Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Bittersweet Nightshade’

Fall came early this year I think, but for what must be the first time I’m noticing how dependent on temperature and weather the foliage colors are. We had some quite cool nights a week or two ago and that started things off but then it got hot again; it was 80 degrees and humid on the day of this writing, and the foliage changes seem to have slowed. This view of the Ashuelot River north of Keene in Gilsum is bright enough but other than a spot of yellow or orange I think it’s mostly made up of varying shades of green. But since I’m colorblind I’m the last person you should choose to believe when it comes to color. I’ll let you make your own decisions.

One thing I’m sure of by these photos is how little water is actually in the river bed. Normally I would have been very foolish to try to stand where I was when I took this one but it’s been so dry there was nothing to worry about on this day. They say we’ve had the 18th driest September since records have been kept over the last 150 years.

Something that struck me as odd and interesting was this dog lichen, which was growing on a stone that is submerged for at least a few months in spring. I’ve seen mosses stand it but this is the first lichen I’ve seen put up with being underwater. But they do love water; evidenced by their color changes and their increased pliability after a rain.

This is another scene along the Ashuelot River in the northern part of Keene. There wasn’t really more water in this part of the river, just fewer rocks.

Sometimes highbush blueberries will take on a plum color in the fall as this one has and sometimes they’re bright red.

An ash tree burned brightly at the edge of the woods. Ash trees are among the first to turn and you can often see green hillsides with spots of bright yellow here and there.

And this young ash turned a beautiful deep purple. This is a white ash (Fraxinus americana,) I believe.

One of the scenes I look forward to each fall is this one, where birches grow out of the bedrock.

Many ferns are putting on their fall colors and one of the prettiest is the cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.

And a forest full of them is even prettier.

Another plum colored blueberry with a yellow maple caught my eye on the way to work one morning.

I actually learned the secret of photographing purple grasses from taking photos of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) As a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher. You try and try and then try again, and eventually you hit on the right light, or the right background, or the right perspective and then finally you have it, and then you can show the plant or any other bit of nature at its best. In my line of thought, this is how you get people interested enough to want to get out there and see nature for themselves; by showing it at its most beautiful. This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall.

Here is a closer look at purple love grass. It’s very pretty and I’m lucky enough to see quite a lot of it along roadsides.

Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) also chose to wear purple for fall. Pretty, but it contains solanine, which is the same toxic substance found in many members of the nightshade family including deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna.)

Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are beautiful this year.

Red leaves and blue berries on pink stems make Virginia creeper really stand out in the fall, and sometimes whole trees are draped in it.

Winterberries, one of our native hollies, also ripen in the fall and if the birds don’t eat them they’ll persist well into winter. Photos of winterberries with snow on them have become so common they have become almost a cliché, like raindrops on roses. Still snow on these berries is a relatively difficult shot, only because you have to be in the right place at the right time. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is toxic, but birds snap up the berries fairly quickly after they’ve been in the cold for a while. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

There must be many millions of acorns falling this year; I would guess enough to call it a mast year. In a mast year the trees grow a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than in a non-mast year. Scientists believe that by sometimes producing huge amounts of seed that at least some will survive being eaten by birds and animals and grow into trees. Having been outside most of my life I can say that many acorns survive intact until spring in a mast year. I’ve spent a good deal of time raking them up.

Native witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) often lose their chlorophyll in an odd way. Sometimes in winter you see these leaves wearing a warm, rosy brown which is very beautiful against the snow. 

Red maples (Acer rubrum) aren’t always red in the fall, but they’re almost always unbelievably beautiful and we have many millions of them here in our 4.8 million acres of forest. Over the years I’ve heard  different people say that these tree colors “can’t be real,” and that there must be some kind of camera trick involved, but I’m here to tell you that they are indeed very real and there is no trickery involved. This photo is exactly how it came out of the camera, so if you feel that what you see here is some kind of trick I would suggest that before determining the reality of a thing you might want to experience it for yourself. Many millions of people from every country on earth come here to see the autumn foliage each year. Maybe you should too.

