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Posts Tagged ‘Apple Blossoms’

I thought I’d illustrate our weather by showing these grape hyacinths, which should be done blooming by now. I saw the first ones blooming just a little over a month ago. Other bulbs like tulips and daffodils are also still blooming so they must be enjoying the cool, damp weather.

Trees with white flowers are everywhere and this one happens to be an apple tree. I think many people are surprised to learn that apple trees are not native to the United States. They have all come from old world stock brought over in the 1600s. Apples from Europe were grown in the Jamestown colony and the first non-native apple orchard was planted in Boston in 1625. Only the crab apple is native to this country and they were once called “common” apples. The Native American Abenaki tribe called them “apleziz” and used them for food as well as medicinally.

But it doesn’t matter where apples come from, because the fragrance is wonderful. Apple blossoms were one of my grandmother’s favorites and I remember bringing her arm loads of flowering branches when I was a boy. They were all you could smell in her house for days after.

Few of us think of creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) as a wildflower but it is actually native to the forests of North America. It is sometimes called moss phlox or moss pinks and April’s “pink moon” got that name from the way the “moss pinks” bloom in that month. It’s a plant that loves growing in lawns and luckily it doesn’t seem to mind being mowed. Even so many people wait until it’s done blooming to do their first spring mowing.

Individual creeping phlox flowers are quite pretty but I doubt many people bother to look at them. They see the mass display but not the individuals responsible for it.

Pin cherry flowers (Prunus pensylvanica) are quite pretty and are pollinated by several kinds of insects. They become small, quarter inch bright red berries (drupes) with a single seed which are also called bird cherries. The berries are said to be very sour but edible and are used in jams and jellies, presumably with a lot of sugar. Native Americans used the berries in breads and cakes and also preserved them and ate them fresh. The bark of the tree was used medicinally for a large variety of illnesses including coughs, stomach pains and as a burn salve.

I can remember picking lilacs for my grandmother on Mother’s day but not this year. I’d guess that they’re close to two weeks late. So far this small flower head is the only one I’ve seen but that’s probably because of the cool wet weather. We had a dusting of snow yesterday morning so if it’s cold enough to snow it’s cold enough to keep those buds closed. This one was small in size but not in fragrance. It’s great to smell lilacs again.

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have jumped up almost over night. This beautiful dark one was the first I’ve seen. This wild form of the modern pansy has been known and loved for a very long time. It is said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heart’s ease and was used in love potions. Stranger names include “three faces in a hood.” Whatever it’s called I like seeing it appear at the edge of my lawn in spring. I always try to encourage it by letting it go to seed but it never seems to spread.

Just after many other magnolias lose their flowers this one with tulip shaped flowers starts blooming. Its name is “Jane” and though I’m not crazy about the flower shape I love its color. It’s later bloom time means less chance of damage by frost.

Vinca (Vinca minor) has come into full bloom now. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the plant’s wiry stems do. They grow quickly into an impenetrable wiry mat that other plants can’t grow through and I’ve seen large areas of nothing but vinca in the woods, still blooming beautifully 200 years after it was first planted. You can often find huge colonies of it near old cellar holes. Still, it is nowhere near as aggressive as many other invasive plants and people enjoy seeing its beautiful violet flowers in spring. Another name for it is Myrtle.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) is also called wild oats and the plants have just come into bloom. They are a spring ephemeral and won’t last but they do put on a show when they carpet a forest floor. They are a buttery yellow color which in my experience is always difficult to capture with a camera. The spring shoots remind me of Solomon’s seal but the plant is actually in the lily of the valley family.

The word “sessile” in the name describes how the leaves of a sessile leaved bellwort lie flat against the stem, with no leaf stalk. The leaves are also elliptic and are wider in the middle than they are on either end.

A forest floor carpeted with sessile leaved bellworts makes an unforgettable sight. Many tens of thousands of them grow along the Ashuelot River in Keene.

Dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) plants have three leaflets on each compound leaf and together form a whorl of three compound leaves around the stem. The plants are very small; each one would fit in a teacup with plenty of room to spare. Dwarf ginseng is very choosy about where it grows and will only grow in undisturbed ground in old hardwood forests. It is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine but it is quite rare in my experience, so it should never be picked.

