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Archive for the ‘Wildflowers’ Category

Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) blooms here and there along the edges of woodlands, and about mid-June is when I first start seeing it. I don’t see it in the wild that often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. There were 5 or 6 plants in this group and they were beautiful. The plant is originally from Europe but it could hardly be called invasive.

I always like to try to get a bee’s eye view of foxglove blossoms. The lower lip protrudes a bit to give bees a landing pad, and from there they follow the spots, which are nectar guides, up to the top of the blossom where they find the nectar. While the bee is busy with the nectar the anthers above it rub on its back and deposit the flower’s pollen, which will then be taken to another blossom. If successfully pollinated a foxglove plant can produce from one to two million seeds.

These foxglove blossoms looked quite different with their somewhat pinched openings. I don’t know if I saw them before they had fully opened or if this is some type of natural cross with this habit. In old England picking foxglove was unlucky, and its blooms were forbidden inside because it was believed that they gave witches access to the house. I tried to think back to all the times I might have picked it and find that there are maybe two. It isn’t a plant that makes me want to pick it like a daisy or a rose might.

I’m always of two minds when it comes to black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia.) Though I like to see them I think of them as a fall flower, so in my mind June always seems far too early for them to appear. Are they really blooming earlier these days or have they always bloomed in June? Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. I did notice that this one had a lot of red in its petals, but only on half the flower.

Native spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a perennial wildflower that looks like a two foot tall shrub. It spreads by both seeds and underground stems and is considered a weed in some places. I find large colonies of it growing in sandy soil along sunny forest edges. The plant in related to milkweed and many species of butterflies rely on it.

Spreading dogbane has small, light pink, bell shaped flowers that have deeper pink stripes on their insides. They are fragrant but their scent is hard to describe. Spicy maybe. This plant is pollinated by butterflies and the flowers have barbs inside that trap short tongued insects. That’s how it gets another of its common names: flytrap dogbane. Each flower is just big enough to hold a pea.

The name peached leaved bluebells (Campanula persicifolia) comes from this plant’s leaves resembling those of the peach tree. I’ve read that it grows in the Alps and other mountain ranges in Europe, but its natural habitat is woodland margins, rocky outcrops in broad-leaved woods, meadows and stream banks. It is very easy to grow-literally a “plant it and forget it” perennial and it is said to be an English cottage garden classic.

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) trees can be messy but they’re one of our most beautiful trees. Imagine a tree covered in large white, orchid like blossoms and you’ll have a good idea of the catalpa. This tree is used ornamentally, but it needs plenty of room because it gets very large. When I was in grade school I had to walk under a big catalpa tree to get to school and I loved seeing it bloom because that meant school was almost over for the summer. In the fall when school started again the trees were filled with what looked like string beans. Each catalpa flower becomes a long, bean like seed pod and we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. Then the leaves, as big as our heads, began to turn yellow and fall before too long. They were the biggest leaves any of us had ever seen, but we were only in second grade.

At 1-2 inches across catalpa tree flowers are large and beautiful. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba. Some tribes used its inner bark to make a tea which had a sedative effect and is said to be mildly narcotic. The bark tea was also used to treat malaria.

White daisy fleabane flowers (Erigeron strigosus) can appear pink in the right light, as these did. This plant will bloom right up until fall, when it will sometimes be confused with asters. I regularly find fleabane growing in sunny spots quite deep in the woods where you wouldn’t expect it to be.

The first perforate St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) flowers have appeared and they’re beautiful as always. Originally from Europe, St. John’s wort has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun. The leaves are yellow-green in color with scattered translucent dots of glandular tissue, and that’s where the perforatum part of the scientific name comes from. These dots can be seen better when held up to the light but you can just see them in the small leaf in the lower center, partially hidden by the flower. They do make the leaf look perforated with pin holes.

Five pale yellow heart shaped petals surround a center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils in a sulfur cinquefoil blossom (Potentilla recta.) Close to the center each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I like its soft, butter yellow color.

White campion (Silene latifolia) can sometimes shade towards pink but this one was pure white. You can see the deep cleft or split in the petals, which is a good way to identify it. It has 5 petals that at first glance look like 10. This plant is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on different plants. One way to tell if a flower is male or female is by counting the veins on the bladder (calyx) behind it. Male plants have 10 parallel veins on their calyx and females have 20. This well-known plant was introduced from Europe and prefers fields and waste places with soil on the dry side.

Catchfly (Silene armeria) is an unusual plant that I rarely see. I’ve seen four or five of them this year, but all in the same general area. It is originally from Europe and is also called sweet William catchfly. It is said to be an old fashioned garden plant in Europe and is supposed to be a “casual weed” in New Hampshire. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. I’ve felt it and it is indeed quite sticky. Small insects are said to get caught in it and I can see how that would happen. Its leaves and stems are a smooth blue grayish color and along with the small pinkish purple flowers they made for a very pretty little plant that I’m hoping to see more of.

