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Archive for the ‘Wildflowers’ Category

This post is a kind of hodge podge of things I saw last summer when I was taking a break from blogging and things I’ve seen recently. If there is any continuity at all, any thread that runs through it, it is I hope how the beauty of this world can be found everywhere you look. The photo you see above happened just last week as I was going into a store to do some grocery shopping. I wasn’t surprised to see many people just walking right by without seeing it. We live in a paradise that is absolutely filled with beauty all the time, night and day, and we should give ourselves time to at least notice it. How long does it take to appreciate the beauty of the frost crystals on your car windows before starting the car in the morning, or to simply look up at the sky now and then?

This shadow of a staghorn sumac reminded me of the palm trees I saw when I lived in Florida. The first time I crossed over from Georgia into Jacksonville, Florida it was about two in the morning, and the palm trees that lined the center of the divided road, lit up as they were by streetlights, seemed like the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I felt as if I were driving into a postcard. I felt electric, and more alive than I had ever been.

Here is another kind of shadow. The town put in a new sidewalk last summer and last fall of course the falling leaves landed on it. This leaf, from a maple, leached out its tannins and left its silhouette on the newly poured concrete. Maple leaves are one of the species used for botanical or “eco-printing,” which is where leaf and bark shapes and colors are transferred or bled onto fabric or paper.

When the town put in the new sidewalk they tore up lawns all up and down the street, so to finish the job they brought soil in from somewhere, and what you see above is what sprouted from that soil on the corner of the street; a forest of what are commonly known as weeds, like lamb’s quarters.

One of the plants that sprouted from the soil that was brought in was jimson weed. When I first saw it its big, beautiful white and purple flowers were just about to open. Jimson weed is considered poisonous to both humans and livestock so I was surprised to see it growing here, on the lawn of a children’s daycare center. This hallucinogenic plant in the nightshade family is also called loco weed and was used by Native Americans on spiritual quests. The original common name was “Jamestown weed” which was given to it after English soldiers in the Jamestown colony began to behave oddly after eating leaves of the plant. It is said that they “behaved like animals for several days.” This plant is considered exceedingly dangerous due to poisonings and deaths by people trying to get high. I was going to say something about it but the daycare wasn’t due to open until school started, so there was nobody to say anything to.

Another plant that grew from the foreign soil was wild mustard, which I never used to see much but now see fairly regularly. Because of the plants that grew from it I have a feeling that this soil must have come from old pasture land. There is old pasture south of here and I’ve seen these same plants growing there. In any event, I went back a few days later to see the beautiful Datura flowers and everything had been mowed down to something resembling lawn. I was a bit disappointed because Datura blossoms are very beautiful.

I went to a pond that I had been to a hundred times last summer and found this small, foot tall fern that I had never seen growing in the water right at the shoreline. The rounded over edges of the sub-leaflets didn’t look familiar but they, along with the way the leaflets twisted along the stem helped identify it.

I turned one of the fronds over and saw something I had never seen. The curled over edges of the sub-leaflets formed cups filled with what looked like blackberry jelly, but of course these were the fern’s spore cases (sori) and there must have been many hundreds of them. With all the hints it gave me it was easy to identify it as the marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris pubescens.) It has fertile and sterile leaves but the fertile ones tend to be smaller, according to what I’ve read. It likes wet feet and full sun. This isn’t a very good shot of the spore cases so I hope to return this coming summer and try again.

According to the book Identifying Ferns the Easy Way, A Pocket Guide to Common Ferns of the Northeast, by Lynn Levine, the caterpillars of the marsh fern moth feed on the leaves of this fern and it is the only known host plant of what is an uncommon moth.

And speaking of uncommon moths, here is a large maple spanworm moth (Prochoerodes linolea.) I found it relaxing on the siding of the local post office and was amazed by its resemblance to tree bark. I’d guess that I’ve probably walked right by them thousands of times in the woods but here on this bright white wall it was easy to see. Life is such a beautiful and amazing thing. Emily Dickinson said it best: To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.  

I’ve known tansy for a very long time but for years if I wanted to see it, I had to visit a garden. Only over the last few years have I found it in the wild, so as an invasive plant it has failed miserably in this area, even though it has excelled elsewhere. In colonial times tansy was used as both a flavoring in tea, cakes and puddings and an insect repellant, used especially for bedbugs. It was also used to make green dyes and was thought valuable enough to be brought over on a three-month voyage. It is also toxic, so though I don’t have a problem with using it to repel insects I doubt I’ll ever flavor anything with it.

I didn’t see large numbers of monarch butterflies this year but I saw a few, and I found a patch of Joe Pye weed that they and spangled fritillary butterflies seem to prefer over all the other flowers in the area. I would revisit this spot every few days and each time these flowers had several butterflies and bumblebees visiting.  You have to look closely to see them but there are many bumblebees in this shot.

What was it, I’ve wondered, about these particular plants that made them so attractive to so many insects?

I also saw a monarch butterfly caterpillar on a milkweed plant last summer. I don’t see very many of them so it was a surprise.

The unusual berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) called doll’s eyes, have over the past two or three years turned black and shriveled up for reasons I can’t fathom, but last summer they were nearly pristine when I found them. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these. The hot pink pedicels are pretty as well. These plants are toxic but luckily the berries are so bitter one bite would be enough to make anyone spit them out. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow. I almost always find them at the base of hillsides.

I saw very few mushrooms last summer because it was so dry, but I did see a few Indian pipes, which is odd since they’re parasitic on certain fungi.

Here is a rarely seen (by many) look into the inside of an Indian pipe flower. At the tips of the 10 stamens surrounding the center stigma are the anthers, colored yellow, which contain pollen. The anthers are open and shedding pollen at this stage. In the center of the flower is the pollen-collecting stigma, which looks like a funnel between the yellowish stamens. Each flower will stand straight up when it is ready to be pollinated, and once pollinated will eventually become a hard brown seed capsule. You can find them sticking up out of the snow, usually in groups, at this time of year and they are always fun to look at.

If you walk in certain places at certain times, you might see things that you will only see once in a great while, if at all. People often ask me how I do this; how I see what I see. The answer is to simply be there. I spend as much free time outdoors as possible. I also walk very slowly and pay close attention. Many times, I just stumble onto the greater part of what you see here on this blog. If I had been just a few minutes earlier or later I might have missed the sunlight highlighting the hairs on this staghorn sumac. That would have been too bad because it shows how the plant got its name, with its velvety softness just like that of a deer’s antler.

With other things found in nature, you can often do some planning ahead. For instance, if you know that the “bloom” on black raspberry canes is made of a kind of natural wax, and if you know that it “melts away” in warm summer weather, you know that your best chance of seeing it is in the cooler months. You will also find this same beautiful blue, which is a result of the way sunlight is reflected by the wax crystals, on blueberries, plums, lichens, and many other things.

This photo of American hazelnut catkins might not seem like much but it is special to me because it was taken with a cell phone. Since I’ve struggled with getting a shot of these little things even with a macro camera in the past, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the phone camera got it. The depth of field could have been better but all in all I was happy with it. You can see how the triangular bud scales spiral up the catkin. When the catkin swells and the bud scales begin to open in spring the tiny, beautiful golden flowers will do the same. They are among the earliest spring flowers and I look forward to seeing them each year. It won’t be long now.

Many will most likely think big deal, it’s just an old leaf, but if you had lived through 60+ New Hampshire winters like I have you would know that any splotch of color is beautiful in the often stark black and white world of January. Any color anywhere will stop you in your tracks and you’ll be thankful that it was there for you to find.

