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Archive for the ‘Wildflowers’ Category

You know it is high summer when our native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) start blooming. This plant is well known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, as a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

On this day bumblebees were all over the coneflowers.

There were lots of insects on the tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) too and that surprised me because tansy is a natural insect repellent and was used as such in colonial times. Dried tansy added to the straw in mattresses was said to keep bedbugs away. These insects must not have read the same books that I have because they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Tansy is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries and was brought over on the first ships to cross the Atlantic. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. Most tansy plants are seen in gardens but it had naturalized itself in New England by 1785 and can still be occasionally found growing along roadsides. It’s a good plant to use in vegetable gardens for pest control. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

Pickerel weed likes to grow in shallow water and large amounts of it grow here in the shallows of a local pond. This plant tells the story of how low the water level is and can be a help to kayakers and canoeists who don’t want to find themselves stuck in the mud. This plant is blossoming much later this year than it usually does and some aquatics like pipewort and arrowhead I haven’t seen at all.

Pickerelweed’s common name comes from the pickerel fish because they were once thought to breed only under its leaves. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. Though humans can eat the seeds and new spring shoots of this plant there is no record that I can find of Native Americans using it for food, but I have read that some tribes used it as a contraceptive. I’m not sure how that worked.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long white styles sticking out of the tubular blossoms the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to. That might be why I see so many ducks and geese along this stretch of river.

Though I’m not foolish enough to think that I’ve seen every plant there is to see out there I’m always surprised to see plants I’ve never seen before growing in areas I’ve walked through dozens, if not hundreds of times. I first saw racemed milkwort (Polygala polygama) recently in a spot I frequent occasionally and then I found it growing in my own yard. It’s a small, shin high plant with flowers too small for me to see any real detail in without magnification.

The tiny flowers are about a 1/4 inch across with 2 winged sepals on either side of 2 petals rolled into a tube in the center. The flowers also have a fringed crest but this example hadn’t blossomed full so it doesn’t show. These flowers are like miniature versions of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers, which appear in mid-May.

This photo of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers that I took last May shows the similarities between them and the racemed milkwort blossom in the previous photo. The central tubular petals and two winged petals immediately led me to the polygala family when I was trying to identify the racemed milkwort. Other names for fringed polygala are fringed milkwort and gaywings. They’re very beautiful things that I wait impatiently to see each spring.

This photo shows how small the flowers of racemed milkwort really are. They’re hard on the eyes, but worth the effort to see in all their beauty.

Another tiny flower is found on native Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense). The plant has deep red buds but its flowers come in the more traditional yellow. Though some very reputable websites will tell you that this plant likes wet soil I always find it in dry gravel. It has grown in full sunshine for months now without harm so it’s a very tough little plant. I wonder if they might have it confused with dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) which likes the wet soil of pond edges, or if I have it confused with yet another variety of St. John’s wort that I don’t know about. Canada St. John’s wort is also called lessor Canada St. John’s wort, so I assume that there must be a greater Canada St. John’s wort.

Canada St. John’s wort flowers are smaller than even dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) flowers are. They’re said to be 1/4 inch across but I think that’s stretching it a bit. The Hypericum part of the scientific name comes from the words hyper, meaning ‘above’ and eikon meaning ‘picture’ in the Greek language. The flowers were once hung above pictures to prevent evil befalling the pagan midsummer festival. The popular festival eventually became the Feast of St. John, and that’s how the large family of St. John’s worts came by their common name.

Enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis) is a woodland plant that likes a lot of shade and is one of those plants that is easy to miss until it blooms along trails in July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. To say that these flowers are difficult to get a good photo of is an understatement. I usually have to try many times, and I had to again this year. I think this was somewhere near the 10th attempt.

At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Enough of the tiny flowers for now. Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is a legume in the bean family. This plant gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks, much like the enchanter’s nightshade we just saw. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals. I saw these examples out in an unmowed meadow and by the time I had waded out to them I was chest high in plants.

Showy tick trefoil has very pretty flowers that are obviously in the pea / bean family. It is also called Canada trefoil. One odd fact about this plant is that there are no known uses of it by Native Americans or colonials. From my experience that’s rare among native plants in this area. Maybe they just picked the beautiful flowers and used them to decorate their homes.

Each inch long spotted jewelweed blossom dangles at the end of a long filament and can dance in even in the slightest breath of breeze, and this makes getting a good photo always a challenge. It usually takes many tries for blog worthy photos of the blossoms and this year was no different.  Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies pollinate these little flowers. You need a long tongue to reach all the way into that curved nectar spur. It is said that jewelweed is an important source of food for ruby throated hummingbirds.

