a shadbush look like. After shadbushes come the cherries, closely followed by the crab apples and apples, and then the peaches and plums. 

I’m finally seeing blue /  purple violets, about two weeks after I saw the first white one.

The deep purple lines on violet petals guide insects into the flower’s throat while brushy bits above dust its back with pollen. Native Americans had many uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers.

Lots of sedges are still blooming. The flowers stalks (culms) of plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) are about 4 inches tall and have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the butter yellow, terminal male (staminate) flowers.

I can’t think of anything much more delicate than female sedge flowers. They are living threads.

When you see these little black spearpoints sticking up out of what looks like grass you’ve found a sedge. Come back in a day or two and you’ll see flowers much like those in the previous two photos.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in forests so they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They’ll go dormant quickly when it gets hot and they can leave a hole in the garden but that trait is easily forgiven. It’s one of the oldest perennials in cultivation and it is called old fashioned bleeding heart. I’ve always liked them and they were one of the first flowers I chose for my own garden.

I believe this cultivated purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) is called “Purple Dragon.” Whatever its name it is a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf.

Dead nettle flowers always look like they have a chicken popping up out of them to me. They sort of resemble snapdragons but are in the mint family.

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

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is staying safe and able to spend time outside.

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We’ve seen cold, rain, snow and mostly cloudy days lately so last Saturday when it was wall to wall sunshine and 65 degrees, it seemed like a great gift. Since it was near time for wild columbines to bloom I set off along the old rail trail up in Westmoreland to the ledges where they grow. I saw all kinds of beautiful and interesting things there and it was hard to leave.

The first thing I saw was a small patch of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara.) It’s hard to believe that it’s almost time to say goodbye to this cheery little spring ephemeral but I’m seeing white in almost all the flowers I look at these days, and white is a good sign that they’re setting seed.

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) grows beside the trail and it was all ready to bloom. By now it probably has.

Maple buds were breaking; the first I’ve seen this year. New maple leaves are often bright red as these were.

The velvety buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) were seen all along the trail. Sometimes they can be pink, orange, or a combination of the two like this one was.

When I looked at the other side of the bud I saw that it was breaking. The next time I come out here I should see leaves.

There is a lot of groundwater very close to the surface in Westmoreland and it runs from the cracks in the stone. That’s one reason such a variety of plants and mosses grow here.

Algae dripped from the cracks in the stone, or maybe they were washed down the face of the stone by the never ending drip of groundwater. I’ve read that they grow in nutrient rich places. They’re always interesting so I wanted to take a closer look.

The algae were spirogyra, with common names that include water silk and mermaid’s tresses. It is described as a “filamentous charophyte green algae of the order Zygnematales.” The strange thing that looks like a vacuum cleaner hose is a chloroplast, and its spiral growth habit is what gives these algae their name. There are more than 400 species of Spirogyra in the world, almost always found in fresh water situations. I see it on wet stone fairly regularly. According to what I’ve read, when used medicinally spirogyra are known as an important source of “natural bioactive compounds for antibiotic, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cytotoxic purposes.”

That little black square up ahead is where we’re going, but it won’t be black when we get there.

Our wild cherries should be blooming soon, and the birds will be very happy about the abundance of fruit that will follow.

This is near the area where I saw a huge black bear last year at this time. Since there are high stone ledges and a southern exposure it would stay quite warm here in the winter I would think, and that tells me that it would be a perfect spot for a bear to live. The one I saw here certainly looked like it had been living the high life.

There is even a cave here, way up high in the cliff wall, and it’s plenty big enough for a bear. Thankfully the bear was elsewhere on this day. I carried a can of bear spray but I was very happy that I didn’t have to use it. I’ve been within touching distance of a few wild animals and last year’s encounter is the closest I ever want to be to a bear, but so far they seem to have sensed that I mean them no harm and we’ve gone our separate ways.

This is that black spot we saw in a previous photo and these are the ledges I was interested in visiting. They’re right alongside the trail and all kinds of plants grow here. I believe it’s because the stone is full of lime and the soil is much less acidic than in most other places I visit. Most Southern New Hampshire soil is quite acidic but you do find occasional “sweet spots” like this one.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) seedlings grew at the base of the ledges. I see lots of these in the spring and I’ll see lots of their orange flowers later on.

