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Posts Tagged ‘Black Swallowwort’

Tall meadow rue flowers (Thalictrum pubescens) always bloom close to the 4th of July and always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” These are the plant’s male flowers; starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.

I don’t see tall meadow rue in meadows unless the meadow is very wet. I usually find it growing at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream. It was down an embankment, which was a good thing because it often grows 7-8 feet tall and towers over me. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance. In spring the plant’s young leaves fool many into thinking they’ve found wild columbine.

Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) also reminds me of fireworks. This one grows in my garden and also reminds me of the friend who gave it to me several years ago. Hers grew to towering heights but this one usually stays at about three feet.

This beautiful hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) blossomed after the rain we finally got last Thursday. It wasn’t enough but it helped. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds it has gotten to the point where all I see now are these bicolor ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves.

As I was admiring the hedge bindweed blossoms I happened to glance over to where one of our most beautiful wildflowers bloomed. Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are blooming about two weeks early this year. These plants are sometimes very tall and can tower over a person of average height but this one came only to my chin, and I’m not tall.

The flowers of Canada lilies are as big and as beautiful as the garden lilies I think we’re all familiar with and they come in red and orange as well as yellow. Their habit of nodding towards the ground can make getting a photo difficult, but I (very gently) tilt the stem back with one hand while I take the photos with the other. It’s not the ideal set up but it lets me show you the brownish purple spots on the inside throat of the trumpet and the huge red anthers. Speaking of anthers; many have found out the hard way that the pollen from those and other lily anthers will stain a white tablecloth permanently. The flower buds and roots were gathered and eaten by Native Americans. The scaly bulbs were cooked and eaten with other foods, such as venison and fish. They were also cooked and saved for winter use. They are said to have a very peppery flavor.

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is often called the ditch lily, because that’s where it grows. It is also found in cemeteries, often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. These days it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common.

This plant was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes and all of which have the potential to spread just like the original has. If you find yourself doing battle with a particularly weedy daylily, no matter the color, there’s a very good chance that the common orange is one of its parents.

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape, especially near brooks and streams. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

Common elderberry flower clusters look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. Each flower is tiny at only 1/4 inch across, and has 5 white petals or lobes, 5 yellow tipped stamens and 3 very small styles that fall off early after blooming. Each flower will be replaced by a single black (dark purple) drupe. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a single seed like a peach or cherry. Native Americans dried the fruit for winter use and soaked the berry stems in water to make a black dye for basketry.

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. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and they can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area yet. 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 but last year they seemed a little more plentiful.

Several times over the years 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.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are another yellow loosestrife that blooms at about the same time as the whorled loosestrife. Not surprisingly, they like to have their feet wet most of the time and are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. These plants stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife. The red dots on these petals seem to have run a bit and blended together. This is the first time I’ve seen this.

Pretty fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. It’s also the tallest and biggest flowered of the three yellow loosestrifes we have. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife usually blooms later. Like the lilies, this year it’s about two weeks early. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. Trout lily is another plant with elaiosomes.

Many years ago a friend gave me a piece of her Japanese iris. I don’t know its name but it’s a beautiful thing that is blooming now. It has very big flowers; they must be 2 or 3 times as big as a bearded iris blossom.

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 I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that; it’s a very sharp, almost acrid odor and on a hot summer day your nose will tell you that you’re near this plant long before you see it.

Black swallowwort is a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. It is believed to have come to North America from Ukraine in the 1800s.  Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level. In Canada it is called the dog strangling vine and Canadians are testing the use of Hypena opulenta moth caterpillars as a means of biological control. So far they say, the results look promising. The caterpillars come from Ukraine and are a natural enemy of the plant. This plant illustrates the biggest danger of importing plants; the animals and insects that control them are left behind in their native lands, and once they arrive in their new home they are able to grow unchecked.