I tried to get a bee’s eye view looking into a jewelweed blossom (Impatiens capensis) but when I saw the photo I could see that I had been only partially successful. The lower lip of the blossom looked like red candle wax had dripped on it, which is common. This plant gets its common name from the way its seed pods snap and release the seeds when touched. Other names include orange Jewelweed, common jewelweed, and orange balsam.  The name “jewelweed” comes from the way that raindrops sparkle on its wax coated leaves. The way the flowers shine, I wonder if the same waxy coating isn’t on them.

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is an invasive perennial that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows but will grow just about anywhere. It’s hard to deny its beauty, especially when you see a meadow full of it growing alongside yellow goldenrods, but the plant chokes out natives including goldenrod and creates monocultures. I know of 2 places where you’ll soon see nothing but purple.

This is the first time long leaf speedwell (Veronica longifolia) has appeared on this blog because I’ve never seen it growing in the wild before, as these examples were. It’s a pretty plant that is native to Europe and China and is usually grown in gardens. It has obviously escaped but certainly doesn’t seem to be aggressive or invasive. I love its showy blue flower spikes.

Any post that has two plants that I’ve never seen before in it has to be a good one and I hope you enjoyed it. I’m sorry it ran a little long but there is just so much to see out there. Something else I’ve never seen is so many black eyed Susans growing in one spot. This roadside display is actually about 4 times wider than what you see here and there is a drift of many thousands of blossoms, so they’re having a good year.

The world unwraps itself to you again and again as soon as you are ready to see it anew. ~Gregory Maguire

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We’ve reached that point where you can’t walk through a field, drive down a road, or visit a forest without seeing flowers, because at this time of year they are everywhere. It is high summer and though I love spring I don’t see how any other season could be called more beautiful than this one.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) blooms in the tall grass of unmown meadows. It isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) that most of us have tangled with, but it does have small spines along the leaf margins and stem. Despite its common name the plant is actually a native of Europe but has spread to virtually every country in the northern hemisphere. It has a deep and extensive creeping root system and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold. For that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states.

Noxious weed or not I like the flowers of Canada thistle. In a way they remind me of knapweed, which is another noxious weed. The plant isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire but it is on the watch list. Where I find them growing they haven’t spread at all, and in fact this year there were fewer plants than last year.

Pretty little fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife blooms later. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed like they are on this example. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. Trout lily is another plant with elaiosomes.

Though many people think the flowers are where the name fringed loosestrife comes from it is actually from the fine hairs that line the leaf stalks (petioles.) The ciliata part of the scientific name means “fringed with hairs,” and so they are. Native Americans used all of our yellow loosestrifes medicinally for various ailments, usually in the form of tea.

No matter how many times I see the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) I don’t see a monkey, but whoever named it obviously did. This plant gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and isn’t all that common. I usually have a hard time finding it.

Allegheny monkey flowers have square stems and are also called square stemmed monkey flowers. I didn’t know at the time I saw this flower that it had so much moisture on it. That’s odd because it was a warm sunny day and I wonder if it was sweating. The throat of this flower is partially closed and bumblebees are one of the few insects strong enough to pry it open to get at the nectar. Native Americans and early settlers sometimes used the leaves as an edible green.

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see a beautiful blue color. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The plant likes wet places but even though we’ve had many inches of rainfall this year, I had a hard time finding it.

Vervain flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

I used to see quite a lot of floating bladderwort (Utricularia gibba,) but I haven’t seen any in the last two years. Instead I’m now finding common bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza.) This plant also floats but when it’s ready for dormancy its bladders fill with water and it sinks, and I find it in the mud at the edge of a pond. Its flowers are much larger than those of floating bladderwort and though this shot isn’t very good they’re easier to get a photo of when they aren’t floating.

Common bladderwort can be distinguished from other bladderworts by the spur on the flower. The name bladderwort comes from the small inflated sacs on the plant’s roots that open to trap aquatic organisms. There are tiny hairs on the bladder’s trap door which are very sensitive. When an aquatic organism touches these hairs the door opens, the organism is sucked inside and the door closes, trapping it. This all happens in about 5 milliseconds and is one of the fastest plant movements ever recorded.

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its name is fun to say. It’s a Native American Cree word meaning “It-breaks-into-small-pieces.” This is because it was used as a treatment for kidney stones and was thought to break them into pieces.

