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Posts Tagged ‘Bee Balm’

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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We’re coming into high summer now and though we still haven’t had any really beneficial rain, flowers continue to bloom. This shy little Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) peeked out of the tall grass at the edge of the forest. They don’t always grow in the same large clumps as their cousins the maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) do, and this was the only one I saw. They also don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center as maiden pinks do, and that’s a good means of identification. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide their beautiful faces at the sunny edges of the forest.

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 love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

3. Mallow

Driving home from work one evening I saw a flash of what looked like blue on the side of the road out of the corner of my eye so I turned around, hoping that I’d found another stand of chicory plants. Once I’d driven back to where I saw the plants I found that not only hadn’t I seen blue flowers, I hadn’t seen chicory either. But I wasn’t disappointed, because the mallow plants I found there were beautiful. I think they might have been musk mallow (Malva moschata.) Since it’s another plant that is originally from Europe it was probably a garden escapee, but you could hardly call it invasive. I see them once in a blue moon, even less than the elusive chicory that I’m always hoping to see.

4. Mallow

I thought the mallow flowers were pink but my color finding software sees lavender. I love looking at such beautiful flowers, especially those that I rarely see. I’m sure there were many people who drove by that day wondering why I was kneeling on the side of the road, but it wasn’t the first time for that.

I had to stop working on this post and go out for a while and when I did, just after writing that I rarely see chicory (Cichorium intybus,) there was a large stand of it beside the road. Actually the road was a very busy highway and I wasn’t sure about stopping but in the end I did and was glad that I had. Chicory is a large, inch and a half diameter flower that is a beautiful shade of blue. Unfortunately it’s rare in this area and I’m lucky if I see it at all. I always hope the plants that I do see produce plenty of seeds but its habit of growing so close to roads means it gets mowed down a lot.

Many plants that can tolerate a lot of shade have large, light gathering leaves and the shade tolerant purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is one of those. This 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, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. Flowering raspberry has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it just as much as roses and it’s common to see the large leaves looking like they’ve been shot full of holes. The fruit looks like a large raspberry but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

I thought I’d show a rose blossom so those who have never seen a flowering raspberry flower could compare the two of them. The flowering raspberry really doesn’t look anything like a rose except maybe in size of bloom, but they do get confused occasionally. This rose grew at the edge of the woods so I don’t know anything about it except that it was beautiful and fragrant enough so I wished it grew in my own yard. There was a sun shining radiantly at its center.

8. Enchanter's Nightshade

When I get a new camera like I did recently one of the first things I do is look for the smallest flowers that are blooming at the time so I can try out its macro ability, and they don’t come much smaller than enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.) This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. The new camera surprised me on this day; I’ve never gotten such clear shots of this little flower.

At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) that most of us have tangled with. Though it does have spines along the leaf margins and stem, they are quite small. Despite its common name the plant is actually a native of Europe but has spread to virtually every country in the northern hemisphere. It has a deep and extensive creeping root system and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold. For that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states.

I’ve grown a lot of beans but I’ve really never paid that much attention to the flowers. They’re unusual and quite pretty I thought, when I saw them in a friend’s garden.

13. Vervain

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see the same beautiful blue color that I saw in the chicory flower. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Vervain flowers are considerably smaller than chicory, but there are usually so many blooming that they’re as easy to spot as chicory is. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans.

14. Swamp Milkweed

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is one of those flowers that take me out of myself. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful of all the milkweeds and is one of those flowers that I most look forward to seeing each summer.

How could you not look forward to seeing something so beautiful? I could look at it all day.

16. Purple Fringed Orchid

I walked down a trail through a swamp that I didn’t know well one day and there growing beside it was a two foot tall purple fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes.) It was one I’ve never seen; it looked like a flock of beautiful purple butterflies had landed right beside me.

17. Purple Fringed Orchid

Once I came to my senses I moved closer and knelt beside the plant. Struck dumb by its beauty, all I could do was gaze and admire, so very grateful that I had found such a wondrous thing.

