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Posts Tagged ‘Allium’

It’s a flower that is hated as much as it is loved. The humble little orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) is from Europe and is considered an invasive weed in places, especially by ranchers, but I searched for quite a while to find one.  Why would I? Count all the orange wildflowers you know and I’d guess that you’ll count them all on the fingers of one hand if you live in this part of New Hampshire. That’s why I like to see them. Orange seems to be a rare color in nature, possibly because it’s a color that is nearly invisible to bees. Orange hawkweed does reflect ultra violet light, so it is thought that some insects must find them.

Orange hawkweed starts out very red when it just comes out of the bud and it looks a bit like a paintbrush, so it is also called Indian paintbrush and / or Devil’s paintbrush. I think the latter name probably came from farmers or ranchers.

The queen of the aquatics, fragrant white waterlily has just started blooming, and they dot the surface of ponds and slow flowing rivers. They are such beautiful things with that golden flame burning in the center of each one. And fragrant too; they are said to smell like ripe cantaloupe. I watched a teen on a boardwalk once lean out to smell one and he couldn’t decide exactly what it smelled like, but he said it was very pleasant. This is a flower I could sit with all day long, even if I couldn’t smell them.

Red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) never looks red to me. It always looks purple, but it is a deeper purple than the tiny blossom in this photo is wearing. This one was taken by the sky so it seems lighter than it actually is. Red sandspurry was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s but it could hardly be called invasive. It is such a tiny plant that it would take many hundreds of them just to fill your shoe.

This photo of a red sandspurry blossom over a penny that I took last year will give you an idea of just how tiny they are. Each one could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. For those who don’t know, a penny is .75 inches [19.05 mm] across. I’m guessing you could fit 8-10 blossoms on one.

We go from the tiny sandspurry blossom to the huge (relatively) blossom of goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis.) Like red sandspurry this one likes to grow in waste areas and roadsides in full sun. I have to get to them in the morning though, because goat’s beard flowers close up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify. It is native to Europe but doesn’t seem to be at all invasive here. In fact I usually have trouble finding it.

Our locust trees are blooming. The one shown here is a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) loaded with white, very fragrant blooms. One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains.

Locusts are in the same family as peas and beans and the flowers show the connection. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well .They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

Bristly locust (Robinia hispida) is more shrub than tree, but it can reach 8 feet. What sets this locust apart from others are the bristly purple-brown hairs that cover its stems. Even its seedpods are covered by hairs. Bristly locust is native to the southeastern United States but has spread to all but 7 of the lower 48 states, with a lot of help from nurseries selling it for ornamental use.

The beautiful pinkish purple bristly locust flowers are very fragrant and bees really love them. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge.

Compared to some speedwells with flowers that are one step above microscopic I find that the germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) seems gigantic in comparison because of its 3/16 to 1/4 inch flowers. It’s also called bird’s eye speedwell and is another plant introduced from Europe and Asia. It has the strange habit of wilting almost as soon as it is picked, so it isn’t any good for floral arrangements. Like all the speedwells I’ve seen it has one lower petal smaller than the other three. Speedwell is very common in lawns but I know of only one place to find this one.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) has been blooming for about a month and it has taken me almost that long to get a useable photo of its flowers. The flowers are very small and hard to get a good photo of but they’re also very pretty and worth the effort. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries.

Wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) is a ground hugger that is easily hidden by taller plants. I can’t speak for its rarity but I know of only two places to find it. It is considered a climax species, which are plants that grow only in mature forests, so that could be why I rarely see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist and the humidity is high, and I’ve always found it near water. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow west of the Mississippi. It’s a pretty little flower that is worth searching for.

The waxy shine on the petals of a buttercup (Ranunculus) is caused by a layer of mirror flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. These layers act together to reflect yellow light, while blue green light is absorbed. Though the shine is easy to see it’s quite hard to capture with a camera. I had to try several times.

Friends of mine grow alliums in their garden and every time I see them I wonder why I never grew them. It wasn’t just me though; nobody I gardened for grew them either. It’s another one of those plants like hellebore that people didn’t seem to want, but I like them both and I’m happy to see more of them these days.

This is the first appearance of native blunt leaf sandwort (Moehringia laterifolia) on this blog, probably because I’ve walked right by it in the past thinking it was another stitchwort, chickweed, or even sweet woodruff, which at a quick glance it might be thought to resemble.  It is considered rare in some places though, so maybe it is here as well. Clusters of small (1/3”) white 5 petaled flowers dance at the end of long weak stalks that often need the support of other plants. The stalks are covered with fine hairs and each flower has 10 stamens and 3 styles. The plant’s common name comes from its preference for growing in sand and gravel.

