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Posts Tagged ‘Boxwood’

Some of our spring ephemeral flowers are finishing up and others, like goldthread, are just starting. Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. This plant usually grows in undisturbed soil that is on the moist side. I like its tiny styles curved like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club like petals behind. The ends of the golden petals are cup shaped and hold nectar, but it must be a very small insect that sips from that cup. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, and it was most likely sold under its other common name of canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

New goldthread leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and flowers will appear. Their leaves come in threes, and another common name is three leaved goldthread.

The rain and cool weather is keeping dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) blooming in numbers I haven’t seen in a while. I wonder how many realize that each “petal” in a dandelion “flower” is actually a tiny flower (floret) by itself, and what we call the flower of a dandelion is really a flower head, made up of hundreds of individual florets. Before the 1800s (before lawns came along) people would pull grass out of their yards to make room for dandelions and other plants that we call weeds today.

The strange flower heads of sugar maples (Acer saccharum) aren’t as showy as other native maples but they must do their job, because we have a lot of sugar maple trees. These are the male (staminate) flowers in this photo. Sugar maples can reach 100 feet in height and can live to be 400 years old when healthy.

Magnolias seem to be having a great year and I’m seeing them everywhere. Their fragrance is amazing.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in forests so they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They’ll go dormant quickly when it gets hot and they can leave a hole in the garden but that trait is easily forgiven. It’s one of the oldest perennials in cultivation and it is called old fashioned bleeding heart. I’ve always liked them and they were one of the first flowers I chose for my own garden.

The wild plum (Prunus americana) grows in just a small corner of south western New Hampshire, so you could say they are rare here. I’m fortunate to have found three or four trees growing under some power lines, but a few years ago when the powerlines were cleared I didn’t think I’d be seeing them for long. The power company clears the land regularly and cuts every plant, shrub and tree down to ground level. Except these plum trees; they were left alone and unharmed, even though everything around them was cut. I wonder how the power company knows that they are rare enough to leave standing.

How I wish you could smell these plum blossoms. The fragrance is wonderful, and so unique that I can’t think of any other flower fragrance to compare it to. It’s very different than the fragrance of apple blossoms.

I’ve been smelling plenty of apple blossoms too, because old, “wild’ apple trees line our roads and even grow in the forests. In fact entire abandoned orchards, left behind when farms were abandoned in the industrial revolution of the 1800s, can sometimes be found off in the middle of nowhere, still blooming beautifully and still bearing fruit. Apple trees can regularly live for 100 years but 200+ year old trees have been known. There is at least one tree that was planted in 1809 that still lives. These days most of the apples from the old trees are enjoyed by deer and bears in this area.

I wonder if people realize that every apple tree in this country (except crabapples) has been imported from somewhere else or was planted by seed; either by man, bird or animal. That’s why John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) did what he did. There are four species of crabapple native to North America; they are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. I planted the example in the photo but I’ve long since forgotten its name. The crab apple is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. The nine herbs charm was used for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs. The other eight were mugwort, betony, lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, thyme and fennel.

Our native cherries are also blossoming but I liked the red stars in the blossoms of this cultivated variety.

These pretty viola flowers were quite large and I don’t know if they were escaped pansies or large violets but I loved their color and cheeriness so I stopped to get a photo.  Violets are native To North America but plant breeders have made significant changes to color, size and fragrance.

Boxwood is called “man’s oldest garden ornamental.” The early settlers must have thought very highly of it because they brought it over in the mid-1600s. The first plants to land on these shores were brought from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. I found this one blooming in a local park. I don’t think most people pay any attention to its small blossoms.

It’s already just about time to say goodbye to the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum.) Their stay is brief but spring wouldn’t be the same without them.

Trout lily flowers have three petals and three sepals. All are yellow on the inside but the sepals on many flowers are a brown / maroon / bronze color on the outside. No matter how you look at it it’s a beautiful little thing, but I think it’s even more so from the back side.

Unfortunately it’s also almost time to say goodbye to the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) I doubt I’ll see them for another post but you never know; this cool, rainy weather is extending the bloom time of many plants. I’m still seeing forsythia that looks like it just opened yesterday and they’ve been blooming for weeks.

Winter cress, also called yellow rocket, (Barbarea vulgaris) has just started blooming. This plant is native to Africa, Asia and Europe and is found throughout the U.S. In some states it is considered a noxious weed. In the south it is called creasy greens. It is also known as scurvy grass due to its ability to prevent scurvy because of its high vitamin C content. It is very easy to confuse with our native common field mustard (Brassica rapa or Brassica campestris.) Winter cress is about knee-high when it blooms in spring and it stays green under the snow all winter. This habit is what gives it its common name.

What a show the grape hyacinths are putting on this year.  Since blue is my favorite color, I’m enjoying them.

