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Archive for the ‘Wildflowers’ Category

I’ve seen some really stunning photos coming from smartphones lately so since it was time for me to get a new one I spent quite a lot of time researching which one had the best camera for the money. By the end of this post I hope you’ll agree that I made a good choice; the tiny mushroom in the photo above was hardly bigger than a pea. Yes this phone does macro photography, and it does it well.

Tiny bird’s nest fungi weren’t much of a challenge for the phone but depth of field was slightly off. I think that was my fault more than the phone’s though.

I was splitting wood at work and there, deep inside a piece of oak, was this mushroom mycelium. I was lucky I had a phone with me that could see it and get a half way decent photo of it. I always love finding mycelium because I never know what my imagination will have me see in it. You might see a river delta. Or a tree. Or bird feathers. Or you might see the vast one-ness from which all life arises. Whatever you see in it let it be beautiful; let it reflect the beauty that is inside you.

One of the haircap mosses, either mountain or juniper haircap moss I believe, peeked out from under a dome of paper thin ice. This is a male moss and you can tell that by its color and by the tiny male reproductive structures called antheridia, which look like tiny flowers scattered here and there.

And here was a female haircap moss with its spore capsules almost ready to release their spores. There was a breeze this day and the phone camera didn’t freeze the movement of the capsules as much as I would have hoped but something about this photo grabs me so I’ve added it here, slightly blurred capsules and all. It’s a mouse eye view of the landscape with a certain minimalistic Japanese feel to it, and maybe that’s why I like it.

This bristly beard lichen growing on a white pine is another photo where the depth of field was slightly off and I think it’s happening because I’m getting too close. In fact the phone has told me to “back up for better focus”. But I’ll learn; I’m used to taking photos with my Olympus macro camera, where I can be almost touching the subject. A bristly beard lichen has isidia, which appear as little bumps along its branches. An isidium is a reproductive structure common to some lichens and their presence is a good identifier.

This liverwort, called flat-leaved scalewort (Radula complanata) was about 3/4 of an inch across and grew on a tree, and I thought the phone handled it well. I’ve read that this liverwort is common on trees and shrubs but I rarely see it. Plants are usually flattened, either forming patches like the one seen above or single stems creeping among mosses. It has round, flattened, overlapping leaves which are quite small. Each one is no more than 1/16  of an inch across. This liverwort is said to like sunny, sheltered, moist conditions and will sometimes grow on streamside rocks. Liverworts are epiphytes that take nothing from the trees and shrubs they grow on. ­­They simply perch on them, like birds.

Color reproduction seems to be quite accurate with this phone but beware that this is coming from one who is colorblind. Still, even someone colorblind can see the difference between the hemlock in the foreground and the one beside it, because the one in the foreground is “artificially” colored by Trentepohlia algae. I don’t think I’ve seen this much algae on a single tree before. I wonder how it chooses which trees to grow on and I wonder why, in this case, it hasn’t spread to other trees.

Here is a phone camera macro look at algae on a different tree.

Tiny lichens are a big part of the content on this blog so of course I had to see what the phone could do with them. Again, I think I was a bit too close to this one but I was impressed with the camera. This lichen was only about a half inch across.

In this photo I backed the phone away from the subject lichen and the shot came out much better. This lichen was about half the size of the previous one but it came out much sharper so I’ve got to watch out for getting too close.

Compared to the lichens these alder catkins were huge but the phone camera handled them well, even in a breeze.

I wanted to show something that everyone reading this would know the size of, so for that I chose lilac buds. This is an excellent example of what this phone can do.

The bud of a Norway maple is not something everyone will recognize but they are slightly smaller than the lilac buds.

If you’ve ever wondered why woodpeckers spend so much time drilling into trees, this is why. This yellow insect larva was deep inside a red oak log, seen only when I split it. The tiny creature was about the diameter of a piece of spaghetti and maybe an inch long.

This is just simple stream ice but it was beautiful, I thought.

Of course I had to try plants with the phone camera and it did well on this trailing arbutus. I didn’t want to kneel in the snow so I just bent down and clicked. This phone is said to use a kind of artificial intelligence chip that I don’t fully understand, and it said to be able to compute very fast. In fact I’ve read that some phones can do 5 trillion operations per second.  Speed is one thing, but this phone seems to know or sense what you want before you tell it what you want and I find that a bit odd, if not unsettling. It’s almost like having an assistant who does all the work for you.

Here were the dried flower heads of sweet everlasting. There was a breeze on this day and once again the phone handled it well.

The color red is a challenge for any camera so I thought I’d try some holly berries. The phone camera once again did well, I thought. I like the detail that came through on the leaves as well.

Boston ivy berries (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) are about as big as a small pea, so while I was walking past them while going in for a haircut I thought I’d see what the phone could do with them. I was happy with the shot. Boston ivy isn’t a true ivy and it isn’t from Boston but it is pretty on buildings, especially in the fall when its leaves turn bright red. True ivy belongs to the genus Hedera but Boston ivy is the ivy that lends its name to ivy league universities.

The phone camera seems to do well on landscapes as well. It also has a “night vision mode” but I didn’t use it for this shot of a stream I pass on my way to work early each morning.

The phone tells me I was 11 meters (36 feet) from this tree when I took it’s photo. Why it thinks I need to know that is a mystery. I would have fumbled around with my camera settings for several minutes for this shot, trying to keep the trees light and the clouds dark, but the camera phone did it in two shots without my changing any settings.

This shot looking up a pine tree was taken in almost full darkness, well after sundown and with twilight almost gone. When you push the shutter button on the phone you can hear the shutter click twice when it’s in night vision mode and the photo comes out like this. How it does this is unknown to me as yet. I wanted to show you a dark sky full of bright stars but it has been cloudy every night since I bought the phone.

This shot, taken before sunup early in the morning, was the first shot I ever took with the new phone. I suppose I should give you the name of this phone after putting you through all of this, shouldn’t I? It’s a Google Pixel 4A, 5G and for the same money, according to the reviews I’ve read, no other phone camera can touch it. I find that it is especially useful in low light situations but I also find it a bit awkward to hold a phone while taking photos. I’m certainly happy with it but I think I need more practice. I’m guessing that when the newness wears off it will become just another tool in my tool kit; a camera I can speak into.