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) has just come into bloom and I’m happy to see it because I think it’s a beautiful flower, even if it is invasive. It’s another one of those that often seem to glow with their own inner light and I enjoy just looking at it for a time. Crown vetch has seed pods look that like axe heads and English botanist John Gerard called the plant axewort and axeseed in 1633. It is thought that its seeds somehow ended up in other imported plant material because the plant was found in New York in 1869. By 1872 it had become naturalized in New York and now it is in every state in the country except Alaska.

Tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) gets its common name from the way that its seeds cling to clothing like ticks. The plant is also called lance leaved coreopsis and that is where the lanceolata part of the scientific name comes from. Coreopsis is found in flower beds as well as in the wild and can form large colonies if left alone. It is often used to stabilize embankments as can be seen in the above photo.

The pretty, bright yellow flowers of tickseed coreopsis are about an inch and a half across and stand at the top of thin, wiry stems. This is a native plant with a cousin known as greater tickseed that grows in the south. It can be a bit weedy in a garden but the seedlings are easily recognizable and usually pull easily.

Red clover is doing well this year and I’m very happy that I can say that, but it wasn’t always so; there was a time when I cursed this plant. It was an ugly, ungainly weed that was hard to pull, looked terrible when it was mowed or weedwhacked, and quickly made a garden look there was no gardener tending it.

But then one evening a single ray of sunlight fell on a red clover blossom at the edge of the woods and I went and knelt by it to take its photo. I think it was really more practice photo than anything; after all who would want to see a photo of an ugly old weed? But then I saw the beauty of each tiny orchid like flower, and how each one had an inner light shining out from it. I have never looked down on it or any other plant or flower since. Telling this story always reminds me of the words from the hymn Amazing Grace: “I once was blind but now I see,” because that’s truly the way it happens. Your eyes can be opened to whatever they fail to see in a millisecond, even when what they fail to see is you.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) is also called self-heal and has been used medicinally since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight. To me heal all flowers always look like they’re shouting “Yay!” Why would they be so happy? Because they’re alive. They exist. All of nature is in a state of ecstasy because it simply is. That’s another lesson nature tries to teach us, but we’re usually far too busy to pay attention.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) is another common weed, maybe not hated but certainly stepped on by many a heel because of its ground hugging, sprawling habit. But as is often the case when you really look at some neglected thing, you find beauty. Common speedwell has been used medicinally for centuries in Europe and its leaves were used as a tea substitute there. Though it isn’t really invasive it is considered an agricultural weed. It sends up its vertical flower stalks in May and each flower stalk (Raceme) has many very small blue flowers streaked with dark purple lines. They’re beautiful little things, but they sure aren’t easy to photograph.

The aspirin size flowers of white wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) are smaller than the leaves and hide beneath them, so you have to look closely to find them. Looking for them always makes me feel like I’m sneaking up on a rabbit or a deer or some other shy creature.

It’s worth looking closely, because white wood sorrel flowers are pin striped and very beautiful. This plant is scarce here; I’ve seen it in only two places.

This shot of ox-eye daisies is for Ginny, who a couple of posts ago admired the way they stood so straight and tall compared to garden variety Shasta daisies, which flop all around. These examples were some of the tallest I’ve ever seen, and stood ramrod straight. They proved her point perfectly.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.  ~A.A. Milne

Thanks for coming by. Happy Summer!

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Last Sunday I decided, for no particular reason, to visit Goose Pond in Keene. This was my favorite view from that outing.

Goose pond is part of a five hundred acre wilderness area that isn’t that far from downtown Keene. It  was called Crystal Lake and / or Sylvan Lake in the early 1900s. The pond was artificially enlarged to 42 acres in 1865 so the town of Keene would have a water supply to fight fires with. Wooden pipe fed 48 hydrants by 1869 but the town stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s, and in 1984 it was designated a wilderness area. The vast forest tract surrounding the pond has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s, and it is indeed wilderness.

This is one of many approaches to the pond. It’s the one I usually take, which is steadily uphill but not too exhausting.

I was surprised to see shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) here. I’ve only seen this plant in two or three other places so it seems to be on the rare side in this area. It is also called flame leaf sumac, dwarf sumac, or winged sumac. This example had been cut and was only knee high but I’ve read that they can reach about 8-10 feet. The foliage turns a beautiful, brilliant orange-red in fall.

I thought this witch hazel was rushing the season just a bit.

I saw one of the biggest pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) I’ve ever seen on this day. The plant was probably twice the size of my hand with its big leaves when usually they are barely as big as your hand. There was no flower of course but there was a seed pod.

And here is the seed pod, with what is left of what appears to be a very large flower dangling from its end. These seed pods contain between 10,000 and 20,00 tiny, dust like seeds. According to the U.S. Forest Service “The seeds require threads of a fungus  in the Rhizoctonia genus to break them open and attach them to it. The fungus will pass on food and nutrients to the pink lady’s slipper seed. When the lady’s slipper plant is older and producing most of its own nutrients, the fungus will extract nutrients from the orchid roots. This mutually beneficial relationship between the orchid and the fungus is known as “symbiosis” and is typical of almost all orchid species.” This is why it is waste of time to collect orchids or orchid seed from the wild and expect them to grow in your yard.