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius) has three leaflets which together make up part of a whorl of three compound leaves. Dwarf ginseng doesn’t like disturbed ground and is usually found in old, undisturbed hardwood forests. I usually find it growing at the base of trees, above the level of the surrounding soil. It is very small and hard to see; the plant in the photo could have fit in a tea cup with room to spare. It had two flower heads, and this is the first plant I’ve ever seen with more than one. It is on the rare side here and I only know of two places to find it. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine so it should never be picked.

Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. Little seems to be known about which insects might visit the plant.

Almost every person, from childhood, has been touched by the untamed beauty of wildflowers. ~Lady Bird Johnson

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Here are some of the things I’ve seen in woods, parks and yards this week.

 1. Skunk Cabbage in Snow

The skunk cabbage flowers (Symplocarpus foetidus) just shrugged off the recent snow and melted their way through it. These plants use cellular respiration to produce energy in the form of heat, and can raise the air temperature around themselves enough to melt snow and ice. The process is called thermogenesis, and very few plants have this ability. In spite of being able to fuel their own furnaces, these plants don’t seem to be in any hurry to grow leaves. You can see a small one just starting between the two flowers.

 2. Amber Jelly Fungus aka Exidia recisa

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) looks like cranberry jelly to me, but the software I use to cheat color blindness sees more brown than anything else. This fungus likes to grow on willow trees and is also called willow brain fungus. It also grows on alders and poplars, and that is where I usually find it.

3. Red Maple Buds

The plum colored bud scales of red maples (Acer rubrum) have opened enough to let the tomato red flower buds begin warming in the sun. It won’t be too much longer before we see the bright red blossoms dangling from this tree’s branches.

4. American Elm Buds

The oval, flat, pointy buds of American elm (Ulmus americana) also have plum colored scales, but what they hide inside is much browner than that of red maple. Before Dutch elm disease wiped out most of our elms in the 50s and 60s Keene, New Hampshire had so many huge old elms that it was called the Elm City. Many businesses in the area still use Elm City in their names, even though most of the trees are now gone. There are a few hardy survivors widely scattered about the region though, and I visited one of them to get this picture. Elm flowers are beautiful enough to warrant a return trip.

5. Shagbark hickory Bud

The buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovate) won’t win any beauty contests but they are slowly unfurling themselves, just as the earth is slowly warming and awakening to welcome spring.  There is no doubt that nature is turning to a new season, whether we are watching or not.

6. Scilla

Speaking of awakening-the scilla (scilla siberica) bulbs that I planted 2 years ago are just starting to show some color. It’ll be nice to see their cheery blue blossoms under the honeysuckles at the edge of the forest again. These bulbs are easily confused with glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) because the differences are so slight (flattened stamens) that even botanists have trouble telling them apart. It is for that reason that many botanists think the two plants should be classified as one.

 7. Cornelian Cherry Bud aka Cornus mas

We’re lucky to have a cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) in a local park and I was happy to see it showing some color. This very unusual, almost unknown shrub isn’t a cherry at all-it is a in the dogwood (Cornus) family and blooms very early in the spring before the leaves appear. It hails from Europe and Asia and has beautiful yellow, 4 petaled flowers that grow in large clusters. This is a rarely seen, under-used plant that would be welcome in any garden.

8. Box Flower Buds

Also getting ready to bloom was this boxwood shrub (Buxus sempervirens.)  Though the buds are white, soon small greenish yellow flowers will line each stem at the leaf axils. This shrub is very common and is often used for hedges.

9. Oak Rough Bullet Gall

Rough bullet galls on oaks are caused by the oak rough bullet gall wasp (Disholcaspis quercusmamma.) According to the Iowa State University Extension Service, in the fall the adult wasp chews its way out of the gall and lays its eggs in the dormant terminal buds of the oak host tree. In the spring when the egg hatches and the white, legless larvae feeds the oak tree will grow around it, completely enclosing it in a gall. The larva feeds on the inside of the gall, becomes an adult, and the cycle repeats itself. These galls are found only on bur oak, (Quercus macrocarpa,) and swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor.) The galls don’t hurt the tree, but they do excrete a sticky substance which attracts ants and bees.

 10. Opened Goldenrod Gall

 In this case the cycle didn’t get to repeat itself, because a bird pecked its way into this goldenrod gall and ate the fly larva it found inside. If the larva had escaped the gall on its own the evidence would be a tiny, round hole-not the large, ragged gash seen in the photo. Chickadees, woodpeckers, and even some beetles eat the larva of the goldenrod gall fly (Eurosta solidaginis.)

 11. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

I went back to visit the one scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) that I know of in this area to see what affect the recent cold and snow had on it. It doesn’t seemed to have changed at all since I saw it last month, except maybe for a few more flat, pale orange fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) It grows on granite in full sun.

Only with a leaf
can I talk of the forest.
~Visar Zhiti

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