We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.
~Marshall McLuhan

Thanks for coming by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of our prettiest and smallest wildflowers bloom in early August. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A cute little red squirrel ran up the backside of a pine tree and peeked around it to see what I was doing. I probably see one red squirrel for every hundred gray squirrels so they aren’t that common in this immediate area. They’re cute but if they get into your house they can and will cause a lot of damage. I worked for a lady once who had them in her attic and I spent all summer trapping and relocating them. They had chewed all the wiring, got into stored items, and made a mess in general. A big mess.

I’ve mentioned the storm that dropped 16 inches of snow in other posts but what I haven’t mentioned is the below zero cold that came after. Ponds and streams froze quickly, but as I write this it’s near 60 degrees F. and raining like it was June, so I’d guess tomorrow all the snow will be gone and all the rivers and streams will be at bank-full.

I saw ice doing strange things. I’m sure the wind had a lot to do with this teardrop shape on a standing shrub but I couldn’t quite figure out where the water had come from. Maybe it had simply trickled down the branch but if so why didn’t the wind blow it while it trickled? It seemed to have all collected in this one spot.

Though it’s hard to tell from this photo this is ice, frozen onto deck boards in very strange patterns. I can’t even guess why water would have pooled and frozen in this way, but it was pretty.

Just as I got to work one morning the sun was just kissing the clouds, and I had to stop and watch. I try not to let such things go unappreciated. If you let yourself pay attention to the beauty in this world more and more you’ll find yourself saying a silent thank you. Serenity, gratitude, joy; these are just some of the things that nature will fill you with.

Just to the right of that last shot the sun was also kissing the moon.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I’ve doubted for years that that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well and they don’t always melt into the soil. As I walked in this area around the stone the soil sank about two inches with every step, so now I’m certain that frost had heaved up and lifted all the soil and smaller stones that surrounded the bigger one. Frozen soil is a lot more plastic than we realize.

I was happy to see some tiny bird’s nest fungi, which few people ever get to see. I think they were fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) and this is a view of them from the side. They grow in a funnel or vase shape and have flutes around the rim of the body, which is hollow like a cup. They are so small not even a pea would fit inside them.

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs, which can be seen here, are really spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

There is a much studied phenomenon called the Red Bark Phenomenon, and scientists have devoted much time studying trees with colored bark all over New England. It isn’t always red; it can be orange and yellow as well. It affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species. I’ve seen it here and there on tree bark and after a lot of research a few years ago I found that it was caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae. It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. So if you see a tree with red bark there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just algae looking for a place to perch. This example was on an eastern hemlock.

Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are numerous here and black capped chickadees flock here to eat the seeds from the hemlock cones like the one pictured above. The 1/2 inch long cones are among the smallest of all the trees in the pine family but the trees usually produce so many of them that the ground is completely covered by them in the spring. The needles and twigs of hemlocks are ground and distilled and the oil is used in ointments. Native Americans also showed Europeans how to prevent scurvy by making tea from the tree’s needles.

Gray birch (Betula alba var. populifolia) flowers grow in long clusters known as catkins. They flower, which means the male flowers release pollen and the female flowers accept it, in April and May and then the female flowers ripen into seeds throughout the summer. Ripe female catkins like the one seen here are called strobiles and resemble small cones. Fruit (seeds) are blown about by the wind in late fall and winter. Unless that is, birds get to them. Many songbirds love them.

You can often find the snow under a gray birch littered with hundreds of tiny winged seeds, which are called nutlets. Seeds can persist for years in the soil and will grow if the soil is disturbed.

Other plentiful winter seeds for birds include those of asters, which I’m still seeing a lot of.

A beech leaf was caught by the sun and was beautiful enough to stop me in my tracks. Beech is a tree that lends great beauty to the forest all year long. Its orangey brown leaves will slowly lighten to a yellow so pale it is almost white, and then they will finally fall to make room for new leaves in spring.

The deep blue shadows on snow always remind me of a special high school art teacher who taught me to see rather than just look. To me, probably due to colorblindness, winter shadows looked gray but she convinced me that they were and should be blue. The odd thing about all of that is how, once I began painting them blue I began seeing them in blue and I have ever since, so she gave me a great gift. Colorblindness is a very strange thing and it doesn’t behave as many people think it does. I can see red and green separately for instance but when a red cardinal lands in a green tree it completely disappears. In fact I have never been able to see a cardinal, even when someone pointed at one and said “It’s right there, can’t you see it?”

But blue still isn’t always blue to these colorblind eyes. I know that cold will turn the normally amber sap of the white pine tree blue but this looks kind of pinky / lavender to me. My color finding software tells me it is steel blue though, and it always wins the argument. Colors come in shades or hues and telling them apart can be quite confusing to the colorblind.

Here is something I’ve never seen before; pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata) growing on a tree. I know lichens can and will grow on just about anything but until now I’ve only seen this particular one on soil and very rotten wood; never on a live, growing tree. Lichens surprise me continuously. Pixie cups are squamulose lichens, and the tiny golf tee shapes arise from leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (thallus), and  squamulose lichens have small, leafy lobes, which is the green growth seen here. But though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are its podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. 

This is the first time I’ve shown the seed pods of the beautiful native shrub known as rhodora (Rhododendron canadense). I’m going to have to watch and see when they open. Quite late, apparently.

I thought I’d show the beautiful flowers of the rhodora because I don’t think most people ever see them. Even in this area it’s a shrub that many don’t know. The flowers appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because they aren’t common. Rhodora is a small, knee high, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

Sweet gale (Myrica gale) is also called bog rosemary. It likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams just like the rhodora we saw previously. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. Though it is a native plant here it also grows native in Europe, where it is used as an ingredient in beer making in some countries. It is also used in an ointment used to treat sensitive skin and acne. Its buds are very pretty, but also very small.  They will open and flower in spring.

Is it too early to think of spring? It’s never too early in my opinion and it’s usually in the depths of winter that I start checking buds. These lilac buds were quite pretty, I thought. They are great examples of imbricate buds, which have scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. If water got in and froze it would destroy the future flower or leaf embryo within, so buds go to great lengths to prevent that.

While I’ve been working on this post we’ve had just about every kind of weather imaginable. We had snow but of course since it’s so dark before and after work I really couldn’t show it to you. Then on Christmas eve through Christmas day we had temperatures near 60 degrees and 2 inches of rain fell. The shot above shows what the Ashuelot River looks like after 2 inches of rain and a 16 inch snow melt find their way into it. It will boil like this for a few days and then return to its placid self, but meanwhile it will have the wild, rugged beauty we see here. I love watching the waves.