I come out here to see wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and there are plenty of them growing on the ledges. On this day most had buds but I didn’t see a single flower, so that means another trip out here this weekend. The spring shades of green are always electric here.

Here was a flower bud. Some buds looked to be close to opening but we aren’t getting a lot of sun lately so I wonder if they’ll be fully opened this weekend.

The spring shoots of smooth Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) absolutely glowed, and it looked like someone had dipped a paintbrush in pure light and painted them there on the ledges. How beautiful they were. Native Americans and early colonists ate these shoots the way we would eat asparagus and they used the plant’s starchy roots in soups and stews, and dried them to make flour for bread. The Chippewa tribe sprinkled the dry roots on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to cure headaches.

Though herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) blooms from spring through October I didn’t see any flowers on this day, even though there were many plants growing at the base of the ledges. Native Americans used this plant medicinally for healing wounds, herpes and skin eruptions. The plant’s common name comes from a French monk who lived in 1000 AD, and who is said to have cured many people by using it. For that reason it is also called Saint Robert’s Herb.

There’s a nice clump of purple trillium (Trillium erectum) here at the base of the ledges and it had two or three blossoms on it this year. Last year there was only one.

One of the flowers looked a little torn but it was still beautiful.

Something I’ve been searching for for a long time are the small blue spring shoots of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and this year I found them but I was about a week late and they had grown to about 6 inches high. They had also lost that vivid purplish blue color that they have when they have just come out of the ground. But now I know that next year I need to come a week or so earlier, and I’ll be here.

You can see a little bit of blue on this shoot but I’d bet by this posting the plant has already turned green. The green is kind of a light blueish green. Cohosh means “rough” when translated from Native American Algonquin language, and refers to the knobby root. A tincture of the root was said to start childbirth but science has shown the entire plant to be toxic. It’s shadow over on the right makes me think of an alien creature.

Treasures are hidden away in quiet places. They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach. They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them. They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways. They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still.
~Craig D. Lounsbrough

Thanks for Stopping in. It’s supposed to be a beautiful weekend here, so why not take a walk in the woods? The beauty and solitude you find there will most likely re-charge your batteries and will certainly help you put things into perspective. Stay safe everyone.

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I finally, after 6 or 7 attempts, caught bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) in full bloom. Like other spring ephemeral flowers bloodroot isn’t with us long and in fact a few of these flowers had already lost petals, but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They’re blooming just a little early this year.

Bloodroot petals have very fine, almost invisible veins in them and if you don’t have your camera settings just right you won’t see them in your photos. When they’re in bright sunlight the veins disappear, so I shaded this flower with my body and boosted the ISO settings on the camera so I could catch them. It’s not an easy flower to do well but with practice and a little luck you can show it at its most beautiful.

Ornamental cherry trees are blooming and I’ve seen both white flowers and pink ones. These trees often blossom far too early and end up getting frost bitten, and I saw a few brown petals on this tree. Our native cherries will be along in May.

Ornamental cherries do have beautiful, if over anxious, flowers. They are one of our earliest blooming trees, usually coming along with the magnolias.

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

Insects don’t seem to mind the smell.

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis) is an old fashioned but pretty evergreen garden plant that originally hails from Europe and Asia. The silver mottled leaves were once thought to resemble a diseased lung and so its common name became lungwort. People thought it would cure respiratory ailments like bronchitis and the leaves were and still are used medicinally in tinctures and infusions. The leaves and flowers are edible, and if you’ve ever had vermouth you’ve had a splash of pulmonaria because it is one of the ingredients. The plant does well in shade and has flowers of blue, pink, white, purple and red.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is now approaching full bloom. Though this plant isn’t a native it might as well be because it is much loved. In fact I’ve never heard anyone complain about it. Neighbors have been passing it to neighbors for hundreds of years, and I find it growing out in the middle of nowhere quite regularly.

