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Posts Tagged ‘American Water Horehound’

Last Friday I cut wood for most of the afternoon at work and come Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling very agile, so I decided to take an easy, gentle and very beautiful walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene. I think I must have been about 10 years old the first time I walked this trail and it has been one of my favorite places to go ever since. You really never know what you’ll see here and I think 9 times out of 10 I come back surprised at what I’ve seen.

The biggest surprise of this day was a few clumps of yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing on the river bank. I’ve searched for this plant for many years and found it only in one other spot in the woods by a pond that was very difficult to get to, but now here it is, right out in the open. This iris is a native of Europe and was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire, though in my experience it is a rarity in this part of the state. It’s a beautiful flower but now I do wonder what the banks of the river might look like 50 years from now if the plants are left alone.

In places the riverside trail is about 4 people wide but most of it is more like 2 people wide. Though I have no proof I believe the original trail is thousands of years old; once used by the Native Americans who used to fish, hunt and camp here. Natives were known to populate the Keene area and a little further upriver a school was built a few years ago and many Native artifacts estimated to be somewhere near 12,000 years old were found.

American water horehound (Lycopus americanus,) with its purple leaves, grew along the bank of the river. An interesting fact about this plant is how the Native American Iroquois tribe considered it poisonous, but the Cherokees used it to treat snakebite in both people and dogs. Usually I find that a plant used medicinally by one tribe was used in much the same way by other tribes, but not this one. In modern times it is used by herbalists to treat a variety of ailments including anxiety and insomnia.

A hoverfly found an ox-eye daisy very inviting. One of its wings seemed a little skewed but it looked like it could fly with no problems.

Like the ribs of an ancient sunken ship the branches of a fallen tree rose up out of the river. I read recently that in June 24, 1819 the New Hampshire legislature granted permission for the river, from this point south to where it meets the Connecticut River, to be dredged for steamboat travel. A toll on the steamers would be no more than 50 cents per ton of weight. Locks were built and in November of 1819 the first steamer 60 feet long and capable of carrying 15 to 20 tons, arrived in Keene. The venture seemed promising for a few years but the arrival of the railroad finally dashed the hopes of those wanting to see steamboats traveling the Ashuelot. Thanks goes to Alan Rumrill, director of the Cheshire County Historical Society, for this interesting bit of historical knowledge. If I saw a riverboat floating on the Ashuelot today I think I’d have to be revived.

Recent rains and high humidity helped a slime mold to grow on a well-rotted log. This slime mold is called coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides) and it loves to grow on rotted logs after a rain.

Coral slime mold is a plasmodial slime, which means that it moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. They then shift from the growth stage to the fruiting stage. Slime molds die if they dry out, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain. One of the most fascinating things about slime molds is how they move. They are thought of as a giant single cell with multiple nuclei which can all move together as one at speeds of up to an inch per hour. According to Wikipedia “A plasmodial slime mold is enclosed within a single membrane without walls and is one large cell. This super cell (a syncytium) is essentially a bag of cytoplasm containing thousands of individual nuclei.” Slime molds aren’t plants and they aren’t fungi. They come closer to being amoebas than anything else and are believed by some to have simple brains. My question is how they know what the others are “thinking?” They seem to have the same “group think” abilities as a school of fish or a flock of birds, and that is really quite amazing.

My daughter was with me on this day and she found a broken robin’s egg, so I’m guessing that mom and dad are keeping very busy these days. If what I’ve read is accurate they will feed the young until they learn how to feed themselves. That could take as long as a month.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) blossomed along the river. You can just see the tiny, almost microscopic wisps of whitish flowers at the pointed ends of some of the upper spiky protrusions (perigynia.) This plant is also called bottlebrush sedge, for obvious reasons. It’s very common near water and waterfowl and some songbirds love its seeds.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) started blooming a while ago. This plant has a very long blooming period; I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months, even into November. I usually find more of them in waste places but I see them just about everywhere I go. It is considered a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to grow in unused pastures, or cleared or burned areas. Woodchucks and rabbits will eat the leaves and stems. Native Americans made a tea from the plant which was used as medicine for digestive ailments. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) was getting ready to blossom in sunnier spots. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf.

Invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) grew everywhere out here and in this shot it is growing up a dead tree. I just featured this rose in my last flower post so I won’t say much about it, other than its fragrance was astounding.

Insects love multiflora rose and that is the problem with its invasiveness, because birds love the rose hips that pollinated flowers produce. But just try to stop it; the genie is out of the bottle and there is no stopping it or any of the other invasive plants that are in this country.

Luckily invasive plants haven’t choked out all of our natives. Here was a large colony of Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana,) all in bloom.

The 3 large styles of Indian cucumber root darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. Native Americans used Indian cucumber roots as food. As its common name implies, this plant’s small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber.