Those who find beauty in all of nature will find themselves at one with the secrets of life itself. ~L. Wolfe Gilbert

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone will have a happy and healthy 2021.

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I thought I’d start this post about evergreens with something you probably don’t associate with the word, but in fact we do have a few ferns that stay green all winter and are considered evergreen. Some more common ones are the Eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis), Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), Polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) and a few others. As this post will show, if you are willing to look closely you’ll find that there is quite a lot of green still out there in winter.

Clubmosses are one of our most noticeable evergreens in winter once it snows, but they aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered fern allies. Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall. But that was a very long time ago; the tree clubmoss (Lycopodium dendroideum) in the above photo is barely 3 inches high. It shows the upright yellow spore bearing strobili, sometimes called candles or clubs that give the plants their common names. The plant is also called ground-pine because of its resemblance to the pine tree. Clubmoss spores have been collected and dried to make flash powder for many years. They are high in fat content and when mixed with air become highly flammable. They’ve been used in fireworks and explosives for years, and also as camera flashes before flash bulbs were invented. These days they are still used in magic acts and chemistry classes. They also repel water, so if dip your finger in a glass of water that has spores floating on it, your finger will come out dry.

Fan shaped clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum.) was once used as a Christmas decoration (and still is in some places.)  These forest floor evergreens were collected by the many thousands to make Christmas wreaths and they are still rarely seen here because of it. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all but do produce spores and are called “fern allies,” which are vascular plants that don’t produce seeds. I think fan shaped clubmoss is the most elegant of any of the clubmosses and I’m always happy to see it, especially in winter. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed.

Something that is always a surprise to see in the woods here is a northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis.) I don’t know if it was a garden escapee or not but they don’t grow naturally here that I know of. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many uses. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with its leaves and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and that’s how Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

Canada yew (Taxus canadensis) is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. This plant was a small seedling barely 6 inches tall. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy.

New goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its also being nearly collected into oblivion like trailing arbutus and others. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant. It has made a good comeback now and I see lots of it.

Usually when I do an evergreen post in winter I don’t show the flowers but that leaves me feeling like I’ve cheated you, so this time I’ll show you the flowers. All the flower photos were taken previously, of course. I like the tiny styles curved like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens on a goldthread blossom. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club like petals behind. The ends of the petals are cup shaped and hold nectar, but it must be a very small insect that sips from that cup. 

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This plant was once collected into near oblivion but these days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. That’s true of many of these native evergreens, in fact.

The reason trailing arbutus was collected so much was because of its small pink to white, very fragrant flowers. My grandmother loved this plant and she always wanted to show it to me but we could never find it back then. I see it now here and there.

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which stay green under the snow all winter. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow.

Swamp dewberry’s flower is quite pretty but its fruit is said to be sour and that is the reason it isn’t cultivated. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

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.

I think I actually gasped the first time I found this large colony of pipsissewa in bloom. I remember kneeling there admiring the rare and beautiful sight for quite some time. It is things like this that keep me wandering through the woods, never knowing what I might stumble across.

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.

The pretty little seedpods of pipsissewa persist through the winter and poke up out of the snow. They are woody and split open into 5 parts to release the tiny seeds. Each capsule is about a quarter inch across. They remind me of the seedpods of the Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora,) in some ways.

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, gets its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments.

Shinleaf’s nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June or into July. I find them in sandy soiled forests under pines.

American wintergreen is probably the easiest of all the forest floor evergreens to identify because it is so common. It is also called teaberry, and that name comes from a pleasing tea that can be made from the leaves. The leaves contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin though, so anyone allergic to aspirin should leave them alone. Though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. 

American wintergreen’s blossoms look a lot like tiny blueberry blossoms.

Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox, deer and bears eat the berries. If you’re really lucky you might get to eat a small handful before the critters find them. They were one of the first wild fruits I ever ate and I still remember what they taste like; Clark’s Teaberry Gum.

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) loses its chlorophyll and turns deep purple in winter but as of this photo it hadn’t happened to this plant yet. This plant is relatively rare here and though I’m finding small numbers most of them flower but don’t set seed.  The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love,) so it loves winter and does not die from the cold.

The flowers of striped wintergreen stand out and help me locate the well camouflaged plants, so I begin looking for them in mid-July just as shinleaf is ending its bloom period.

The flower of striped wintergreen has 5 petals that are swept back, as if it had seen a strong wind. It also has 10 anthers but its style is very blunt. I’m hoping the small fly on the blossom was pollinating this plant.

Leatherleaf is a knee high shrub that gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides and turn purple in the winter. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. 

At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf  for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat fevers, headaches and inflammation but it is said that the leaves contain a toxin called andromedotoxin which is released when they’re heated so they’re probably best left alone.

Well, if nothing else I hope this post has expanded your idea of what an evergreen is. Though many of us think of trees like the young spruce in the above photo when we hear the word evergreen the list of plants that can be called evergreen is quite long and involves many species. We even have evergreen orchids.

It is only in winter that the pine and cypress are known to be evergreens. ~Confucius

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I could see some beautiful trees along the river in Keene from the highway but the only way I could get close enough for photos is to follow this rail trail to them. This is the rail trail I’ve walked since I was about 8 years old, so I know it well. Back then the Boston and Maine Railroad tracks ran through here, and I loved walking the tracks. Though you can see a lot of bare trees in this shot they weren’t all bare. I actually saw a lot of color out here.

There were some pretty trees and shrubs quite far off in the distance that I couldn’t identify.

This one was a poplar. They’re common out here now but I can’t remember seeing any when I was a boy.

Staghorn sumacs are also common. In the fall they have beautiful scarlet leaves but most had already fallen.

There are lots of sumac berries out here as well but I think these were smooth rather than staghorn sumac berries. They weren’t quite fuzzy enough for staghorn sumac fruit.

A large flock of robins was eating sumac fruit but there will still be plenty left in the spring. Usually nothing touches them until spring, but I don’t know why. I’ve always wondered if the migrating birds ate them when they came back. Of course robins used to be migrating birds so maybe it was they who ate them in the spring.

There are lots of many different kinds of fruit found along this trail, including the beautiful berries of Virginia creeper. This is where I first realized exactly how much natural food there was for birds. My grandmother always feared they would starve even though I told her there seemed to be plenty of food for fruit and seed eating birds.

I was surprised to find asparagus growing here so apparently humans can find food here too. There were two plants.

Blue wood asters were seen here and there but even they are coming to the end of their bloom time.

The always beautiful and always surprising blue of the black raspberry can be found all along the trail.