Each dwarf ginseng flower head is about the size of a malted milk ball, or about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Individual flowers are about 1/8 inch across and have 5 bright white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. In a good year the flowers might last 3 weeks, and if pollinated will be followed by tiny yellow fruits.

Pulmonaria usually has green leaves splotched with silver but this one I saw in a local park must be a new hybrid. Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis) is an old fashioned but pretty evergreen garden plant that originally hails from Europe and Asia. The silver mottled leaves were once thought to resemble a diseased lung and so its common name became lungwort. People thought it would cure respiratory ailments like bronchitis and the leaves were and still are used medicinally in tinctures and infusions.

The leaves and flowers are edible, and if you’ve ever had vermouth you’ve had a splash of pulmonaria because it is one of the ingredients. The plant does well in shade and has flowers of blue, pink, white, purple and red.

I finally saw the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) blooming and thankfully Ii was a nice uneventful hike out to see them. I’ve found that my bear encounter of a couple of weeks ago has taken a lot of the shine off this hike. It’s hard to relax when you know you need to be on your guard.

But as always the columbines were beautiful and I lost myself in them for a while. I took shot after shot, trying to get the best view I could. Much like people flowers have a best side, and your job as a nature photographer is to find it. If you want to really see nature like you’ve never seen it before, look at it through a camera lens.

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. ~Dorothea Lange

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Wild Geranium

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.

2. Rhodora

Henry David Thoreau once wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that’s what this little two foot tall shrub does each spring. The flowers appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because it isn’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

3. Rhodora Close

Because of their habit of growing in or very close to the water I couldn’t get close enough to this rhodora to get a shot of a single flower, but if you’ve ever seen an azalea blossom then you know what they look like. It’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

4. Buttercup

The waxy shine on buttercup (Ranunculus) petals 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. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed.

5. Witch Alder

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is usually seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. Their color comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments.

6. Witch Alder

Though it looks big in this photo this witch alder is barely 6 feet tall, and it’s the largest one I’ve seen. Most others I’ve seen are 2-3 feet tall. As you can see they flower profusely and are said to make an excellent hedge.

7. Sweet Woodruff

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.

8. Honeysuckle

We have several invasive honeysuckle species here in New Hampshire and I’ve given up trying to identify them all. Most or all are banned from being sold but birds love their bright red berries and that makes the shrubs impossible to ever eradicate. This example had the pinkest flowers I think I’ve ever seen on a honeysuckle.

9. Apple Blossoms

Apple trees grow throughout our forests and this is what makes people believe they’re seeing “wild” apples, when in fact every apple tree in this country (except crabapples) has been imported from somewhere else or was planted by seed; either by man, bird or animal. That’s why John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) did what he did. I love apple trees for their fragrance and so did my grandmother. Each year at this time I used to give her all the apple blossoms I could pick and for a day or two her house would smell like an orchard.

10. Bleeding Heart

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in forests so they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They’ll go dormant quickly when it gets hot and since it’s already getting hot here I thought I should get a couple of photos of them.  It’s one of the oldest perennials in cultivation and it is called old fashioned bleeding heart. I’ve always liked them and they were one of the first flowers I chose for my own garden.

11. Striped Maple

The flowers of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) look like bells dangling on a cord. They usually hang down under the leaves and can be very hard to get a good photo of, but every now and then a wind will come along and blow them up over a leaf, and that’s what happened here. The yellowish green bell shaped flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers.

12. Striped Maple

Another view of the unusual striped maple flowers. Each flower has 5 green sepals and 5 greenish-yellow petals with outward turning lobes that are a bit longer than the sepals. Their six to eight stamens show that those in the photo are male flowers. A striped maple needs to be at least ten years old to produce seeds. They like cool moist woods and their large, hand size leaves mean they can take quite a lot of shade, so they grow in the understory. Native Americans are said to have used the wood of striped maple to make arrows and its bark for tea.

13. Pained Trillium

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. As the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them, in my opinion. Each bright white petal has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. Unlike its two cousins its flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

14. Gaywings

Fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers often grow in pairs like those shown in the photo. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen. That pollination happens at all seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

15. Gaywings

Some flowers invite you to sit and admire their beauty. Others would like you to understand them, and most can make you smile, even on cloudy days. I find that all three are true of fringed polygala. They are with us for a relatively short time so I’m always very happy to find them in spring. I just found another small colony on Thursday and getting to know them over the next few months will be a pleasure.