How does a child see the world? What is childlike wonder? Everything a young child sees is fresh and new; they’ve never seen it before so they have no history; no file cabinet full of memories to search through and compare what they see now to what they saw then. A child sees a branch or a rock and becomes enraptured by it because it is fresh and new. They see what is right now, as it is. We adults on the other hand, compare what we see to what we’ve seen before and instantly decide that it’s better or worse than the one we saw previously. Once we do that all the freshness, the newness, and the wonder is gone, and what we see becomes old. Children see as much with their hearts as with their eyes and if you follow their lead great beauty will appear, seemingly out of nowhere. The more beauty you see the more you will see, and before long you will have to say, as I did, “My gosh, everything is so very beautiful. Just look at it!”

If we have relegated vision solely to a function of the eyes, we are blind indeed.
~Craig D. Lounsbrough

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Hello Everyone,

This special post is intended for any would be seed collectors out there. I was recently contacted by a seed company that is looking for someone to collect maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina) seeds. Their regular collector is no longer available and they are running low on seed. If you would be interested in doing this, please contact me through the “Contact Me” tab at the top of this page and I’ll send you the contact information for the seed company. This is a unique opportunity for the right person(s) and I hope this post will generate some interest.

This photo shows what can be large terminal clusters (elongate inflorescences) of maleberry flowers. It also shows the shrub’s leaves, which look very similar to blueberry leaves. In fact, maleberry and blueberry often grow side by side along pond, river, and wetland shores and are essentially the same size. If it wasn’t for the fact that blueberries bloom about two months earlier, if the two shrubs were in bloom side by side, at a glance you’d think they were both blueberries. One noticeable difference between the two is how blueberries will grow on mountains and hilltops and maleberries won’t. At least, in my experience they don’t. They seem to like moist roots because I always find them right along shorelines. I often find them growing near or under red maples along shorelines as well.

If you know what a blueberry blossom looks like you quickly see that, though maleberry blossoms might appear the same at first glance, they are really very different. Whereas blueberry blossoms are relatively long and narrow, maleberry blossoms are short and squat, and only about half the diameter.

Just about the time blueberries are ripe enough for picking, the seed capsules of maleberries begin to form. Each maleberry seed capsule is 1/8 to 5/16 inch in diameter and hard and woody. They ripen from green to brown and when ripe start to split open into 5 segments, as this photo taken in January 2020 shows. They form in July or August here in New Hampshire and mature through summer and fall and finally start to open in January or February of the following year. Seed capsules can be collected through April of the following year but waiting much after that will increase the chances that they will have already released their seeds. I have seen many hundreds of capsules on a single shrub. Even after the seeds are released the dry capsules turn to a grayish color and will stay on the shrub in some form or another year-round, and are helpful for identification. Plants live for about 20 years.

There are certain considerations that a seed collector must think about. Number one is, never take all the seeds. A good rule of thumb is, take one out of every twenty. If you come upon a colony of black eyed Susans for example, you would take one seed head out of every twenty. The same is true for maleberries, you would take one group of 5 or 6 seed heads for every twenty groups. You do not cut all the seed heads from a single plant, ever.

Maleberry flowers grow on the previous year’s stems, which means they should be pruned in late winter or very early spring, which is exactly when the seedpod harvest would take place. You need to know how and when to prune any flowering shrub, and I would guess that this information would be easily found online.

Since I haven’t spoken to the seed company in depth about this all I know is they want the seeds so they can sell them. I don’t know or care who they will sell them to; I’m just doing this post as a favor to both them and the maleberries. Maleberries are at risk in certain places. In Nova Scotia for instance there are only 33 known mature plants, and they are being threatened by off road vehicles and invasive plants. Throughout Canada maleberry is now considered an extremely rare species. In the United States plants grow up and down the east coast from Maine to Florida, and west to eastern Texas and Oklahoma. If you live in any of these places collecting seed would be possible. Does the seed company need more than one collector? This I can’t answer but I can’t see that it would be a problem.

Please save questions like “How much will I be paid?” for the seed company, because I don’t know. I would guess that you would be paid by the volume of seed collected and sent in, as in dollars per ounces or grams.

Since right now is the time to collect maleberry seed, time is of the essence.

If you’d like to peek into the life of a seed collector, you can read an interview done with seed harvest and restoration technician Keith Bennett by the Nature Conservancy here: https://www.nature.org/en-us/magazine/magazine-articles/seed-collector-missouri/

One seed births a thousand forests. ~Matshona Dhliwayo

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One afternoon I woke from a nap with a thought: Let my last act on this earth be one of kindness.
I wondered where it came from and what I had dreamed. Or had I heard it or read it somewhere? I still don’t know.

I had a cup of coffee and thought about it. Though it sounds simple enough, “Let my last act on this earth be one of kindness” is a very tricky thing. It kind of sneaks up on you from behind when you aren’t paying attention, because none of us knows when, where, or how our last act is going to happen. So, if you want your last act to be one of kindness but you don’t know when it will happen, that means you’ll have to be kind all the time, right?

I thought about that and wondered “Can I be kind all the time? Is it possible?”

Maybe not, but I can explore the possibility by keeping the thought in the back of my mind. And if I’m thinking about being kind maybe my success rate of doing so will climb a bit. Maybe one day I’ll even reach the point of being kind without having to think about it. Maybe I can even be kind to those who are unkind. If I must have a goal, that seems like a worthy one.

Be the reason someone smiles. Be the reason someone feels loved and believes in the goodness in people. ~Roy T. Bennett

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Toward the end of July I took a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene, looking for wildflowers. Since I didn’t have writing a blog post in mind at that time, I never took a shot of the river or the trail I followed. My thoughts were on the wildflowers that grow here, and there are many. It’s a good place to find flowers that like to be constantly moist, like the American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) in the above photo. These common plants often have deep maroon foliage like that seen here, which is quite pretty. The tiny bell-shaped flowers form a ring around the square stem in the leaf axils.

American water horehound is very similar to northern water horehound, but that plant’s flowers have five lobes instead of four. The pretty little flowers are some of the most challenging to get a good photo of and it often takes me several attempts. The plant grows in roadside ditches and along the shores of ponds and rivers, where it can keep its feet wet. The hard brown seeds are eaten by waterfowl and Native Americans used the small tuberous roots for food.

The round, inch diameter flower clusters of button bush shrubs (Cephalanthus occidentalis) dotted the shoreline. The fragrant, long white, tubular flowers each have an even longer style that makes the whole flower head look like a spiky pincushion. Flowers are often tinged by a bit of brown when I see them but these were in fine, fresh condition. Once pollinated the flower heads become hard brown/ reddish seed heads made up of small, two seeded nutlets that are a favorite of ducks and shore birds. According to the USDA, Native Americans used concoctions made from the bark of buttonbush to relieve headaches, rheumatism, and other ailments, and chewed it to relieve toothaches. I wonder if it has the same aspirin like compounds in it that willow bark has.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) always says midsummer to me, though it has a fairly long blooming season. It loves shaded, damp places and under the right conditions can form huge colonies.

This jewelweed blossom had a bee inside, and it didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get out. A pollen eater, maybe?

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) is hard to miss with its clear white, swept back petals. Each plant reaches about two feet and usually grows right at the edge of taller vegetation. Flowers have 5 petals and 10 stamens. Its unusual name comes from the way its leaves contain natural soaps called saponins. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather will appear. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It is originally from Europe and is considered toxic. It grows along the riverbank only in the sunniest places.

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) gets its name from being very sensitive to frost but there is no frost in July so I’m not sure what triggered the change in this one. Maybe it was just tired of trying to flourish in a drought.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) also called an early end to summer. Sometimes this plant will fool people into thinking they’ve found wild columbine. Also, on occasion its leaves will change to a beautiful deep purple in fall. Though this one was a ground hugger I’ve seen them that towered over my head.