Here was some color; a huge maple. Unfortunately it was the invasive Norway maple (Acer platanoides.) These trees are native to Europe and hang on to their leaves longer than our native maples.

This tree had a lot of tar spot on its leaves. Tar spot is a fungal disease caused by three related fungi, Rhytisma acerinumRhytisma americanum and Rhytisma punctatum. Though it looks unsightly it doesn’t cause any real harm to the tree. It is usually found on Norway, silver and red maples.

The easiest way to check that a tree is a Norway Maple is to break a leaf stem (petiole). Norway maple is the only one that will show white, milky sap in broken leaf petioles. Native maples have clear sap.

A wasp nest had fallen out of a tree. I couldn’t imagine how long and how many wasps must it have taken to build such a thing. It was quite big and beautifully marbled. It looked like sedimentary stone.

This bridge was built in 2017 so it would be safer for people to cross one of Keene’s busiest highways. I haven’t used it much but a lot of people do, especially college students.

The patterns inside the bridge are a bit mesmerizing. Some of them are actually optical illusions. In fact if you see the bridge from the side it looks nearly flat and level.

I saw some beautiful oaks after the bridge. The color of them this year is beautiful enough to make you gasp.

But though it was hard to ignore the beauty of the oaks these are the trees that drew me here. They can be seen from the highway but I still couldn’t get close enough to be able to tell what they were. They could be maples, able to hang onto their leaves due to the warmth of the river water. I noticed all the red maples along the highway, which normally turn red in fall, turned this color this year. My color finding software sees orange but I see something that’s impossible to describe. More like tan.

There was a small grove of birches by the bridge. Gray birches (Betula populifolia,) I think.

I wondered how many times I had walked by this beech tree without seeing it. There was no missing it on this day.

Eventually you come to the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle. When this was built there was nothing here; it was just another trestle in the middle of the woods, and it was a boundary for me when I was a boy. I grew up just behind and to the right of where I stood when I took this photo and back then there were no boards on the deck as there are now. There were railroad ties with gaps in between and if you fell through you’d be in the river, so it took a few years for me to muster the courage to cross it. I was probably 8 or 10 when I expanded my world by finally crossing it. Once across I thought, if I wanted to I could walk all the way south to Florida, but I made it only as far as the next town down the line.

The small wooded area I once played in was one of the more colorful places along the trail.

The Ashuelot River bank was colorful as well. This is a moody stretch of river; I’ve seen it quickly rise in spring to overflow its banks. Luckily our house was never flooded but each spring was a nail biter. I still get nervous when I see a river at bank full.

How strange was this? As soon as I crossed the river some of the maples still had their leaves, and some of the oaks were still green. It was like a jungle and totally different from when the trail started. If you scroll back to the beginning of this post you’ll see what I mean. I can’t explain it.

And mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) grew in great drifts here. I think I could cut arm loads of it without putting a dent in the huge colonies of it. I’m very interested in this plant but I don’t think I need armloads of it. Still, I’ll be back in the summer to collect a few plants. It’s a dream machine, this one.

I saw an old friend, still beautiful even though it was busy with seed production.

A bumblebee slept on a goldenrod blossom. If there is anything more true and right and good than a bee sleeping, or even dying on a flower I don’t know what it is. The flower needs the bee as much as the bee needs the flower and together, they are one.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
~John Muir

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and Happy Halloween.

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Well, I’ve had a little trouble finding enough flowers still blooming to do another flower post but after a couple of weeks of hunting, here is what I’ve found. I saw a meadow full of small blue asters that I think were blue wood asters (Aster cordifolius.) I’m seeing more of these this year than I’ve ever seen even though they’re blooming quite late, even for an aster. They’re everywhere I go right now and are a joy to see in October.

They’re pretty little things.

Here are those blue wood asters blooming along the river with what I think are brown eyed Susans (Rudbeckia triloba,) which have apparently escaped a garden and are enjoying life along the river. There are hundreds of them blooming there. Their native range is from New York west to Minnesota and south to Utah and Texas. 

I was surprised to find the pale yellow flowers of wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum.) These were similar in color to those of the sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) but they can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. Wild radish is in the mustard family and is sometimes confused with wild mustard (Brassica kaber,) but that plant doesn’t have hairy stems like wild radish. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is a plant that won’t be finished until we have a real hard freeze. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as this example shows. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

It’s hard to tell when a sweet everlasting blossom is actually fully opened but the papery bracts that show when the flowers have opened to release their seeds look like small flowers. If you crush a few blossoms and smell them, they smell like maple syrup. I find it growing in sunny, sandy waste areas and on roadsides.

I was really looking forward to seeing the flowers of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and maybe collecting a few seeds but as it turns out, according to a New York Botanical Garden botanist, a deforming fungus is attacking mugworts, so this is all I’ll see of its “sort of” flowers. My thanks go to reader and contributor Sara Rall for help with this conundrum.

I’ve become very interested in this plant because I noticed that after I handled it I started remembering my dreams. That may not seem like a momentous event until I add how since I was a boy, I’ve rarely remembered a dream. This plant was first written about in the third century B.C. and one of the things written about it is how it can affect your dreams. In fact it can help you have very vivid dreams, and I can certainly attest to that fact.

I’m sure many who read this will scoff at a plant being able to affect our dreams, even though the aspirin they take comes from the salicylic acid first found in willow bark and the liniment they use on achy muscles has camphor as an active ingredient, and camphor comes from a tree. And don’t get me started on mushrooms and marijuana. In fact according to what I have read 11 percent of the 252 drugs considered “basic and essential” by the World Health Organization are “exclusively of flowering plant origin.” Codeine, quinine, morphine and many other drugs contain plant derivatives that have been very helpful to mankind.

Most of the phlox blossoms disappeared a while ago but not this one. I like that color.

New England asters are turning in for their winter sleep. Once pollinated they have no need for flowers and are now putting all of their energy into seed production. Most of these flowers were curling in on themselves but you could still see their beautiful color.

This one looked fairly fresh.

What I call the park asters seem to have had trouble getting going this year and are quite late. These plants get about a foot and a half tall but are large and mounded and once they get going are covered with blossoms. They’re very pretty.

