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Posts Tagged ‘Arrowleaf Tearthumb’

This is the time of year when our roadsides begin to look like Monet paintings. Purple loosestrife and goldenrod dominated this one, but the pink of Joe Pye weed and the white of asters and boneset often help brighten scenes like these.

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a strong wind that blew them over to one side of the stem. The heavy flower heads also bend the stem so the plant almost always leans at an angle like those shown.

I’ve included this shot of a field full of many kinds of goldenrod for those who haven’t ever seen one. Sights like this were common when I was a boy but are getting harder to find now, mostly because of invasion by purple loosestrife. The Native American Chippewa tribe called goldenrod “sun medicine” and used it to treat fevers, ulcers, and boils. Many other tribes also used it medicinally.

After years of trial and error Thomas Edison found goldenrod to be the best domestic source of natural rubber and bred a plant that grew to twelve feet tall and contained about twelve percent rubber in its leaves. Henry Ford and George Washington Carver developed a process to make rubber from goldenrod on an industrial scale during World War II and the USDA took over the project until synthetic rubber was discovered a short time later.

I’ve been surprised to find over the past couple of years how some of the flowers that I love to see, like the tiny little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) above, have somehow found their way into my yard. Since I haven’t done anything to encourage it how they get here is a mystery, but the list gets longer each summer. It’s such a pleasure to be able to see them each day without having to go and look for them, and I hope the trend continues.

Eastern forked blue curls have beautiful flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day and the entire plant barely reaches ankle high, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. This plant is an annual that grows new from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and sometimes roadsides, and now in my own yard.

I know of only one place to find field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) and it is always worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and that’s just what I often do. I find them growing in full sun in sandy loam.

On field milkwort flowers what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) can get very tall and often towers over my head. A cluster of small, pencil eraser sized, blue flowers sits at the tip of the long stem. This plant is very similar to the wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans but they should only be used by those who know them well, because it is said that they can cause death by cardiac paralysis.

The flowers of tall blue lettuce can be white, deep blue, or ice blue. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. I haven’t seen a single one this year though.

I have trouble seeing red against green due to colorblindness and that’s why you don’t see much red in these posts, but these bee balm blossoms stood high enough above the surrounding foliage to be clearly visible. The name bee balm comes from the way the juice from its crushed leaves will soothe a bee sting. Our native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) is also called Oswego tea, because the leaves were used to make tea by the Native American Oswego tribe of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for tea when they ran out of the real thing. It’s a beautiful flower that I’m always happy to see. Hummingbirds and butterflies love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

There are 2 or 3 small lobelias with small blue / purple flowers that grow here, but though the flowers look alike the plants themselves have very different growth habits, and that makes them easy to identify. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) and the small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

Indian tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering. Though Native Americans used this and other lobelias to treat asthma and other breathing difficulties they knew how to use what we don’t, and today the plants are considered toxic. They can make you very sick and too much can kill.

Common burdock (Arctium minus) must have come to this country very early, probably tangled in a horse or cow’s tail, because it was noted as being widespread in 1663. In fact it was so common then that some who came later wrote that it was native. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.  Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. The examples in the above photo had just opened. When fully open long white styles grow from the dark purple anthers. In this flower head only the lower blossom shows the styles.

Arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible.

It’s easy to see how the plant came by the arrowleaf part of its common name.

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late in summer.

Steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) seems more herb than shrub to me but it’s in the spirea family of many shrubs. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge.

Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin.

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep water at pond edges with the lower stem submerged so it’s hard to see the entire plant, but last year’s drought let me see that each plant had a tiny tuft of sword shaped leaves at the base of the stem. The stem has a twist to it and has 7 ridges, and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort.

The plants grow 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. For the first time since I’ve been photographing the plant I was able to see what look like black stamens on this example. 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. It is also called hat pins, for obvious reasons.

