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Posts Tagged ‘Aquatic Plants of New Hampshire’

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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1. Kayaking With Friens on the Old Skatahootchie

Some friends of mine live on a local pond and recently we went exploring in our kayaks. The pond is fed by a wide, shallow stream that was as smooth as glass. It winds in and out between small wooded islands and the shore line and was a beautiful place to explore. None of us knows the name of the stream so I told my friends that I was going to call this photo Kayaking with friends on the old Skatahootchie. I don’t know why the word Skatahootchie popped into my mind, but it did. Maybe it means botanical abundance.

2. Mad Dog Skullcap

I’ve been walking the shores of ponds and lakes for many years and have found one or two mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants here and there, but in this place great bunches of them grew along the shoreline. I would have gotten a good close up of one for you but I’ve discovered that keeping a kayak from moving while trying to get a photo is darn near impossible. 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. There is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. 3. Pickerel Weed

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) grew here and there but wasn’t as prevalent as I’ve seen in some other ponds. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will 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 expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid.

4. Kayaking

It was easy to be stunned into silence by the beauty of this place and at times floating through it seemed like floating through a dream. There might not be a heaven on earth, but there are still pieces of Eden left. 5. Fragrant White Water Lilies

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are still in bloom. There are certain flowers that are beautiful enough to make me want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. Some say the scent of fragrant white water lilies reminds them of honeydew melon. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds, so if you see some and come back a week later and find that they’re gone, you aren’t imagining things.

6. Yellow Water Lily Seed Pod

It isn’t often that we get to see a yellow pond lily (Nuphar luteum) seed pod, so I thought I’d get a photo of one while the kayak was handy. This one still had its petals attached. The seeds of this plant 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. 7. Pipewort

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area. In fact, I know of only one pond that it grows in, so I had to hike a bit to see it. The plants 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 minuscule white, cottony flowers. I’ve found that this plant is very hard to get a good photo of.

8. Pipewort

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, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I wish I had a better photo to prove it. 9. Bur Reed

Bur reed is another plant found growing 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 female flowers are 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.

10. Buttonbush Flower 2

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a shrub that I often find overhanging rivers and streams. It’s very easy to identify when it’s flowering because the inch diameter spherical flower heads don’t resemble those of any other native shrub that I know of. The fragrant, long white, tubular flowers each have an even longer style that makes the whole flower head look like a spiky pincushion. Once pollinated the flower heads become hard brown seed heads made up of small, two seeded nutlets that are a favorite of ducks and shore birds. Not surprisingly the first part (genus) of the scientific name Cephalanthus comes from the Greek words cephalo, meaning head and anthos, meaning flower.

11. Dwarf St. Johnswort aka Hypericum mutilum

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. These flowers are about the same diameter as a pencil eraser and, 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.

12. Arrowhead Flowers

Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is another plant that grows just off shore in ponds but it can also be found it ditches and other wet places. The tuberous roots of this plant are said to have the texture of potatoes but to 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.

13. Arrowheads

All the arrowhead leaves pointed heavenward and looked as if they were about to lift off, and the damselflies hung on for the ride.

14. Frog

Mr. Frog knew that if he stayed very still I wouldn’t see him and neither would the damselfly. I think he’s a green frog rather than a bullfrog but I can’t ever seem to feel 100% certain of my amphibian identifications.

Note: Jim at the jomegat blog has identified this frog as a female bullfrog, so I wasn’t even close. Thanks Jim!

15. Raft

When I saw this old raft my boyhood came rushing back in the form of many pleasant memories of building rafts with friends. They never did float us down the Ashuelot River to the Atlantic but we sure had fun building them, imagining all the while the great adventures we would find. Kayaking is kind of like a rafting-maybe that’s why it’s so much fun.

Discovering this idyllic place, we find ourselves filled with a yearning to linger here, where time stands still and beauty overwhelms. ~Anonymous

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