Pipsissewa flowers often show a blush of pink. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of our other native wintergreens. Pipsissewa and some other native wintergreens form a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and are partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids.

Shasta daisies are blooming in gardens everywhere now. The Shasta daisy was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank over 100 years ago and was named for the white snow of Mount Shasta. These plants are a hybrid cross of the common roadside ox-eye daisy and an English field daisy called Leucanthemum maximum. They are one of the easiest perennials to grow and, other than an occasional weeding, need virtually no care. Dwarf varieties are less apt to have their stems bent over by heavy rains.

My favorite part of the Shasta daisy flower is the spiral at its center, because it makes me wonder. Nature uses the spiral over and over; it’s in a snail’s shell, our galaxy is a spiral and spirals are even in our DNA. Horns, teeth, claws, and plants form spirals. Pine cones and pineapples have spiral scales and if you make a fist and look at it from above, it forms a spiral. Mathematically, the spiral in a nautilus shell is the same as that found in a spiral galaxy. The spiral also represents infinity, starting at a single point and revolving outwardly until the end of the universe. Because of this, the spiral is said by some to be a pathway to the afterlife. All of that is right here in a daisy, and that’s probably why Deepak Chopra said “If you really see a daisy, you see from here to infinity.”

Non-native rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) is short enough to be forced to grow right at the edge of the road if it wants to get any sunshine, so the roads look like they have been festooned with fuzzy pink ribbons for a while each summer. It’s an annual plant that grows new from seed each year and the seedlings must be tough, because they don’t seem to mind being occasionally run over, or the poor dry soil found along the road side. In fact they seem to thrive in it; I see more plants each year. The plant is originally from Europe and Asia.

One of the things I like most about native pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is the way a child’s face will light up and break into a smile when they crush it and smell it. Usually when I tell them that it smells like pineapple they don’t believe it, so it’s a surprise. The conical flower heads are easiest to describe by saying they’re like daisies without petals, or ray florets. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and the leaves are also scented and have been used to make tea. The plant was used by Native Americans in a tonic to relieve gastrointestinal upset and fevers. The Flathead tribe used the dried, powdered plants to preserve meats and berries. It is said to make a nice pineapple flavored tea.

Last year I showed the flower of a plant I had never seen before and couldn’t identify in the hope that someone would recognize it. Apparently nobody could recognize it by the flower so this year I’m showing the entire plant. The flowers are tiny; about the same size as those on red sandspurry, and blossom on the ends of wiry stems. Its leaves are also small and sword shaped and very hard to see in this photo. This entire plant shown would fit in a tea cup with room to spare.

Here is the pretty little flower of the unknown plant. I find them growing in the sand on roadsides in full sun, much like a sandspurry would. They don’t seem to mind dry soil but they must also like water because I’m seeing more of them in this rainy summer than I ever have. I’ve searched all my wildflower books and online off and on for over a year with no luck, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

NOTE: With a little help from some friends Al Stoops has identified this plant as low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis.) It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath. Thanks Al!

Beauty soaks reality as water fills a rag. ~Chet Raymo

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Nothing says summer to me like lilies blooming, and we’re lucky to have them blooming in fields and along roadsides right now. The flowers of Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are as big and as beautiful as the garden lilies I think we’re all familiar with, and they come in red and orange as well as yellow. Their habit of nodding towards the ground can make getting a photo difficult, but I (very gently) tilt the stem back with one hand while I take the photos with the other. It’s not the ideal set up but it lets me show you the brownish purple spots on the inside throat of the trumpet and the huge red anthers. I had a hard time finding them this year though. One spot I know of where a large colony grows had nothing but chewed stems, and I think deer might have eaten them. Another spot near a stream had many lilies blooming 2 years ago and now there is no sign of them. I’m not sure where they could have gone.

These big lilies don’t toil or spin but they thrive out in the fields, sometimes reaching 7 to 8 feet tall. They always remind me of arts and crafts period chandeliers. These examples had a lot of orange on their outsides which is something I don’t often see. They’re usually bright yellow. The flower buds and roots were gathered and eaten by Native Americans. The scaly bulbs were cooked and eaten with other foods, such as venison and fish. They were also cooked and saved for winter use. They are said to have a very peppery flavor.

Lilies say summer but black eyed Susans remind me that summer will end all too soon. This plant will always be a fall flower to me, probably because they have such a long blooming period and are seen everywhere in the fall. I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by. At least this year they waited until July to bloom.