How can you not love the five heart shaped petals on a sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) blossom? They fade from bright to pale yellow and have veins that point the way directly to the center of the blossom where there are 30 stamens and many pistils. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. Here in this area it could hardly be called invasive; I usually have to hunt to find it. This beautiful example grew in an unmown field.

At one time I thought fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) were an exotic import from China or another Asian country but as it turns out they’re native to the east coast right here in the U.S. It’s a beautiful and fragrant tree that you rarely see anywhere, and I wonder why it’s so under used. It is said to be tougher than dogwood, more dependable than saucer magnolia, longer-lived than cherry, and smells better than Bradford pears. So why don’t more of us use it?

When it comes to small yellow flowers in my opinion one lifetime isn’t enough time to identify them all. I usually admire them and leave them alone but its silvery leaf backs make silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea) easy to identify. It comes from Europe and is considered invasive but though they are easily found they don’t choke out other plants. I like the way they often line sunny roadsides.

We humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also 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 from a soldier’s wounds. Closer to home, Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today.

Some of you seem to enjoy hearing about the memories that are attached to the flowers I know, so here’s one about a lowly weed that helped me see things differently: There was a time when all red clover (Trifolium pretense) plants meant to me was more hard work. I didn’t like having to weed it out of lawns and garden beds but it was so unsightly with its long, weak flower stems and sprawling, weedy habit. And then one evening a single ray of sunshine came through the clouds and fell directly on a red clover plant at the edge of a meadow, and when I knelt in front of it to take its photo for the first time I saw how beautiful it really was. I saw that it had an inner light; what I think of as the light of creation, shining brightly out at me. I’ve loved it ever since, and since that day I don’t think I’ve ever truly thought of another flower, no matter how lowly, as a weed.

Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought?
~Sophie Scholl

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If our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) are blossoming it must be June. The name flag comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves. Though Native Americans used this plant medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic.

Another flower that will always say June to me is the Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare.) I was married in June and because we couldn’t afford flowers from the florist we picked hundreds of Ox eye daisies. They wilted quickly and looked much better in the meadow than in a vase, and I don’t think I’ve ever picked one since. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. I always like to see their spiraled centers.

Here in this part of the state we see more mountain ash trees (Sorbus americana) in gardens than we do in nature but they are out there and they’re easiest to find when they’re in full bloom like this one was. The white blossoms, showy orange berries and small size are what have made this tree a good choice for parks and gardens since 1811. Mountain ash bark was once used in a medicine to combat malaria because it resembles the quinine tree. Whether or not it worked I don’t know. Native Americans dried and ground the berries of the tree for use in soups and stews. There is a European cousin of this tree called rowan (Sorbus aucuparia.)

Now that the common lilacs are done blooming the dwarf Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri) take over. They are fragrant but have a different scent than a common lilac. Though called Korean lilac the original plant was found in a garden near Beijing, China by Frank Meyer in 1909. It has never been seen in the wild so its origin is unknown. If you love lilacs but don’t have a lot of room this one’s for you. They are a no maintenance plant that are very easy to grow.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They light up the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. It is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed, but there are over 50 different chickweeds. The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals. This is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The flowers of greater stitchwort are also larger.

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms and its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. You can always tell where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

Little native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is one of our longest blooming wildflowers. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers. Toadflax flowers have an upper lip that is divided into 2 rounded lobes, and a lower lip which is divided into 3 lobes that are rounded and spreading. Blue toadflax was introduced in Europe and has naturalized in some areas, including Russia. It is in the snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison but I’ve never tried it.

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) was imported for cultivation from Japan in 1830 and is now one of the most invasive shrubs we have. It’s a plant that’s hard to hate though, because its berries are delicious and their content of lycopene is 7 to 17 times higher than tomatoes. Also, the pale yellow flowers are extremely fragrant just when lilacs finish blooming. It is a very vigorous shrub that is hard to eradicate; birds love its berries and spread it far and wide. Its sale is prohibited in New Hampshire but that will do little good now that it grows along forest edges almost everywhere you look. Autumn olive was originally introduced for landscaping, road bank stabilization and wildlife food.