Tall white rattlesnake root (Prenanthes trifoliate) grows all along the side of the trail that follows the river. They bloomed early this year; I usually think of them as a fall or very late summer flower. Plants have a waxy, reddish stem which helps in identification when it isn’t in bloom. Leaf size and shape can vary greatly from plant to plant, so it can be a tough one to figure out unless it is blooming.

Once tall white rattlesnake blooms it is unmistakable. There is no other plant that I know of that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms in late summer. 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. The flowers move at just a hint of a breeze, so they can be difficult to get a good photo of. This plant is also called gall of the earth because of how bitter the root tastes. These roots were once made into a very bitter tonic that was used to (allegedly) cure snake bites, and that’s where its other common name comes from.

I had to stop and admire the beautiful deep pink buds of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum.) This plant doesn’t have a strong presence along this part of the river but I see them here and there. I’ve always thought its buds were as beautiful as its flowers.

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) grows just about anywhere and is very common. It is similar to lance leaved goldenrod but the two can be told apart by leaf veining; slender fragrant goldenrod has only one vein running down the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has several veins. Other common names are sweet goldenrod, wound weed, Blue Mountain tea, sweet-scented goldenrod, anise-scented goldenrod, and true goldenrod. Goldenrods like dry, sunny places and don’t mind sandy soil so the drought didn’t really bother them. This native grows much shorter than most goldenrods; usually about knee high.

There are 2 or 3 small lobelias with small blue / purple flowers that grow here, but though the flowers look alike the plants themselves have very different growth habits, and that makes them easy to identify. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) and the small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it, I just look for the inflated seedpods.

These pretty, tiny flowers have to be pollinated by small insects, and bees such as sweat bees are perfect for the job. Once pollinated tiny, dust like seeds will form in the inflated seed pods in the fall. Eventually they will blow on the wind.

Allegheny monkey flowers (Mimulus ringens) grew here sparingly this year. Though there are 150 species of monkey flower worldwide, this is not a plant that I would expect to see large colonies of. I’ve learned to expect just a few.  I’ve never seen a monkey in one, but someone did. According to the University of Connecticut “The so-called Monkey Flowers in the genus Mimulus got their name because their flowers have a mouth-like shape, and to some they resemble the face of a monkey.” Oh well, I don’t see turtles when I look at turtlehead flowers either.

A blue damsel fly perched on a leaf just long enough for a couple of quick shots.

I was happy to find the small white blossoms of marsh bellflowers (Campanula aparinoides) here and there among the taller plants. This plant is a wetland indicator species and, in this spot, it grows right at the very edge of the river bank, so you have to be careful if you don’t want a dunking. Though perennial they, along with all with all the other plants in this photo, come and go according to conditions. Last year all of this was completely underwater and there wasn’t a flower to be seen, so this was only the second time I’ve ever seen them. They are rare in my experience and I don’t know a lot about them.

I do know that each bell-shaped flower is about the diameter of an aspirin, and a single flower dangles at the end of a wire like stem that can be up to three feet long. They don’t climb or cling but instead just tangle their way through other plant stems. They aren’t easy to get a photo of. As any painter knows, you can’t paint white snow on a white canvas; you need darkness before you can show light. This also applies to photography, and I had to twist myself in knots to get just the right amount of darkness behind this tiny flower. Background reflections of white clouds on the river made it almost disappear, so I was very happy when I got home and saw that I had the only useable photos I’ve ever taken of this rare flower. It is its simplicity that makes it beautiful, I think. I’ve read that they also come in very pale blue and I’d love to see those as well.

I’ll never believe that beauty can only be found in special places, where we must stand in line to see it. Great beauty can be found anywhere at any time, often in simple, uncomplicated places where there is nothing to do or to think about, like here along the river. Many landscape artists and photographers whose paintings and photos hang in galleries and museums come to places like this to find the beauty they want to capture. If you can’t afford to fly off to a museum or gallery to see a reproduction or representation of the beauty of life, why not walk through the real thing instead?

Beauty is not hidden. It is right there in plain sight for all to see, and all we have to do is notice it. The more we pay attention to it, the more we’ll see. It’s in the curl of a leaf, or the colorful gravel in a stream bed, or the carved hieroglyphics of bark beetles. It’s always there no matter where you look, and giving it our attention helps us realize what a great gift we’ve been given. This leads to gratitude and gratitude brings empathy and compassion, and they in turn fill our hearts with a love for all life.

Just as, when you look into the eyes of another human being you get a glimpse of their soul…
So also when you look deeply into the heart of a flower you get a glimpse into the soul of the earth.
~Rudolf Steiner

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I’m starting this post on aquatics with blue vervain (Verbena hastata,) only because I like its color. It isn’t a true aquatic but every time you find it there will be water very nearby. Blue vervain provides a virtual nectar bar for many species of bees including the verbena bee (Calliopsis verbenae.) Butterflies also love it. It likes wet soil and full sun and can reach 5 feet when it has both. I find it in wet ditches, on river banks and just about anywhere where the soil stays constantly moist.

Wild calla (Calla palustris) is also called water dragon or water arum, and it is a true aquatic. It is an arum like skunk cabbage or Jack in the pulpit, both of which also like wet places. I don’t know if I could say this plant is rare but it is certainly scarce in this area. It’s the kind of plant you have to hunt for, and you have to know its habits well to catch it in bloom. Like other arums its flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. This plant is toxic and I’ve never seen any animal touch it.

I missed the tiny greenish white flowers this year. They grow along the small spadix and are followed by green berries which will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. This plant was in the green, unripe berry stage. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

Pickerel weed is having a bad year and gone are the beautiful ribbons of blue flowers along the river’s banks. I’m not sure what is causing such a sparse bloom but I hope it rights itself because large masses of this plant in bloom can be truly spectacular.

One of the things that always surprises me about pickerel weed is its hairiness. I don’t expect that from a water plant. Its small blue / purple, tubular flowers on 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 them into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

I haven’t seen any berries yet but elderberries (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have bloomed well this year so we should have plenty. This is another plant that doesn’t grow in water but it grows as close as it can to keep its roots good and moist. This native shrub can get quite large and its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

A floating plant that is attached by roots to the pond or lake bottom is an aquatic, and that description fits floating hearts (Nyphoides cordata) perfectly. Floating hearts have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from. The tiny but very pretty flowers are about the size of a common aspirin and resemble the much larger fragrant white water lily blossom. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers. This flower was having trouble staying above water because it had rained and the water level had risen.

Forget me nots are not an aquatic plant but I keep finding them in very wet places. This one grew right at the edge of a pond so its roots must have been at least partially in water. The ground they grew in was also so saturated my knees got wet taking this photo. Many plants that are thought of as terrestrial are able to tolerate submersion in water and can live where they’re exposed regularly to water and from what I’ve seen, this is one of them.

Water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is probably the rarest of all the aquatics that grow in this area. I still know of only one pond it grows in and there are only a handful of them there. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands. This year I saw only 4 or 5 plants in a small group. The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water. True aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments (saltwater or freshwater) and this one has adapted well.

I saw a strange looking bubble which had ripples coming from it, as if it were moving. It was in a pond, just off shore.

Of course if you go looking for aquatic plants, you’re going to see dragonflies like this widow skimmer.

I’m also seeing lots of what I think are spangled skimmers this year. On this day all of them were watching the water.

Pipewort plants (Eriocaulon aquaticum) are also called hatpins, and this photo shows why perfectly. Pipewort plants have basal leaves growing at the base of each stem and the leaves are usually underwater, but falling water levels had exposed them here. Interestingly, this photo also shows the size difference between a floating heart, which is there in the center, and a standard water lily leaf, which you can just see in the top left. Floating hearts are tiny in comparison.