The various views of the water from along the trail were very pleasing on this day. This is a not very good shot of the island that I took with my phone. I wanted to keep it because I camped on islands in a few different area lakes when I was younger, but never this one. There was a chance of thunderstorms on this day and the island reminded me that there’s nothing quite like riding out a thunderstorm on an island in the middle of a lake. There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide but when it’s over you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt.

This old tree stump showed that the water level had dropped about an inch, despite recent rains. The photo made it look almost as if the scene were floating in the sky.

For the first time ever I saw new spring, purple colored seed cones on an eastern hemlock. I was stunned, since my house is virtually surrounded by the trees. I think I’m always more amazed by what I don’t see than what I do. I can’t explain how I’ve missed them all these years, but they are the smallest cones of any conifer in this region.

Goose pond is unusual because it has a wide trail that goes all the way around it. This part of the trail is really much darker than my cell phone made it look.

There are two or three bridges here to help one across inflowing streams but there are also other crossings that have wet stones instead of bridges, so sturdy waterproof hiking boots are a good idea here. Walking poles too if your balance isn’t what it once was.

Most of the streams aren’t that deep but if you step in the right spot you might find water pouring into your boot.  

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) starts life as a beautiful gray and white crust-like fungus in the spring, but before long it grows into something quite different.

As this photo taken a few years ago shows, a brittle cinder fungus like that shown in the previous photo becomes what looks like a shiny lump of coal. Though I’ve only seen this fungus on standing dead trees and logs it will attack live trees and is said to be aggressive. Once it gets into a wound on the tree’s roots or trunk it begins to break down the cellulose and lignin and causes soft rot. The tree is then doomed, though it may live on for a few to even several more years.

Blue flags (Iris versicolor) bloomed here and there at the edge of the water.

They were just about at the end of their run and looked a bit ragged, but still beautifully colored.

This is a time of year when we see heavy pollen production, especially from white pine trees. A lot of that pollen falls onto the water of ponds and lakes and will collect in the shallows. This frog didn’t look too happy about it.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) were showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It’s a pretty little thing that is native to eastern North America.

What I think was a red spotted purple butterfly ( Limenitis arthemis astyanax) landed on a log a few feet away but it didn’t turn to give me a chance for a good shot. It wanted to look rather than to be looked at, so I didn’t bother it and let it look. I hope one of its cousins will be more willing to have its photo shown here in the future.

There are quite a few stands of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) here and, though most had been heavily browsed by deer or moose, this one had produced berries. They’ll go from green to red to finally a deep purple. In this photo you can see the dark wire-like stems of hobblebush, which gets its name from the way it can “hobble” or trip up a horse. (Or a man.) Viburnums have been used by man in many ways since before recorded history. The 5,000 year old “Iceman” found frozen in the Alps was carrying arrow shafts made from a European Viburnum wood.

I though this clubmoss was beautiful with its ring of lighter new spring growth.

This is just another of far too many photos of the pond that I took. It’s hard not to admire such a beautiful, pristine place.

I usually go clockwise around the pond and when I do that, this odd stone is one of the last things I see before arriving back where I started. The soil has finally washed away from the far end enough so I could see that it’s only about a foot and a half long. It has been cut, and is faced of all four sides with sharp, 90 degree corners. It’s far too short to be a fence post but in the 1800s people didn’t spend hours of their time working on something like this for no reason, so it was used for something. How it ended up out here partially buried in the middle of the trail will always be a mystery.

Goose pond is a great place to have a hike, especially in the morning. It can get quite warm even in a forest and this day was like that even though I was there by 9:30 am. It takes me about two hours to hike all the way around the pond but I can see a teenager doing it in maybe 30 minutes. It depends on how many things you stop to admire. There are people fishing and swimming and dog walking and even bike riding but all in all it’s a quiet, enjoyable place for a walk or for even simply sitting and enjoying nature. Beside the stream in this photo would be a great place for that.

Go slow, my life, go slow. Let me enjoy the beauty of silence, serenity, and solitude. ~Debasish Mridha

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Our beautiful fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have just started blooming but as this photo shows, the leaves are already being eaten. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds, but there are so many of them constantly coming into bloom it seems like the flowers last all summer. This is the most beautiful of all our aquatics, in my opinion. Some say the scent reminds them of honeydew melon. 

I don’t know if I could think of a more beautiful name for a plant than “fawn’s breath.” This plant (Gillenia trifoliata) gets that name from the way that its very pretty flowers dance at the ends of long stems at even the hint of a breeze. Even presumably, the breath of a fawn can set them dancing. It is also called bowman’s root but I’ve never been able to discover why. This is a native plant which grows in 21 of the lower 48 states but here I have to find it in gardens. The roots of the plant were used as a laxative by Native Americans so it is also called Indian physic.