What looks like a 5 petaled flower on a vinca plant is actually one tubular flower with 5 lobes, as this photo shows. Vinca contains the alkaloid vincamine, which is used by the pharmaceutical industry as a cerebral stimulant. It has been used to treat dementia caused by low blood flow to the brain. It’s origin is probably Europe and one of its common names is “Flower of death” because of the way it was once planted on the graves of infants. Too bad that such a pretty flower has to have such a morbid connection but in truth many flowers are associated with death. I once worked for a lady who refused to grow gladioli because they were so commonly used at funerals.

I love the color of this magnolia bud. I believe the variety name is “Jane.” If so its flowers will be tulip shaped.

Sometimes lilac buds look like they’ve been frosted with sugar. It’ll be so nice to smell those flowers again.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just come into bloom and these are the first blossoms I’ve seen. These small but fragrant flowers were once over collected and nearly obliterated but I know of several large colonies so they seem to be making a comeback. People need to understand that the plants are closely associated with fungi in the soil and unless the fungi are present these plants will not live, so digging them up to put in gardens is a waste of time. Not only that but it robs the rest of us of the pleasure of seeing them.

The inside of a trailing arbutus blossom is very hairy and also extremely fragrant.

I found lots of viola plants (Viola tricolor) under a tree one day, all blooming their hearts out. Viola blossoms are about half the size of a pansy blossom but every bit as colorful and the plants usually have more flowers than a pansy plant will. Pansies were derived from violas so all pansies are in fact violas but plant breeders have worked on them for years and pansies come in a wider range of colors. I love them because they are very cold hardy and appear early in spring when not much else is in bloom.

I had to go back for another look at the female lime green box elder flowers (Acer negundo.) They were even more beautiful than they were last week. The female flowers appear along with the leaves, and you can see a new leaf or two here as well.

The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from long filaments, and aren’t very showy. Each reddish male flower has tan pollen-bearing stamens that are so small I can’t see them. The pollen is carried by the wind to female trees and once they’ve shed their pollen the male flowers dry up and drop from the tree. It’s common to see the ground covered with them under male trees.

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) usually appear well after those of red maples but this year they’re blooming quite early. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance. Once you get to know them you realize that they are everywhere, because they were once used extensively as a landscape specimen. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states because it has escaped into the forests and is crowding out native sugar maples. It is against the law to sell or plant it in New Hampshire but the genie is out of the bottle and they are everywhere.

It’s tough to isolate a single Norway maple flower in such a large cluster but I always try, just so you can see what they look like. This is a male (staminate) flower. They have 8 stamens, five petals, five sepals, and a greenish central disc. They’re quite different from any other native maple.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in parts of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This photo, taken years ago, shows what the complete ramp looks like. I foolishly pulled these two plants before I knew they were being threatened. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

I’m seeing a lot more white violets than purple this year and that’s a little odd because it’s usually the other way around. I’d love to see some yellow ones but they’re rare here.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) is also called wild oats and the plants have just come into bloom. They are a spring ephemeral and won’t last long but they do put on a show when they carpet a forest floor, despite their small size. They are a buttery yellow color which in my experience is always difficult to capture with a camera.

In this case the word sessile describes how the leaves lie flat against the stem with no stalk. The leaves are also elliptic and are wider in the middle than they are on either end. The spring shoots remind me of Solomon’s seal but the plant is actually in the lily of the valley family.

And just look what has finally come Into the light; one of our largest and most beautiful spring wildflowers. Purple or red trillium (Trillium erectum) is also called wake robin, because its bloom time once heralded the return of the robins. The flowers have no nectar and are thought to be pollinated by flies and beetles. Their petals have an unpleasant odor that is said to be similar to spoiled meat, and this entices the flies and beetles to land and pollinate them. As they age each petal will turn a deeper purple. Their stay is all too brief but when they fade they’ll be followed by nodding trilliums (Trillium cernuum) and then painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum,) both of which are also very beautiful.

Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music.  They relax the tenseness of the mind. They dissolve its vigor. ~Henry Ward Beecher.

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is doing well and will continue on that way.