Pipewort stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort. The quarter inch diameter flower head that sits atop the stem is made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers. I think it’s interesting how their leaves can photosynthesize under water.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter if there are any flowers in view. The light is enough.

I saw what I thought was a pretty clump of grass right at the very edge of the river bank but when I looked closer, I saw that it wasn’t any grass that I had ever seen before and I think it is reed sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima,) which is invasive. It is native to Europe and Western Siberia and is a semi-aquatic, perennial grass with unbranched stems that get up to 8’ tall. There is a reddish tint on the lower parts of the stems. This plant towered up over my head but I can’t swear it had red on the stems because I have trouble seeing red. Reed sweet-grass invades wetlands and crowds out natives, and is not suitable for nesting. It is also a poor food source for our native wildlife.

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. It’s a common plant that I almost always find near water.

Meadowsweet flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. A close look shows that clearly, they belong in the spirea family. Before long their pretty purple cousins the steeple bushes will come along.

In my opinion swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is the most beautiful milkweed of all. It grows onshore but a few yards away from the water’s edge on land that rarely floods. Many insects were visiting it on this day. I know of only a single plant now, so I hope it produces plenty of seeds. The flowerheads always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are not true aquatics but they do grow close enough to water to have their roots occasionally flooded. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. Their name comes from the way their bright color lights up a swamp, just as they did here.

Swamp candles have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. 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 also often streaked with red and this is common among the yellow loosestrifes. Reddish bulbets will sometimes grow in the leaf axils. I’ve read that our native yellow loosestrifes were thought to have soothing powers over animals so people would tie the flowers to the yoke of oxen to make them easier to handle.

Pretty little sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) will sometime grow in standing water but only when it rains and the water level rises. By choice they live right at the water’s edge. On the day I saw these I saw thousands of flowers blooming on the banks of a pond.

Here is a closer look at the flowers. Sheep laurel is part of the Kalmia clan, which in turn is part of the very large heath family, which includes rhododendrons, blueberries and many other plants. I know of only three Kalmias here and they are Mountain, Sheep and Bog laurel. The flowers of all three, though different in size and color, have ten spring loaded anthers which release when a heavy enough insect lands on the flower. It then gets dusted with pollen and goes on its way.

You can always tell that you’ve found one of the three Kalmias by looking at the outside of the flower. If it has ten bumps like those seen here you have found one of the laurels. Each bump is a tiny pocket that the tip of an anther fits into. If the flowers are anything but white it is either a sheep or bog laurel. If the flowers are white it’s a mountain laurel, though I’ve seen mountain laurels with pink flowers in gardens for the first time this year.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are having a good year, I’m happy to say. They’re one of our most beautiful native aquatics. If you could get your nose into one you might smell something similar to honeydew melon or cantaloupe, but getting your nose into one is the tricky part.

I went to a local pond and saw what I thought were two-foot-tall white flowers on an island offshore. The pickerel weeds growing near the island told me the water could be up to six feet deep, so I certainly couldn’t wade out to them. My only choice was the zoom on my beaten-up old camera so I put it on the monopod and gave it a shot. When I looked at the photo I was stunned to see that the flowers weren’t white, they were pink. That was because they were rose pogonia orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides,) a most rare and beautiful flower that I had been searching for in the wild for probably twenty years. And here they were, at a pond I had visited a hundred times. Why had I not seen them before? Because I had never come to this exact spot on the shore at this exact time of year before. That’s how easy it is to miss seeing one of the most beautiful flowers found in nature in bloom.

I’m sorry these are such poor photos but if you just Google “Rose Pogonia” you will see them in all their glory. This is a fine example of why, once you’ve started exploring and studying nature you feel that you really should keep at it, because you quickly learn that right around that next bend in the trail could be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. I hope you have found that this is true in your own walks through nature.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds. 
~
Edgar A. Guest

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On the fourth of July at just after 7:00 am I started the climb up Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. The sunshine hadn’t reached the trailhead yet so it seemed dark to the cameras.

There were many blueberries ripening there along the trail but they were small. So far, we’ve had a dry summer and since they are mostly water, they haven’t been able to plump up. There were lots of them though so if we get some rain, it’ll be a good year for blueberries.

Hay scented ferns had yellowing tips, meaning they were being stressed by dryness.

I was catching up to the sun. This was the first hike up this mountain in recent memory when I didn’t have to stop to catch my breath. I did stop to take photos of course, but the stopping wasn’t due to low lung power and that was encouraging.

Here in the meadow was where all of the sunshine was, and it was bright. I usually take this shot more to the left but that was impossible on this day. I think the light would have destroyed the sensor in my camera.

I could see cloud shadows on the distant hills. They’re something I’ve always loved to watch move over the land. What a beautiful morning it was. Just a little on the cool side made it perfect weather for climbing. I think it was 55 degrees F. when I started.

Mount Monadnock is the highest point in the region so no matter where you stand you are looking up at it, even if you’re standing on top of another mountain.

But I wasn’t at the top yet. I still had to negotiate the worst part of the trail. This leg has many stones and roots to trip over.

The state owns the 5 acres at the top of Pitcher Mountain and they tell you that, but I’d guess that about 99% of the people who pass this sign never see it.

There were potential blackberries but they were small and stingy like the blueberries. We really need to see some rain.

Orchard grass had bloomed itself out and now hung its head to drop its seeds.

Here was the final approach to the summit. The wide road finally becomes just a footpath.

There were lots of bush honeysuckles blooming along this section of trail. Not a true honeysuckle but a pretty splash of color just the same.

As I climbed the last few yards to the summit, I turned to take a photo of the ranger cabin and found that the sky had turned to milk. A strange light fell over everything for a time.

The views especially, were affected by the unusual light. I saw that the wind turbines over in Antrim were spinning as fast as I’ve ever seen them go, but I didn’t feel even a hint of a breeze.

I wasn’t happy when I got home and saw this photo on the computer. What? I said to myself, the sky didn’t look like that. And the shading on the hills isn’t right! All the grousing and whining I was doing reminded me of a quote by artist Justin Beckett that I’ve always liked very much. He said “I could paint these mountains the way they look, but that isn’t how I see them.” So true, and I had to laugh at myself. In the end the photo stayed just the way it was. Not what I saw, but reality instead.

Finally the milky sky passed and things were back to blue again. I was surprised to find that I had the entire summit all to myself on a holiday. For a while, anyhow; it wasn’t long before a gentleman about my age came up the trail. I told him that the only other time I’d had the summit to myself was in winter. In January two or three years ago was the last time, I believed. “You come up here in January?” he asked. “Isn’t it a little icy?” “It can be, yes.” I told him. “I’ve had to crawl up those last few yards on my hands and knees.” By the look on his face you’d have thought I had just told him that I was from the crab nebula. I should probably have just kept my mouth shut. Only another nature nut could understand someone clawing their way up a mountain in January. In any case it wasn’t long before I had the summit to myself again.

I could just make out the cuts for the ski slopes on what I believe is Stratton Mountain over in Vermont.

The view of the near hill is being blocked by growth. Every now and then someone, or a group of people, comes and cuts the undergrowth to restore the views. I like to see the near hill. It rises up out of the forest like an ancient burial mound.

The old dead birch was still standing. It has become like a landmark to me so when it falls, I’ll miss it.

The morning light turned some of the mountain cinquefoil flowers in this shot blue but they are actually white. This plant also called three toothed cinquefoil because of the three large teeth at the end of each leaf.

