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Posts Tagged ‘Brown Knapweed’

When you travel east from Keene, New Hampshire on Route 101 towards the seacoast, before too long you see quite a large hill on your right. Between this hill and the highway is a strip of flat ground that is maybe 300 feet wide at its widest point and maybe a half mile long. I drive by this strip of land quite often and have seen cattails growing there in the past. I’ve also noticed that the area gets full sun, and full sun along with soil wet enough for cattails might mean orchids, so I had to stop and see.This tiny flower is very beautiful, in my opinion. It is called Blue vervain (Verbena hastate.) This native can grow to 5 feet tall and the ones I found were well on their way to reaching that height.  Such unusual height and a beautiful blue color make these flowers easy to spot. Wildflower books often say that these flowers are more purple than blue but since I’m color blind I go by their common name and believe that they are blue. This plant likes its feet wet and its head in the sun. It wasn’t growing in standing water but the soil was making squishing noises under my feet. As you might expect, this plant is an insect magnet. This one, on the other hand, was growing in low standing water and I got my feet wet getting this picture. This is native pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata,) which is an aquatic plant. You can spot this plant long before it blooms because of its large, heart shaped leaves that stand straight up out of the water. Books tell me that the flowers are violet-blue and I certainly won’t argue that point, though they look blue to me. Pickerel weed grows from and underground stem called a rhizome which can be as much as 2 feet underwater.  The plant’s strong stems keep the leaves and flowers above water. I think it’s a beauty but unfortunately you usually can’t get close to it without a boat or waders.Contrasting nicely with the blue vervain and pickerel weed were bright yellow swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris.) This plant is in the loosestrife family and each of the 5 yellow petals has two red dots at its base, which makes the flowers look a lot like those found on whorled loosestrife, but slightly smaller. This plant is easy to identify-I can’t think of another that has loose, yellow flower spikes (racemes) like this one unless it is broad leaved goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis,) but its leaves are very different. This is a native that grows to about 3 feet and likes boggy places. This is another plant called loosestrife-the much maligned purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria.) This plant is not a native but is originally from Europe and Asia and came over as a garden ornamental. It is not related to our native loosestrife, but shares its name. The problem with importing plants is that the foreign insects and diseases that keep the plant in check in its native land aren’t here in this country, so the plant has freedom to spread as much as it can. That is exactly what purple loosestrife has done. I’ve seen it growing so thick on stream banks that you couldn’t see a native plant anywhere, whereas 10 years earlier natives were all that were there.  Purple loosestrife will grow in standing water but is usually found on wet, solid ground. It is very tall and easily seen. It is also blooming more than a month early this year.This beautiful thing is the flower cluster of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate.) It is also called rose milkweed for obvious reasons.  The flower head was about the size of a baseball. This native isn’t common here at all, so I was very happy to find it. Hummingbirds and too many insects to list love this plant but its leaves are toxic so animals leave it alone. It is much taller than common milkweed and is the only milkweed that will grow in wet places. It doesn’t like standing water but mucky soil doesn’t bother it. The leaves are also much narrower and longer than those of other milkweeds.I was very surprised to find this Allegheny Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens) growing here. I can’t say that it is rare but I’ve never seen it and I had no idea what it was when I was taking pictures of it.  It wasn’t too hard to identify though, because there aren’t too many flowers that look like it. According to the USDA it grows in almost every state in the country and nearly every Canadian province, which also surprises me. Why haven’t I ever seen it (?)I ask myself. I have to admit that I haven’t spent a lot of time in swamps, but I will be doing so in the future. These plants were about 2 feet tall and growing in wet, sandy soil. Each plant had only 4 or 5 flowers strung along the stem, coming out of the leaf axils. Some say the flower looks like a monkey’s face, but I’m not seeing it. I’ve read that the flowers can occasionally be pink or white. This one looks very pink, and very beautiful to me. The native Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa ) were easy to miss, growing as they were down at shin height among all of the other towering plants. They were closing up for the evening just as I found them and were doing so because they are in the evening primrose family, and that’s what evening primroses do.  I was surprised at how small these plants were and at first didn’t think they were sundrops, but the X or cross shaped stigma in the center of the flower convinced me.  These plants were growing in wet, sandy soil in full sun but were somewhat shaded by the taller plants all around them, which might account for their smaller than usual size. Speaking of tall plants, this white sweet clover (Melilotus albus ) had to be at least 6 feet tall. It is also called tree clover, for good reason. This is another introduced plant now considered invasive. One feature of this plant that makes identification easier is the furrowed stem. It has three leaflets to a leaf stem (petiole) like all clovers and the slightly fragrant flowers have the shape of pea flowers.  White sweet clover attracts many insects and birds eat its seed. Rabbits and deer eat the leaves but they are said to be mildly toxic to livestock. It was introduced from Europe and Asia as a green manure and has escaped into the wild. This native meadow sweet (Spiraea latifolia) shrub looks much like a spirea because that is exactly what it is. This woody shrub grows to about 3 feet tall and usually has white flowers, but occasionally they are pale pink like those in the photo. This is an unusual shrub because it prefers wet ground. There aren’t many shrubs that do. There is a very similar plant called hardhack but its leaves are hairy and those on meadow sweet are smooth.Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) is another plant that prefers wet places but it also prefers cool temperatures, which was why I was a little surprised to find it growing beside the road in a wet, sunny meadow. It could be that the taller plants were shading it enough to keep it cool. Brown knapweed is originally 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.”  Black knapweed, spotted knapweed and tyrol knapweed are others that I know will grow in New Hampshire. The color of the tips of the bracts under the flower is one aid to identification, but it’s a bit too involved to go into here.  A good field guide will help with this one.This pink and white spider with red racing stripes was crawling over a water hemlock blossom; a plant that is about as poisonous as they come. This is the female goldenrod spider, who is a member of the crab spider family. I didn’t know anything about crab spiders until I found one in a photo I had taken. It was strange because I didn’t see the spider when I took the photo, but fellow blogger jomegat explained that these spiders can change color. The goldenrod spider can change from white to yellow and back again. If it wasn’t for her red stripes, I probably wouldn’t have seen this one.  Something I find particularly interesting about these spiders is that they don’t build webs. Instead they just blend into the flower color and ambush their prey.  I’ll be a little more careful about where I put my nose from now on!

 If you love it enough, anything will talk with you ~ George Washington Carver

Well, I never did find an orchid but I hope you enjoyed seeing what I did discover in the boggy meadow. I’ll be watching to see what else might bloom here. Thanks for visiting.

 

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