Two years ago I followed a trail through a swamp and was astonished to see a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) growing right there beside the trail. This year once again I’ve been following its progress off and on for months, watching it grow and produce buds, hoping all the while that nobody would pick it or a deer wouldn’t eat it. Finally it bloomed at exactly the same time it had last year and the year before.

This is easily one of the most beautiful flowers that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of flowers.  It is something I’d happily walk many miles to see because such a sight is so very rare; truly a once in a lifetime find in these parts. It grows in black, very wet swamp mud where for part of the spring there is standing water, so it obviously likes wet feet. I’ve read that the flowers are pollinated by large butterflies and moths, but I’ve never seen an insect near them. I do hope they get pollinated and produce plenty of seeds. The Native American Iroquois tribe actually dug this orchid up for its roots and  made tea from them to protect them from ghosts. Ghosts or not, I’d have a very hard time digging up something so beautiful.

My relationship to plants becomes closer and closer. They make me quiet; I like to be in their company. ~Peter Zumthor

Thanks for coming by.

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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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It has been hot and dry here and we really haven’t had a beneficial rain for a while now. Plants are still blooming but the flowers aren’t lasting long on many of them. I’ve seen some bloom and fade in less than a week but luck has been with me so I have a few pictures to show you.Pipsissewa (Chimaphilla corymbosa or Pyrola umbellata) has just finishing blooming. This plant is related to the shinleaf and striped wintergreen that have appeared on this blog recently. It likes things on the dry side and I find it in sandy soil that gets dappled sunlight. It is a low growing native evergreen that can be easily missed when there are only one or two plants, but pipsissewa usually forms quite large colonies and that makes them easier to find. The leaves are also very shiny, which also helps.  The white or pink flowers are almost always found nodding downwards, as the picture shows. These tiny flowers are on the black swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae ) plant. Though they are described as dark purple they look black to me. If I had a dime for every time I’ve tried to weed this very invasive plant out of a garden, I’d be a wealthy man. It is a vine that seems to like to grow in the center of shrubs and will twine around the shrub’s branches, climbing up to the top where it can get more sun. The plant is in the milkweed family and like other milkweeds its flowers become small green pods that will eventually turn brown and split open to release their seeds to the wind. This plant also has a sharp, hard to describe odor that is noticed when any part of it is bruised. It originally came from Europe sometime around 1900 as a garden specimen and has escaped. We seem to have two varieties of shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) here; one that blooms in late May and another that blooms about a month later. We have a shinleaf growing in our area called round leaf shinleaf but I haven’t paid close enough attention to tell which is which. Next year I’ll have to be far more observant when it comes to the wintergreen family. I’m quite sure the plant in the picture isn’t round leaf shinleaf because the leaves on that plant are much shinier and more round, but that doesn’t answer the question of why this one is blooming so much later than others I’ve seen.  I find this plant in dry, sandy pine woods. When I was young I used to have a transistor radio that I listened to at night (when I was supposed to be sleeping) and a song called “Poke Salad Annie” played quite regularly. For years I wondered what poke salad was until I finally found a pokeweed plant (Phytolacca Americana.) I think of pokeweed as a southern plant but it does grow here. In the south it is eaten mostly by the poor despite warnings that it is extremely toxic. Not surprisingly, the very young shoots are boiled as greens or used in salad-hence the song title Poke Salad Annie.  The song came out in 1968 and was sung by Tony Joe White. If you’re interested you can still hear it on YouTube. Pokeweed is native to the eastern U.S. A hover fly was visiting this plant when I took its picture. One rainy day I was walking through the woods near a local reservoir and came upon a large colony of white wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella.) Though this plant is supposed to be common this is the only time I’ve seen it, so I don’t think it is very common in this part of New Hampshire.  