In the same park are these dark asters. These plants are upright, about 3 feet tall, and have an entirely different growth habit than the lighter colored ones we just saw. If I were planting a garden of asters this one would be in the back and the lighter colored ones in the front.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is having a re-bloom, as it often does. The flowers are much smaller and not as robust as they are in the first bloom, but they’re still pretty. When freshly cut, Queen Anne’s lace flowers will change color depending on the color of the water in which they are placed, so if you put a bouquet into purple water you’ll have purple Queen Anne’s lace. This plant is also called wild carrot and if you dig up its root and crush it, you’ll find that it smells exactly like a carrot. It should never be eaten unless you are absolutely certain of the plant’s identity however, because it closely resembles some of the most toxic plants known.

Pee Gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) blossoms are turning into their fall pink and when that is done they will go to brown. Eventually each flower petal will start to disintegrate and for a short time will look like stained glass. If cut at the pink stage however, the color will hold for quite a long time. These huge blossom heads dry well and make excellent dried flower arrangements.

I was hoping to find the rarer orange hawkweed but all I’ve seen is this single yellow one (Hieracium caespitosum.) The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval, overlapping leaves at the base of the stem often turn 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. 

An obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) surprised me by blooming this late. Obedient plants get their common name from the way the stems stay where they are if they are bent; they are “obedient.” I like the flowers, but don’t like having to weed the plants out of just about everywhere. Though it is native to central and southern U.S.  it’s a very aggressive plant.

I’m still seeing a few yellow sorrel flowers (Oxalis stricta) and I expect that they’ll probably go for a little while longer. Our first frost usually appears during the third week of September on average, but this year we had freezes overnight 3 nights in a row. It is usually in October that we get freezes, and that finishes the growing season. That means all of the flowers you see here are survivors; the toughest of the lot.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) has a very long blooming period. I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months. I’ve noticed that when it gets cold the small, normally white daisy fleabane blossoms take on a hint of purple. I’ve seen other white flowers do the same, so it isn’t unusual.  Many white chrysanthemums for example will turn purple when it gets cold. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

Purple stemmed beggar’s ticks (Bidens connata) have gone to red; all red, even their leaves. There are nearly 200 species in the genus and many of them look nearly identical. In this part of the state this plant grows side by side with the nodding burr marigold (Bidens Cernua,) which is also called smooth beggar’s ticks. The plant gets its common name from the way its barbed seeds cling to clothing. Books say that it reaches 3 1/2 feet tall but I’ve seen some get close to six feet but they often have a often sprawling habit. I’ve also seen these plants growing in water at the edge of ponds.

Many years ago I gardened for an English lady who introduced me to the Marguerite daisy (Argyranthemum frutescens.) Never had I met a plant that once planted needed less care than this pretty thing. She’d buy them each spring and after a killing freeze they’d end up in the compost  pile, which she always had me work very diligently throughout the year. She needed compost for her vegetables of course but also for her daisies, which like a good, well-drained soil high in organic matter. This lady was the person who taught me the concept of “building” the soil and the real value of compost, so I owe her a debt of gratitude. What I learned from her I was able to take to all the other gardens I worked in, and that made for better gardens all over town and made me a better gardener.

Since I’ve seen snow falling on Montauk daisies (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) I wasn’t surprised to find a large plant blooming like it was June. This daisy is a Japanese creation also called the Nippon daisy, and it looks like a Shasta daisy on steroids. It would be an excellent addition to a fall garden.

I saw these flowers in a local park. I have no idea what their name is but they remind me of sunny side up eggs. Cheery little things they were.

The hood shaped upper petal of a monkshood (Aconitum) flower helps to easily identify it. Aconite, which monkshood is, is one of the most poisonous plants known. In fact, some species of aconite are so poisonous that their aconitine toxin can easily be absorbed through the skin while picking their leaves. In 2015 an experienced gardener in the U.K. died of multiple organ failure after weeding and hoeing near aconite plants, so I try to leave it alone. Aconite is also called wolf’s bane, leopard’s bane, Friar’s cap, and Queen of poisons. If you were found growing monkshood (Aconitum napellus) in ancient Rome there was a good chance that you’d be put to death, because the extremely toxic plant was added to the water of one’s enemies to eliminate them. 

Monkshood can take a lot of cold and its pretty, unusual blooms appear quite late in the season. Though it blooms in the cold there are insects still flying about, and if they crawl into the hood they’ll find the plant’s treasure. It’s one of the very latest flowers to bloom in this area.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome. Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven? ~ A.J. Balfour    

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We’ve had three nights in the 20s F. so I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do flower posts, but for now the hardiest fall flowers, like these I drive by each morning, are still blooming. Goldenrods and several different asters make up this scene. This is when our roadsides turn into impressionist paintings. Those that haven’t been mowed do anyway.

What I call the park aster survived the cold nights and is just coming into bloom.

After bragging a few posts ago how the pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii) in my yard never got attacked by disease this year it has mildewed and has very few flowers on it. Powdery mildew likes high heat, high humidity and poor air circulation, so with two out of the three available for months this year I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. But I am surprised, because in all the years I’ve had this plant it has never asked for a thing and has thrived on neglect.

In the woods under the trees, white wood asters (Aster divaricatus) are still blooming.

Now here is a plant that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never seen, or maybe I’ve just never paid attention to it. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is also called wormwood and it isn’t much to look at, but oh what a ride researching it has taken me on. It’s an herb that has been used by man for thousands of years; the earliest writings regarding it found are from 3 BC. in China. It is also one of the herbs recorded in the Anglo-Saxon nine herbs charm from the tenth century and by all accounts was and still is considered a very important plant. Here is the U.S. it is considered an invasive weed but since I’ve never seen it before now I doubt it’s very invasive in this part of the country.

One of the ways to identify mugwort is by looking at the underside of the leaves which should be silvery white, colored by downy hairs. I’ve read that the ridged and grooved central stem can be green, green with purple ridges, or purple but this one was green. The leaves of the plant are highly aromatic and if you run your hands over the plant you smell a strong kind of sage like odor which is quite pleasant. One of the reasons this plant has been considered sacred for centuries is because it has so many uses, from culinary to medicinal. It is used in China to flavor things like tea, rice cakes and seafood and is used to treat depression, indigestion and lack of appetite. It has even been used to make beer.

These are the flower buds which I’ve been watching for a few weeks, impatiently waiting for them to open. Another way mugwort is used is to ease childbirth and to treat other women’s issues such as menopause. The plant can cause miscarriage however, so it should never be used during pregnancy.  