They’re also very small. Just about the size of an aspirin I’d guess, but though small they certainly aren’t dainty. They survive some nasty weather up here; everything from being coated in ice to baking in the sun.

Common goldspeck lichens cover the exposed bedrock of the summit beautifully. If you want to talk toughness, I can’t think of another living thing as tough as a lichen. Science says they are about as close to immortal as any earth-bound being can be. They’ve even survived the vacuum of space.

In all the years I’ve been coming up here I’ve never seen the depressions in the bed rock that I call the bird baths dry up. Even in the bad drought we had three years ago there was water in them but now, all but this one had dried up, and this one looked like was going fast. There were lots of small birds like chickadees and juncos in the bushes watching me, just waiting for me to leave so they could use it, so I didn’t hang around the area long.

The blueberries on the summit were ripening quickly but they were small. Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries and many people and families come to pick them each year.

I thought I saw a dragonfly on a fern but it was a tiny feather. I get fooled by feathers a lot but this one was worth being the fool for. I thought it was beautiful and I wished I had seen the bird that dropped it. It must have been beautiful as well.

And then it was time to go down. When I got here earlier, the first thing I saw was three college age men running down this trail at full tilt. I suppose they must have run up it first, and that would have been near the twilight of dawn. More power to them. I was young once, too. May they all lead long and healthy lives.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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In July all the big flowered sun lovers like chicory (Cichorium intybus) start coming along. The plants, originally from Europe, are considered roadside weeds by many but chicory is one of my favorite summer flowers because of its beautiful color. They seem to be having a good year this year and are flowering well. I found this one right on the side of a very busy road and every time a car went by it would blow back and forth, so this shot was a challenge. Each flower is about as big as a half dollar, or about 3/4 of an inch. They will close up and look like a shriveled bud in the early afternoon and then open again the next morning. Chicory plants like full sun all day long, so you’ll only find them growing where they get it.

This plant prefers shade. Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) is the largest and latest blooming of our native yellow loosestrifes. It can grow in large colonies of knee-high plants, and can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. The flowers are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground.

Luckily the plant’s stem is flexible and can be gently bent back so you can get a good look at the pretty flowers. The flowers 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. Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, which can just barely be seen in this shot.

This tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) was used to help keep a road embankment in place. It’s a native plant that gets its common name from the way its seeds cling to clothing like ticks. The plant is also called lance leaved coreopsis and that is where the lanceolata part of the scientific name comes from. Coreopsis is found in flower beds as well as in the wild and can form large colonies if left alone. You should take note of that fact before planting one in your garden. I’ve spent a lot of time pulling the seedlings in the past. The yellow flowers are about an inch across and stand at the top of thin, wiry stems.  This plant has a cousin known as greater tickseed that grows in the south.

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is another plant with seeds that like to stick to clothing using little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods. Though its flowers weren’t fully open it’s still easy to tell that this is another plant in the pea family. There is no nectar to be had but bumblebees collect the pollen. 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.

The big bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) have come into bloom and are as full of thorns as ever. I remember at the end of the growing season one year I saw a single flower left on a plant but it was right in the middle of the plant, and I paid for that photo with a few drops of blood. These plants are originally from Europe and are considered invasive but since nobody really want to touch them, they have been fairly successful. Goldfinches will be along to eat the seeds later on.

What I believe was a halictid bee was covered in thistle pollen. I loved its metallic sheen. These tiny bees are also called sweat bees, and when I did some reading about them, I was astounded to find how many of our fruits and vegetables they pollinate. It seems safe to say that if it wasn’t for them, we’d be eating a lot differently, and possibly a lot less.

Our native wintergreens are blooming now and the first to bloom is usually shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica). I saw only a few blooming though; this seems to be a bad year for the wintergreens. Where I usually see hundreds of blossoms, this year I’m lucky to see a dozen. Shinleaf’s common name comes from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds. Like several other native wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used to soothe many ailments.

The big J shaped flower styles of shinleaf make it easy to identify. Since it persists through winter it is even a help when the flowers aren’t blooming.

Pipsissewa (Chimaphilla corymbosa or Pyrola umbellata) is also having a bad bloom year. It is related to the shinleaf and striped wintergreen that also appear in this post and like them it likes things on the dry side. I find it in sandy soil that gets dappled sunlight. It is a low growing native evergreen that can be easily missed when there are only one or two plants, but pipsissewa usually forms quite large colonies and that makes them easier to find. The leaves are also very shiny, which also helps.  The white or pink flowers are almost always found nodding downwards, as this photo shows.

If you very gently push the stem back with a finger you can get a look at the dime size, pretty flowers. They often show a blush of pink, as this one did. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of the wintergreens, in my opinion. This plant, like many of the wintergreens, is a partial myco-heterotroph, meaning it gets part of its nutrition from the fungi that live in the surrounding soil. Odd that a plant would be parasitic on fungi, but there you have it.

In the summer striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is almost invisible, and even though I knew right where to look for it I had to walk back and forth several times to find it. It is a plant that is quite rare here; I know of only two or three small colonies. It likes to grow in soil that has been undisturbed for decades and that helps account for its rarity. Like other wintergreens It isn’t having a good year this year. There were maybe 8 plants here and this was the only one with flower buds, but its buds look as if they’re failing, so this plant probably won’t blossom.

Puffy, pretty little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) has been blooming for a while now. This is another plant in that huge pea (legume) family of plants. It was imported from Europe for use as a forage plant, but it has escaped cultivation and is now found just about everywhere. Its common name came about because someone thought its seedpods looked like a bird’s foot.

I mentioned a few posts ago that, as far as I knew plant breeders hadn’t been able to come up with a truly black flower, but nature has. I’ve looked at the flowers of black swallow wort (Cynanchum louiseae ) in all kinds of light and they always look black, not purple to me. This is a very invasive plant; a vine that likes to grow in the center of shrubs and will twine around the shrub’s branches, climbing up to the top where it can get more sun. The plant is in the milkweed family and like other milkweeds its flowers become small green pods that will eventually turn brown and split open to release their seeds to the wind. It also has a sharp, hard to describe odor that is noticed when any part of it is bruised. It originally came from Europe sometime around 1900 as a garden specimen and of course has escaped. In places it has covered entire hillsides with its wiry, tangled stems and is called the dog strangler vine.

Narrow leaf cow wheat is blooming right on schedule and forest floors are covered with it. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite, and that’s what cow wheat is, a cute little thief.

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 mostly find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests.

The coneflowers seem to be blooming early this year, but it’s probably just me. It’s another plant I think of as a fall flower, so seeing them in June is a bit of a jolt. I’m really not ready to think of fall just yet.

Hollyhocks are a great old fashioned garden flower that used to be used in the backs of perennial borders and the like, but I don’t see them used much anymore. It’s too bad because they have beautiful flowers.

This hollyhock had so much pollen it was falling off before the bees could get to it.

I found this purple bee balm in a local park but I’m of two minds about the flowers. They’re much fuller and robust than the native red bee balms but I think I still like the red flowers best.

Though I found a good size colony of it at the local college last year I’d still say that Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) is rare here. The single plant I knew before I found this colony had a single small flower. From the photos I had seen I always thought the flowers would be as big as a tradescantia blossom, but it was only half that size. It is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive in this area because I just never see them. I love its colors.

I’m still waiting for our native Canada lilies to start blooming but that doesn’t mean I’m not seeing any lilies. This one was in a public garden and was very beautiful, I thought. I used to grow lots of lilies here but then the lily beetle came to town and that finished that.