Many of us pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we hurry past it. ~Søren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.

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1. Road Start

For years, at least since I was a teenager, I’ve known about this blocked off road in Swanzey, New Hampshire. Though I’ve known for all that time that the road led into Yale forest I never knew why or where it ended up, so I decided to walk it recently and find out. Old abandoned roads can be fascinating places because you never know what you’ll find along them.

2. Sign

The forest is called Yale Forest because it is owned by Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.  Yale founded a School of Forestry & Environmental Studies in 1900 and owns parcels of forest all over New England. Alumni donated land to the school or it was bought and sometimes even traded, and over time good sized pieces of forest were put together. The first land was bought by the school in 1913 but this particular parcel dates from the 1920s or 30s. It is 1,930 acres in size.

The road was once called Dartmouth College Road because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. When the State Department of Transportation built what is now route 10 this section of road was abandoned and from what I gather by talking to the county forester and others, was taken over by Yale University. I’m not sure exactly how it worked but apparently, since they owned the land on both sides of the road it became theirs when it was abandoned by the state. In any event it is now considered a private road but Yale University is very good about letting locals use the forest for hiking and biking. Even their website says that the forest has a “park like atmosphere.”

3. Road

A forestry school can’t train foresters in proper forest management without a forest, so this is one of the places where they come to train, and part of that training includes how to maintain healthy woodlands. This parcel is mostly red and white pine that was planted or seeded naturally after the hurricane of 1938 blew down many of the trees that stood here, so none of it is original old growth forest.

4. Stone Wall

Stone walls crisscross everywhere you look and speak of the history of this place. At one time, in the 1800s most likely, this land was cleared for pasture and, judging by the rolling landscape and huge boulders, was probably used for sheep farming. Land like this wouldn’t have been any good for cattle and sheep farming was big business back then. Most of our hills and even Mount Monadnock were cleared right to their summits to create more pasture.

5. Vegetation Mat

I’ve been on a few abandoned roads and what struck me most about this one was how wide it is. It’s as if the forest had hardly encroached on it at all in the 85 or more years that a car hasn’t traveled on it.  Then I saw why; as the above photo shows, the mat of vegetation that grew into the road has been plowed back into the woods to maintain the road’s original width.

6. Skidders

And it’s a fair bet that this log skidder did the plowing.  It must seem to a logger like he has died and gone to heaven to have a paved road to travel on. Usually they’re up to their waists in mud.

7. Apple Blossoms

Apple trees are dotted here and there along the old roadway. Apple blossoms always remind me of my grandmother because I remember as a boy running up her stairs with near arm loads of apple blossoms because she loved their scent so. Of course, every blossom that I ran up those stairs with meant one less apple but those trees were more decorative than anything, and what a show they put on in the spring!

8. Starflowers

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) carpeted the woods just off the roadway. I have a contest with myself each year to see if I can find the starflower plant with the most flowers. This one had three, but my record is four and I’m always hoping for five. Starflowers are a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but just to be different it can occasionally have eight petals like two of the flowers in this photo do, and I’ve seen photos of them with six petals. That’s just to remind me that always and never don’t apply in nature. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees.

9. Bluets

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) grew all along the sides of the road where it was sunny enough. Though this tiny wildflower is thought to be a spring ephemeral I’ve seen it bloom all summer long. I think it got the reputation for being an ephemeral because it often grows in lawns and once the lawn is mowed you don’t see the flowers any longer.

10. Plank Bridge

Beavers are active in these woods and dammed a small stream and made a pond, which then formed an outlet that ran across the old road and washed it out. I could tell that the road was here before the beavers dammed the stream by a stone wall that ran right into the beaver pond. The farmer never would have built his wall into the pond and under the water, so the beavers must have come later than the wall. The foresters have put these heavy, two inch thick planks over the washout to use as a temporary bridge.