18. Purple Fringed Orchid

Later, after I left the swamp I thought of John Muir, who wrote of finding the beautiful calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) after being nearly lost in a swamp all day:

I found beautiful Calypso on the mossy bank of a stream… The flower was white and made the impression of the utmost simple purity like a snowflower. It seemed the most spiritual of all the flower people I had ever met. I sat down beside it and fairly cried for joy… How long I sat beside Calypso I don’t know. Hunger and weariness vanished, and only after the sun was low in the west I plashed on through the swamp, strong and exhilarated as if never more to feel any mortal care.

John Muir was completely lost in the beauty of nature; totally absorbed by the flower before him. It’s a wonderful experience and anyone it has ever happened to longs for it to happen again, and it does. I hope everyone has the chance to experience it, at least once.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

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1. Tall Meadow Rue

Here in the United States we celebrate our independence on this day and “bombs bursting in air” are part of that celebration. Right on schedule tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blooms and add its own kind of fireworks to the festivities. This plant is also called king of the meadow, probably because it can reach 6 or 7 feet tall under perfect conditions. It likes wet feet and its head in the sun, and grows in places that never completely dry out. The example shown is a male plant which has petal-less, stamen only flowers that dangle in sparkly panicles.

2. Wood Sorrel

Years ago I found a small group of native wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) and have never seen any since until just recently. It’s a beautiful little thing which to me is like a spring beauty bonus that blooms in summer.  Unfortunately it’s very rare here, or at least I thought so. Now I’m not so sure; I found these plants growing in a spot that I have passed close to a hundred times, and that illustrates perfectly why I never hike a trail just once. You simply can’t see everything there is to see by hiking a trail once and since flowers bloom at different times, if you want to see them a trail should be hiked every couple of weeks. It’s the only way to see all of the plants that grow in a certain place.

3. Slender Nettle

Though slender nettle (Urtica gracilis) has fewer stinging hairs it is sometimes regarded as a variety of stinging nettle and is referred to as Urtica dioica gracilis. Its common name comes from the long, slender leaves. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has fatter, shorter, more heart shaped leaves. But grab ahold of either plant and you’ll find out why the Urtica part of the scientific name comes from the Latin uro, which means “I burn.” The hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stems are called trichomes and act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that cause the stinging. If you’re lucky the nettle you run into will be growing next to some jewel weed (Impatiens capensis,) because the sap of that plant will stop the burning and stinging. People have been using nettles for food, medicine, fibers, and dyes since before recorded time.

4. Virginia Creeper

When I showed the Pathfinders around the old abandoned road near Beaver Brook we saw plenty of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and Jim, their leader, mentioned that he had never seen its flowers. The flowers won’t win any blue ribbons at flower shows but they are another interesting part of nature that many people never see, so here they are.

5. Virginia Creeper

Each Virginia creeper flower is about 1/4 inch across and has 5 greenish, backward curving petals, 5 stamens with white filaments and large yellow anthers, and a conical pistil. If pollinated each flower becomes a bluish berry that many birds and animals love to eat. They are eaten by bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, and turkeys. Mice, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer eat them too and deer also eat the leaves and stems. My favorite part of the plant is its leaves, which turn bright scarlet, orange and purple in the fall.

6. Staghorn Sumac Flowers

Staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta) is another flower that most of us, myself included, pass by without a glance. This time I decided to stop and see what I had been missing. It’s another of those flowers that won’t win any prizes but insects must love them, judging by how each flower head becomes a cluster of bright red, fuzzy berries. Each greenish yellow flower is about 1/4 inch across and has 5 curved petals, a 5 lobed calyx, 5 stamens, and a central pistil, all of which are so tiny I can’t even see them by eye alone.

7. Black Swallowwort

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but on a hot summer day this plant is a real stinker that can be smelled from quite a distance. It’s a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades them out. Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden; I can think of one or two gardens where I tried for years.

8. Black Swallowwort

It is thought that black swallowwort was intentionally introduced to North America around 1900 as an ornamental. I’m guessing that it was more of a garden conversation piece because of its “black” flowers. Plant breeders have been trying to create a truly black flower for a very long time and this one comes very close to fulfilling that dream on its own.