None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones. ~Forbes Watson

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It had been about six years since I followed an old class 6 road in Swanzey and something brought it to mind the other day, so I thought I’d give it a go. I remembered it being very shaded and since it was a hot, humid day shade was called for. Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town so traveling it could be rough going. Though they are public ways they are roads that are more or less forgotten except by hikers and snowmobilers. This one dates from the mid-1800s and if you walked it for maybe 2 days, you would eventually come out on the road to Chesterfield, which is now route 9.

The road follows along a brook which is named California Brook, for reasons I’ve never been able to uncover. It has its start in the town of Chesterfield and runs southeast to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. There were at least two mills on the brook in the early 1800s, and it was said to be the only waterway in Swanzey where beavers could be found in the 1700s. They’re still here, almost 300 years later.

The forest is made up of young trees, mostly hemlock but some maple and birch as well.

Stone walls tell the story of why the forest is young. This land was all cleared at one time and I’ve read that at least three families lived out here. Most likely in the 1800s. It might have been sheep pasture, which was a common use for this stone filled land.

But the road was very different than it was the last time I was out here, and I wondered who would go to all of the expense of making an old abandoned road useable.

The road had been hardened with 1-inch crushed stone, which is terrible stuff to walk on if it hasn’t been compacted. This hadn’t been compacted so in places it was almost like walking on marbles.

Even the old rotted bridge had been replaced. There is only one reason someone would go to all this trouble and expense to get out here.

And the reason is logging, just as I suspected. It looked like they were taking the softwood and leaving the hardwood to grow. In any event, it certainly wasn’t the first time this land had been logged off and I couldn’t worry about what was being done on someone else’s land.

Colonies of heal all (Prunella lanceolata) grew on both sides of the road and I was happy to see them. They are also called self-heal and have been used medicinally since ancient times. They are said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how the plant got its common name. In fact the plants were once thought to be a holy herb sent by God to cure man’s ills. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Maybe happiness is a large part of the cure that heal all brings to man. Seeing them certainly brightens my day. Their happy faces and wide-open mouths always seem to be cheering life on. I can almost hear them shouting yay! As I’ve said before, I think all flowers are happy simply because they’re alive; they exist. All of nature is in a state of ecstasy because it simply is. We could learn a lot from its example.

Hobblebushes have set fruit. The berries will go from green to bright red and then deep, purple black as they grow and ripen. They won’t last long once ripe.

I saw a big, soccer ball size burl on a red maple. It would have been the perfect size to make a bowl out of. They’re valuable to woodworkers because just about anything made from burl is beautiful and commands top dollar. A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. That’s the theory, anyhow.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) grew all along the roadside in large numbers. This one still had a raindrop on it.

Coltsfoot also grew in great numbers out here and if I can remember that, next spring I’ll come back and find some of the earliest blooming flowers.

My find of the day was this many headed slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) I saw growing on a log beside the road. It was in its plasmodium stage and was quite big.  When slime molds are in this state, they are usually moving-very slowly. Slime molds are super sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. It was a hot and humid day and this particular spot was very shaded, so it was just right for slime mold activity.

Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. They are fascinating beings that behave like a flock of birds or a school of fish, and science just can’t seem to figure them out.

I was hoping that I might also see some fungi out here but all I saw were these tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius) on a very dead beech. They do like beech trees. I see them more on beech than any other tree. This one was so old its bark was flaking off but the fungi were still able to get what they were after from it. Since woodpeckers had been at it too, I’m sure it was full of insects. Most likely carpenter ants. Tinder polypores produce huge amounts of spores; measurements in the field have shown that they release as many as 800 million spores per hour in the spring and summer.

The first time I came out here I saw the biggest beaver dam I’ve ever seen. It was high enough to be over my head in height, but the last time I came out here it was gone. I thought that if the dam had let go there had certainly been some serious flooding somewhere, but I’ve never seen any signs of it.  Anyhow, here was another beaver pond. I couldn’t see the dam but they’re at it again.

I should say that I’m not happy with many of the photos that I took with my new cell phone. I went into a phone store hoping they could fix a small issue I was having with an app on my Google Pixel 4A phone and the person behind the counter noticed that I had a 3G sim card in the phone. “You really should have a 5G sim card,” he said. “This is a 5G phone.” To make a long story short the 5G sim card he put in apparently destroyed the Pixel’s ability to connect to the internet, so they had to give me a new phone of “equal or greater value.” Well, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE they gave me as a replacement is indeed of greater value because it cost $200.00 more than I paid for the Pixel, but the Samsung’s camera can’t touch the Pixel’s camera, and for that reason it has little value to me. In my opinion it’s okay for making phone calls, but not much else.

There are ditches alongside the road and since it had rained that morning they had water in them, and they also had northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing beside them. This plant is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. Soon the plants will have tiny white flowers blooming where the leaves meet the stem. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food. I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed and I almost always find it near water.

I saw lots of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and I ran my hands through it hoping for lucid mugwort dreams, but I can’t remember anything special. Mugwort is supposed to make dreams much more vivid and also increases the chances that the dreamer will rmember their dreams. A year or two ago I ran my hands through it a few times and really did have some wild dreams, so there must be something to it. The plant has mild hallucinogenic properties and is considered a “magic herb.” It has been used by man for thousands of years; the earliest writings regarding it 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. If you enjoy reading about plants mugwort lore could easily fill an entire book. When you have a spare hour or two just Google “mugwort.”

Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) grew in the shadiest places because the big, hand size, light gathering leaves lets it do so. Its common name comes from its fruit, which looks like a raspberry but is about as big as the tip of your thumb. I tasted one once and tasted nothing but there are people who say they’re delicious.

I was happy to see this cave at the side of a still pool in the stream again. From a distance it looks big enough to walk into by ducking a little, but not small enough to have to crawl into. Every time I see it, it calls loudly to the hermit in me, but it also looks big enough to easily hold a bear or two so I haven’t ever dared go near it while out here alone. Maybe if someone was with me to get me back if anything happened, or maybe if I had a rifle and a strong flashlight, but not alone. It’s too bad; I wouldn’t mind spending some time here. It’s an idyllic spot with the stream running just outside the entrance and a mossy bank to lounge on, and a cave to stay dry in. Inside myself I know living here for a while wouldn’t be a hard choice to make but this is known bear country, so I suppose you would always wonder what was going to come through that entrance, and that might be a hard way to live. I’ll just have to live it in a dream, I guess. Maybe a mugwort dream.

I was surprised to see that branch still sticking out of the tree on the right. It has been that way for many years, but when I first came out here the branch was still attached to the tree on the left. I think the tree with the wound grew up through the branches of the tree on the left and the wind made the wounded tree rub against the other’s branch. Over time the tree grew and its wound got deeper until now it has partially healed over the offending branch. When I first saw it, I thought that one day it would heal over completely but now I doubt it. It’s an unusual thing to see and this is the only time I’ve seen it happen.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected to everything. ~Alan watts

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a happy 4th!

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It wouldn’t be summer without black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and here they are, right on schedule. I’ve noticed over the past few years though, that they have seemed to bloom earlier each year and what was once July has now become June. Since I’ve always thought of them as a fall flower, their early arrival always comes with mixed feelings. Cheery yes, but let’s not rush into fall, has been my main gripe. At least this year they waited a bit.

This plant was always believed to have been given its common name by English colonists, but that caused a real conundrum among botanists who all agreed that it was a prairie native. Though everyone still agrees that it is a prairie native, recent research has shown that it was growing in Maryland in the 1600s. In other words it was most likely growing in all parts of the country then, just as it does today.