This view of the Ashuelot River in Keene was another that held more varying shades of green than anything else but I thought it was so beautiful and peaceful I had to include it. I hope you think so too, and I really do wish you could experience it for yourselves. At this time of year you can find people who have lived here their entire lives just standing and staring, and I think that’s because when you see something like this for a time you’re taken away to a higher place. I stood and stared for a while myself, forgetting that I was supposed to be taking photos for you.

The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of nature, was the first spiritual experience. ~Henryk Skolimowski

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

I’ve driven by this spot for years, admiring what I thought were huge drifts of maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids.)  I’ve told myself that I really had to stop and take a photo to show here, and on this day I finally did. There are tens of thousands of flowers here if not hundreds of thousands, and they grow right beside the road.

Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I found that they were all blue eyed grass flowers (Sisyrinchium angustifolium.) They’re one of my favorite wildflowers but smaller than an aspirin and often hard to see in the tall grass. Here they’ve taken over and there is no tall grass. If you’re wondering why I couldn’t tell blue from pink / purple it’s because I’m colorblind when it comes to those and a few other color combinations.

My friends grow this beautiful clematis in their garden. I don’t know its name but I’m hoping it isn’t Ooh-la-la. There is one very similar flower with that name that I saw recently on Mr. Tootlepedal’s blog, which you can find right over there in the “favorite links” section on the right. In the end it doesn’t matter what its name is because it is still beautiful.

Many of our native shrubs like dogwoods and viburnums are coming into bloom. One of the first to bloom is the smooth arrow wood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum.) This 8 foot tall shrub grows near water usually, near streams and drainage ditches. It gets as large in diameter as it is tall and when it is flowering is very easily seen from a distance. Later on these blossoms will become a cluster of blue drupes that birds love. Native Americans are said to have used this shrub’s straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used parts of it medicinally and used its fruit as food. It is the only viburnum I know of with shiny leaves.

Once you get used to seeing both dogwoods and viburnums you can tell them apart immediately. The flowers on our native viburnums like the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact other than the arrow wood viburnum just seen I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) is in full bloom now and is a plant held in high regard for its hard to find clear blue color. This is another tough native plant that bees love. People love it too, and it is now sold in nurseries. The black seed pods full of loose, rattling, seeds that follow the flowers were once used as rattles by children. Not surprisingly, other common names include rattle weed and rattle bush. Native Americans made a blue dye from this native plant that was a substitute for true indigo.

This is a flower that I found growing in deep shade by a swamp and I think it might be common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris.) From what I’ve read it is an annual plant from Europe that is common, but I’ve never seen it. Apparently it is considered a pest in nurseries and greenhouses but even though I’ve worked in both I’ve never seen it there either. It is said to be toxic.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) has tiny hooded flowers that remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight. It’s a pretty little thing that always deserves a closer look.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) are showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It is native to eastern North America. One of the easiest ways to identify it is by the flower’s long red, mushroom shaped pistil and its hairy throat.

Here’s an iris that has been in my family longer than I have. Before I was born my mother planted a few in the yard so I’ve known it quite literally my entire life, and now it grows in my own yard. Its name is Loreley, and it’s an old fashioned variety introduced in 1909. It’s one of the toughest irises I know of; truly a “plant it and forget it” perennial. It was bred in Germany, and the name Loreley (Lorelei) refers to the sirens that would perch on cliffs along the Rhine and entice sailors to their doom with their enchanting song, much like the sirens who lured Ulysses and his crew in the Odyssey. It’s such a beautiful iris; is it any wonder that Loreley is still grown over 100 years after her introduction?

This yellow daylily (Hemerocallis) is very early, blooming just after the Siberian irises bloom. This plant was given to me many years ago by a friend who has since passed on and I have divided it many times for family and friends. Two things make this plant special: the early bloom time and the heavenly fragrance that smells of citrus and spices. I have a feeling this is a Lemon daylily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) which is a very old species brought to America in colonial days and originally from China and Europe.  The Greek word Hemerocallis means “beautiful for a day,” and that’s how long each flower lasts. It’s a shame that many of today’s daylilies, bred for larger and more colorful flowers, have lost their ancient fragrance.

