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Posts Tagged ‘Beechdrops’

We had a light frost here yesterday morning, so there probably won’t be too many more wildflower posts for this year. I’m going to miss them!

1. Field Milkwort

I found a few of these native field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) flowers in an old pasture, growing in very sandy soil. One way to identify this plant is by its taproot, which smells like wintergreen. Another way is by its leaves, which should be alternate as the photo shows, and not whorled. The sepals on this flower shade from purple at the top to white at the base in this case, but its flowers can also be white or green. The “poly” part of the scientific name means much in Greek and “gala” means milk. It was once thought that cows eating this plant would produce more milk, and that’s how the plant got its common name.

2. Beech Drop Plant

Beech drops (Epifagus virginiana) are parasitic plants that insert a root-like structure called a haustorium into a beech tree’s root, taking what they need from the tree to stay alive. Since they are parasitic they don’t need chlorophyll and aren’t green. Instead the leafless stems are pale, yellowish green and the flowers can be wine red to pink to yellowish in color, sometimes with brownish purple stripes. This plant is also called cancer root because of the false belief that it cured cancer. It is related to Indian pipes and pinesap plants. Native Americans made a bitter tea from it.

3. Beech Drop Flowers

A closer look at the small flowers of beech drops. The plant is self-fertilizing but is also visited by insects.

4. Dodder

Dodder (Cuscuta) is another parasitic plant, but it isn’t limited to one kind of host like the beech drops. It can live off many different kinds of plants. Dodder is an annual and grows from seed in the spring. It wraps itself around the stem of another plant and pushes growths called haustoria into the stem of the host plant. If you look just to the upper left of the white flower in the photo you can see how the orange dodder stem has burrowed into the goldenrod stem. Once it is feeding on its host it loses all connection to the soil. This plant has no chlorophyll and its stems are bright orange. The round growths are seed pods.

 5. Flowering Raspberry

I was surprised to see this purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) in September-it usually starts blooming in June and might bloom into July in a good year. This shrub is in the rose family and might be mistaken for a rose if it wasn’t for its large, maple-like leaves. Its stems are hairy but not prickly like a rose. The native shrub will reach 3-6 feet tall and twice as wide under the right conditions.

6. Silverrod Flowers

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast and is a native. Seeing these flowers always reminds me that the growing season is nearly over. I usually find it in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods. As the flowers age they fade and change color slightly, and that’s where the bicolor part of the scientific name comes from.

 7. Obedient Plant Flowers

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) is native to central and southern U.S. but in my experience, will grow just about anywhere.  I planted some in my yard several years ago to try to attract hummingbirds and it has been trying to take over ever since. Each year I weed it out, thinking that I’ve finally gotten rid of it only to find it growing in a different spot the following year. Its small snapdragon like flowers can be white or pink and are quite beautiful.

8. Slender Gerardia

The small, hairy flowers of slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia ) are small and grow close to the ground, so they are easily missed. This plant is also called slender foxglove because its tube shaped flowers are similar in appearance to those of foxglove. The narrow leaves and wiry stems remind me of toadflax. An odd fact about this plant is that it turns black when it is dried, so it is not a good plant to press for herbarium specimens. It grows in fields and gravelly waste areas-often next to forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum).

9. Slender Gerardia

Slender gerardia flowers last only for a single day, opening in the morning and closing at night. By midafternoon they begin to take on a wilted look, so photographing them is best done at mid-day. Bees pollinate these flowers, and I see plenty of them when I visit these plants.

10. Sand Jointweed

I find sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) growing in sand, just as its common name suggests. These plants grow to about a foot tall with thin, wiry stems and small white or pink flowers. The leaves are very small and lie against the stem so the plant appears leafless. The plant gets its name from the curious way the stems are jointed. I’m not sure why, but this is one of the hardest plants to photograph that I’ve ever met.

 11. Large Leaved Aster

Big leaved asters (Eurybia macrophylla) grow quite deep in the woods, so they have large leaves with enough surface area to collect what dim light is available. There is no hard and fast rule, but plants with larger leaves can often take more shade. It seems odd to see aster flowers topping a plant with such large, 8 inch long by 6 inch wide leaves. These plants grow in large colonies and I’ve seen entire hillsides covered with them. The flowers can be white, pale violet, or purple. Some Native American tribes used the plant’s roots in soup and its young spring leaves as food or medicine.

12. White Snakeroot

White snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum ) is very toxic and in the early 19th century killed thousands of people-especially settlers in places like Indiana and Kentucky. In just one Indiana County half the deaths were said to be caused by this plant. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it, and their milk becomes toxic. When humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness” and in a week or less would be dead from heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant.