My color finding software calls this color “plum,” “rose,” or “orchid” but many websites call it pink. Since the plant is named maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) that would make sense, but colorblindness means my opinion doesn’t really matter. Whatever color it is that these eyes see is beautiful.

And whatever color you choose to see them as will be beautiful as well. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but they 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 in almost pure sand. I’ve read that the name “pinks” comes from the way the outer edges look as if they were cut with pinking shears but I don’t know how true that is. I’m sure the flowers have been here longer than pinking shears.

You might have noticed some small yellow flowers in that photo of maiden pinks. They were the flowers of silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea.) It is not silverweed (Potentilla anserina) and shouldn’t be confused with that plant. It comes from Europe and is considered invasive but it is quite pretty and it can often be found in the same areas that maiden pinks grow in. The leaves are silvery white on their undersides, and that’s where the common name comes from.

In this part of the state the only lupines that could be thought of as wild are the ones that grow along the sides of highways, but they are not truly wild because the seed was put down by the highway department when the roadsides were redone. I knew of two places where these highway lupines grew but this year there wasn’t a sign of them, so this one comes to you from a local park. Tame or wild doesn’t matter really. It’s their beauty that matters and these had lots of it.

It’s clematis time and I like this one very much. It comes from the bud dark as you see here and over the course of time it lightens to a paler blue with a darker stripe down the center of each petal.

I believe its name is Ramona.

And here is Loreley. (Lorelei) The name refers to the sirens that would perch on cliffs along the Rhine and entice sailors to their doom with their enchanting song, much like the sirens who lured Ulysses and his crew in the Odyssey. It was introduced in Germany in 1909 and its beauty has been pleasing people ever since. Indeed this iris has pleased me my entire life. My mother planted it before she died and if I were to search my memory for a flower as far back as I could reach, this is the one I would find there. I’ve carried both the memory and the actual plant with me throughout my entire life.

This iris lives in the water at the edge of ponds and rivers and though it might have enticed a sailor or two it has pleased few people in this country, because it is very aggressively invasive. I once saw a small pond that was so full of them nothing else could grow there so that’s why, even though it is exceedingly beautiful, it is hated by many. It is the yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) and it is originally from Europe. It was introduced here in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire. As you can see though it distributes itself, and how do you ban that?

Orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) is also from Europe and is also considered invasive but the difference between it and the yellow flag iris is that it isn’t aggressive. I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed and I’m not sure why that is. The color orange is virtually invisible to bees so that might account for its relative scarcity here. In fact orange wildflowers as a group are hard to find. The only other orange wildflower I can think of is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis.)

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) is blooming and I love its dime size purple flowers with their ten anthers all tucked into their own pockets. It is thought that by having the pollen bearing anthers in  pockets like they do laurels keep the pollen from being washed away by rain, but I don’t think that is a scientific fact. What is a fact is the anthers reside in the pockets under tension, so when a heavy enough insect lands on the flower the spring loaded anthers release from their pockets and dust it with pollen.

For years I’ve gone back and forth on whether these were sheep laurel or bog laurel. Since I kept finding them growing in standing water I thought they were bog laurels, but sheep laurels are the only ones that have flower clusters with new growth coming out below to grow up around them, and the photo above matches more than a handful of examples I have seen online. It took a while to see this clearly but luckily I have helpers who often gently prod me in the correct direction. I’m very lucky to have them and grateful that I do.  

I once gardened for a lady who absolutely despised anemones and forbade me to plant any in her yard. She never told me why she didn’t like them but she had spent considerable time in Europe and the Middle East so I assumed she must have foreign anemones (maybe windflowers?) in mind. When I pointed out that the white flowers that grew in one corner of her recently purchased yard were anemones she was surprised but she also thought they were pretty, and said they could stay. Of course they were native meadow anemones (Anemone canadensis.)

Meadow anemone is an old fashioned garden favorite that has much larger flowers than our other native wood anemone. Though it seems to spread out in a garden it’s easy to control. It’s also called crowfoot because of the foliage and it is also known as Canada anemone. Native Americans used this plant medicinally and its root and leaves were one of the most highly regarded medicines of the Omaha and Ponca tribes. It was used as an eye wash, an antiseptic, and to treat headaches and dizziness. The root was chewed to clear the throat so a person could sing better, but I’d want to find out what toxins it might contain before I tried it.

Pretty little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) has come into bloom. It is 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.

The flowers on our native viburnums like the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals, and the leaves though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) has beautiful small white (rarely pink) flowers that are about an inch across but unfortunately it is very invasive and forms prickly thickets that nobody I know would dare to try and get through. It is from Japan and Korea and grows to huge proportions, arching up over shrubs and sometimes growing 20-30 feet up into trees. A large plant bearing hundreds of blossoms is a truly beautiful thing but its thorny thickets prevent all but the smallest animals from getting where they want to go. Its sale is banned in New Hampshire but since each plant can easily produce half a million seeds I think it’s here to stay.

I love to look deep into a multiflora rose blossom, and I love to smell their heavenly fragrance. It’s very easy to understand why it was originally brought here.