This small ninebark shrub (Physocarpus) grows in the garden of friends and my favorite part of it is the dark purple foliage, but the flowers are pretty too. It is said to be related to the spirea and you can see that in its blossoms. Its common name comes from the way its bark splits and peels, revealing layers of reddish brown inner bark. It was once thought to have nine layers of bark.

Coincidentally, after I saw the garden ninebark I found this native ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) on an old farm. Though the flowers look identical the leaves on this one are green. Ninebark is originally from Missouri, where it grows on the banks of streams. The flowers will become clusters of reddish fruit.

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I always find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

Meadow anemone (Anemone canadensis) is an old fashioned garden favorite that has much larger flowers than our other native wood anemone.  Though it seems to spread out in a garden it’s easy to control. It’s also called crowfoot because of the foliage. It is also known as Canada anemone. Native Americans used this plant medicinally and its root and leaves were one of the most highly regarded medicines of the Omaha and Ponca tribes. It was used as an eye wash, an antiseptic, and to treat headaches and dizziness. The root was chewed to clear the throat so a person could sing better.

Invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) originally came from China to be used as an ornamental and as the old story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by using all the available sunshine. In the above photo it’s growing up into a tree and I’ve seen it reach thirty feet. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.

It’s easy to see why it is in the rose family but if it wasn’t for their heavenly scent you might as well be looking at a raspberry blossom because multiflora rose blossoms are the same size, shape, and color, and raspberries are also in the rose family.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) 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.

Bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) is another very beautiful native shrub but it is on the rare side so I don’t see it that often.  The small, dime size flowers are bright pink and very beautiful. Like many laurels bog laurel is poisonous enough to kill and no part of the plant should ever be eaten.  Legend has it that when a Native American wanted to end his life, this was the plant that was chosen to do the deed. It likes to grow along the edges of cool acidic bogs and ponds and often grows in shallow standing water. That makes it harder to get close to and in this case, that might be a good thing.

The pentagonal flowers of laurels are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. You can see relaxed anthers at about 3 and 6 O’clock in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them. What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a blossom in the lower right corner shows the arrangement of the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in.

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a native wildflower but it only grows naturally in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. This example grows in a local park. The white flower petals of bowman’s root are asymmetrical and always look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler. But they are beautiful nonetheless, and dance at the end of long stems. And they do dance in the slightest movement of air. Some say that all it takes is the gentle breath of a fawn to set them dancing, and because of that another of their common names is fawn’s breath. I can’t think of a more beautiful name for a flower.

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. ~Aldo Leopold

Thanks for coming by. Have a happy first day of summer tomorrow!

 

Read Full Post »

Though we do have some bare trees now all the warm weather we’ve had lately seems to be keeping a lot of the leaves on the trees. I thought I’d take a drive down one of our many country roads recently to see one of my favorite views of Mount Monadnock, and to see what the foliage was like there. The above photo shows what the road looked like and also shows that yes, I stopped to take photos. Luckily there isn’t much traffic on most of these back roads but even if there was we’re used to seeing people stopped on the side of the road with cameras at this time of year.

And oh, the things you see along these back roads. You really just have to stop sometimes and let yourself absorb the beauty of it all. This kind of magic isn’t something that we who live here take for granted; if you came here to see the foliage you would find that many of us locals would be standing right there beside you, and like you we’d be knocked speechless by the beauty of it all.

This view shows you what we were just driving through, with Mount Monadnock in the background. This is one of my favorite views of the mountain, but the bright sunshine made the foliage colors all look orange to me again.

I thought this red maple tree (Acer rubrum) was beautiful enough to have its own photo.