It was a beautiful day to be on the river, but the big puffy clouds in the distance reminded me that there was a chance of a real old fashioned thunderstorm. When I was a boy our house had a covered porch and I used to love sitting on it and watching thunderstorms as they rumbled by. I don’t have a porch now but I still love a good summer thunderstorm.

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 quite a few growing in this part of the river where the water was so still it hardly moved at all.

The little red bridge is my signal to turn and go back because not too far after it is a highway full of cars. Both my daughter and I were surprised by the time. What seemed like a relatively short walk had taken us hours, but that’s what happens when you become lost in the beauty of nature and start discovering things that you’ve never seen before; time is a very easy thing to forget.

My favorite photo of this day was of what I think is American eelgrass (Vallisneria Americana.) I love the hypnotizing way it moves and undulates in the current of the river. It is also called tape grass and water celery, and it is an important food for turtles and other aquatic wildlife.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her.
~ Buffalo Joe

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There are still flowers blooming now and some of them, like asters, goldenrods and an occasional Joe Pye weed are quite showy. Most of them though, are very small and not showy at all. In fact it’s easy to walk right by a lot of them without even seeing them. Here are a few of the showy and not so showy. The blue flowers crowded on one side of the long stem give away the identity of creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides.) This plant was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped to dry places that get full sun. This is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom.  It is an invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it has become established and will choke out weaker native plants.I didn’t need to crush a leaf and smell it to know this was wild mint (Mentha arvensis)-the flowers told me that-but I did anyway because I like the scent of fresh mint.  I found this plant growing in a semi shaded area in moist soil. I was surprised to find it in a nice, tidy clump instead of taking over the whole area. Mint is famous for spreading quickly, which is why it doesn’t make a good plant for the garden.Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) isn’t a close relative of pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) but the flowers look somewhat alike. That’s most likely because they are both in the Aster family. Sweet everlasting has flower buds that are much narrower than those on pearly everlasting. These flowers are slow to open-I waited for them for close to two weeks before giving up and snapping this picture. Everlastings get their name from the way they last a long time as a cut flower. These white plants are easy to see against the browning grasses of fall. European native butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris) bloomed for a while and then stopped, and now it’s blooming again. This yellow toadflax has a flower that is much larger and showier than any blue toadflax that I’ve seen. These flowers resemble snapdragons and last a long time as a cut flower. I think it’s one of the most beautiful weeds that I know of. Though books say they are common, I never saw a bicolor turtlehead flower (Chelone glabra) until I found this white one with a touch of plum colored blush on each flower. I grow one in my garden that is almost the same pinkish / lavender color, but over the entire flower. These plants like moist soil and will grow in sun or shade. This wild one gets a lot of hot afternoon sun and the plant I grow in my garden gets only an hour or two of morning sun. Both seem to do equally well.Carpet weed (Mollugo verticillata) is easy to recognize because of its whorled leaves, small white flowers, and ground hugging habit. This small weed grows very fast and in no time at all can cover quite a large piece of ground in a mat which has taken root at every leaf node. This plant originated in tropical America and is an annual, which means it grows new from seed each year.Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) was brought to Europe from Japan sometime around 1829. It was taken to Holland and grown in nurseries that sold it as an ornamental. From there it found its way across the Atlantic where we still do battle with it today. It is one of the most invasive weeds known and the only plant I have ever seen overtake it is purple loosestrife, which is also an invasive weed. Japanese knotweed is also a tough plant-the one shown in the photo was burned black right back to the ground last spring during an April frost and I thought for sure it was finished. As you can see, I was wrong. Nodding bur marigold (Bidens cernua) is unusually showy for a late summer /early fall wildflower. These native plants like to grow in wet soil and are common at the edges of rivers and ponds-I have even seen them growing in water. They really put on a show because there aren’t many other large yellow wildflowers blooming at this time. A nodding burr marigold (Bidens cernua) flower. This plant is also called beggar’s ticks because of the way its seeds stick to clothing. This plant is easily confused with Bidens laevis, the southern bur marigold. The late blooming period, serrated, hairless leaves and flowers that nod down toward the ground help with the identification of this plant.American water Horehound (Lycopus americanus) has clusters of tiny white flowers that ring the stem at the leaf axils. These small blooms never seem to all be open at the same time. This plant is easily confused with Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) and wild mint (Mentha arvensis) which both blossom at the same time. Crushing and smelling a leaf will easily confirm that it isn’t wild mint. Northern bugleweed doesn’t have lower leaves that are deeply lobed like those on American water horehound, so deeply lobed lower leaves that don’t smell like mint are what to look for when trying to find this plant. All three like to grow near water. The Ancient Greeks believed that the goddess of love Aphrodite created marjoram as a symbol of happiness. They made wreaths out of the mild herb for marriage and funeral ceremonies. Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is a native of Asia and is closely related to oregano (Origanum vulgare.) It is easily confused with oregano but has a much milder flavor. Its leaves are also grayer and slightly hairier than those of oregano. You can find both growing in the wild occasionally.

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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