I am always reminded each spring that one of the great delights of wandering in the New Hampshire woods is the amazing fragrance of wild grape flowers that wafts on the breeze. Their perfume can be detected from quite a distance so I usually let my nose lead me to them.

I’m always surprised that such a big scent comes from such tiny flowers, each no bigger than the head of a match. Each will become a grape when pollinated. We have a few varieties of wild grape here in New Hampshire including fox grapes (Vitis  fruitlabrusca), and frost or river grapes (Vitis riparia.) The fruit is an important food source for everything from birds to bears.

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has been used medicinally for nobody knows how long; it has even been found in Neanderthal graves. The scientific name Achillea comes from the legend of Achilles carrying the plant into battle so it could be used to staunch the flow of blood from his soldier’s wounds. 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.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They grow at the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. It is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed. The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals and this is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch. It is also called starwort and I love seeing its pretty flowers twinkling in the tall grasses that they grow among.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. ~Rumi

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Ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) have just started to bloom. They were originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada so in fact it is considered invasive, but nobody but cattle ranchers seem to mind. The ranchers don’t like it because the cattle don’t eat it, and that gives the daisy a chance to take over the entire pasture. That means fewer plants that the cattle do eat.

Georgia O’Keefe said “If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.” Why not try it and see?

Our beautiful native black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) trees have also just come into bloom. Each tree is filled with white, very fragrant blooms that remind me of wisteria in shape. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well. They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

Blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) have had a disappointing showing this year. In fact I went to a large colony I know of and found that every plant was gone. Since it takes more than 12 years for new plants to produce flowers, their loss is hard to take. I’m guessing that last year’s drought and heat had something to do with it but not all plants disappeared; I found this small colony under a pine tree.

A close look at the flower shows why blue bead lily is in the lily family; each one looks like a miniature garden lily. Each flower will become a single electric blue berry, which is toxic. One Native American legend says that, when a grass snake eats a poisonous toad, it slithers in rapid circles around a shoot of blue-bead lily to transfer the poison to the plant.

Though fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) might seem like an exotic import from China or another Asian country but they are actually native to the east coast right here in the U.S. It’s a beautiful and fragrant tree that you rarely see anywhere, and I always wonder why it’s so under used. It is said to be tougher than dogwood, more dependable than saucer magnolia, longer-lived than cherry, and smells much better than Bradford pears.

Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) is in full bloom now and is a plant held in high regard for its hard to find clear blue color. This is another tough native plant that bees love. People love it too, and it is now sold in nurseries. The black seed pods full of loose, rattling, seeds that follow the flowers were once used as rattles by children. Not surprisingly, other common names include rattle weed and rattle bush. Native Americans made a blue dye from this native plant that was a substitute for true indigo.

I’ll remember this year for the irises, which are blooming Like I’ve never seen. This bearded iris was big and very beautiful. On a bearded Iris a fringe or “beard” runs down the center of each of the three petals that fall or hang down.

This shot is for those who’ve never looked into an iris. They’re beautiful no matter how you look at them.

The lemon daylily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) is a very old species brought to America in colonial days and originally from China and Europe. It has a wonderful spicy citrus fragrance and everyone I know who grows it has always called it the lemon lily. The Greek 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.

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval leaves at the base of the stem often turns deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Mountain maple trees (Acer spicatum) are flowering now but I doubt many have noticed, even though these trees flower like no other maple. All other maple trees have flowers that hang down but mountain maple’s flower clusters stand upright, above the leaves. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum) and I think that’s why many people never notice them. The shrub like tree is a good indicator of moist soil which leans toward the alkaline side of neutral. Native Americans made an infusion of the pith of the young twigs to use as eye drops to soothe eyes irritated by campfire smoke, and the large leaves were packed around apples and root crops to help preserve them.

A first for this blog is pale beardtongue (Penstemon pallidus.) This plant likes dry, sandy or rocky soil and that’s what I found it growing in. All parts, it is said, are covered with soft downy hairs. The tubular 3/4 inch long flowers are quite pretty and reminded me of small foxglove blossoms. Though native this was the first time I had seen it. It grew in a local pollinator garden.

Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. Such a lowly weed, but I like its beautiful color and it’s nice to see it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses along roadsides.

Showy yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis,) also known as meadow salsify, has the odd habit of closing its flowers at around noontime each day, so I can only see it on weekends and holidays. Aids in identification are how the large, 2 inch flowers follow the sun so that they are always facing it, and petals that have 5 notches on their outer edges. Also, the seed heads look like a large dandelion seed head and a white latex sap will ooze from the stems if they are broken. This plant is originally from Europe.

Another first for this blog is the Kentucky yellowwood tree (Cladrastis kentukea,) which has long, pendulous flower heads full of very beautiful fragrant white flowers. This is a southern tree and its hardiness is questionable this far north but this and 4 or 5 other trees grow near a mass of brick at the local college. Bricks in such a massive wall absorb a lot of warmth from the sun during the day and then release it slowly at night, keeping it warm enough to grow southern trees like yellowwood and sweet gum. The northernmost range of this tree is actually North Carolina, so the old landscape designer’s trick does indeed work.