9. Dogbane

Native spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) has pretty little fragrant, pink bell shaped flowers with darker pink stripes inside. They remind me of lily of the valley in shape. Many insects visit these flowers but the plant has a toxic, sticky white latex sap that means animals leave it alone. The plant doesn’t mind a little shade; I often find it growing along trails through the woods. The tough bark from the stems of dogbanes produces fibers that Native Americans made a strong thread from. It was used to make nets for hunting rabbits, among other things.

10. Indian Cucumber Root

Natives had uses for Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) as well, and one of them was as food. Like its common name implies, this plant’s small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber.  It’s easy to identify because of its tiers of whorled leaves and unusual flowers. It likes to grow under trees in dappled light, probably getting no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight each day.

11. Indian Cucumber Root

The flowers of Indian cucumber root have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red- brown but I think they darken as they age. These appeared to be black under the camera’s flash. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry.

12. Ground Cherry

I don’t see ground cherry plants (Physalis heterophylla) very often. In fact I know of only two places where they grow, but it’s always worth going to visit them in June to see their unusual flowers. There is a bit of work involved though, because the nodding yellow and black flowers can be shy at times and hard to see. You can just see a bit of yellow in this photo at the rear of the plant.

13. Ground Cherry

I had to prop this ground cherry blossom up on a leaf to get this photo so we could see what it looks like. They look like someone put a drop of ink on each petal and then blew through a straw to make a feathery design. If pollination is successful each flower will become a bright yellow berry. This plant is called clammy ground cherry and there is another which looks quite different called smooth ground cherry (Physalis subglabrata.) That plant isn’t hairy and has orange or red berries. All parts of this plant are poisonous except the fruit, which can be eaten raw or cooked. It can be found in all of the lower 48 states except Nevada and California.

14. Bee Balm

Though I’ve seen signs advertising it for sale as bee bomb its common name is actually bee balm, which comes from the way the juice from its crushed leaves will soothe a bee sting. The 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. No matter what you choose to call it, it’s a beautiful thing that I’m always happy to see. Hummingbirds love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

15. Swamp Milkweed

If ever there was a flower that could stop me in my tracks and absorb me so fully that I lose all sense of time and place, it is swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata.) It is one of those flowers that take me out of myself, and I wait impatiently for its blossoms each summer. How can you not love life when you know there is beauty like this in your future?

16. Columbine

The back of a columbine flower resembled a flock of white swans, come together to discuss whatever it is that swans discuss. I never knew this until now but technically a group of swans is called a whiteness, which seems appropriate. Unless you happen to be a black swan, I suppose.

In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. ~Christopher Morley

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th!

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1. Canada Lilies

Off in the distance in the underbrush I spotted yellow Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) poking up above the choking growth. To get to them I had to fight my way through a tangled mass of grape vines, Virginia creeper, oriental bittersweet, and virgin’s bower, and once I reached the lily plants I was in undergrowth up to my shoulders. I was surprised to see that the lily plants were at least seven feet tall-easily the tallest lilies I’ve ever seen.

2. Canada Lilly 2

After fighting my way through the closest thing to a jungle that you’ll ever find in New Hampshire I visited a local cemetery and found Canada lilies growing everywhere, just at the edges of the mown lawns. They’re beautiful enough to warrant having to work a little harder to get close to, I think. They were big, too-this single bloom must have been 5-6 inches across.

3. Swamp Milkweed

I visited the three places that I know of where swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) grows and the plants were either gone completely or weren’t flowering, but then I found a new colony that looked good and healthy. These are extremely beautiful flowers that seem to glow from within when the light is right. They are of the kind that you can lose yourself in and suddenly discover that you’ve been admiring their beauty for far longer than you had intended. Time might slip away but as the bees taste the nectar, so can you taste the place of deep peace from which flowers come.

4. Canada Thistle

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is small flowered thistle native to Europe and Asia and has nothing to do with Canada except as an invasive, noxious weed. It is taken care of quickly by farmers because once it becomes established in a field it is almost impossible to get rid of. Its roots can spread 20 feet in a single season and pieces of broken root will produce new plants. As thistles go its flowers are small; less than a half inch across, even though the plant itself can reach 5 feet tall. The leaves are very prickly.