Maple trees can be any one of several colors including yellow, orange and red, and often once they have fallen they turn a beautiful deep purple. The leaves in this photo seemed to be heading towards yellow.

This is a view of the red maple trees along Route 101, which is a busy highway. Highway or back road it doesn’t matter, because you find this everywhere you go.

The sun chose a yellow leaved maple tree to spotlight and it looked like someone had thrown a great handful of yellow confetti out over the Ashuelot River. Sometimes you just have to say gosh, will you look at that. Hopefully you will have a camera in your hands when you do.

But isn’t it funny how the direction and intensity of the light can make a scene look so different? Like the previous photo this is a shot of the Ashuelot River in bright sunlight, but how very different the two scenes look. Photographers want to know these things so they can take them into account when taking a photo, but the path to that knowledge is usually strewn with many thousands of rejected photos. Of course it could be worse; that path could be strewn with rejected paintings.

This view from along the Ashuelot River shows how some maples have lost their leaves. Usually though, oak and beech trees start to turn and are at their peak just after the maples lose their leaves, so there is an unbroken line of color that can sometimes last a month. I think this year it will last more than a month.

Many of the leaves fall into the water and end up at the bottom of the river.

But while they float they’re still pretty.

On shore you might see the red / orange foliage of marsh St. Johnswort (Hypericum virginicum.) Many St. Johnsworts have a lot of red in them in their buds and seed pods, but I can’t think of another that I’ve seen with red leaves. Marsh St. Johnswort is also unusual because of its pink rather than yellow flowers.

Our hillsides still have good color but I’m seeing more bare trees on them too. When all the color on this hillside is gone it’s going to seem a very dramatic change.

Many of our bracken ferns (Pteridium) have turned to their flat, pinkish brown color but this one still glowed. I love to look at the many different patterns on ferns.

Oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) have a three part yellow outer shell that encloses the tomato red berry.  Once the berries, each containing 3 to 6 seeds, are showing birds and small animals come along and snap them up, and that’s why this vining plant from China and Japan is so invasive. Its sale and planting are prohibited in New Hampshire but the berries make pretty Thanksgiving centerpieces, so many people go out and cut what they find in the wild before the holidays. This also helps the plant spread.

This year the record warmth is making the process go very slowly, but the burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey are still changing to their pink / magenta color. Just before the leaves fall they’ll turn a soft, very pale pastel pink. The leaves on the trees above them seem to help regulate how quickly the burning bush leaves change color by keeping frost from touching them. In years when the overhanging branches lose their leaves early there is a good chance that the burning bushes will also lose theirs quickly. There have been years when I’ve seen hundreds of bushes all lose their leaves overnight.

The burning bushes might lose their leaves quickly some years but the berries will persist until birds have eaten every one of them. That’s what makes them one of the most invasive plants in the area and that is why, like Oriental bittersweet, their sale and cultivation have been banned in New Hampshire.

Just as beautiful but nowhere near as invasive are our native maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium.) This one had the same pink as the burning bushes, but this small shrub can wear many colors, from orange to deep purple, and yellow to pale pink. I’m not sure if each one has the same colors year to year or if weather affects and changes their color each year.

You often get lucky and see two colors on maple viburnum leaves. I thought these purple and orange ones were absolutely beautiful with the beech leaves as a backdrop.

Few plants can outshine the beautiful deep purple of bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara.) This native of Europe and Asia is in the same family as potatoes and tomatoes and produces solanine, which is a narcotic, and the plant is considered toxic. It was used medicinally in medieval times, possibly as a dangerous sedative. In large enough doses solanine can paralyze the central nervous system.

The water was warm and the air cool one morning, and a gray mist rose from Half Moon Pond in Hancock. The light was also quite dim with the sun still behind the hills, so I was surprised that this photo came out at all. The time falls back an hour next weekend as daylight saving time ends. I’m not looking forward to it being dark at 5:00 pm, but I will be happy to see sunny mornings again.