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) is a climbing vine in the potato family that can grow to 10 feet long and can be seen growing on trees and shrubs. One of the more noticeable things about this plant is its unusual odor when it is bruised; it’s hard to describe but it isn’t pleasant. The plant is from Europe and Asia and is considered an invasive weed. All parts of this plant are considered toxic. Other names for bittersweet nightshade are bittersweet, bitter nightshade, blue bindweed, blue nightshade, climbing nightshade, dwale, dulcamara, European bittersweet, fellenwort, fevertwig, morel, nightshade, poisonberry, poison flower, pushion-berry, scarlet berry, skawcoo, snakeberry, tether-devil, violet-bloom, wolf grape, and woody nightshade.

I love the color of the flowers. This one seems to have one misshapen petal but that doesn’t matter; it’s still beautiful. The flowers will become bright red berries that look like miniature Roma tomatoes in the fall.

Our rhododendrons are blossoming and the eastern swallowtail butterflies couldn’t be happier.

Blackberries seem to be having a good year; they’re covered in blossoms.

Raspberries too, are doing well. I’m going to have to start walking along rail trails so I can sample them. When I was a boy I used to eat the wild berries along the railroad tracks all day long. There were very few people walking the tracks back then so the birds and I had most of the berries all to ourselves. The taste of ripe raspberries or blackberries on a hot summer day is something you never forget.

Another plant that grew along the railroad tracks when I was a boy was tradescantia, and I loved the strange triangular blue flowers they had each spring. My father also walked the railroad tracks to get to work and he saw these sprawling, ungainly plants as weeds that nobody wanted, so he wasn’t thrilled when I started digging them up and bringing them home to plant in the yard. He didn’t stop me but he did wonder why I kept dragging home those “dammed old weeds” and that is why, to this day, every time I see a tradescantia I think of him.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one taken with the unusual beauty of tradescantia flowers because now there are purple ones. When I first saw them I assumed that plant breeders had been at work on them and I just found out that is true.

And then there is this, which in my opinion is the most beautiful tradescantia blossom of all. I think even my father would have been happy to see this one. I looked online for it and I found that there are all kinds of tradescantia cultivars out there, so if you like these little flowers as much as I do you can easily have them in your own garden.

Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life.  ~Anonymous

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The last time I visited the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland I mentioned in the resulting blog post the violets that grow here in spring, and several people’s ears pricked up. They said they’d like to see them so that’s what this visit is all about. I had been seeing lots of violets blooming in Keene so I felt confident that I’d see some here, but not in the part of the deep cut that you see above. I think of this as the “sterile” part of the canyon because few plants besides mosses grow there. The walls are close to 50 feet high in places I’ve been told by people who climb them, and though it is sunny in the photo it’s in deep shade for most of the day.

Instead we go south to where all the growth is.

And there is a lot of growth. Every surface, whether it is vertical or horizontal has something growing on it. When I was a boy I dreamed of being a plant explorer, travelling all over the world to find beautiful plants for botanic gardens, and one of the books I read back then was James Hilton’s Lost Horizons. I never became a plant hunter but I did find my own Shangri-La, right here in Westmoreland New Hampshire. The beauty and lushness found here are like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else.

By the way, for those new to this blog; this is what the canyon looks like in winter. All of the dripping groundwater you hear at other times of the year becomes ice, and in February you wonder how anything could ever grow here.

But things do grow here, and if anything it seems like it must be the ice helping them do so well. Foamflowers for instance, grow as well or better here than I’ve ever seen them grow anywhere else.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) are always beautiful no matter where they grow but the ones that grow here seem healthier and more robust.

The Jack in the pulpit flowers (Arisaema triphyllum) I’ve seen here get bigger than they are anywhere else I go, so I’d guess that they like all the extra water as well. I usually lift the hood of the striped spathe so I can see the spadix inside but this time I didn’t have to; a side view shows how Jack lives in his pulpit.

I’ve seen Jack in the pulpit plants reach waist high here while in other places they barely reach knee high. The leaves on this plant were huge and I wanted you to see them because they are sometimes mistaken for trillium leaves.

Here were two red trillium plants, also with huge leaves. If you compare them with the Jack in the pulpit leaves in the previous photo you’ll see that there are differences. The overall shape of the trillium plant from above is round while with Jack in the pulpit it is more triangular. The trillium leaves are more rounded as well, but the main difference is in how the trillium flower stalk rises out of the center where the three leaves meet. In a Jack in the pulpit the flower is on its own stalk that rises directly from the ground.

And here were the violets; thousands of them, doing better this year than I think I’ve ever seen. In years past I decided that they were marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) because the long flower stem (peduncle) gets the flowers high above the leaves. These violets aren’t shy; they shout here we are!