5. Chicory Blossom

One of my favorite blue flowers is chicory (Cichorium intybus,) but none of the plants that I’ve seen in the past grew this year. I found this one growing beside a road and it’s now the only chicory plant that I know of. I’m hoping that it will produce lots of seeds.

 6. Bee Balm Blossom

Red flowers can be tough to get a good photo of and this year I found that the background played an important part in the end result. Green seemed to work well for this bee balm (Monarda didyma,) but so did an old weathered gray board. The Native American Oswego tribe (Iroquois) showed early colonists how to make tea from bee balm leaves, and it has been called Oswego tea ever since. Its leaves are also used as an ingredient in other teas as well.

7. Purple Loosestrife

It really is too bad that purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is so invasive. It’s hard to deny its beauty, but I’ve found it on the banks of the Ashuelot River poised to turn them into a monoculture. It would be a terrible thing to lose the diversity that is found along that river, so my admiration of its beauty is tempered by concern for the native plants that have lived there for so long.

8. Creeping Bellflower

One way to tell that you have a creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) rather than another campanula is by noticing the curious way the flowers all grow on one side of the stem, and the way that the stem almost always leans in the direction of the flowers. This plant is originally from Europe and is considered an invasive weed. It can be very hard to eradicate.

 9. Queen Anne's Lace Center Flowers

Nobody really knows why, in the center of some Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) flower heads, a purple flower will appear. Botanists have been arguing over the reason for over a century and a half, but none have an answer. Some believe the purple flowers are there to fool any insects flying by into believing that there is another insect on the flower head. Since what is good for one is good for many, they land and help to pollinate the flowers. But that is just a theory. Some ancients believed that eating the purple flower would cure epilepsey.

10. Dewdrop

I had quite a time getting both the flower and leaf of this dewdrop (Rubus dalibarda) in focus. I thought it was important though, because someone once thought its leaves looked like violet leaves, and from that comes another common name: false violet. It likes to grow in moist coniferous woodlands and doesn’t need a lot of sunshine. This plant is quite rare in these parts. I know of only one small colony of plants in Fitzwilliam. It is considered extremely rare in Connecticut and “historical” in Rhode Island, meaning it is just a memory there. It is also threatened in many states, including Michigan and Ohio.

11. Dewdrop Blossom

The odd thing about the dewdrop plant is how most of the flowers that appear above the leaves are sterile and produce no seeds. The fertile flowers appear under the leaves and can’t be seen, and every year when I take its photo I forget to look for them.

 12. Cow Wheat

Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite.  Its long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests.

 13. Monkey Flower Side

No matter how I look at an Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) I don’t see a smiling monkey’s face. This is a side view. I can’t help but wonder; if I came upon a wildflower that I had never seen before, would I be thinking of monkeys? I don’t think so. I rarely think of monkeys and I don’t think I’ve ever thought of them while admiring wildflowers. The way that flowers find their common names is an endless source of fascination for me. This little monkey likes wet, sunny places and is also called square stemmed monkey flower.

14. Monkey Flower Front

Even a front view of Mimulus ringens doesn’t show me a monkey’s face, but someone once thought so. The mimulus part of the scientific name means “buffoon,” but I don’t see that either. All I see is a very pretty little wildflower that I wish I’d see more of.

If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.  ~Richard Jefferies

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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I thought, just in case the world didn’t end on the 21st, that I’d take a few pictures for today. As usual, these are photos of things that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else.

1. Mackrel Sky

When cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds look like fish scales it is said to be a “mackerel sky.” An old saying says that “a mackerel in the sky means three days dry,” but whether or not it remains dry depends on the amount of moisture in the lower atmosphere. A mackerel sky in winter is said to mean eventual snowstorms and flurries, and that’s exactly what we saw here 3 days after this mackerel sky.

2. Cirrus clouds

Mare’s tails are the uncinus (hook shaped) form of cirrus clouds and form high in the sky where it is cold and very windy. They are made up of tiny ice crystals and are often a sign of a cold front moving over a warm air mass. This can signal bad weather is coming and these appeared the same day that the mackerel sky did. Cirrus means “curls of hair” in Latin.