Oak and beech trees are usually the last to change in this part of New Hampshire and they have just started changing. That means that the astounding colors found in the oak and beech forest that surrounds Willard Pond in Antrim should be just about at their peak and perfect now, so that’s where I’m headed today. Hopefully the next fall foliage post that you see on this blog will be from there, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in the fall.

Beauty is simply reality seen with the eyes of love. ~Anonymous

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Or at least this post is. As this early morning view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows, our trees are starting to change into their fall colors. The trees on the far side of the pond start very early and that’s my signal to start watching for color wherever I go. Our foliage colors usually peak around the first week of October, but warm weather can slow down the process and cool weather can speed it up.

Right now the colors are spotty and seen just here and there but changes can happen fast so I usually keep a camera close at this time of year. I thought this red maple was worth a photo or two.

Another maple was yellow. Maples are usually our most colorful trees in the fall and come in reds, yellows and various shades of orange.

I could see the sky and the clouds and the earth and the shining sun in this mussel shell. Raccoons regularly fish in the Ashuelot River and one of them probably ate the mussel and left the shell for anyone who happened along to admire. Its colors were beautiful.

Also beautiful are pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana) when they ripen to their deep purple-black. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Heavy with ripe red fruit is false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa.) I see large bunches of these berries everywhere I go, so it’s going to be a good year for birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters. These berries are bright red when fully ripe and speckled green and red as they ripen. You can still see 3 or 4 unripe berries in this bunch. Soil pH can affect fruit color and not all berries will be the same shade of red. Native American’s used all parts of this plant.

Most staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are still green but this one had already gone to red. Sumacs are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between.

The reason invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) have been so successful at spreading throughout the countryside is because people have planted them extensively for fall color, making it easy for birds to find the berries for food. Most burning bushes start out red like this example.

As fall progresses burning bushes in the wild will turn from red to a pinkish magenta…

..and will finally turn the palest pastel pinkish lavender just before the leaves fall. These three photos of burning bush foliage were taken at the same time and place but the 3 branches were on different plants.

Our native highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are a good alternative to invasive burning bushes. They also often turn bright scarlet in the fall, but will also show shades of orange, yellow and plum purple. Purple is a common color in the fall. A Washington Post article last year said that “Studies have suggested that the earliest photosynthetic organisms were plum-colored, because they relied on photosynthetic chemicals that absorbed different wavelengths of light.”

Even poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) turns purple occasionally but it is more common to see it wearing red in the fall.

Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) go from green to white and then from white to blue. Once they are blue and fully ripe birds eat them up quickly, so I was surprised to see them.

Bright red bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny Roma tomatoes, but they’re very toxic and shouldn’t be eaten. Red has the longest wavelength of all the colors and it is the easiest color to distinguish, unless you happen to be colorblind.

Blue is my favorite color and I was able to see plenty of it in this view from a cornfield in Keene. I read recently that 40 percent of people choose blue as their favorite color. Purple is next with only 14 percent.

There are other places to see the color blue as well; many plants like the black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) pictured here use the same powdery, waxy white bloom as a form of protection against moisture loss and sunburn. On plants like black raspberries, blue stemmed goldenrod, smoky eye boulder lichens, grapes and plums, the bloom can appear to be very blue in the right kind of light. Finding such a beautiful color in nature is always an unexpected pleasure.

The bloom on grapes and plums can mean they’re ripe, and these grapes were. Soon the woods will smell like grape jelly from all the fermenting grapes.

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) isn’t offered by nurseries but I’ve always though it should be. It’s a very low growing shrub; I think the tallest one I’ve seen might have reached 3 feet. It has white flowers at the branch ends in the spring but I’ve always thought that fall was when it was most beautiful because of the amazing range of colors in its leaves.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) has started its long, slow change from green to red. Though some trees and bushes seem to change color overnight, Virginia creeper won’t be rushed. This example was just entering its bronze stage.

This beautiful shade of red is what most Virginia creeper vines will look like before their leaves fall.