One day probably 40 years ago a kind man who was the director of the MacDowell artist’s colony in Peterborough at the time told me if I could name the plants that made up his hedge, he’d hire me as his gardener. I got the job, and I think of him and that day we stood on his lawn every time I see a purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus.) It is in the rose family and at a glance you might think you were seeing a rose, until you saw the big maple shaped, light gathering leaves that allow it to grow in shade. The 2 inch diameter flowers always look like they need ironing, so that’s another hint that what you’re seeing isn’t a rose

Our native dogwoods are starting to bloom and I think this one is a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa). Gray dogwoods are large shrubs that can get 12-15 feet tall and at least as wide. 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.

Shrub dogwoods can be difficult to identify at times but gray dogwood flowers clusters tend to mound up in the center enough to appear triangular, and other dogwoods have flower clusters that are much flatter. Both gray and red osier dogwoods (Cornus sericea) have white berries. Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) has berries that start white, have a period of blue and white, and then finally ripen to blue.

One of my favorite “weeds” is crown vetch (Securigera varia). It is in the pea family and was imported from Europe and Asia for soil erosion control. The long, wiry vines can be found along roadsides and in fields, and I’ve even found it in forest clearings. This plant is toxic and has killed horses, so you might want to watch along roadsides before you let your horse stop for a snack.

Crown vetch is very beautiful, in my opinion. Each flower head looks like a bouquet of orchids. All flowers make me glad I’ve found them but some go beyond that and absorb all that I am for a time, and this is one of those. It’s such a beautiful place to get lost in.

I found knapweed growing near the crown vetch, which seems right considering it was also imported to stop soil erosion on roadsides. That’s where it grew in great numbers, but the plants had just started blooming. I think this is brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) but I could be wrong. The plant is very invasive in some states but this particular colony of plants has been here for years and really hasn’t grown any larger.

Since they grew in a small weed patch in back of our house hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) have been with me my entire life, but not this one. The ones I grew up with were pure white, but now most of those I see are pink and white like this one. It doesn’t really matter what color it is though because these blooms are in my genes. They played a large part in my lifelong love of flowers. I’d watch them open, watch which insects visited them and how they twined around the other plants, and for a while it seemed that I knew them better than I knew myself. That’s why I often call a flower or plant an old friend; because they really are.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) on the other hand, is a plant that I can’t call an old friend because I never saw it until I became a gardener and started working over in Peterborough. Just 20 miles away they had it, but we here in Keene didn’t, or at least I never saw it. It seems to be one of those plants which, like pokeweed,  just kind of snuck in unnoticed but are now everywhere you go. I’m sure if they had been here when I was a boy I would have seen such a pretty flower. I got around, always in a ditch or pond or meadow somewhere, and I was always watching for new plants.

Tall thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) gets its common name from the way its seed head grows into a shape and size that resembles a thimble. It’s a pretty flower that isn’t real common here, but I do see it now and then. They are about and inch across and are easy to miss once the white sepals have fallen off. Eventually they’ll release white cottony seeds to the wind. I’ve read that Native Americans burned the seed heads to revive the unconscious, but I don’t know how true it is. Like all plants in the anemone family it is toxic and can burn the mouth and throat if eaten.

I saw more lupines blooming beautifully on a roadside, along with many other flowers.

A smooth rose (Rosa blanda) grew by a road that ran through a cemetery. It is a native rose with almost thornless stems. It’s very pretty and has a nice fragrance, and I would have liked it in my yard.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a plant I haven’t seen for probably 40 years or more but I found this one in a public garden recently. It’s a very pretty flower that reminds me of an ox-eye daisy but it is much smaller. According to Mount Sanai hospital “This member of the daisy family has been used for centuries to treat headaches, arthritis, and problems with labor and childbirth. Ancient Greek physicians used it to reduce inflammation and treat menstrual cramps. Although it was once used to treat fevers, as its name suggests, it was not very effective. It is now used to prevent migraine headaches, and several scientific studies suggest that it works well for that purpose.” I’m always fascinated by the uses plants have but I’m even more fascinated by how the use was discovered. How do you reach the point where you say well, this plant has a nasty odor and tastes bitter and might kill me, but I have the worst headache I’ve ever had so I’m going to make tea out of it? There are very many plants (and fungi) which could make that cup of tea the last one a person ever had. Did they draw straws? Short straw gets to drink?

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is another plant that can cure or kill. Or at least, the compounds in it can. I’ve had the plant in my gardens forever and it has never hurt a fly. It’s all in how you use them, and if you happen to have cardiac arrhythmia, the digoxin made from the plant could save your life. Digitalis  means finger-like and speaks of the shape of the flowers. I’ve read that herbalists used to, back in the 1700s, pick and dry the leaves and then rub them down into a fine green powder, which could then be used in an infusion to treat many ailments. But I wouldn’t play around with doing that, because it is a very toxic plant that has been known to kill. I just watch the colony that I have in the back yard grow each year and enjoy seeing them. Sometimes I even stick my finger in one, just to see if it fits.

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is our second native yellow loosestrife to bloom, coming right on the heels of swamp candles. At about a foot tall it isn’t much taller than swamp candles but it is bushier. This plant doesn’t have as much of a need for water as swamp candles but I’ve seen it near water occasionally. Its common name comes from the way its leaves are whorled about the stem, meaning each group of four leaves all radiate about the stem in the same plane. If you picture looking at the edge of a plate while holding it parallel to the floor, that is what you see with whorled leaves. Four small yellow flowers grow out of the four leaf axils. It’s a pretty plant, especially when massed as they often are.

The old orange “ditch lilies” (Hemerocallis fulva) have come into bloom. This daylily is so common I see it everywhere I go, including in roadside ditches, and that’s where the common name comes from. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. Today it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s for use as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes.

Just after I said that I never saw mock orange (Philadelphus) anymore I saw one on the roadside. This is a very old-fashioned shrub that gets its common name from its wonderful fragrance, which smells like citrus. No yard should be without one in my opinion, but it seems to have fallen out of favor. I have a huge old example that bloomed beautifully but I had to move it and all it has done since is sulked. Normally they are a care free, plant it and forget it kind of shrub that can give many years of pleasure without asking for anything in return.

I’ve wondered for years now whether this campion is a true rose campion or if it is a white campion (Silene latifolia) with a pink blush. I’m fairly certain it is a blushing white campion but I’ve never really known for sure. In either case it’s a pretty flower.

I saw a scabiosa blooming in a local garden, trying to entice insects. It’s a busy but beautiful thing.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is also called creeping thistle, but it is also called cursed thistle, mainly because of its deep and extensive creeping root system. The plant is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold and for that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states. It isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire but it is on the watch list. Wherever I’ve found them growing, they haven’t spread at all. I think the flowers are pretty, but I’m not the one trying to dig them out of my pasture.

I saw one of the smallest violas I’ve ever seen. It couldn’t have been any bigger than an aspirin, and it had just a blush of blue on it.

These are some roadside flowers that caught my eye. They are all lowly weeds and none is native but if you can put all that aside and just love them for what they are you’ll enjoy the outdoors a lot more.

Finally, because I won’t get another flower post in before the 4th of July, I thought I’d show you some of nature’s fireworks in the form of flowers. The male blossoms of tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” I hope everyone will have a safe and happy 4th.

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness. ~Michelangelo

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I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog lately that I’ve been doing a lot of walking, so I thought I’d show you some of the things I see on these walks. If I choose to go this way, I can see a pond full of water plants like burr reed and yellow pond lilies. The big circular plant colonies are all yellow pond lilies, and they appear to be trying to take over the pond.

I’ve seen lots of hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) on an old hemlock stump and the pile of logs beside it. For the first time I’ve had a chance to see these mushrooms grow day by day and I can now understand that they grow quite fast. This one went from looking like a piece of dough to what we see here in less than two weeks. It’s about the size of a salad plate; less diameter than a dinner plate but more than a saucer. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom, and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) burned brightly in roadside ditches. This is our first yellow loosestrife to bloom each year and I sometimes see them in great numbers. They like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. In fact my knees were getting wet so this isn’t a very good shot.