And then the buds became bright red, and very fine filaments appeared. These filaments reminded me of the tiny female flowers found on alders in spring. I’ve seen photos online of the flowers and these don’t look like those but I think that’s because they hadn’t fully opened when I took this photo. They should become tiny greenish yellow “insignificant” blooms, and I’ll be watching for them. I can say that they were much more aromatic than the leaves and the pleasing scent they left on my hands lasted until I washed it off. In fact I wish I could bottle that scent because it was really very pleasing and not at all overpowering. I’ve read that some are allergic to the plant and can get a rash from it but though I have allergies, it hasn’t bothered me at all.

Mugwort leaves, at least the ones on this plant, turn red in fall. I’m sorry that I’ve spent so much time on mugwort but I’m very interested in this plant. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what it is supposed to be able to do.

I had to go out and see the bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) growing in their moist, shaded spot along the banks of the Ashuelot River. Their numbers seem to be increasing despite being weed whacked and stepped on. Normally I would say that I love their beautiful blue color but these were so purple even I could see it. How odd, I thought. Though I know their usual color when mature is a very beautiful deep violet purple I’ve always seen them as blue until now. Maybe my colorblindness is going away. 

Closed (bottle) gentians are indeed closed and strong insects like bumblebees have to pry them open to get inside. I’ve read that these plants won’t tolerate drought so we’ll have to see what next year brings.

I saw just one single peached leaved bluebell  (Campanula persicifolia) blossom. A survivor.

How can you go 60 plus years and never see a plant and then, all of the sudden, see it everywhere you go? That’s what I ask myself every time I see pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea.) I’ve now found it in four different places. Last year I would have told you it didn’t grow here but I’m glad it does. It’s a pretty little plant.

I’ve discovered by watching the plant that pearly everlasting flowers close each night and open when the sun finds them the following day. Native Americans used pearly everlasting for treatment of sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way. The name everlasting comes from the way the dried flowers will last for years in a vase.

Heart leaved asters (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) are just coming into bloom. They are pretty little things that are also called blue wood asters, and they last quite late into the fall season, especially if they’re under trees. I often find them along rail trails.

The flowers are quite small; this one might have been a half inch across, but is no less pretty because of it.

It isn’t hard to understand how the heart leaved aster got its name, but the leaf shape can be variable from the bottom to the top of the stem. They have sharp coarse teeth around the perimeter.

A goldenrod that I see a lot of is downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula.) The leaves have a downy coating and that’s where its common name comes from. They reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil, often in colonies of 15-20 plants. The bright yellow 1/4 inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.

Every time I say goodbye to coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) for the year more appear, and that’s a good thing. 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, 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.

Nodding bur marigold plants (Bidens cernua) still bloom at the water’s edge at rivers and ponds. Though they might appear fragile these plants are tough. I’ve seen them still bloom even after being walked on and crushed. The pretty lemon yellow flowers look like a miniature sunflower. I like their deeply pleated petals.

Since I like the color blue so much it’s hard not to like vetch, even though it is invasive and is probably responsible for more than a few gray hairs on this head. Once it gets in a garden it is close to impossible to eradicate by pulling alone, and I know that because I tried many times in many gardens over the years. It’s especially annoying when it gets into shrubs. Various vetch species were originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as cover crops and for livestock forage. They’re now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire.

It is said that the name Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) was borrowed from the biblical Song of Solomon but others say that it was a mis-translation of the Hebrew “Chavatzelet Ha Sharon,” which was a crocus or daffodil. It could also have been a tulip, or a Madonna lily. What all of this tells me is that nobody really knows where the name came from. Even the syriacus part of the scientific name is inaccurate because the plant isn’t from Syria, it’s from somewhere in Asia. The thing is though, when you see the beauty of the flower you really don’t care what its name is or where it came from; at least, I don’t. I’m increasingly convinced that what makes nature so complicated is our inability to find the correct words and ways to describe it. Nature isn’t complicated. It is we who complicate it.

I was very surprised to see that tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants were having a re-bloom. In the mid-1600s this plant was discovered in Virginia by John Tradescant and shipped off to England. I wonder what they thought of John when they realized how aggressive it could be in a garden. In any event native Americans had been using the plant both medicinally and for food for thousands of years before any European saw it. According to the USDA they ate the young spring shoots and mashed the stems and rubbed them onto insect bites to relieve pain and itching. Something else I read recently is that tradescantia has been proven to be an effective botanical watchdog for high radiation levels. The cells in the stamen hairs in the center of the plant mutate and turn from blue to pink when exposed to radiation such as gamma rays. Will wonders never cease.

I’ll leave you with some more of those roadside flowers. Long may they bloom.

Many people have never learned to see the beauty of flowers, especially those that grow unnoticed. ~Erika Just

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I’ve been wondering about this mowed trail under the powerlines in south Keene for many years now. Since the land is near the local college I was sure they must have made the trail, but why? I decided to finally find out more about it last Saturday.

Since I grew up in this area I thought the trail might lead to the Ashuelot River, which is right behind those trees on the other side of the powerline cut.

But before I did anything I made sure all the power lines were still in place as they should be. A few years ago a terrible accident happened here when a college maintenance worker came out here to see what birds he might find. He didn’t notice that one of the lines had fallen and he was electrocuted. The electric company had neglected to inspect and repair their towers, so one of the tower cross members that the big insulators hang from had simply broken off due to rot and the wire fell to the ground. And I used to play under these things when I was a boy.

There were huge numbers of goldenrod here.

And quite a few of the deep purple New England asters that I like so much.

The dogwood leaves had already turned to their beautiful maroon fall color.

As I thought it would the trail turned into the woods.

I was happy to see that my boyhood playground was now a wildlife management area. That means this land will be protected.

A game trail led into the woods so I followed it.

The trail became what looked like an otter slide, and I found myself standing about ten feet above what was left of the river. It is definitely lower than I’ve ever seen it and I’m not sure what will happen if we don’t get some rain soon. Wells are going dry all over the state.

A marker told me that I was 1.56 miles from somewhere. Or maybe I had 1.56 miles to go. Either way it didn’t matter.

Sumacs are changing into their beautiful fall red.

Ferns stood as tall as I did.

A woodland sunflower was curling into itself, I’m guessing from lack of moisture. I’ve never seen the woods look so dry.

A backwater had nearly dried up, and that was hard to see. What struck me as most odd about the scene was the lack of animal tracks. There are large animals like deer out here and they need to drink but they hadn’t been here, so I wondered if this was more of that river mud that it is so easy to sink in to. I wasn’t going to try. I learned a lot out here when I was a boy and one of the most important lessons was not to do foolish things like play in wet river mud when I was alone.