For some reason chicory (Cichorium intybus) likes to grow in places that get mowed regularly, like along our roadsides. I’m always dismayed when I see such beautiful flowers being cut down but I have seen normal size flowers can bloom on a plant no more than three inches tall, so though the plants may get mowed they aren’t being killed. I’m glad of that because I love their blue color.

One day I was walking on the banks of the Ashuelot River up in Surry, which is north of Keene, and came upon a plant that I had never seen. It turned out to be herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) and my question, once I had identified it, was: Robert who? As it turns out Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

Stinky or not herb Robert has a pretty little flower, but they’re much smaller than other geraniums. Each one seems to be no bigger than a standard aspirin.

Blue, bell shaped flowers all on one side of the stem can mean only one thing; creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides.) The pretty flowered plant was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in dry places that get full sun. It is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time the goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom. It is considered an invasive plant in some places because it is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It can choke out weaker native plants if it is left alone. It isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire though, and in fact I usually have to look for quite a while to find it. When I do it is usually growing on forest edges.

American basswood trees (Tilia americana) are members of the linden family. Though they are native trees I rarely see them. They belong to the same genus as the lime trees commonly seen in Europe and England. Its flowers are very fragrant and it’s a nice looking shade tree but unfortunately it is also an insect magnet and among the insects it attracts are Japanese beetles in the many thousands. Bees are also attracted in great numbers and the honey produced from basswood foraging bees is said to be choice and highly sought after.

Each of the basswood’s flower clusters (cymes) clings to the middle of an elongated whitish green floral bract. Each small flower is about a half inch in diameter with 5 cream-colored petals, 5 cream-colored sepals, a pistil with a white style, and several stamens with yellow anthers. They are always hard to get a good photo of for some reason, and I usually have to try several times. The seeds of this tree are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for the tree and made rope from its tough inner bark. Freshly cut bark was also used as bandages. Syrup was made from the sweet sap and young leaves were eaten in the spring. Not a single part of the tree was wasted.

Many plants that can tolerate a lot of shade have large, light gathering leaves and the shade tolerant purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is one of those. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. Flowering raspberry has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it just as much as roses and it’s common to see the large leaves looking like they’ve been shot full of holes. The fruit looks like a large raspberry but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

I thought I’d show a rose blossom so those who have never seen a flowering raspberry flower could compare the two of them. The flowering raspberry really doesn’t look anything like a rose except maybe in size of bloom, but they do get confused occasionally. This is a “wild” rose; beautiful and fragrant enough that I wished it grew in my own yard.

I’ve seen this plant before but I’ve never seen it bloom because the single example I know of grows near a shopping mall and in the past it has always been cut down before it could blossom. But it is persistent and keeps growing back, and finally this year it was able to blossom in peace before being cut. At first I thought it was some type of vining honeysuckle but the tiny flowers and its white latex sap pointed me in the direction of milkweeds.

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

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

Tall thimbleweed’s (Anemone virginiana) white flower sepals don’t seem to last very long. Every time I see them they have either turned green or are in the process of doing so, and you can just see a hint of green on two or three of these. There are usually plenty of yellowish stamens surrounding a center head full of pistils though. The seed head continues growing after the sepals have fallen off and it becomes thimble shaped, which is where the common name comes from. These flowers are close to the diameter of a quarter; about an inch. Though the plant is poisonous Native Americans used the root to ease whooping cough and the smoke from the seeds was used to treat breathing difficulties.

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

Tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) can reach 10 feet tall, towering above other plants in the area. This makes it easy to see but sometimes it’s not so easy to get a good photo of. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even the leaves on the same plant looking different from each other. Native Americans used the plant for pain relief, as a stimulant, and for calming the nerves. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium, which has narcotic and sedative properties. It is still used in medicines today but should be used with caution because overdoses can cause death.

Though tall lettuce can reach 10 feet tall its flowers are very small; no more than a 1/4 inch across, and appear in loose clusters at the top of wiry stalks.

The pale yellowish green flowers of tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted by red or pink on their edges and are really quite pretty, but I think they are flowers that most people miss. This one was offering up a lot of pollen.

Last year I followed a trail through a swamp and was astonished to see a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) growing right there beside the trail. This year I’ve been following its progress off and on for months, watching it grow and produce buds, hoping all the while that a hungry deer wouldn’t come along and eat it. The deer left it alone and finally it bloomed at exactly the same time it had last year.