When I was just a young boy living with my father I decided that our yard needed a facelift. We had a beautiful cabbage rose hedge and a white lilac, and a Lorelai bearded iris that my mother planted before she died but I wanted more. I used to walk the Boston and Main railroad tracks to get to my grandmother’s house and I’d see these beautiful blue flowers growing along the tracks, so one day I dug one up and planted it in the yard. My father was quiet until I had planted 3 or 4 of them, and then he finally asked me why I was bringing home those “dammed old weeds.” He also walked the tracks to get to work and back, so he saw the tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants just as often as I did. Though I thought they were lost and needed to be rescued, he thought somebody threw them away and wished they’d have thrown them just a little farther. We had blue flowers in the yard for a while though, and today every time I see this plant I think of my father.

Plant breeders have been working on tradescantia; I find this purple flowered one in a local park. Interesting but I like the blue that I grew up with best. Bees, especially bumblebees, seem to like this one best though. Why, I don’t know.

We have several invasive shrubby honeysuckle species here in New Hampshire and I’ve given up trying to identify them all. They were originally introduced in the late 1800s as ornamentals but escaped gardens and can now be seen just about anywhere. Most or all are banned from being sold but birds love their bright red berries and that makes the shrubs impossible to ever eradicate.

I think this particular honeysuckle might have been Bell’s honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella,) which is a hybrid between Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) and tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica.) It has white or pink flowers that turn yellow as they age and are very fragrant.

Friends of mine grow alliums in their garden and every time I see them I wonder why I never grew them. It wasn’t just me though; nobody I gardened for grew them either. It’s another one of those plants like hellebore that people didn’t seem to want, but I like them both.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, which you can see in this photo. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned groundcover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe.

Our meadows and roadsides are just coming into bloom and the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does and it blooms later, usually in July. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows. Their colors can vary from almost white to deep magenta. This pink one was somewhere in the middle. I was happy to see some growing in my lawn when I mowed it earlier, so I’ll mow around them.

After trying to photograph speedwell flowers that are one step above microscopic I found that the germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) seemed gigantic in comparison because of its 3/16 to 1/4 inch flowers. It’s also called bird’s eye speedwell and is another plant introduced from Europe and Asia. It has the strange habit of wilting almost as soon as it is picked, so it isn’t any good for floral arrangements. Like all the speedwells I’ve seen it has one lower petal smaller than the other three. Speedwell is very common in lawns but I don’t see too much of this one.

Speedwell, as far as I know, has always been considered a weed here in New Hampshire but here were these nice little compact, mounded plants growing in the planting beds at a local park. They were very pretty little things with their blue striped flowers against the dark green leaves but I have to wonder if they’re weedy. I’ve tried to find out more about them online but didn’t have any luck at all. They look very much like the germander speedwell but the flowers aren’t as blue.

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

There was a time when all red clover (Trifolium pretense) plants meant to me was more hard work. I didn’t like having to weed it out of lawns and garden beds but it was so unsightly with its long, weak flower stems and sprawling, weedy habit. And then one evening a single ray of sunshine came through the clouds and fell directly on a red clover plant at the edge of a meadow, and when I knelt in front of it to take its photo for the first time I saw how beautiful it really was. I saw that it had an inner light; what I think of as the light of creation, shining brightly out at me. I’ve loved it ever since, and since that day I don’t think I’ve ever truly thought of another flower, no matter how lowly, as a weed.