They’re very beautiful, even when they peek out of grasses and sedges. Though my color finding software sees lavender highlights here and there it tells me that most of these violets are cornflower blue.

Small waterfalls occasionally pour from the walls as they were on this day, and I think that’s why all of these plants can do so well here. The ice that forms here in winter is almost always colored in various colors and I think that is because this ground water is mineral rich. Those same minerals that color the ice are most likely taken up and used by all of these plants.

The tinkling, dripping sounds of water are constant no matter where in the canyon you may be.

All of that dripping, splashing water means that plants like violets can grow right on the stone. This shot shows how the flower stem on the marsh blue violet gets the flowers high above the leaves. If I understand what I’ve read correctly it is the only violet that does this. (And this is probably the only violet that can handle all of this water.)

Even dandelions, which have a tap root like a carrot, can grow on stone here. Note how wet the surrounding stone is. Even trees grow on stone here, but they usually fall before they get very old.

Kidney leaved buttercups (Ranunculus abortivus) grew here and there along the trail. They’re always a challenge to photograph because their wiry stems sprawl and move in the wind.

Each tiny flower is only about a quarter inch in diameter with five yellow petals and ten or more yellow stamens surrounding a shiny green center that resembles a raspberry in shape. This plant is also called little leaf buttercup or small flowered buttercup. Like other plants in the buttercup family it is toxic.

I saw a few groups of ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) here and I’ve got to try to remember they’re here because their spring fiddleheads look like no other that I know of and I’d like to come back next spring to get photos of them. Another name for this fern is the shuttlecock fern and that’s a good description, because that’s exactly the shape they have. Though I’ve read that they can reach seven feet tall under optimum conditions the examples I saw were about three and a half feet tall.

The leaf stalk of an ostrich fern is deeply grooved as seen here, and if you are going to forage for fern fiddleheads to eat you would do well to remember this. Other ferns like the interrupted fern and cinnamon fern have grooved leaf stalks but their grooves are much more shallow than these.

As this shot from 2015 shows. ostrich fern spring fiddleheads are smooth and bright, pea green. Even at this stage they have that deep groove in the stalks, and no wooly coating. They like to grow in shady places where the soil is consistently damp. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are considered a great delicacy by many and many restaurants are happy to pay premium prices for them in spring. I’ve always heard that ostrich fern is the only one of our native ferns that is safe to eat.

Unfortunately there was a lot of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolate) here. This plant is very invasive and can form large monocultures of nothing but garlic mustard. The plant was originally brought from Europe in the 1800s as an herb, and to be used for erosion control. Of course it immediately escaped and is now trying to take over the world. By the time native plants come up in spring garlic mustard has already grown enough to shade them out and that’s how it outcompetes our native species. It is edible in spring when young but increases in toxicity (Cyanide) as it ages. It has a taproot but it can be pulled, preferably before it sets seed. In the U.K. it is called Jack-by-the-hedge and we kind of wish it had stayed there. By the hedge, I mean.

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along the drainage channels here. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. It isn’t the same as the cultivated chervil used to flavor soups and it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley and resembles many plants that are very poisonous, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

I realized when I was here that I’ve never shown you what happens when you exit the canyon, so here you are. You can just see the roofline of the old lineman’s shack behind those trees to the left.

And here is what’s left of the lineman’s shack. The front wall is leaning back quite severely now and that most likely means the ridgepole has snapped, so the old place can’t be long for this world. The ridgepole is what the rafters attach to and without it, it all comes tumbling down. I’ll be sorry to see that. I’ve been coming here for so many years it seems like an old friend.

I hope all of you violet lovers out there enjoyed seeing how they grow in nature, and the beauty of this place. This violet was my favorite. My color finding software tells me it’s steel blue.

The superstition still survives in widely scattered countries that to dream of the violet is good luck. ~Cora Linn Daniels

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I didn’t think I was going to see our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) this year because every plant I visited had no flower stalks or buds, but then I saw this beauty growing in a roadside ditch. The name “flag” comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves. In this instance they were growing right in the water of the ditch, which shows that they don’t mind wet roots.

Beautiful blue flag irises always say June to me and here they are, right on schedule. There is also a southern blue flag (Iris virginica.) Though Native Americans used native irises medicinally their roots are considered dangerously toxic.

Dogwoods (Cornus) have just come into bloom and I caught up with this one on a recent rainy day. Dogwood blossoms have 4 large white bracts surrounding the actual small greenish flowers in the center. The dogwood family is well represented in this area, with many native species easily found.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is in the dogwood family and just like the tree dogwood blossom we saw previously 4 large white bracts surround the small greenish flowers in the center. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give it its common name. That little starflower in the lower part of the photo jumped in just as I clicked the shutter.

Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) blossoms also have 4 larger white bracts surrounding the actual flowers in the center but everything is so small it’s hard to see. Gray dogwood flower clusters are sort of mounded as is seen here, while silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) are flatter. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. The silky dogwood will have berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Now that the common lilacs are done blooming the dwarf Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri) take over. They are fragrant but have a different scent than a common lilac. Each year at this time I visit a a park where dwarf lilacs, fringe trees, and black locusts, all very fragrant flowers, all bloom at once and it is unbelievable. Though called Korean lilac the original plant was found in a garden near Beijing, China by Frank Meyer in 1909. It has never been seen in the wild so its origin is unknown. If you love lilacs but don’t have a lot of room this one’s for you. They are a no maintenance plant that is very easy to grow.

Bearded irises seem to be doing quite well this year. I’m seeing them everywhere I go.

Beautiful Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the native fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms, while its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns, especially in cemeteries, it seems. This year I learned another name for them: wandering fleabane. That’s a good one because this plant gets around.

Another plant I often see in cemeteries is the old fashioned bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia). When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one and I liked them because they’re a low to no maintenance shrub that really asked for nothing. You could prune it for shape if you wanted but you didn’t need to. The 6-8 foot shrubs are loaded with beautiful flowers right now but I suppose they’re considered old fashioned because I seem to see fewer of them each year.

In Greek the word spirea means wreath, but the plant comes from China and Korea. Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune originally found it in a garden in China in the 1800s but it grows naturally on rocky hillsides, where its long branches full of white flowers spill down like floral waterfalls.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) was so highly valued that it was brought over from England by the colonists in the 1600s. They used it as an ornamental back then and it has been with us ever since. Though it is considered invasive most of us don’t really mind because it’s beautiful. This plant forms clumps much like phlox and can get 5 feet tall under the right conditions. It is very fragrant in the evening.

The easiest way to tell whether you’re seeing Dame’s rocket or phlox is to count the flower petals. Dame’s rocket has 4 petals and phlox has 5. If there are no flowers look at the leaves; phlox leaves are opposite while Dames rocket has alternate leaves. Even easier is to simply not care, and just enjoy their beauty.

This wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) grew right beside the Dame’s rocket and showed the differences very well. A close look shows that the flowers really don’t look anything like those of Dame’s rocket.

I know of only one red horse chestnut tree and it grows in a local park. The red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) I’ve read that bees and hummingbirds love the beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today in fact, but I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the small, pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and other insects.

The surface of the pipevine flower is roughly pebbled, presumably to make it easier for the butterfly to hang onto. Though it was used by Native Americans to treat pain and infections the plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some southeastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s. If you have a view you’d like to screen off just for the summer months this plant might be for you, but you’ll need a sturdy trellis.

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is a plant that is not doing well this year. I’m seeing plenty of leaves but this is the only flower I found. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, so maybe that is why. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

A mayapple colony is made up of plants with large leaves that grow close together, so to find the flowers you have to move the leaves a bit.

Red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) is a beautiful but tiny thing. I can usually only see a bit of color and  have to let the camera see the flower but on this day I was able to see the actual flowers, and there were many of them. Red sandspurry was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s but it could hardly be called invasive. It is such a tiny plant that it would take many hundreds of them just to fill a coffee cup.

Here is shot of a blossom overhanging a penny that I took a few years ago. Because it isn’t touching the penny perspective makes it look a bit bigger than it is. it’s really about the size of Lincoln’s ear.

It’s honeysuckle time and Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is one of the prettiest, in my opinion. Unfortunately it is also invasive, originally from Siberia and other parts of eastern Asia. In fall its pretty flowers become bright red berries. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre, according to the Forest Service. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, and the land around these colonies is often barren.

Morrow’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) is another invasive honeysuckle. It was imported in the 1800s for use as an ornamental, for wildlife food, and for erosion control. It has pretty white flowers that turn yellow with age. As is true with most honeysuckles the flowers are very sweetly fragrant. Unfortunately it spreads by its berries like Tatarian honeysuckle and it can form dense thickets and outcompete native shrubs. It seems more aggressive than Tatarian honeysuckle; I see it far more often.

While I was looking to see if the nodding trilliums were blooming I stumbled upon what I knew was a honeysuckle, but it was one I had never seen. After a couple of weeks of waiting for its buds to open I finally found that I had discovered a very pretty native wild honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica.) The plant is also called limber honeysuckle or glaucous honeysuckle and though I can’t speak of its rarity I can say that this is the first time I’ve seen it, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time outdoors.

Wild honeysuckle is a low shrub with vining characteristics, meaning that it will loosely twine around other shrubs that might be growing nearby, trying to reach more sunlight. One inch long red or sometimes yellow tubular flowers with bright yellow stamens appear at the ends of the branches. Their throats are hairy and like other native honeysuckles the stigma is dome or mushroom shaped. The leaves are white on the underside and you can just see that on the left in this photo.

I took this shot to show you the urn or egg shaped ovaries at the base of the flower tubes. Each tubular flower has a small bump at its base, just before the ovary. I’ve read that this honeysuckle likes sandy, wet places at high elevations in mixed hard and soft wood forests, but I found it just a few feet from a road. I’m hoping it will like it there and spread some.

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
~James Wright 

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

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

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

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

Fern fiddleheads were beautiful, as always.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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