And then I came to the college soccer fields. I can remember when they were built and a couple of college students walking the trail looked like they wanted to call me Methuselah when I told them that.

A silver maple showed me how it got its name. Normally, as the old tale says, when you see the silvery undersides of these leaves it is going to rain. On this day though, all we saw was a 20 MPH wind.

It really is amazing what the college has carved out of what was essentially wilderness.

There were lots of flowers to see; mostly asters and goldenrods.

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana,) our native clematis, often has deep purple leaves at this time of year.

Virgin’s bower also has fluffy seed heads and I think the seed heads are as interesting as the flowers. This is our most common native clematis and can be seen on roadsides draped over shrubs or climbing high up in the trees. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings. They also give the plant another common name: Old Man’s Beard. 

It was nice to see so many of these dark colored asters. This color isn’t common here but they’re my favorite.

It was amazing to think that, when I was a boy living barely a 5 minute walk from here, none of this existed. The power lines were there and what grew under them was cut fairly regularly, but the rest of the area; the college fields, the paths, the wildlife management area, none of it was here. What was here is what you see above; a forest, and it was a wonderful, magical place to grow up in. I spent most of my free time in these woods and on the railroad track that ran through them, and being here again was like going home. I was thankful for the mowed trails that made it so easy to get out here and I hope the college students will have as much fun here as I had. It’s a very special place.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. ~Alfred North Whitehead

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Our beautiful fall roadside flowers are slowly showing themselves more and more each day, with asters and goldenrods dominating until frost. And frost may be on the horizon; we’ve already seen 20 degree F. temperatures in the northern half of the state.

We have so many aster species here it’s virtually impossible to identify them all in the time I have but New England asters are easier than any because of their size, both of the flowers and of the plants. These deep purple ones are my favorites. They come out a little later than the others but they’re so beautiful it’s worth the wait.

This aster has me baffled. Its flower is as big as a New England aster but note how few petals (actually ray flowers) it has compared to the purple one in the previous photo. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it before. Though white is a common color most if not all of our white asters are smaller than New England asters.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) appears early on in summer but waits until September to bloom. Its stems grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, as if to show off the yellow blooms that grow in tufts all along the stem. This plant tolerates shade and seems to prefer places where it will only get two or three hours of sunlight. It isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod get their blue color from the same natural wax coating that is found on grapes, plums, blueberries and other plants. The coating is called a bloom and plants use it as a form of protection against moisture loss. It’s made up of tiny powdery, whitish crystals which reflect and scatter light in ways that can make the surface that they cover appear very blue. The heat can make the blue coating disappear but I was able to find two or three stems that still had it. It’s a beautiful shade of blue.

The white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) (I think) is a plant that is so loaded with small white flowers along its stems that it doesn’t look as if you could fit one more on it. For that reason it has another common name; the many flowered aster. It is also called small white aster, smooth white aster, and old field aster. There are many asters that look alike and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids. One of the features that help with the identity of the heath aster is how it has nearly every inch of free stem covered by a blossom, all of them on the sunny side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmown fields and pastures. The blossoms are fairly small; 1/4 to 1/2 inch across at best.

Goldenrods are generally tough plants, as this clump coming up in an abandoned parking lot shows. At first I thought it was rough stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) because of its clumping habit but since the leaves aren’t toothed I doubt it is that one. Butterflies, bees, and other insects visit goldenrods for their nectar. And no goldenrods do not cause hay fever, because its pollen grains are too big and sticky to become airborne. Though many blame goldenrod for their sneezing fits it is actually ragweed pollen that causes them. I told a woman this once and she absolutely refused to believe it. Before she turned on her heel and stomped off she told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. “Don’t you think I know what causes my allergies?!” she asked. Some people just refuse to believe the truth, even when it is put right in front of them.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is having a last gasp I think, and it’s time to say goodbye to this interesting plant until next year. It originally hails from Europe and is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era. I’m guessing it originally came over in the tail of a horse or cow. It has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love these flowers and it is not uncommon to have them flying all around me as I take photos of it.

Most bull thistles look like this right now so the goldfinches have been eating well.

If the square stems and tufts of tiny pink / purple flowers in the leaf axils don’t ring a bell, then one sniff of a crushed leaf will tell you immediately that the plant is wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) Mint has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. Each time we see it we are seeing one of mankind’s earliest memories.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I see them still blooming here and there. This plant looked a little sad but it was still blooming. There are still plenty of pollinators about so I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Jewelweed has such an interesting and unusual flower. They dangle at the ends of long, slender filaments and dance in the slightest hint of a breeze though, so that makes them a real challenge to photograph. The plant gets its common name from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

At first I thought this was a Shasta daisy but the leaves were too fleshy, so I believe it was a Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) which is a Japanese creation also called the Nippon daisy. It is extremely hardy; I’ve seen it bloom after a 28 degree F. night and it is also a very late bloomer. It would be an excellent choice for a fall garden.

Red clover continues to be beautiful and continues to shine its divine light out at any who care to take a moment to look at it. It is a tough plant that will bloom until a freeze. Sometimes it’s the very last flower I see for the season, and that seems as it should be; a bit of one-upmanship for what is a lowly, hated weed to many. That’s how I felt about it for years until I sat with it one evening and let it shine its light on me. Then my opinion changed. 

I always find silverrod in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods near the end of August. It’s hard to get a good photo of because it’s usually surrounded by other plants and rarely grows alone. It grows about knee high and isn’t seen anywhere near as often as the yellow goldenrods.

I think almost everyone knows what goldenrod looks like but not everyone has seen silverrod. Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only native white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast. The small flowers almost always have at least one ant on them but all I saw were spider webs on this one.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was covered with insects. Yarrow starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again, much like dandelions do. Its flowers are sparse at this time of year but I find it blooming here and there. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. Its stems were used to glean answers from the Chinese I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination text which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs.” It was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

Sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) is a curious little plant that gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. I know of only one place where it grows. It is an annual but the plants must produce plenty of seed because there seem to be more plants each year. They grow to only about knee high.

How small are sand jointweed blossoms? This shot from 2016 shows that they’re about 1/8 of an inch across, or nearly the same size as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny. You can see the curiously jointed stems that give the plant its common name in this shot as well.

Much like the red clover this dahlia had the light of creation in its blossoms. It’s hard to know what to say about such a thing, and I suppose that means it leaves me speechless.