Can we conceive what humanity would be if it did not know the flowers? ~ Maurice Maeterlinck

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When I was a professional gardener I always assumed that we would have a frost between September 15th and September 30th. More years than not, that assumption was accurate. Then last year happened and all of that went out the window. We still hadn’t had a frost when we got about sixteen inches of snow on Halloween. This year-here we go again-still no frost here. In fact just yesterday it reached the mid-70s.  The heat I can handle, but I’m hoping there won’t be another Halloween storm like the last. In any case, the flowers love it and many are still blooming.

This nodding burr marigold (Bidens) found a home with a roof, so it won’t have to worry about a frost.

 On a recent rainy day I found a clump of native beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) growing near the road. The Epifagus part of the scientific name means “upon the beech” and that is where these parasitic plants grow. They don’t produce chlorophyll to make their own food so instead they insert a root like structure called a haustorium into a beech root and take what nutrition they need to survive. Native Americans made a tea from this plant that was used to treat mouth sores.

Purple-brownish beechdrop flowers are very small and hard to photograph. Each flower is tubular and has two lip-like “petals.” They produce nectar and attract insects. Tiny, scale like leaves press flat against the stem and are very hard to see. These plants are found from Canada to Florida and west as far as Louisianna. 

Native Blue toadflax (Linaria Canadensis) is another tiny flower, but easier to get a picture of than beechdrops. I found this one growing in full sun on a riverbank recently. It had just about finished blooming. This plant resembles Kalm’s Lobelia (Lobelia kalmia) but the lobelia lacks the nectar spurs found in blue toadflax blossoms. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison.

 Native small flowered water plantain (Alisma subcordatum) was also blooming along the river a couple of weeks ago. The blossoms have now faded but the plants still thrive. These small white flowers have only tree petals so they are hard to confuse with other plants. The egg shaped, thick, fleshy leaves are also unusual. There is also a large water plantain (Alisma triviale) with flowers that are about twice the size as those shown. These plants often grow in the water at the edges of ponds and rivers. Native Americans used to eat the dried root. 

It’s easy, especially at this time of year, to be fooled into thinking that this plant is an aster, but it is actually a chrysanthemum-another popular fall garden plant. I found this one growing in a local park. Its leaves give away its identity.

This is an aster that I found growing on the side of the road. I turned around and went back to get a picture because it was such a deep, dark and beautiful purple-much different than the lighter purple varieties seen.

 This jimson weed (Datura stramonium) is another roadside plant, but it was growing in a pasture along with hundreds of others. Jimson weed is considered poisonous to both humans and livestock so I was surprised to see it in a cow pasture.  This hallucinogenic plant in the nightshade family is also called loco weed and was used by Native Americans on spiritual quests. The original common name was “Jamestown weed” which was given to it after English soldiers in the Jamestown colony began to behave oddly after eating leaves of the plant. It is said that they “behaved like animals for several days.”  This plant is considered exceedingly dangerous due to poisonings and deaths by people trying to get high.

 I have a white flowered native obedient (Physostegia virginiana) plant trying to overtake my gardens and not too long ago someone posted a picture of a beautiful pinkish purplish one like the one in this photo. I told the blogger that I hadn’t ever seen that color obedient plant flower and then, that very day, I found this one. It seems like if I can’t find a plant all I need to do is say that I can’t find it on this blog and before you know it, I’ve found one. That has happened several times.

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) is looking a little bedraggled, but still blooms just about everywhere I go. Native Americans made a tea from the plant for use as, among other things, a cough syrup. Today scientists are researching its value as a cancer treatment and for respiratory ailments.

 I wasn’t surprised to find sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) growing in pure sand along an old road but I was surprised to see it at all, because I had been watching for it for 2 or 3 weeks without any luck. These plants grow to about a foot tall but the thin, wiry stems and small white flowers easily blend into the sand and make them hard to see.  The leaves are small and lie against the stem so the plant appears leafless. The plant gets its name from the way the stems are jointed.

These sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) flowers looked like they had a bit of pink in them. These plants seem very hard to photograph-I had to make 2 or 3 attempts before I got something I could live with.

 

It’s easy to see why sedum is such a hit in the fall. This pink one I found in a local park is probably a cultivar called “Autumn Joy, “which is an old favorite. I think it would be even more beautiful planted with some dark purple asters.

 When I took its picture I thought this was the last rose of summer that I’d see on my rose bushes. They had a hard time this year with the extreme heat and dryness, but once the rains started in they bloomed more and more until now they are loaded with blossoms. Last year it was still blooming in December.

Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,

We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves ~ Humbert Wolfe

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