Gosh what a beautiful thing it is; like a bush full of purple butterflies. It is something I’d happily walk many miles to see because such a sight is so very rare; truly a once in a lifetime find in these parts. It grows in black, very wet swamp mud where for part of this spring there was standing water, so it obviously likes wet feet. Last year I was confused about its identity because the middle lower petal didn’t show any fringe but this year as you can see they are fringed, so that clinches it. The flowers are pollinated by large butterflies and moths, but I’ve never seen an insect near them. I do hope they get pollinated and produce plenty of seeds. I was stunned to read that the Native American Iroquois tribe actually dug this orchid up for its roots! They made tea from the roots to protect them from ghosts. Maybe there were a lot more plants then. I could never dig up something so beautiful and rare.

How I wish everyone could become lost in nature at least once. A camera is a good way to experience it because a camera makes you focus intently on what you see, and often when you do that you find that all other thoughts will fade. Your mind and heart open and then it is just you and the incredible beauty of what is before you. You become lost in that beauty and become part of it, and time slips away. It doesn’t matter that you are kneeling in mud because you can’t care about such things. It’s just you and what your attention is focused on, and for that moment in time there is simply nothing else. I’m often astonished to find that what seemed like just a few minutes has actually been an hour or more. That’s how I know that I have been taken away to that other place. It’s a place where, once visited, you know you’d love to stay, and I do hope you’ll find that out for yourself one day.

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

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We’ve had some hot weather lately and that always makes me want to be near water, and of course when I’m near water I can’t help noticing the plants that grow there. Cattails (Typha latifolia) are the easiest to see, sometimes towering to 6 or 8 feet tall. They can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. Of course, that doesn’t account for all the new plants that grow from seed.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing it’s best to just admire this one. This photo is of the last one I saw blooming this year.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly. I know of one small pond that started with 2 or 3 plants a few years ago and now nearly half the pond is being choked out by them.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were tiny flies crawling over most of the blossoms I saw on this day.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

Some of the aquatic plants that I like to see up close grow far enough out in the water to have to be photographed from a boat or by swimming out to them with a waterproof camera. If you really want to challenge your photographic skills, try photographing aspirin sized flowers from a kayak that you can’t keep still.

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and grew where I kayaked in great numbers. This rose, like many other plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. I saw a lot of swamp milkweed too, but I couldn’t get close enough for a photo.

One day I saw a couple of Canada goose families eating cherries from cherry trees that had bent low over the water. I didn’t know that they did this.

The adults seemed to be trying to teach the goslings how to get at the cherries but the little birds didn’t have the neck stretch it took to reach the fruit.

What I believe is creeping spike rush (Eleocharis macrostachya) isn’t a rush at all; it’s a sedge, so I’m not sure why it’s called a rush. As sedges go this one is very small; just a spiked stem with a brushy little flower head on top and a couple of basal leaves. It likes to grow in standing water at pond and lake edges, just off shore but I’ve read that it will also grow in ditches, vernal pools, and wet meadows.

The flower head of this sedge is called a spikelet and it is about a half inch long. The cream colored oval parts are the male flowers and the wispy white feathery bits are the female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look nearly identical so I could be wrong about its name. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, the only way to tell them apart is by their tiny fruits, and I doubt that I could even see them.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. Since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

One of the bonuses of looking for aquatics is that you see a lot of dragonflies, like this male common whitetail dragonfly. This dragonfly rests on twigs and grasses near the water, and sometimes on the ground. I haven’t seen one on the ground but I have seen them on stones. This isn’t a very good shot but he only perched long enough for one click of the shutter.

If only narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) would grow at the water’s edge. Instead it grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow and by the time I was finished taking its photo my feet were soaked. How odd it seems that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but we have had a lot of rain. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow whorled loosestrife that I spoke of in my last post. But whorled loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Though they are very hard to see in this example because of the bright light each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

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Did everyone see fireworks on the 4th? I did, but not in the traditional sense. Mine came in the form of tall meadow rue flowers (Thalictrum pubescens,) which always bloom close to the 4th of July and which always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” These are the plant’s male flowers; starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.

I don’t see tall meadow rue in meadows unless the meadow is very wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream. It was down an embankment, which is the only way I could have gotten this view because it often grows 7-8 feet tall and towers over me. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance. In spring the plant’s young leaves fool many into thinking they’ve found wild columbine.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is not a native plant so I’m always surprised to see it growing along the edge of the forest like these examples do. I don’t see it in the wild often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. There were maybe a dozen plants in this group and they were beautiful.

I like to try to get a bee’s eye view of foxglove blossoms. The blossom in the foreground shows whiter spots than the younger blossom on the right. They apparently start life with yellow spots which turn to white as they age. 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.

Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it has a secret; it is a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite. This little plant wants it all.