This yellow azalea is another plant that I don’t know what to say about, because I don’t expect to see an azalea blooming at this time of year; azaleas are spring bloomers. Each fall I tell myself I will come back and see if it blooms in spring as well, but of course I forget every spring. There are lots of plants that have their primary bloom in spring and then re-bloom later on, and I have a feeling that’s what this one does. It has just a few blossoms in the fall and if this is its primary bloom time I’d call it far from showy.

Out of a pond with hundreds if not thousands of fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) blooming, this was the last one I saw. They whisper thoughts of serenity to me and they’re another flower that it’s hard to see pass on. But I think that the void that comes with their passing always makes the following spring and summer so much more welcome and enjoyable.  

Summer is leaving silently. Much like a traveler approaching the end of an amazing journey. ~Darnell Lamont Walker

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New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) continue to bloom heavily in spite of the drought. This plant was growing in a dried up streambed and was doing well. Something I’ve learned about them over the years is that they’ll grow and bloom in shade, as this one was.

A New England aster flower is made up of many petal like ray flowers around the outer perimeter and disc flowers in the center. The disc flowers are sometimes called tube flowers because of their shape. At about an inch across they are the largest flower heads found on any of our asters but this year I’ve noticed they’re a bit smaller, probably due to stress from the drought. The Native American word for this plant is said to have meant “It brings the fall.” They used the plant medicinally to relieve many ailments, including pain and fever.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has grown back and is blooming again after being mowed down.  This European plant, 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.

I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful. Here the plant is planted intentionally along with other invasives like crown vetch to stabilize hillsides. I’m not sure how we can complain about a plant being invasive when we are planting it along our roadsides.

And here was crown vetch (Securigera varia) growing right along with the knapweed. Some flowers seem to have a little extra spark of life that makes me want to kneel before them and get to know them a little better, and one of those is crown vetch. It’s very beautiful.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) are still blossoming but not as they usually do. I didn’t think anything could bother such a tough plant but apparently they do not like dryness. Theses examples grew in the shade and didn’t look quite as ragged as many I’ve seen. The Native American Chippewa tribe used this plant to treat snakebite and colds. The roots were used to rid the body of worms.

I saw this plant in a local garden and I wasn’t sure what to say about it. Though the flowers reminded me somewhat of a black eyed Susan the petals seemed strangely tubular. Luckily it was easy to find online. It is indeed a black eyed Susan called “Henry Eilers.” I’ve read that it is a “standout among black eyed Susans,” and I would guess that would be true.

Datura (Datura stramonium) is in the nightshade family and all parts of the plant are toxic to humans and livestock. Taken in small enough doses the plant is hallucinogenic, as British soldiers found out when they included Jimsonweed leaves in salad in Jamestown, Virginia in 1676. They were high for 11 days and had to be penned up to prevent them from hurting themselves. When the symptoms wore off they remembered nothing. You can read about the incident by clicking here. I can’t say that it sounds like a good time.

Datura has many common names, one of which is thorn apple. The unripe seed pod in this photo shows how that name came about.

Bog asters (Oclemena nemoralis) grew in standing water at the shoreline of a local pond. The small, sword shaped leaves had no stems (petioles) and each unbranched stem grew to about a foot tall with a single, light purple flower at its tip.

Because bog asters usually grows in thickets in wet, swampy areas many people never see them. They grow all around the shore of this pond in great numbers but this is the only place I’ve ever seen them. Each flower is about half the size of a New England aster.

Dandelions always warn me that the weather is going to turn cooler because they don’t like hot weather. I didn’t realize it until I started watching them closely for this blog but they bloom heavily in spring and then disappear in the hottest months, and then re-appear when it cools off in the fall. This is one of the first I’ve seen since June.

As flowers go Canada horseweed (Conyza canadensis) isn’t much to look at. The flowers are tiny and seem to stay closed more than they do open. This club shaped plant can be easily seen from a distance because it starts branching at about a foot or so down from the tip of the tall, 3 foot stem and always looks top heavy. This plant is a North American native but is considered a noxious weed over much of the world. Legend has it that dried horseweed stem is one of the best materials for a drill when making fire with friction. Its stems are weak, so rubbing it between your hands rather than using a bow is recommended. It is said to produce a glowing coal with very little effort.

You’d never know it by looking at the tiny flowers but horseweed is in the aster family. Each flower is smaller in diameter than a pencil eraser and it’s hard to catch them in bloom.

What I believe were smooth blue asters (Aster laevis) grew on a roadside. These small plants were most likely second growth because the roadside had been mowed, so it’s hard to tell what their maximum height would be but the blue green foliage, lack of hairs on the leaves and stems, smallish 1 inch flowers, and lack of leaf petioles all point to the smooth blue aster. Also, the plants grow as a single stalk for part of their height before branching, and that’s another identifying characteristic. What bothers me about saying definitely that is what they are however, is my color finding software. In this flower it sees blue and purple…

…and in this flower it sees purple. I know that flowers can be called blue when they’re really purple, like blue vervain for instance, but I’d like to see these plants again next year to be sure, preferably before they’ve been mowed.

I’m waiting for the darker purple asters to appear but so far all I’ve seen is this one in a garden. They’re my favorite colors for an aster but they aren’t as common as the lighter colors.

I like this cosmos with frosted edges I saw in a garden.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) still blooms, and is having the best year that I can remember. It must like dryness. I can’t think of another plant that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms at this time of year. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals, as these examples show. The plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites.

There is white rattlesnake root and then there is white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima,) and of the two snakeroot is the one to be careful with. This plant is very toxic because of a compound called tremetol, which is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it. These days dairymen mix the milk from many cows and make sure this and other toxic plants are removed from their pastures so there is little chance of the plant having any real impact, but in days past if humans drank the milk or ate the meat of cows that had eaten this plant they could come down with what was once called “milk sickness.” The sickness caused heart or liver failure and Abraham Lincoln’s mother is believed to have died from it.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s  large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans.

A sunflower turned its back to the sun. According to an article on National Public Radio scientists have found that once sunflowers mature they stop following the sun and face east. When young they greet the sunrise in the east and then as the day progresses they follow it to the west until it sets. During the night time they slowly turn back to the east to again to wait for the next sunrise. They do this through a process called heliotropism, which scientists say can be explained by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour internal clock that humans also have. The plant actually turns itself by having different sides of its stem elongate at different times. Growth rates on the east side of the stem are high during the day and low at night. On the west side of the stem the growth rate is high at night and low during the day, and the differing growth rates turn the plant. Since this one was not facing into the sun I’d say it has matured.

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them. ~John Ruskin

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