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Last Sunday was the first warm, sunny day we’ve had in over a week so I decided to climb the High Blue trail up in Walpole. It’s actually more of a walk than a climb but with my lungs it does have enough of an uphill slant to get me huffing and puffing.

I saw that the rain we had in Keene the day before had fallen as snow here, and it hadn’t melted in shaded areas. There was no ice though.

Years ago there were hundreds of coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) here but then along came a logging skidder and it plowed them all up. On this day I was happy to see that they had made a small comeback. May they be allowed to spread at will.

I could see a little white in this one, which means it was about to go to seed. I also saw lots of insects buzzing around the flowers.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) grow all along the first leg of the trail. In May these flower buds will open to reveal one of our most beautiful native shrub blossoms. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads. Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker. George Washington thought so highly of them he planted two at Mt. Vernon.

A huge oak tree had blown over and had taken a good piece of soil with it. It’s always surprising to see how shallow growing tree roots really are. That could be because there is lots of water here and the tree’s roots didn’t have to go deeper searching for it. The hole the uprooted tree left was full of water.

There is a lot of good farmland in Walpole and as this cornfield and hayfield show, much of it is still in use. I’ve seen signs of bear in this spot in the past but I was hopeful that I wouldn’t see any on this day.

Before you know it you’re at the trail head. You can’t miss it.

The trail narrows from here on up.

You can hunt at daybreak here but getting to your hunting spot in the dark can be a challenge, so hunters put small reflecting buttons on the trees. A flashlight will pick them out easily, I would think.

One year the meadow that was here suddenly became a cornfield and the corn attracted animals of all kinds, including bears. I’ve seen a lot of bear droppings all over this area ever since, so I carry a can of bear spray when I come here.

In Keene red maples (Acer rubrum) are producing seeds but up here their buds haven’t even opened yet.

Striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) were also behind their lowland cousins.

As I neared the overlook I saw a new sign, so I decided to explore.

Yes, there were ledges and I could see that the rock pilers had been here, piling their rocks. I’m guessing that they took them from one of the stone walls, which carries a fairly hefty fine if you get caught at it. I’m always at a loss as to why anyone would do this because these piles of rock don’t mark a trail and are meaningless, for the most part.

Other than a nice quartz outcrop there was really nothing here to see; trees blocked any view there might have been.

I left the ledge and kept on toward the summit and as I usually do when I come here, I had to stop at what’s left of the old foundation. I’m not sure who lived up here but they had plenty of courage and were strong people. All of this land would have been cleared then and sheep would probably have lived in the pastures. It was a tough life in what the Walpole Town History describes as a “vast wilderness.” But it was populated; many Native Americans lived here and they weren’t afraid to show their displeasure at losing their land.

There are an estimated 259,000 miles of stone walls in the northeastern U.S., most of which are in New England, and many are here in New Hampshire. The stones were found when the recently cleared pastures were plowed and they were either tossed into piles or used to build walls, wells, foundations and many other necessities of the day. Sometimes entire houses were built of stone but wood was plentiful and easier to work with, so we don’t have too many stone houses from that time. Most of what we see is used in stone walls like this one, which cross and crisscross the countryside in every direction.

This pond on the summit must be spring fed because it never dries up completely, even in drought years when the streams dry up. I always wonder if it was the water source for the family that once lived here.

I always take a photo of the sign when I come here. What it means is that at 1588 feet above sea level the summit is higher than the surrounding terrain, and the view is always blue.

The view was blue on this day but hazy as well. Still, you could just see the ski trails over on Stratton Mountain in Vermont, which is just across the Connecticut River Valley. I sat for a while, thankful that I made it up without meeting up with any bears. I’ve heard that more and more animals are getting used to seeing fewer people these days and everything from squirrels to deer to bear are being seen in towns, walking down city streets and even sunning themselves on lawns. It makes me think that if people suddenly disappeared it wouldn’t take animals long to get used to the silence.  

When I got back to my car I found a winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) on my door handle. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one seemed happy on a car door handle. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid, and this recent April day was both. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind.
Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation.
Suddenly, you know you are alive.
~Vera Nazarian

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy weekend!

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