Narrow-leaf cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I usually find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests but I’ve also seen it recently on roadsides. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The tiny flowers bloom at about shoe top height.

The small, furry, white to light purple flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) are easy to miss. At a glance this plant might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed but I don’t see it that often and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 2 or 3 plants growing together.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is found along roads and in fields.

The tiny flowers of motherwort are very hairy and look like a microscopic orchid. They’re very hard to get a good shot of because of both their size and color and I don’t think I’ve ever been really happy with any photo I’ve taken of them. The ancient Greeks and Romans used motherwort medicinally and it is still used today to decrease nervous irritability and quiet the nervous system. There is supposed to be no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and it is sold in powdered and liquid form.

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape, especially near brooks and streams. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

Common elderberry flower clusters look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. Each flower is tiny at only 1/4 inch across, and has 5 white petals or lobes, 5 yellow tipped stamens and 3 very small styles that fall off early after blooming. Each flower will be replaced by a single black (dark purple) drupe. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a single seed like a peach or cherry. Native Americans dried the fruit for winter use and soaked the berry stems in water to make a black dye for basketry.

The unusual, hairy twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants.

Here is a better view of how partridge berry flowers are joined at the base to form a single ovary and a single berry. The berries are rather tasteless but ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white footed mice eat them. Native American women made a tea from the leaves of partridge berry to promote easy delivery in childbirth. Tea made from the berries is said to have a sedative effect on the nervous system.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) has just started blooming in the tall grass along roadsides. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem and that’s how it comes by its common name. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem.

Both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl on whorled loosestrife, because where each leaf meets the stem (axils) a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. Many plants grow flowers in the axils of the leaves, but most do not grow in whorls. Almost all species of loosestrife with yellow flowers often have a lot of red in them as this example had.

A view looking down on a whorled loosestrife shows how the leaves and flowers are arranged in whorls around the stem. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. This example seems to have had 4. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.

There are a few lobelias that look similar but I think this one might be pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata,) which gets its common name from its small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, as I was lucky enough to do on this day. There is also a purple variant but I’ve never seen it. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma. The plant must have worked well because early explorers took it back across the Atlantic where it is still used medicinally today. It has to be used with great care by those who know how to use it though, because too much of it can kill.

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that; it’s a very sharp, almost acrid odor and on a hot summer day your nose will tell you that you’re near this plant long before you see it.

Black swallowwort is a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. It is believed to have come to North America from Ukraine in the 1800s.  Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level. In Canada it is called the dog strangling vine and Canadians are testing the use of Hypena opulenta moth caterpillars as a means of biological control. So far they say, the results look promising. The caterpillars come from Ukraine and are a natural enemy of the plant. This plant illustrates the biggest danger of importing plants; the animals and insects that control them are left behind in their native lands, and once they arrive in their new home they are able to grow unchecked.

Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is toxic to both dogs and humans, but insects love it. It’s closely related to milkweeds and has milky sap like they do. Monarch butterflies drink the nectar but I rarely see one on them. Though it is an herbaceous perennial its growth habit makes it look like a 3 foot tall shrub. The Apocynum part of its scientific name means “away from dog.” Not only dogs but most other animals avoid it because of its toxic sap.

Native Americans used spreading dogbane medicinally and used its strong fibers to make thread and cord. The plant’s milky white sap is very sticky and I wonder how they removed it from the thread they made.

Spreading dogbane’s bell shaped flowers are very fragrant and I love to smell then when I can find one without an insect in it. They’re also very pretty, with faint pink stripes on the inside. They remind me of lily of the valley flowers but are quite a lot larger. The ant traveled from blossom to blossom as if trying to make up its mind which was best.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The brown / black dots on its 5 yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along riverbanks and roadsides growing in full sun.

I should like to enjoy this summer flower by flower, as if it were to be the last one for me.~ Andre Gide

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Imagine a tree 80-100 feet high and 50 feet wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

Each beautiful catalpa flower is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough for a bumblebee.

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I always find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. 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. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Once you get used to seeing both dogwoods and viburnums you can tell them apart immediately. The flowers on our native viburnums like the 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. 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.

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.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) has tiny hooded flowers that remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used 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.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. This one had a friend visiting.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years.

Several times I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Heartsease (Viola tricolour) has been used medicinally for a very long time as an expectorant, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Used both internally and externally, the violet is said to be helpful for cystitis, rheumatic complaints, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Though Viola tricolor, the parent of today’s pansy, is native to Europe the medicinal qualities have been found to be the same for all of the species. Native Americans used our native blue violets for cancer treatment. American pioneers thought that a handful of violets taken into the farmhouse in the spring ensured prosperity, and to neglect this ceremony brought harm to baby chicks and ducklings.

