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Posts Tagged ‘American Bur Reed’

As the 90+ degree heat and humidity of July takes hold I think of being near cool water and it’s hard to be near water in this part of New Hampshire without noticing all the beautiful flowers that live in and around our lakes, rivers and ponds. Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) Unless you happen to be in a kayak or canoe it’s all but impossible to get a shot of one from above, but this one was right at the shoreline of a small pond and it gave me a rare look at the beautiful golden flame that burns in the center of each one. They’re said to smell like honeydew melons, but I’ve never gotten close enough to one  to find out. I could have picked this one, but why would I?

A small sampling of what can often be very large colonies of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots of this pretty plant and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Pickerel weed has small purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. 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.

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

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close. Though they must be full of pollen I can’t remember ever seeing an inset on one.

Bur reed stems twist and turn in odd configurations, and only they know why.  

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see a beautiful blue color. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The plant likes wet places and I find it near ponds and ditches.

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

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep standing water. Since they grow with their lower stems submerged being able to see the entire plant is rare, but there are basal leaves growing at the base of each stem underwater. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize. The stem has a twist to it with 7 ridges and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort. It is also called hatpins, for obvious reasons.

Most pipeworts grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of very tiny white, cottony flowers. Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which of course is exactly what pipewort looks like. Pipewort is wind pollinated.

As their name implies swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. This plant is easy to identify; I can’t think of another that has loose, yellow flower spikes (racemes) like this one unless it is broad leaved goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis,) but its leaves are very different. This is a native that grows to about 3 feet. 

Swamp candle is in the loosestrife family and each of the 5 yellow petals has two red dots at its base, which makes the flowers look a lot like those found on whorled loosestrife, but slightly smaller. A major difference between the two plants is how the leaves don’t grow in whorls on swamp candles.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. The pretty flowers are about an inch across.

It’s easy to see how arrowhead gets its name. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

Purple loosestrife will grow in standing water but usually grows just onshore. It is an invasive plant that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant like the one pictured above is becoming more difficult each year. 

Though it is much hated you can’t deny the beauty of purple loosestrife. I’ve worked for nurseries and have had people come in wanting to buy “that beautiful purple flower that grows in wet areas,” but of course it can’t be bought, sold or traded here because it is a prohibited invasive species. The law says that “No person shall collect, transport, import, export, move, buy, sell, distribute, propagate or transplant any living and viable portion of any plant species, which includes all of their cultivars and varieties, listed on the New Hampshire prohibited invasive species list.” So, don’t even collet the seeds.  

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and can grow in great numbers when conditions are right. This rose, like many other water loving plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. 

How I wish I could find fields full of beautiful swamp milkweed plants (Asclepias incarnata) but the truth is I only see one or two plants each year if I’m lucky. This is a flower that made me gasp the first time I saw it because it was so beautiful. It is not a flower from my childhood so it is relatively new to me and I think I could just sit and stare at it for hours. I wish I had some growing here at home.

Three years ago I followed a trail through a swamp and was astonished to see a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) growing right there beside the trail. There was another one nearby but it was off in the swamp, all but inaccessible unless you wanted very wet feet. This year the plant beside the trail was gone and I felt my heart sink, but as I looked around I saw the other one still there, out in the swamp. Without even thinking I stumbled through the black, sucking muck  until I reached it, and these photos will hopefully show you why. It’s like seeing a bush full of beautiful purple butterflies and I still can’t believe I ever found such a thing.

How can anyone not want to fall on their knees before something as beautiful as this? To find yourself absorbed by it to the exclusion of everything else is to visit that place of deep peace from which all flowers come. Once you’ve been there you never forget it, and you’ll ache to return. Natural science writer Loren Eiseley also visited that place and explained: “The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time.” Maybe that’s why I’m willing to wade through the mud of a swamp to see such a thing.

I came out of the swamp with mud up to my knees, but also with a smile on my face. I know that nature isn’t static; everything is changing constantly and I don’t usually have trouble accepting that fact, but the loss of something so rare and beautiful is painful, and even though I was happy to see this plant I was sorry to not find the other one. I’ve read that orchids can disappear and then suddenly reappear a year or even years later, so I’ll keep checking the spot. Hopefully it will come back and help beautify this earth as only it can.  

Of course, flowers aren’t the only things you’ll see near water.

A monk asks: Is there anything more miraculous than the wonders of nature?
The master answers: Yes, your awareness of the wonders of nature.
~Angelus Silesius

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We had a single day of rain on Thursday the 29th so this past Sunday I thought I’d hike around Goose Pond in Keene. It’s a great place to find fungi and slime molds at this time of year and I thought the rain would have brought them out for sure. The trouble was the weather people were warning about dangerous heat, but I thought if I went early enough I’d miss the worst of it so at 9:00 am off I went. The sun was bright and hot in some places but this tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) wasn’t bothered by it.

Most of the trail around the pond is shaded so though it was warm and humid it didn’t seem too bad. Back in the old days people would either climb a mountain or find a lake or pond to escape the heat so I thought I would do the same. I have an old black and white photo somewhere that shows a woman dressed in 1800s garb walking along the shore of this pond.

Some of my favorite woodland scenery lies near Goose Pond. This fern filled glen is a special treat.