The garden of the world has no limits, except in your mind. ~Rumi

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Flowers, both wild and cultivated, are everywhere you look right now. Since I’ve never met a flower that I didn’t like, I like to occasionally show a few garden flowers on this blog along with the wildflowers and other bits of nature. After all, all flowers were once wild. I found this strange dwarf sunflower (Helianthus) plant in a local park. The thing that made it so strange, I thought, were the large flowers on such a small plant. They had to have been the size of a small dinner plate and looked odd on a plant only 18 inches tall. But that’s just my opinion and in any case, they were very beautiful flowers. A longtime garden favorite of mine is the painted daisy (Chrysanthemum coccineum.) This plant is in the Chrysanthemum family and is also called pyrethrum.  Gardeners may recognize the word pyrethrum from the natural insect sprays that are made from this plant. Pyrethrum has been used as an insecticide for centuries and is still used today by people not wanting to use chemical pesticides. One of these grew in my garden for many years but I think the recent unusually warm winter was too much for it since it never came up this spring.  The plant pictured grows at a local school. The hood shaped upper petal of a monkshood (Aconitum) flower helps to easily identify it. I found this one growing in a local children’s park, which is disturbing since 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. Aconite is also called wolf’s bane, leopard’s bane, and Friar’s cap. People who have mistaken its roots for horseradish have died 4-6 hours after eating them. This plant has been known medicinally for centuries and has long been used to poison arrows and spears.  Children should always be warned about its dangers. Spirea (Spiraea ) is a very common shrub often seen planted in store and bank parking lots because it needs very little care. The old fashioned white varieties were called bridal wreath but now many hybrids exist and usually have white to pink flowers. However, some I’ve seen look almost neon blue, so plant breeders are still working on it. The plant pictured was a very low growing dwarf that was absolutely covered with mounds of pink flowers. I found it growing in a store parking lot. This plant fools a lot of people because the leaves look a lot like sumac leaves. Then the flower buds appear and it’s clear that it isn’t sumac, but what is it?  Its name is false spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia.) If you look at the spirea plant in the previous photo you’ll see small round, pink flower buds. The false spirea has small, round, white flower buds and when they open like in the photo below the flowers look almost like those of spirea. The beautiful plumes of false spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia) flowers cover this small shrub that looks much like stag horn sumac. Its round white buds and long stamens on the flowers point to it being something very different than sumac though. Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea ) blooms in my yard wherever it happens to grow because it self-sows so easily. Since I no longer have small children I don’t have to worry, but this is another plant that children should be warned away from. The heart medicine digitalis was originally made from plants in this family. All parts of the plant are poisonous and people who have mistaken the leaves for those of comfrey have died. One half of a gram of dried seed is deadly. Other names for foxglove are witches’ gloves, dead men’s bells, thimbles, fairy cap, fairy glove, fairy thimbles, fairy finger, fairy bells, dog’s-finger, finger flower, lady’s-glove, lady’s-finger, lady ‘s-thimble, popdock, flapdock, flopdock, lion’s-mouth, rabbit’s-flower, cottagers, throatwort, Scotch mercury, bloody fingers, and virgin’s glove. The plant is originally from Europe and has been used medicinally for centuries. In old England picking foxgloves was unlucky, and its blooms were absolutely forbidden inside because it was believed that they gave witches and / or Beelzebub access to the house. This blossom is probably seen coast to coast, because it is the very popular Stella d’ Oro daylily (Hemerocallis.) The reason this plant is so popular is because it was one of the first “ever blooming” day lilies. The dwarf plant has flowers that only last a day like any daylily but there are so many of them that it blooms for months and will often be the latest blooming daylily in a flower bed. This plant was developed in 1975 and is still seen all along city streets and in commercial parking lots. This one grows at a local bank. Also growing at the same bank as the Stella d’ Oro daylily were large beds of ornamental flowering onion (Allium.) Alliums are useful bulbs that are a bridge between spring and summer flowering bulbs. The globular heads of star shaped flowers come in pink, white, blue, purple, and rarely yellow. These plants aren’t common but they should be used more than they are because they will bloom for a month or more. The flat topped flowers and feathery leaves of the common white roadside yarrow (achillea) are repeated in garden yarrow. The major difference is color and size of bloom; garden yarrow can be pink, yellow, white, red, and even apricot and the flowers are generally much larger than common yarrow. Yarrow is a native plant that is useful in sunny, dry spots in the garden. Its flower heads retain their color well when dried.Astilbe (Astilbe ) (pronounced ah-still-bee) is a perennial that doesn’t need fussing over. I planted several in my yard years ago and have hardly touched them since. I like the unusual feathery flower heads. I grow white, pink and red varieties, which is the extent of their color range. They are excellent for semi shade areas and look good planted alongside ferns and hostas. These flowers also dry well and will hold their color for months.Since Indigo is the color of a blue dye it seems strange to name a plant Yellow false indigo, but here it is. False indigo (Baptisa) is a shrub-like perennial with blue, purple, and even yellow flowers that resemble pea blossoms.  This is a very tough, 3-4 foot tall plant that can stand a lot of dryness. As the photo shows, bumble bees love it.  I found this example in a local park. This Shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum maximum) that I grow had tiny little flies all over it the day that I took this picture. I don’t know what they were and I’ve never noticed them on the plant before. The Shasta daisy was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank over 100 years ago and was named for the white snow of Mount Shasta. These plants are a hybrid cross of the common roadside ox-eye daisy and an English field daisy called Leucanthemum maximum. They are one of the easiest perennials to grow and, other than weeding, need virtually no care. Dwarf varieties are less apt to have their stems bent over by heavy rains.

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

I hope you enjoyed a small glimpse of what New Hampshire flower gardens have to offer. Thanks for stopping in.

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