Soft or common rush (Juncus effusus) also grew in a ditch alongside the road. Ditches are always a good place to find a variety of plants that like wet feet, like rushes and sedges. Soft rush can form large clumps and are easy to grow. They’re interesting if placed here and there around garden ponds.

Sedge stems are triangular and have edges but soft rush stems are smooth and cylindrical, with a light pith inside. They feel soft if you pinch them, not sharp. The flower head, shown in the above photo, looks like it grows from one side of the stem but the stem actually ends at the flowers. Anything appearing above the flowers is a bract, not part of the stem. The flowers are tiny and not showy, but overall the plant is pleasing to the eye.

Gray’s sedge (Carex grayi) always reminds me of the spiky mace weapons that knights used in the Middle Ages. A botanist would say this about that: each spikelet consists of a globoid cluster of perigynia that radiate in all directions. A perigynium is a fleshy cup or tube, which in this case comes to a point or beak. Coming out of each beak are the flowers, which are what look like threads in this photo. They start out white and brown as they age. Gray’s sedge is named after Asa Gray, who wrote Grays Manual of Botany in 1848. I read my copy about 50 years ago and have used it many times since that initial reading. If you have trouble sleeping at night just read Asa’s manual for a half our or so before bedtime. You’ll sleep like a stone.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) had recently flowered and I knew that because the tiny threads at the ends of the perigynia were still white. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds.

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) has flowered and is now producing its tiny winged seeds, which look a bit like stalks full of flakes.

If you look closely, you will see that each flake, which is more like a wing, has a tiny seed on it. It looks like a seed pearl at this stage but as they ripen and age the seed and its wing will turn brownish. Finally they will fall from the plant and the wind will catch the tiny wings and blow them to new places to grow. They will often persist through winter and fall the following spring. Since March is the windiest month, it is a sensible strategy for a plant that depends on the wind to get around.

Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) is another ditch loving plant that likes full sun and wet feet. This one had a fern ball on its tip. Fern balls appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like what the photo shows. Inside the ball is a caterpillar, which has pulled the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tied it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the fern leaflets and live completely in the fern ball until they are ready to become a moth. Emily Dickinson once wrote “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else,” and I wonder if she didn’t see a fern ball just before she wrote it.  

Native Americans called blueberries star berries, and now you know why; the blossom end of each berry forms a five-pointed star. They used blueberries, and also the plant’s leaves and roots, medicinally as well as for food. They cultivated the bushes and made a pudding out of corn meal and water and added the blueberries to it. They then baked it, and it saved the life of many a European settler, as did their pemmican.

I see several native catalpa trees (Catalpa speciosa) on my walks and right now they’re in full bloom and very beautiful. It’s like looking at a tree full of orchids.

Catalpa flowers are big; your index finger will fit right in there. The trees they grow on are also very big and a mistake I see people make over and over again is planting them too close to their house. Catalpa, for all its beauty, is also a messy tree. First the spent flowers fall by the thousands in early summer, and then in fall the giant heart shaped leaves turn yellow and fall. In the spring the seedpods come down. These are like two-foot-long string beans and they make quite a mess. It is a tree that creates a lot of work if planted where everything that falls from it has to be raked up but in spite of all of this if someone asked me if they should plant a catalpa I’d say absolutely, just keep it away from the house. Plant it at the edge of the property, or by a pond if you have one.

I saw a bittersweet nightshade plant (Solanum dulcamara) coming up out of the center of a yew, and it was loaded with its pretty blue and yellow flowers. It might be pretty but it’s a real stinker, and if you break the stems, you’ll smell something unusual. It produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic, so that might account for the smell. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. It’s originally from Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes. The fruit is a red berry, which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. I wouldn’t eat one though.

I like the flowers when they’re fully open like this one but you have to be quick to catch them this way because the petals recurve quickly. You can see that most of them have done so in the previous photo. Cranberry flowers do the same thing.

A button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) was budding up and preparing to flower. It will have a perfectly spherical flower head that looks a lot like a pincushion before it is through. I’ve seen lots of button bush flowers but apparently, I’ve never paid any attention to the buds. These reminded me of the game Jacks that we used to play long ago.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) flowers open in rings as they circle their way up the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working 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 but I see more of it each year.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) has just started blooming. This now common plant wasn’t always common in this area. When I was a boy, I had a transistor radio and at night I used to fall asleep listening to it. One of the songs I could count on hearing every night was Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White. It was about a poor southern girl who had only pokeweed to eat because her mother was on a chain gang and her grandmother was eaten by an alligator. Her father and brothers were lazy, so all they had were the poke greens. Of course all of us school kids talked about both the song and the plant, but when we asked our parents what pokeweed was, they didn’t know. They just said it must be a southern plant, but no more; now it’s an everywhere plant, and it is big and noticeable.

Pokeweed flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. Native Americans called the plant pocon and used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses. People still use it to dye wool today. If you’d like to hear the song about Polk Salad Annie that I used to hear in 1969, just click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCSsVvlj6YA

Pokeweed is toxic unless you get the early spring shoots and I’ve read that it can make you kind of crazy if you eat too much of it, so that might account for all the grunting and oohing you hear from Tony Joe White.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is having an amazing year and the plants are huge. It starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. This plant was once so highly valued that it was traded among all the people of the earth, but now we hardly give it a glance. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it was found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and its value was most likely due to its ability to staunch the flow of blood. The Achillea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek god Achilles, whose soldiers it is said, used the plant to treat their wounds. Because of its being so freely traded it is one of just a few plants that now grow on every continent except Antarctica. I see it everywhere I go.

Poplar seeds fall from the female trees and often find each other in the wind, and then roll into a ball of what looks like cotton. This is the reason the trees are also called cottonwoods. A tree 100 feet high and five feet across can grow from a seed just 5/32 of an inch long. For a certain amount of time in spring the air is filled with them.

Back when I was a boy everyone said that when the wind blew hard enough to show the bottoms of the leaves on trees like silver maple, it meant that it was going to rain. I have since learned that what it really means is that the wind is blowing, and nothing more. The strong wind might be caused by a front passing through, but that doesn’t always mean rain. On this day all the leaves were showing silver but we didn’t see a drop fall.

I like to watch grasses flower and turn purple, and one of the most purple of them all is Timothy, named after farmer Timothy Hanson, who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720. Each tiny flower on Timothy grass has three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. I spent a lot of time when I was a boy chewing on a piece of this grass hanging while I walked the railroad tracks and as I’ve mentioned before, it is the grass I think of when I hear the opening line of the song Ventura Highway by the band America, which starts Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road… I just listened to it and it still sounds as good as it did in 1972. It reminds me of simpler times.

These are the leaves of staghorn sumac, which I see just about everywhere I walk and which in spring remind me of bamboo. Later on they’ll remind me of palm trees. If I’m lucky I’ll see them wearing bright red in the fall.

I hope you enjoyed this walk, just one of several that I do. There is nothing easier than walking; you don’t even have to choose where to go because the paths are just there and going right or left really doesn’t matter. I’ve always been more of a walker than a driver but until now I never really paid attention to the health benefits. I’m losing weight, my legs and knees feel better and I can breathe much easier than I could just a few months ago. I don’t think of distance or destination or anything else. I just walk until I’m ready to stop. If you’re healthy and interested open your door and start walking, and just see what you see. Give yourself the time and freedom to wander. You might be surprised by what you find.

The only way to understand a land is to walk it. The only way to drink in its real meaning is to keep it firmly beneath one’s feet. Only the walker can form the wider view. ~Sinclair McKay

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