It is also supposed to, according to books, bloom quite early in the spring but I took this picture on June 24th. This plant was introduced from Europe and has escaped. The flowers were about the same size as those on our common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta.) I like the blue/purple veins that each of the petals have. Because it has three leaves on each leaf stalk some people call wood sorrel a shamrock, but a true shamrock is a clover (Trifolium) and wood sorrel isn’t. I visited a bog recently in an area known for its native laurel and rhododendrons and found the last blossom on a bog laurel plant (Kalmia polifolia.) This plant is also called swamp laurel and is a very small evergreen shrub that grows in acidic bogs. This one was growing in standing water, so I had to get my knees wet to get a picture of it. This flower was smaller than a dime but there was no question that it was a laurel. On laurel flowers the petals are fused into a bowl that has ten pocket-like indentations on its surface. As the flower grows larger the stamens expand and their anthers fit into these pockets. When the flower is fully open the anthers are held under tension like a spring until an insect triggers them and gets a pollen bath.  If you look closely at the photo you can see each stamen inside its pocket. Growing next to the bog laurel was the native large cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon.) There is also a small cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) but it is the large ones that are grown commercially. These plants were small, growing only about 5 inches tall, but had many small white flowers that made them easy to see. The flowers have petals that curve sharply backwards like those of a shooting star. I’m going to try to remember to revisit this bog and get some pictures of the ripe cranberries. If you look closely you can see the recently formed green berries here and there.A close up of a large cranberry flower (Vaccinium macrocarpon.)Another plant growing at the edge of the bog in standing water was the northern male berry (Lyonia ligustrina.) This native shrub was about 3 feet tall but can get as tall as 12 feet. With all of its white, urn shaped flowers you would think that this plant would be covered with fruit, but instead each flower becomes a hard, dry, reddish brown capsule. Male berry shrubs will also grow in dry forests. Their roots can withstand forest fires and will send up new shoots soon after a fire. I think that the pink/purple flower buds of Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium ) are more colorful than the flowers. This plant is a magnet for butterflies and bumblebees. There are at least 4 native species. Spotted Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) has flat topped flower clusters and eastern Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium dubium) has rounded flower clusters. Eastern Joe Pye weed is sometimes called pale Joe Pye weed or trumpet flower. Hollow Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) is the most common species seen in ditches along roadsides and other wet places.  Sweet Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) is probably the tallest of the species, sometimes reaching 8 feet. I bought one of these for my garden last year and it is reaching for the sky. Its flowers smell like vanilla. These plants are useful in the garden because they will tolerate quite a lot of shade and attract bees. There is also a white Joe Pye Weed but that isn’t often seen. Joe Pye, according to legend, was a colonial herbalist, possibly native American, who used this plant to treat a variety of ailments. The pale yellow blossoms of wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) are seen mostly on the edges of corn fields in this area but can also be found on roadsides.  The flowers on this plant aren’t as mustard yellow as those on wild mustard and this plant has hairy leaves where wild mustard does not. Flowers of Wild Radish can be yellow, light orange, white, pink, and sometimes lavender while wild mustard flowers are always yellow. Wild radish has a taproot much like a cultivated radish, but they are much smaller.Native Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina ) has just started flowering. Before long these flower clusters will be bright red berries from which a good substitute for lemonade can be made. This plant is much more common in this area than smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) Smooth sumac has very shiny, smooth leaves and does not have hairy stems. Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida ) is in the ginseng family but its flowers are hard to mistake for those of ginseng. In fact the entire plant isn’t easily confused with any other natives because of its bristly lower stems and foul odor. The plant can reach 3 feet tall but its weak stems give it a sprawling habit in the shade.  I found this plant growing in dry gravel under pine trees along a road. Medicinally, the dried bark can be used in place of sarsaparilla. This plant is also called dwarf elder, wild elder, or angelica tree. Its leaves look nothing like those of wild sarsaparilla. Its fruit changes from green to dark blue and finally to black. Close up of bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida ) flowers and fruit. The fruit on bristly sarsaparilla has a dull, matte finish and the fruit of native wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is very shiny.

Come forth into the light of things. Let Nature be your teacher ~ William Wordsworth

Thanks once again for stopping in to see what is blooming here in New Hampshire

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