3. Cable in Tree

If you have ever been cutting up logs into firewood with a chainsaw and have run into a nail or piece of wire, then this scene will send shivers down your spine. This is a very dangerous set up for a future logger, not to mention the trauma caused to the tree. Loggers and arborists have found bullets, wedding rings, cannon balls, saws, garden shears, beer bottles, hubcaps, horse shoes, and just about anything else you can imagine inside live trees.

4. Bracket Fungi on December 19

We’ve had snow, ice and freezing temperatures but these fungi appeared recently on a tree that is a favorite perch of red winged blackbirds. Unfortunately the birds might have to find another spot to roost, because fungi on a living tree almost always mean its death. I think these are late fall oyster mushrooms (Panellus serotinus.) Late fall yes, but I never expected to see them in mid-December.

5. Hoar Frost

When water vapor turns into ice crystals instead of liquid water, it makes frost. When the frost grows beyond the typical fine white coating and forms “needles” it is called hoarfrost. Frost forms similar to the way that snowflakes do, except that it forms near the ground while snowflakes form around dust particles floating in the air. I learned these fascinating facts by reading Jennifer Shick’s blog, called A Passion for Nature. It’s a blog that is worth visiting if you have the time.

9. Oak Tree Growing on a Stump

I found this colorful oak seedling growing in an old lichen covered stump. I was surprised that it still had leaves at all, and stunned that they were still so colorful in December.

10. Rose and Bittersweet

Two of the most invasive plants in New Hampshire are the multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus.) Here the bittersweet twines around the rose in what will eventually become a death grip, with the bittersweet strangling the rose. Oriental bittersweet is strong enough to strangle and take down trees and that is why the forest service wants it eradicated. After fighting it for years as a gardener I have to say-good luck with that.

11. Barberry Fruit

Another highly invasive plant that is found all over the state is Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii,) and these little red berries that are prized by birds are the reason for its great success. This plant is actually a native of southern Europe and central China that was imported as a landscape specimen. It is now scorned and considered a noxious weed because its sharp thorns impede the movement of wildlife. I can say from experience that they also impede human movement.

12. Beech Bud

Leaf buds on beech trees (Fagus) are a favorite food of deer and one theory of why young beech trees hang on to their leaves says that the dry, papery leaves are unpalatable to the critters. According to the theory, this makes deer search for other food and leave beech trees alone.

13. Dead Bracket Fungi

Sometimes there is beauty even in death. I thought these dried bracket fungi looked like miniature white roses from a distance.

14. Empty Bee Balm Seedhead

The birds have eaten all the seeds out of the bee balm (Monarda) in my yard, so maybe they should get some bird seed for Christmas.
Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store ~Dr. Seuss
Have a Merry Christmas, everyone. Thanks for stopping in.