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms and you can see certain roads that are lined with the glossy leaved, white flowering shrubs. They seem fussy about where they grow but when they find a spot that they like they can form dense thickets that are nearly impossible to get through. In this spot they grow to about 10 feet tall.

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. I saw several bumblebees working these flowers and you can see some relaxed anthers in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the tough wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like roadsides but I think most are escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers on this example look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

I found this white mallow looking for all the world like a white hibiscus.

I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

A very special guest flower for this week is the rare (here) and beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), a plant that I’ve searched for for many years and could never find. Where I finally found it was amazing; one of the lawns where I work had construction going on near it and couldn’t be mowed for two weeks, and in those two weeks up popped several ragged robin plants. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it.

Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S., like the very beautiful Clarkia pulchella shown recently on Montucky’s blog,  this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England. It might have come as a garden ornamental, but when ships arrived from foreign lands it was once common practice to dump their ballast of gravel and stones on our shores so they could take on cargo, and this plant was reported growing in ship’s ballast in 1880. However it got here I was very happy to see it. This is the kind of thing that makes my pulse quicken and my breath catch in my throat and is what can take me out of myself to a higher place, much like art or music might do for you. The chance of seeing something so beautiful is part of what keeps me going back to nature day after day, year after year.

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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There is a place that I go to now and then just to see what the plants that live there are doing, and to see if any new ones have moved in. When I was a boy the land was part of a huge cornfield, then it became an industrial park with roads and businesses sprouting up where the corn once grew. Slowly all the lots in the industrial park filled except for one, which has been vacant for years. As I visited the place I realized that every city and town in America must have a place like this; empty, forgotten places that nobody seems to care about. They are wastelands by definition, but this particular wasteland is where many flowers have chosen to grow, so I haven’t forgotten it.

I thought I’d do an inventory of sorts and list the plants that grow here with the thought that if you visited that vacant lot that you might know of, you might find many of the same plants there. In this view there are white ox eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare,) yellow silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea,) and purple maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids.)  The maiden pinks especially seem to love this place. There are so many of them it was hard to take a photo without them in it.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) also does well here. This plant is in the aster family and looks like an aster but it blooms much earlier and the flowers are much smaller; about the size of a dime. Plants reach about 3 feet tall and sway in the breeze. They can also be pink but I see very few pink ones. They do best in fields, along roadsides, and around waste areas ; anywhere with dry soil. Its common name fleabane comes from the dried plants being used to rid a house of fleas. It is native to the U.S. and Canada and has escaped cultivation in Europe. Native Americans made a tea from the leaves that was used for digestive ailments.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) bloomed among the tall grasses. This plant is originally from Europe and is also called common or grass leaved stitchwort. It like disturbed soil and does well on roadsides, old fields, and meadows. The Stellaria, part of its scientific name means star like, and 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.

Keene sits in a kind of bowl surrounded by hills and all of the runoff from the hills can make this a very wet place, especially in a rainy year like this one. Farmers solved the problem many years ago by digging deep, wide drainage ditches around the perimeters of their fields and they are still here today. All manner of water loving plants grow in and along them. There was a lot of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) growing in this one but they weren’t blooming yet.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) grew along the top of the drainage ditch and were heavily budded. This shrub reaches 10 feet but always seems to lean, which makes it seem shorter. It typically grows in fields, abandoned farmland, clearings and along roadsides. It is very similar to staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) but the young stems of staghorn sumac are very hairy and those of smooth sumac are smooth, and that’s where its common name comes from. The glabra part of the scientific name means “without hairs.” Native Americans used the berries of smooth and staghorn sumac to make a tart lemonade like drink which they sweetened with maple syrup. The roots and shoots were also eaten peeled and raw in spring.

Native arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) also grows along the drainage ditches. This native shrub has a rounded habit and grows to 10 feet high. It’s quite showy and dense, and many people who grow native plants use it for hedges. It attracts butterflies and birds love its showy blueish black berries. In the fall its foliage can be yellow, orange or red. Native Americans used the straight stems of the shrub for arrow shafts, and that’s how it comes by its common name.

When it comes to small yellow flowers in my opinion one lifetime isn’t enough time to identify them all.
I usually admire them and leave them alone but it was hard to not want to know more about this little beauty. I knew its silvery leaves would make it easy to identify so I started with them and found silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla anserina.) It comes from Europe and is considered invasive but, though there were quite a few plants here they weren’t choking out other plants and I was happy to see them.