This pale tussock moth caterpillar was very hairy, and very beautiful. I don’t see as many of these as I do the hickory tussock moth caterpillar. That one is everywhere this year and I see several whenever I go out for a walk.

I’m happy to say that, over the past 3 or 4 weeks, I’ve seen many monarch butterflies. I can’t say if they’re making a comeback but I’ve seen more this year than I have in the past 5 years combined. I’ve seen at least one each day for the past couple of weeks.

I think that to one in sympathy with nature, each season, in turn, seems the loveliest. ~Mark Twain

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Imagine a tree 80-100 feet high and 50 feet wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

Each beautiful catalpa flower is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough for a bumblebee.

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I always find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Once you get used to seeing both dogwoods and viburnums you can tell them apart immediately. The flowers on our native viburnums like the the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) has tiny hooded flowers that remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. This one had a friend visiting.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years.

Several times I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Heartsease (Viola tricolour) has been used medicinally for a very long time as an expectorant, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Used both internally and externally, the violet is said to be helpful for cystitis, rheumatic complaints, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Though Viola tricolor, the parent of today’s pansy, is native to Europe the medicinal qualities have been found to be the same for all of the species. Native Americans used our native blue violets for cancer treatment. American pioneers thought that a handful of violets taken into the farmhouse in the spring ensured prosperity, and to neglect this ceremony brought harm to baby chicks and ducklings.

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms and you can see certain roads that are lined with the glossy leaved, white flowering shrubs. They seem fussy about where they grow but when they find a spot that they like they can form dense thickets that are nearly impossible to get through. In this spot they grow to about 10 feet tall.

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. I saw several bumblebees working these flowers and you can see some relaxed anthers in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the tough wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like roadsides but I think most are escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers on this example look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

I found this white mallow looking for all the world like a white hibiscus.

I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

A very special guest flower for this week is the rare (here) and beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), a plant that I’ve searched for for many years and could never find. Where I finally found it was amazing; one of the lawns where I work had construction going on near it and couldn’t be mowed for two weeks, and in those two weeks up popped several ragged robin plants. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it.

Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S., like the very beautiful Clarkia pulchella shown recently on Montucky’s blog,  this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England. It might have come as a garden ornamental, but when ships arrived from foreign lands it was once common practice to dump their ballast of gravel and stones on our shores so they could take on cargo, and this plant was reported growing in ship’s ballast in 1880. However it got here I was very happy to see it. This is the kind of thing that makes my pulse quicken and my breath catch in my throat and is what can take me out of myself to a higher place, much like art or music might do for you. The chance of seeing something so beautiful is part of what keeps me going back to nature day after day, year after year.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. ~Rumi

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

1-stream-in-early-morning

Fall continues to amaze. Especially amazing to me is how colorful everything is in spite of our drought, which seems to go on and on. Even old timers who have seen the colors come and go for years often stand agape at the current year’s brilliance, and some say it’s the best they’ve seen. But then, we say that almost every year, so you’ll have to judge for yourself.

2-fall-colors

The red maples (Acer rubrum) are really putting on a show this year and that surprises me because another name for them is “swamp maple,” which hints at how much water they like. As of right now many of our swamps, small ponds and streams have dried up, but since these trees grow right at the water’s edge I’m sure they aren’t suffering.

3-bittersweet

The yellow leaved vine in the foreground of this photo is oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus,) climbing high into the trees seeking more light. At all other times of year it bends into the green background but in the fall it turns bright yellow quite early, and that’s why this is the best time of year to try to eradicate it. It’s very invasive and very hard to get rid of once it becomes established.

4-monadnock

Puffy white clouds would have done a lot for this shot of Mount Monadnock from Perkin’s Pond in Troy, but we don’t see too many clouds these days so I have to take what nature gives. This is the first time in the fall that I’ve had this spot all to myself. There are usually cars lined up along the road and painters and photographers vying for the best spot. Maybe they were waiting for clouds to appear.

5-fall-foliage

More red maples, this time at the edge of the pond in the previous photo. Too bad they don’t stand in front of the mountain.