Last year swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) started blossoming at the end of June and this year it waited until the end of July, a full month’s difference. Of course I started checking the two plants I know of at the end of June and have been waiting impatiently ever since to see this, in my opinion the most beautiful of all the milkweeds. Certain flowers can absorb me, and this is one of them. It’s one that I can sit and look at without thinking or caring about much of anything else for a time.

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher

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1. Trail-2

When it’s hot and humid here in New Hampshire you have a few choices when it comes to cooling off outside. You could go to one of our many lakes, you could climb a mountain to catch a cool breeze, or you could go underground like I did last Sunday.  The deep cut Cheshire rail trail in Westmoreland is almost always about 10 degrees cooler than it is everywhere else and there’s always a gentle breeze blowing. I’m convinced that the narrow slot canyon shape of the place creates its own breeze, because it never stops here.

2. Climber

Unfortunately last Sunday, even though there was a breeze, it didn’t feel much cooler as I walked through the man-made canyon. Considering how warm it was I was surprised to see two rock climbers. But I was also happy to see them because photos with people in them always give a sense of scale to the place. He looks quite small but you can see one of the climbers off to the left. He was looking up at his partner who was climbing up the wall of the canyon.

3. Cliff Face

You wouldn’t catch me climbing these walls, but a lot of people do.

4. Hanger

The hardware that rock climbers use looks safe enough. One hanger like this one that I read about said it could support 5600 pounds. It had better, because if they should fall this will probably save them.

5. Trail

The railroad workers cut through the solid rock by drilling deep holes into the stone using steam powered drills and then poring black powder into them. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force. I’ve broken stone with a sledge hammer quite a few times but I wouldn’t ever want to face something like this. Breaking up the stone wasn’t the only daunting task; after the wall face was blasted away someone had to clean up tons of broken stone. Much of it was dumped in the woods and abutting landowners picked from the piles and built stone walls along the property lines. You can still see them today and they are oddities with their flat faces and sharp angles. You know immediately that stones like them aren’t natural.

6. Stone Wall

This photo I took last May shows what I mean. There isn’t a rounded edge to be found anywhere in this wall and our natural fieldstone always has rounded edges. This stone is obviously cut and seems very foreign compared to what we’re used to seeing.

7. Stone Wall

Not all of the blasted stone was dumped; the railroad built stone retaining walls along parts of the cut to hold back the hillside. They must have had stone cutters working right at the site, cutting and fitting the blasted stone into stone walls that have stood solid since the mid-1800s. You can always tell that a wall is a retaining wall by the way it leans slightly backwards into the hillside that it’s holding back. It takes skill, care and experience to get it right and the railroad stone masons had plenty of all three.

8. Drainage Ditch

Even as dry it has been the drainage channels on either side of the trail still had water in them. Groundwater constantly seeps from the ledges and runs through these channels away from the rail bed. They are filled with water year round and help keep the humidity stable and slightly higher than it would be otherwise. They’ve also kept the rail bed dry for well over a century and a half.

9. Purple Flowering Raspberry

There are many plants growing in the few sunny spots found here and some of the most beautiful on this day were the purple flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus) in full bloom. This shade tolerant plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, light gathering, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. The plant has no thorns but it does have a raspberry like fruit. The flower petals always look a bit wrinkled.

10. Purple Flowering Raspberry Fruit

The fruit of the purple flowering raspberry looks like a large raspberry and is edible but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

11. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot flowers (Tussilago farfara) might look like dandelion flowers but it’s clear that they don’t have a taproot like a dandelion. Here they grow on solid rock.

12. Tear Thumb Flowers

Arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible. I was surprised to see it growing here in deep shade along the edges of the drainage channels.

13. Tear Thumb Stem

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late in summer.

14. Liverworts

Of course I couldn’t come here and not visit with my friends the liverworts. They grow here by the thousands, and this is the only place I know of where they do.

15. Great Scented Liverwort

My favorite liverwort is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) and I wore knee high rubber boots so I could walk in the drainage channels to get close to them. Great scented liverwort is also called snakeskin liverwort for obvious reasons. The reason it looks so reptilian is because of the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surfaces. It is the only liverwort with this feature, so it is very easy to identify. They love growing over the drainage channels here with ground water dripping on them from above. They are very fussy about water quality and will only grow where the water is clean and pure. With most of the state in severe drought I’ve been wondering how the liverworts were doing. Some I saw had dried out completely by the looks but thankfully many were still thriving.  When you crush a leaf of this liverwort you smell a clean spicy aroma that I always think would make an excellent air freshener. They’re very beautiful things and I wish I could see them every day.

16. Overleaf Pellia (Pellia epiphylla.)

Another liverwort that grows here is called overleaf pellia (Pellia epiphylla.) At a glance it looks like great scented liverwort but a close look shows that its leaf surfaces are very different. This liverwort always reminds me of bacon and I’ve learned to spot it from a distance by its shape and wavy edges. It’s much narrower in width than great scented liverwort, and in colder weather it often turns purple on its edges and shrivels a bit. Don’t tell it I said so but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as beautiful as the great scented liverwort.

17. Algae

One of the strangest things growing here are these green algae, (Trentepohlia aurea) which are actually bright orange. A carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta-carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll in the algae but it’s still called green algae. It grows like small tufts of hair all over some rocks. I’m not sure what that algae / stone attraction is, but it only grows on certain ones and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it.

18. Algae Close

The algae are very small and hard to photograph. They are described as “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.” The pigment that masks the green chlorophyll can also be yellow or red. In India in 2001 airborne spores from these algae were in high enough concentrations in to cause a “red rain” that actually stained clothes pink. Yellow, green, and black rains were also reported.

19. Lineman's Shack

I took a walk out of the far end of the canyon to see if the old lineman’s shack was still standing. It was, but I’m not sure how with so many sections of wall and roof gone. I suppose that, like everything else the railroad built, it was built to last. There was an old bakelite (a type of early plastic) television antenna rotor controller on the floor of the shack for well over a year, but it disappeared as quickly and silently as it appeared. I’m guessing that this smallish shed must have been used for tool storage; after all, somebody must have had to shovel the snow out of this canyon in the winter. Just thinking about that makes my back twinge.

20. The Chesire

With all this talk of railroads and trains I thought I’d better show you the train that ran through here from 1935 until it was retired in 1957. It was a stainless steel 3 car diesel streamliner with “Cheshire” (for the Cheshire Railroad) proudly displayed on its nose. A 600 horsepower Winton engine was in the first car. The second car was a combination baggage / mail / buffet dining car, and the third car had coach seating for 188 passengers with rounded glass on its end that allowed 270 degrees of countryside observation. A sister train called The Flying Yankee ran on another part of the railway. How I would have loved to have had a ride or two on them.

If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads. ~Anatole France

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1. NE Aster

Some of you might be thinking what, another aster? Well yes, asters are everywhere at this time of year and though I showed a New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) in my last flower post it was much lighter in color than this example. I like the dark colored ones, but they’re much harder to find than the lighter colors. It’s said that if you rub the flower heads of this plant between your fingers they’ll emit an odor similar to that of camphor or turpentine, yet the Native American Ojibwe tribe smoked the root to attract game. I’m guessing that the smoked root didn’t smell like camphor or turpentine.

2. Bladderwort

The swollen, air filled, modified leaf stems of the native small floating bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) radiate out from a point on the stem like the spokes of a wheel and keep the flower above the water while currents carry it over the surface of ponds. The parts of the plant that trail under the water look like roots and are where the bladders are located. Each bladder has small hairs on it which, when touched by an insect, trigger a trapdoor that opens quickly and sucks the insect inside. Once trapped inside there is no escape, and the insect is slowly digested.