Maybe another reason I stay away from small yellow flowers is because they’re so hard to photograph. Or at least this one was; I had to try 4 different times to get a useable photo. I didn’t say a good photo because this one isn’t, but it does give you a good look at what silver leaved cinquefoil flowers look like.

It’s obvious how silver leaved cinquefoil gets its common name. The undersides of the leaves and the stems are a bright silvery white but they can fool you if you only give them a glance, because they’re deep green on top.

Five heart shaped pale yellow petals on a two foot tall stem mean sulfur cinquefoil. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils 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 and in waste places and it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I think it’s very pretty.

Pollen grains that cause hay fever symptoms are very small and dust like and carried by the wind, and common ragweed pollen (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) fits the bill perfectly. It wasn’t blooming here yet; it will bloom as soon as goldenrod does and will then release its dust like, wind borne, allergy inducing pollen grains. For that it will get a free pass because for centuries people have blamed what they see, goldenrod, for their allergies. But goldenrod couldn’t make us sneeze even if it wanted to; the pollen grains of goldenrod are very large, sticky, and comparatively heavy and can only be carried by insects. Even if you put your nose directly into a goldenrod blossom, it is doubtful that you would inhale any pollen.

Golden clover (Trifolium campestre) is another imported clover originally from Europe and Asia. It is also known as large trefoil and large hop clover. The plant was imported through Philadelphia in 1800 to be used as a pasture crop and now appears in most states on the east and west coasts and much of Canada, but it is not generally considered aggressively invasive. Each pretty yellow flower head is packed with golden yellow pea-like flowers. I see the plant growing along roadsides and in sandy waste areas like this one.

Milkweed does well in waste areas and I saw a few plants here. The buds were just starting to show color so I’d guess another week or two before we see many blossoms. I’m hoping we see a lot of monarch butterflies visiting them; for the last two or three years I’ve been able to count the numbers I’ve seen on one hand.

I knew that I’d run into a plant or two that I hadn’t paid attention to in the past and sure enough here was an unknown sedge. It was a pretty little thing (with the emphasis on little) and I think it might be little green sedge (Carex viridula.) Sedges can be difficult to identify though, so don’t bet the farm on my results. I didn’t find it in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown, but I’ve seen many similar examples online. This sedge grows to about a foot and a half tall. Sedges are often found near water and this one grew near a drainage ditch. Many different birds eat the seeds of sedges, including ducks and Canada geese.

I always find native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) growing in hot sandy waste areas and along roadsides so I wasn’t surprised to see it here. Toadflax has a long blooming period and I often see it later on in fall. The wind was blowing ferociously on this day and each tiny blossom shows it; not a single one was still.

I thought I’d find yarrow in this sandy, sunny place and I wasn’t disappointed. As I said in my last post, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was considered a valuable healing herb for thousands of years; one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time. I always feel like I’m seeing far into the past when I look at its tiny flowers. Neanderthals were buried with it. I can’t think of another living thing that I can say that about, and it just boggles my mind to think that they saw what I’m seeing..

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blooms in rings around the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working spirally towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else. English plantain is wind pollinated so it hangs its stamens out where the wind can blow the pollen off the anthers. Each stamen is made up of a white bag like anther sitting at the end of a thin filament. If pollinated each flower will bear two tiny seeds in a small seed capsule.

Lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa) looks a lot like its cousin nodding smartweed, but instead of growing near water this one will be found growing at forest edges, roadsides and waste places. The plant gets its common name from the dark spot that appears on each leaf. Legend has it that a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently) left the smudge-like mark on a leaf and it has been there ever since. Lady’s thumb is originally from Europe and has spread to nearly every state since 1843.

You’ve seen many of the flowers shown here in recent posts and I hope you don’t feel cheated, but I wanted to show once again how easy it is to immerse yourself in nature. Something I’ve pointed out almost since I started this blog is how you don’t need to drive anywhere and you don’t need any fancy equipment. All you really need to do is walk outside and look, that’s all. Even in forgotten wastelands like this one nature is very busy. Something I couldn’t show is all the bees and other insects that were buzzing around what really is a huge amount of flowers, or all the birds that were singing in the trees and shrubs. Though we’ve forgotten these places nature most certainly has not, so I hope you’ll visit your local vacant lot or other wasteland soon. Don’t let beauty like this go to waste.

The place to observe nature is where you are. ~John Burroughs

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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