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I thought it was time to visit some flower gardens again before they got too far ahead of me. There are some beautiful things happening in them.A few years ago a woman I worked for gave me a piece of this Japanese iris (Iris ensata.) I think it’s one of the most beautiful flowers in my yard and this year has 7 or 8 buds on it for the first time since I planted it. The only problem (if there is one) with Japanese iris is they like constantly moist soil, so I’ve planted other shorter perennials in front of it to keep the soil shaded so it doesn’t dry out so fast. In its native Japan it is a wetland plant much like our native blue flag iris, so it needs plenty of water. I had trouble deciding if this red bee balm (Monarda) should go into a garden flower post or a wildflower post, because it is a native plant that is seen more in gardens than in the wild. This one I planted years ago and it is one of the oldest plants in my gardens.  Bee Balm is also called horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot. Many Native American tribes used this plant medicinally and a tea made from it can still be found in many stores. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew.  I saw this garden lily at a local school and was surprised that it looked so untouched. We have an infestation of Asian lily beetles here and unless we spray they eat first the leaves and then the flowers. Some people have stopped growing lilies because of this plague. Lilies are among the most beautiful garden flowers and like full sun and sandy, well-drained soil. They will absolutely not survive in heavy soil that stays wet.I’d guess that most people grow hosta for the variegated leaves but I like the flowers too. Hostas are in the lily family and come from mountain slopes in Korea, China and Japan. The more water they have, the better they will grow. Their flowers are white or lavender. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium ) is a plant that has been used medicinally for centuries. The “parthenium” part of the scientific name comes from the ancient Greeks who, as legend has it, used the plant to heal someone who had fallen from the Parthenon. Feverfew is a plant that has appeared in herbals from the earliest texts up to the present. It has been used to relieve everything from migraine headaches to fevers. In fact, the name Feverfew comes from the Old English pronunciation of the Latin “febrifugia,” or fever-flee.  Feverfew flowers look like small ox-eye daisies and its leaves smell of citrus when crushed. Each flower is about the size of a nickel but might sometimes be as large as a quarter on robust plants. It is originally from Europe and Asia and spreads quickly. It would probably be called an invasive weed if it wasn’t loved by so many. Evening primrose (Oenothera ) is another native plant that can be found in both gardens and the wild. The 4 petals and X or cross shaped stigma are excellent identifiers for plants in this family. In the evening the flowers close so that by nightfall the plant looks like it is filled with flower buds that haven’t opened yet. The flowers take about a minute to re-open the next day. In the wild evening primroses can be found in waste areas, riverbanks and roadsides. Our native northern Catalpa (Catalpa) trees are large, growing up to 90 feet tall with a crown that can be 50 feet wide, so it isn’t usually seen in small yards.  In the south the southern catalpa is sometimes called “cigar tree” but as a boy in second grade I called it the string bean tree because of its long seed pods that look like string beans. Catalpas are fast growing, somewhat messy trees; in summer their falling orchid like blossoms make it look like it is snowing and later their curled seed pods and large, heart shaped leaves make fall cleanup a chore. The tree that the flower pictured was on stands near a local river.Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is another native plant that can be found in gardens or in the wild. They are useful in gardens because the strong stems don’t need staking to withstand rain and wind.  Ancient Greeks thought the center of the flower looked like a sea urchin, so they called it echino.  Echinacea was used medicinally for hundreds of years by Native Americans, who used it to treat coughs, sore throats, and many other ailments. It is still used medicinally today by some. I planted one about 15 years ago and now have them in flower beds throughout the yard.Pliny the Elder thought the hairy purple stamens on these flowers looked like the antennae found on moths, so he called them “blattaria,” which means moth-like. Forever more the plant would be known as Verbascum blattaria; what we now call moth mullein. This plant is originally from Europe and has become naturalized, but it isn’t what I would call invasive because it isn’t seen that often. I see it in gardens more than I do in the wild. The plant pictured was in a representation of an 18th century herb garden. The plant’s only resemblance to the common wooly mullein is the tall flower spike; both leaves and flowers look quite different. Each flower lasts only one day and can be white or yellow. I found this purple Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis ) growing in a local park. I like the feathery plumes of astilbe but I’ve never seen this color before. There is a purple cultivar called “Tanquetii,”but I’m not sure if it is the one pictured. Astilbes are good plants for shady areas that do well even with virtually no care. I might have to get this one to go with the red, white and pink ones that I already have. In previous posts I’ve shown common white yarrow ( Achillea millefolium) and yellow garden yarrow. Here is a pink-lavender garden yarrow. I haven’t seen any red or gold ones yet. Yarrow is one of the easiest plants there are to grow in hot, sunny places with soil on the poor side. Soil that is too rich will make the flower stems weak so they fall over rather than stand straight. This is the second earliest daylily (Hemerocallis) to bloom in my garden. The earliest is a yellow fragrant variety that blooms in very early spring. I’ve had the plant pictured for so long that its name has long since been forgotten, but red daylilies with yellow throats are common and easy to find. I have another with yellow flowers and a red throat that blooms right after this one. Daylilies are easy to grow and will grow virtually anywhere there is sunshine.

Almost any garden, if you see it at just the right moment, can be confused with paradise ~ Henry Mitchell

I hope you enjoyed seeing what is blooming on the cultivated side of things. Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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