11. Beaver Lodge

The beaver lodge looked abandoned and I didn’t see any signs of fresh tree felling. Beaver ponds are active for an average of 30 years and the first stage in creating one is damming a stream to form a pond. Our native trees aren’t meant to live with their roots under water because they take in a lot of oxygen through them, so finding living trees in an area like this would mean it was flooded recently. I didn’t see any, so this must be an older pond. Older beaver ponds fill with silt or the beavers move away and their dams erode enough to drain the land. In either case the beaver pond of today will eventually revert back to forest. When the forest has re-established itself and there are enough trees for the beavers to eat they will come back and again flood the land in a slow but ever repeating cycle.

12. Beaver Dam

The dam was still holding back water for the most part, but didn’t show any signs of recent activity on the part of the beavers.

 13. Male Mallard

Meanwhile, even though the beavers have moved away from their pond, many other kinds of wildlife still benefit from it. This one was shallow enough so all that a pair of mallards had to do was stick their heads in to feed, rather than tip their entire body up like they often do. They knew I was near and eyed me suspiciously but didn’t fly away like ducks usually seem to do.  He watched me while she fed, just in case.

14. Female Mallard 2

She spent most of the time feeding and I got shot after shot of a headless duck, but eventually was finally able to at least get her profile when she began preening. She was such a pretty bird.

 15. Log Pile

I was surprised by how small the logs were. The biggest and oldest at the bottom I doubt was even 50 years old. I wonder where they go and what becomes of them once they leave here.

16. Trail

You can tell by the trees left standing that the foresters are being very selective in what they cut, and are thinning the forest rather than cutting everything in sight. This kind of care benefits the overall health of a forest, especially since we no longer dare let forest fires burn themselves out. We have 4.8 million acres of forest In New Hampshire and a hundred years ago much of it was cleared for pasture land, so we are an excellent example of how nature reclaims the land. Man and nature can work together for the benefit of both, but it takes great care, thought and planning.

17. Killer Tree

Several trees had these “killer tree” ribbons on them and of course, me being me, I had to find out what they were all about. From what I’ve read they warn loggers that the tree is dead, diseased or has some other condition that might cause it to fall. It essentially says “stay away because this tree could fall on you.” Of course I found all of that out after standing five feet from the killer trees, taking their photos.

18. Striped Maple

One tree I’m always happy to get close to is striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum,) especially when it is flowering. The yellowish green bell shaped flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers.  The loose hanging flower clusters (racemes) usually hang under the leaves but will occasionally rest on top of a leaf like this one did. They sway in the slightest breeze and can be difficult to get a good photo of.

19. Sarsaparilla

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) grows all through our forests and is a common sight. The plant sets flower buds quickly just as its leaves have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from their early deep bronze to green. People sometimes confuse the plant for poison ivy before the flowers appear because of the “leaves of three” as in leaves of three, let them be. One easy way to tell the difference is by looking for a woody stem; poison ivy has one but this plant does not.

20. Sarsaparilla 2

In botanical terms the flower head of a wild sarsaparilla plant is called a globoid umbel. The umbel is made up of around 40 small white flowers that seem to burst from the center on long, pale green stalks (pedicels).  The flowers have five petals but I find them too small to be seen by eye. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and pollination is usually very successful; every time I’ve taken a photo of a wild sarsaparilla plant there has been an insect on it. This time is no different; I’m not sure what he is but he’s black and tiny and rests about two flowers above center at 12 o’clock.

21. Violets

Common blue violets (Viola sororia) lined the old road along with the bluets and starflowers and made the walk that much more pleasant.

22. End of the Road

I wondered where the old road came out but wasn’t too surprised to find myself on the edge of the “new” route 10. This is the road that replaced the abandoned one way back in the 20s or 30s. It’s a busy road and I had to stand here for a while to get a shot of it with no cars on it.

 23. Opposite Side of Forest

Just a short walk down route 10 from where the old road meets the new is one of my favorite views that I’ve driven past and seen out of the corner of my eye for over 20 years. Now I know what’s on the other side of it in the distance; a beaver pond.  Amazing what you can discover with just a little persistence.

Note: The photos for this post were taken over the course of a month or more, so if you think everything is a little greener at the end of the post than it was at the beginning, you’re not imagining it.

There are roads known by everyone and there are roads known by no one. Choose the second, the mysterious one where many glories are hidden. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

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