This is another favorite spot. I often see salamanders here. This spot says wild to me and the Goose Pond natural area is indeed a wilderness; a 500 acre wilderness. The vast forest tract has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s. The pond itself was once used as a water supply for the city of Keene and in 1865 it was enlarged to 42 acres. It takes a while to walk around it.

White pine trees have roots that lie just under the soil surface and when people walk on that soil it tends to disappear, and this is what happens. Much of the trail has exposed roots like these and where there aren’t roots there are stones and / or mud, so it’s best to wear good sturdy hiking shoes if you come here. I actually saw one lady wearing flip flops! I’m guessing that she’s never been here before. She had to stop every few feet and fix them, so I’m also guessing that she learned an awful lesson.

A century or more of people walking on tree roots can sand them down and even polish them, and I’ve seen some that were so beautiful I wished I had a saw so I could carry them home with me. They were like living sculptures. I thought this one was very pretty but it would have been even better with bark still on it.

Pipewort is an aquatic plant that grows in the mud just offshore. As the photo shows the stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum.) The quarter inch flower heads are made up of tiny white, cottony flowers. Another common name for them is “hat pins.” I think this is the best shot I’ve ever gotten of one. They can be a tough subject.

American bur reed (Sparganium americanum) also  likes to grow just off shore and that’s where this one was, just beginning to flower. There are two types of flowers on these plants; the smaller and fuzzier male staminate flowers bloom at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers blossom lower down. After pollination the female flowers become a bur like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl love. These plants, though native, act like invasive aliens and can fill small ponds quickly.

What I think were creeping spike rush plants (Eleocharis macrostachya) were flowering just off shore. Though it has the word rush in its name this plant is actually a sedge, and it’s a small one. The cream colored oval parts are its male parts and the white, wispy parts are its female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look almost identical so I could easily be wrong about the identification, but it is a sedge and it was flowering.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinita) is one sedge that’s so easy to identify it can be done from just a silhouette. This sedge is a water lover and I usually find it on the edges of ponds and streams. It is quite large for a sedge and is sometimes grown in gardens. This plant looks a lot like pendulous sedge (Carex pendula) but that plant grows in Europe.

I took several photos of the pond and the island but it was so hazy and humid this was the only one that came out. There were people out on the island on this day, swimming. They had kayaks that they must have dragged up here, because you can’t drive to the pond. It seemed a little hot to be dragging kayaks up hills, but to each his own.

I saw slime molds almost everywhere I looked but instead of the yellow, red and blue ones I hoped to see all I saw were white ones.

I think this one was white fingered slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa.) Slime molds can be very beautiful things and I hope everyone will get to see some for themselves this summer. They aren’t slimy and they aren’t molds. In fact science doesn’t really know what they are, but they have enough intelligence to navigate a maze to get to food. Look for them in shady places like the side of a log away from direct sunlight. They usually appear on hot humid days a day or two after a good rain, along with many mushrooms. Unfortunately on this day I saw only one sad little brown mushroom, shriveling from the heat.

An eastern tiger swallowtail finally decided to sit still for more than a few seconds. It was getting a drink from a wet spot on a piece of concrete at the pond’s outflow. Even the butterflies were parched. I was certainly glad I had something to drink with me.

The swallowtail even turned so we could see the outside of its wing. It held steady but I couldn’t; my sweaty hands were shaky from the heat, hence the poor quality of these photos.

A garter snake hoped I wouldn’t see it.

Maleberry shrubs (Lyonia ligustrina) line the shore of the pond along with blueberries, and sometimes it can be hard to tell the two apart. The flowers of maleberrry, though nearly the same shape and color, are about half the size of a blueberry flower and the shrub blooms about a month later. There are often berries on the blueberries before maleberrry blossoms.

Maleberry blossoms become small, hard brown 5 part seed capsules that persist on the plant, often for over a year. They make maleberrry very easy to identify, especially in spring; just look for the seed capsules and you’ll know it isn’t a blueberry.

The strangest thing I saw on this hike was a bee or wasp stinging a moth over and over again. I heard a buzzing that sounded like a bee swarm and when I followed the sound I saw a moth rolling in the leaves, beating its wings furiously. And then I saw a smaller insect attacking it. You can just see the striped body of the bee or wasp under the moth’s left wing in this blurry photo. It knew enough to sting the moth’s body and the poor moth must have been stung 12-15 times while I watched. Finally the moth crawled into a pile of leaves and the bee / wasp flew into a hole in the ground. Because it’s so dry many bees and yellow jackets are nesting in the ground this year and I think the moth must have blundered onto the entrance to an underground nesting site. I mowed over the entrance to a ground nest once and was stung 5 or 6 times by yellow jackets. I was wearing shorts at the time and it’s something I’ve never forgotten.

And then I started to feel strange; a bit dizzy and my legs felt heavy, and I began to wonder if I’d make it out of there without help. The heat was unbelievable and the sweat pouring from me was causing the insect repellant I was wearing to run into my eyes and all but blind me, so I sat down in the shade to rest and I let my thoughts go. I let them swim in the cooling water of the pond, and thought of nothing but an old tree stump for a time. After a while what the heat had taken from me my thoughts, cooled by the water of the pond, replenished and I was able to go on until I reached my car. Never was an air conditioner appreciated more than it was that day. Just before sunset that evening the thermometer here reached 101 degrees F., the hottest I’ve seen in nearly thirty years I’ve lived here.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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