According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffee, Henry David Thoreau didn’t think very highly of this plant. He wrote that it was “A dirty conditioned flower, like a sluttish woman with a gaudy yellow bonnet.” That’s a side of Thoreau that I’ve never seen and it seems an odd reaction for a nature nut like him to have had. I would think he’d have happily studied and written about such an unusual plant.

3. Bladderwort

Gaudy or not bladderwort flowers are among the most challenging to get a good photo of, both because yellow is a challenging color to begin with and the plants float offshore, often just out of reach. Luckily the wind pushed this example very close to shore. You can get to these plants by kayak or canoe but even so, it’s a job to get a good photo.

4. Big Leaf Aster

Big leaf asters are never going to win a blue ribbon at a flower show but I enjoy a special bond with them because they were the subject of the first flower photo that I ever sold, and the biology textbook publishing people who bought it wanted it because it showed both the flowers and leaves. Since the leaves are almost ground hugging and the flowers rise up on 2 foot tall stems, showing both isn’t as easy to do as it might sound. Depth of field is important in the world of flower photography and both the leaves and flowers should be shown whenever possible. This plant’s large leaves are used for gathering as much light as possible because it grows in shade, usually on forested slopes. It can form huge colonies of several thousand plants.

5. Creeping Bellflower

Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in 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, so I was surprised to see it. It is an invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It will choke out weaker native plants. I usually find it on forest edges.

6. Soapwort

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) blossoms quite late along the river. It always seems fitting to me that a plant that can produce a soapy lather should grow so near water. This introduced plant doesn’t seem at all invasive; in fact I often have a hard time finding it. It’s a plant that always seems to look a bit ragged and weedy and is probably ignored by most that frequent the riverbank, but I like seeing its simple, beautiful white flowers when little else is blooming.

7. False Dandelion

I see false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) almost everywhere I go at this rime of year. If you look at the yellow flowers on tall wiry stems without paying attention to the foliage this plant might look like hawkweed, but its leaves are very different and look more like narrow dandelion leaves.

8. False Dandelion

Both dandelions and false dandelions have a rosette of edible leaves and a central taproot. The flower stems of false dandelion are solid, tall and wiry while those of true dandelions are hollow and much shorter.

9. Pink Turtlehead

No matter how often I look at turtlehead plants (Chelone) I don’t see turtle heads, but I know that a lot of people do. This pink flowered plant was given to me by a friend years ago and I’ve divided it and given pieces away several times, so it has brought pleasure to many. Our native turtleheads (Chelone glabra) are white. Since I don’t know the history of this plant I don’t know if it’s a pink version of the native or if it’s a cultivar.  Butterflies and hummingbirds love these flowers so it’s a good addition to a garden. The plant is also maintenance free. In the time I’ve had it I’ve done nothing to it but divide it up to give away.  Native Americans thought highly of this plant and used it medicinally to cure a variety of sores and miscellaneous external ailments.

10. Beechdrops

Beech drops (Epifagus americana) grow in deep shade and can be hard to photograph, but a sunbeam came along and lit this one up for me. This plant grows near beech trees and is a parasite that fastens onto the roots of the tree using root like structures called haustoria. It takes all of its nutrients from the tree so it doesn’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. These plants are annuals that die off in cold weather.

11. Beechdrops

Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish stripe are the only things found on a beech drop’s leafless stems. On the lower part of the stem are flowers that never have to open because they self-fertilize. They are known as cleistogamous flowers. On the upper part of the stem are tubular Chasmogamous flowers, which open and are pollinated by insects and are shown in the above photo. Science doesn’t know much about which insects pollinate this plant. Sitting and watching a group of these plants and recording which insects visit them would be a good project for a budding biologist, but they would have to know their insects well or be very fast on their shutter button.

12. Tearthumb

Native arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open I’ve discovered recently that they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible.

13. Tearthumb Stem

But that isn’t all there is to the story of tearthumb. It comes by that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its red stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. It actually uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I find it near ponds, blooming quite late in summer.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

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