6-red-maple

I drive by this red maple tree every day on my way to work and I’ve watched it get more colorful each day until finally I had to stop and take its photo. Red maples are among our most beautiful trees and fortunately our forests are full of them. This one grows right beside a stream and even though I see it each day its color seems almost surreal. It was all my camera’s sensor could do to capture its true brilliance.

7-along-the-river

I think the trees along this section of the Ashuelot River in Keene are turning a little more slowly than in other places, but it’s happening.

8-mallard

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard preened in the late afternoon sunlight. Are they oblivious to the incredible beauty that surrounds them or do they know that they’re part of it, I wonder?

9-bittersweet-nightshade

Bright red bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny Roma tomatoes, but they’re very toxic and shouldn’t be eaten.

10-bittersweet-nightshade-foliage

The leaves of the bittersweet nightshade were an amazing dark purple, almost black.

11-mushrooms

Even the mushrooms are dressed for fall.

12-maple-leaf-viburnum

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) isn’t offered by nurseries but I’ve always though it should be. It’s a very low growing shrub; I think the tallest one I’ve seen might have reached 3 feet. It has white flowers at the branch ends in the spring but I’ve always thought that fall was when it was most beautiful because of the amazing range of colors in its leaves.

13-maple-leaf-viburnum

This is one example of the colors found in maple leaf viburnum leaves…

14-maple-leaf-viburnum

…and this is another, with the berries (drupes) included as a bonus. These fruits are about the size of raisins and I’ve heard that they don’t taste very good, but many birds and animals eat them. They disappear quickly and getting a shot of both fall colored leaves and fruit is difficult. In fact it’s something I’ve been trying to do for years.

15-along-the-river

I often walk along the Ashuelot River in the late afternoon in the fall, and this is one reason why. When the sun is right it looks like the trees are on fire, and it can sometimes be breathtaking. Many times I’ve come upon people who were frozen in place, just staring. I love seeing the beauty of nature take people outside of themselves, and this is a great place to see it happen. I know well how they feel, so I rarely leave without a smile on my face.

16-fall-colors

Though many of the photos in this post were taken near water this is the only one that showed a clear reflection of the trees. Catching reflections is often not as easy as it might seem.

17-walnut

The beautiful reds, oranges and purples of this small tree caught my eye.  I think it’s a young walnut. The colors are so bright it looks like I used a flash, but I didn’t.

18-staghorn-sumac

The staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are showing good color this year. In the fall these small trees can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between.

19-staghorn-sumac

I thought my color finding software was going to have a breakdown when I asked it to tell me what colors were in these sumac leaves. Most prevalent is something it calls “Indian red,” but it also sees tomato red, pale violet red, fire brick, coral, salmon pink, peach puff, rosy brown, burly wood, light yellow, and Peru, which is a shade of orange, and believe it or not, tan. That’s a dozen colors on a single branch. I see red, orange and a little yellow and I’m happy with that.

20-branch-river

This was taken along the Branch River in Marlborough in full sun. I can never decide if full sun or an overcast sky is better for showing off the colors so I try to get some of both for these posts. This year though, overcast skies have been hard to come by.

21-rail-trail

On the television news one recent evening they were interviewing visitors from other lands who had come to see the fall foliage. Many said that photos couldn’t ever compare to the real thing, and I have to agree. I’ve tried my best to show what I’ve seen, but I hope one day everyone will get to see this beautiful yearly spectacle in person. It’s when nature pulls out all the stops and reminds us what the word beauty really means.

Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell–some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »

1. Meadow

The tree leaves have fully unfurled and the forests are shaded, and that means it’s time to get out of the woods and into the meadows where the sun lovers bloom.

2. Vetch

There aren’t many flowers that say meadow quite like vetch. I think this example might be hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa,) which was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire. I think of vetch as very blue but this example seemed purple so I checked my color finding software. It sees violet, plum, and orchid, so I wasn’t imagining it. Maybe it is cow vetch (Vicia cracca,) which is kind of violet blue.

3. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. This example grows in a local park. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, and another common name is American ipecac. Nobody seems to know the origin of the name bowman’s root or whether it refers to the bow of a boat or the bow part of the bow and arrow.

4. Bowman's Root

The white flower petals of bowman’s root are asymmetrical and always look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler. But they are beautiful nonetheless and dance at the end of long stems. And they do dance in the slightest movement of air. Some say that all it takes is the gentle breath of a fawn to set them dancing, and because of that another of their common names is fawn’s breath. A beautiful name for a flower if there ever was one.

5. False Solomon's Seal

I missed getting a photo of Solomon’s seal this year but there are plenty of false Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) blooming right now. The largest example in this photo was close to three feet tall; one of the largest I’ve seen.

6. False Solomon's Seal

False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California used crushed false Solomon’s seal roots and used them to stun fish. Others used the plant medicinally.

7. Yarrow

Humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

8. Goatsbeard

After not seeing any goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis,) for a couple of years I recently found a good stand of it growing in a meadow in full sun. Luckily I was there in the morning because goat’s beard closes up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify.

9. Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They grow at the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. This plant is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed, but there are over 50 different chickweeds. The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals. This is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The flowers of greater stitchwort are also larger.

10. Bittersweet Nightshade

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine, which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

11. Wood Sorrel

I can’t say if wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) is rare here but I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grew in a wet area near a stream. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger.

12. Tradescantia

My grandmother had a great love of flowers that rubbed off on me at an early age. I used to walk down the railroad tracks to get from her house to my father’s house and when I did I saw flowers all along the way. One of those was spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana,) and I loved them enough to dig them up and replant them in our yard, despite my father’s apparent displeasure. He didn’t care much for the plant and he often said he couldn’t understand why I had to keep dragging home those “damned old weeds.” He said he wasn’t pleased about a stray cat that I brought home either but it wasn’t a week later that I saw the cat on his lap with him stroking her fur, so I think he really did understand why I kept dragging those damned old weeds home. Though he could have he never did make me dig them up and get rid of them. That’s why spiderwort became “dad’s flower,” and why every single time I see one I think of him.

13. Purple Tradescantia

Spiderworts can be blue, pink, purple, or white so I don’t know if this one growing in a local park is a native natural purple flowered variety or if it’s a purchased cultivar. It’s nice but I like the blue best.

14. Peony

While I was at the park visiting the purple tradescantia I saw this saucer sized peony blossom. It was a beautiful thing to stumble upon and very easy to lose myself in for a while.  When you’re taking photos of a flower or object it’s easy to become so totally absorbed by the subject that for a time there is nothing else, not even you.

15. Rose

Do roses smell like peonies, or do peonies smell like roses? Either way we win, but I smelled a rose before I even knew what a peony was because we had a hedge full of them.

16. Fringe Tree

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that few people grow. It’s one of the last to leaf out in late spring and its fragrant hanging white flowers give it the name old man’s beard.  Male flowered trees are showier but then you don’t get the purple berries that female flowered trees bear. Birds love the fruit and if I had room I’d grow both. I’ve read that they’re very easy to grow and are pollution tolerant as well.

17. Blue Eyed Grass

I showed a photo of blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) recently but here is one with seed pods. I’ve never seen them. Blue eyed grass is in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light blue green leaves resemble grass leaves. The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find.

18. Maple Leaf Viburnum

Our viburnums and native dogwoods are just coming into bloom. The flowers above are on the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) Each flattish flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

19. WNE

I thought I’d tell local readers that the new wildflower guide by Ted Elliman and the New England Wildflower Society is in stores. I got my copy about a week ago and I find it really clear and easy to read. It also has photos rather than line drawings, which I like and another thing I like about it is how some of the more common non-native plants are also included. Some of my own photos can be found in it as well, and I feel honored to have had them included. I hope everyone will want a copy.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »