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Posts Tagged ‘Button Bush’

Here we are in high summer and the roadsides are starting to show some beautiful color. So many different flowers are blooming now it’s hard to keep up with them but the standouts in this scene are white boneset and Queen Anne’s lace, yellow goldenrods, and purple loosestrife. For me this is easily the most beautiful time of year. It’s like living inside a Monet painting.

The big bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) have just started to show some color as well. This plant originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant as this one did, and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love these flowers and it is not uncommon to have them flying all around me as I take photos of it.

Globe thistle (Echinops) is a garden thistle that isn’t very prickly at all compared to a bull thistle. This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers, but that’s not going to happen this summer. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony.  On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. I think a reader wrote in last year and said they do.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long yellow tipped, white styles sticking out of the tubular flowers the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey, though the town has done their best to cut most of them down. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person name. I think the flowers have the most intense color when in bud like they are in this photo.

Here are the flowers of Joe Pye weed; in my opinion not as colorful as the buds. Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is a common late summer sight in wet meadows and on river banks. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area. There are also cultivated varieties sold in nurseries.

At a glance common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) looks like white Joe Pye weed. That’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side, but boneset usually blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here. I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

The perfoliatum part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the foliage” and that’s how its stem appears to grow; as if the leaves have been perorated by it. The common name comes from the way that the joined leaves looked like broken bones knitting themselves back together. Joe Pye weed leaves have leaf stems (petioles) and look very different. Boneset was a very valuable medicine to Native Americans and they showed early settlers how to use the plant to reduce fever and relieve coughs and congestion. It was also used to ease aches and pains of all kinds.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. You can just see the tiny skullcaps at the very top of this stem. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

Groundnut (Apias americana) flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years.  Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

Ground nut is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. The roots became such an important food source for the settlers they forbade Natives from digging the tubers on “colonial lands”. And we wonder why Natives were upset with the settlers.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is often thought of as a warmth loving southern plant but I’ve seen it blooming and making berries here in October. Pokeweed flower clusters (Racemes) are unusual because you can often see ripe fruits at the bottom and new flowers at the top.

Pokeweed flowers are about a quarter inch across and have no petals but do have 5 white or pink sepals surrounding green carpels that fold and meet in the center. These green carpels will become a shiny, 8-10 chambered, purple-black berry. The carpels are surrounded by 10 white stamens. Though they were once used to color cheap wines the berries are poisonous and have killed children. People eat the leaves and spring shoots but adults have also been poisoned by eating plants that weren’t prepared properly. There are some powerful toxins in parts of the plant and scientists are testing it for its anti-cancer potential.

Steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) seems more herb than shrub to me but it’s in the spirea family of many shrubs. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin. I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is having a good year and I see the big flower heads everywhere, but despite their abundance I’m not finding more flower heads with the tiny purple / reddish floret at their center like this example has. Though another name for this plant is “wild carrot” you had better know exactly what you’re doing if you dig and eat the root because there are very similar plants like water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) that are among the most dangerously toxic plants known.

Legend says the tiny purplish / reddish flower at the center of the flower head is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators, but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. These flowers are tiny and very hard to see, much less get a photo of. This is the first time I’ve seen several in a cluster like this.

The first time I saw this plant a couple of years ago I thought it was some type of vining honeysuckle but the tiny flowers and its white latex sap pointed me in the direction of milkweeds.

But the tiny flowers weren’t right for a milkweed so I tried dogbane, which is in the milkweed family. I finally found that it is called Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum,) which is also called dogbane hemp. It is a poisonous plant which can cause cardiac arrest if ingested but it’s also a great source of strong fibers and was used by Native Americans to make nets, bow strings, fishing lines, clothing, and twine. Some tribes also used it medicinally despite its toxicity to treat rheumatism, coughs, whooping cough, and asthma.

One of the chief identifiers for Indian hemp are the pretty plum colored stems.

What would a garden be without a phlox or two? They’re so beautiful; it’s hard not to love them. And many are fragrant as well.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) has been in this country for a very long time, having been brought over as a garden flower by a Welsh Quaker in the late 1600s. It was used medicinally at least since the 1400s and modern science has shown the plant to have diuretic and fever reducing qualities. As if that weren’t enough it’s also used as a cut flower by florists because they are so long lasting when cut. I found these examples blooming in a waste area by a music store and I enjoyed seeing them.

I’ve been wondering what these flowers were for at least two years and I think I’ve finally found their name: Lizard tails! (Saururus cernuus.) They look like little hedgehogs to me but somebody saw a lizard tail so that’s their name.

The flowers are pretty and there are many of them on each flower head. Though I’ve never seen it in the wild it turns out that the plant is native to eastern North America, where it grows in shallow water. Its leaves look like the smartweed family to me but I’m not sure if it is related. It is said to have medicinal properties and was once used to treat inflammation, but science has found that it is toxic. The crushed leaves are thought to smell like sassafras.

Little things seem nothing but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air. ~George Bernanos

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1. Pickeral Weed

Pickerel weed likes to grow in shallow water and the large amounts of it growing along the shoreline of the Ashuelot River tell the story of how low the water level is. We still haven’t seen any more rain than a quick moving downpour or two and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much pickerel weed here.

2. Button Bush

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long white styles sticking out of the tubular the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

3. Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person name.

In any event Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is a common late summer sight in wet meadows. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area.

4. Gray Goldenrod

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a strong wind that blew them over to one side of the stem.

5. Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is having a good year and I see the big flower heads everywhere, but despite their abundance I’m not finding more flower heads with the tiny purple / reddish floret at their center. Though another name for this plant is “wild carrot” you had better know exactly what you’re doing if you dig and eat the root because there are very similar plants like water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) that are among the most toxic plants known.

6. Queen Anne's Lace Close-3

Legend says the tiny purplish / reddish flower at the center of the flower head is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. This example had plenty of insects on it but I don’t know if they were pollinators. They looked more like fleas.

7. Rabbit's Foot Clover

Invasive rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) is short enough to be forced to grow right at the edge of the road if it wants to get any sunshine, so the roads look like they have been festooned with fuzzy pink ribbons for a while each summer. It’s an annual that grows new from seed each year and the seedlings must be tough, because they don’t seem to mind being occasionally run over, or the poor dry soil found along the road side. In fact they seem to thrive in it. I see more plants each year.

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Golden clover (Trifolium campestre) is another imported clover originally from Europe and Asia. It is also known as large trefoil and large hop clover. The plant was imported through Philadelphia in 1800 to be used as a pasture crop and now appears in most states on the east and west coasts, and much of Canada, but it is not generally considered aggressively invasive. Each pretty yellow flower head is packed with golden yellow pea-like flowers. I see the plant growing along roadsides and in sandy waste areas.

9. Liatrus

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susan and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of some of the more than 43 varieties of liatris. They are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

10. Bull Thistle

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. I don’t know if it was imported intentionally or accidentally. This example was in the middle of a huge plant, easily the biggest thistle plant that I’ve ever seen, and an ouch or two could be heard while I snapped the shutter.

11. Bumblebee on Thistle

Bees love the thistle blossoms and of course that’s exactly why it has been so successful in spreading.

12. Creeping bellflower

Blue, bell shaped flowers all on one side of the stem can mean only one thing; creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides.) The pretty flowered plant was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in dry places that get full sun. It is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom. It is an invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It will choke out weaker native plants and seems to love colonizing gardens when it is left alone. I usually find it on forest edges.

13. Winterberry

If you are trying to attract wildlife to your yard and have a pond or a swampy area then our native winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is an excellent choice of native shrub. They like very wet soil and, like other hollies, need male and female plants to produce fruit. The white flowers are tiny; barely more than 1/8 inch across, and can have up to eight petals. When pollinated they will become bright red berries and, because the berries have a low fat content, birds and animals eat them quite late in the season, so the berries color the landscape for most of the winter.

14. Purple Phlox

I found some beautiful purple phlox growing on the unmown side of a road. The flower heads were quite large and anyone with a garden would have been happy to have had them in it. I’m guessing that’s just where it escaped from; I doubt that it’s native but it certainly is beautiful.

15. Tick Trefoil, Pointed-leaf

This is the first time pointed leaved tick trefoil (Desmodium glutinosum) has appeared on this blog because I’ve never seen it before. It’s a plant that doesn’t mind shade and I found a few blooming examples at the edge of a forest recently. I don’t have a good shot of the foliage but you can just make a few of the sharply pointed leaves out on the left side of this photo.

16. Tick Trefoil, Pointed-leaf (Desmodium glutinosum)

Bright purplish pink, stalked flowers are clustered in long straight spikes (racemes.) It’s easy to see that they’re in the pea family but unlike some pea flowers, the reproductive parts are not completely hidden. The white pistil rises up and out of the keel. If pollinated each flower will grow into a green, flat seed pod with 2 or 3 jointed triangular segments that are very sticky. The seed pods will even stick to bare skin and they are where the “tick” in tick trefoil comes from.

17. Tick Trefoil, Pointed-leaf

You have to look closely to see the slightly curved white pistil rising from the keel of the pointed leaved tick trefoil flower. I can’t think of another flower in the pea family like it.

18. Unknown

Here’s a little flower that has had me scratching my head for about a week. Though I’ve looked in every wildflower book I own and have searched on line I can’t identify it. It grew in pure sand and full sunlight in a waste area by the side of a road. The plants were about 3-4 inches tall and had several blooms on each plant. The leaves were narrow and sword shaped, and pointed on the tip. Each flower is so small that I can see color but not the shape without help from a loupe or a photo. I’m guessing that each one is no more than 1/8 inch across-even smaller than those of red sandspurry. I wonder if anyone knows what it is. It’s a beautiful little think and I’d love to know its name.

You find peace by coming to terms with what you don’t know.  ~Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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1. Coneflower Seed Head

When I walk through the fields and forests in the fall I’m always struck by the great abundance of food that nature provides, from seeds to nuts to berries. Everything from bees to birds to bears relies on it and it’s always good to see a year like this one when they can easily find plenty.  Some is saved and not eaten right away but coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) like the one in the above photo always seem to be stripped of seeds almost as soon as they form. Goldfinches especially love these seeds.

2. Aster Seeds

If you’d like a photographic challenge try a shot of a single aster seed. If that seems too easy try it when the wind is blowing. Turkeys, goldfinches, sparrows, chipmunks, and white-footed mice all eat aster seeds. There are so many asters that the seed heads last through most of the winter.

3. Milkweed

There is one oddity in this post and this is it. Though I’ve searched several times for birds, animals or insects that eat milkweed seeds (Asclepias syriaca) over the years I can’t find a single one that does. It’s hard to believe that a plant would produce so many seeds when they don’t get eaten, but milkweed seeds apparently aren’t eaten by anything. Or if they are, scientists don’t seem to know much about it.

4. Buttonbush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) grows along rivers and streams and this is the perfect place for ducks and other waterfowl to get at the seeds. Deer feed on the shrub’s leaves and wood ducks often nest in its thicket like branches. Native Americans chewed its bark to relieve toothache pain.

5. Winterberry

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is our only deciduous native holly. Many birds including robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and cedar waxwings love these berries and will eat them throughout winter. Though the berries are toxic it is thought that their toxicity lessens the longer they stay on the shrub, so that might help explain why many of the berries can still be found in late winter.

6. Grapes

It’s a great year for grapes; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many on the vines. These in the photo are river grapes (Vitis riparia), so called because they grow on the banks of rivers and streams. They are also called frost grapes because of their extreme cold hardiness. The freeze we had finished the leaves on this vine but not the fruit, which probably became sweeter. Many birds eat these small grapes including cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, robins, wood ducks, several species of woodpecker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, and turkeys. Many animals also love grapes, including foxes, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and opossums. Deer will eat the leaves and new shoots and many birds use the bark for nest building; especially crows.

7. Apples

In the mid-1800s for several different economic reasons the bottom fell out of farming in this area and many farms were abandoned, with the farmers and their sons going off to work in the woolen, shoe and paper mills that were springing up everywhere in New England. What they left behind is mostly gone now except for many miles of stone walls, an occasional cellar hole, and apple orchards. It isn’t at all unusual when out in the middle of nowhere to stumble upon apple trees that are still bearing bushels of fruit. Of course since they receive no care the apples aren’t very good for much besides cider, but many animals and birds love them. Deer and bears will travel long distances for ripe apples and just the other day I saw two gray squirrels fighting over a half-eaten one. Robins, blue jays, bobwhites, cardinals, cedar waxwings, crows, grackles, downy woodpeckers, bluebirds, grosbeaks, catbirds, hairy woodpeckers, house finches, mockingbirds, orioles, purple finches, red-bellied woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, and titmice all eat apples.

8. Virginia Creeper

Though Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are poisonous to humans many birds love them, including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds chickadees, and turkeys. So do mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. I’ve read that birds are attracted more to red fruits than the blue black berries of Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having red leaves and stems in the fall. When the birds land amidst all the attractive red hues they find and eat the berries. Since thirty five species of birds eat them it must be a successful ploy.

9. Partridge Berry

I don’t know about partridges, but I do know that turkeys eat the berries of partridge berry plants (Mitchella repens) because I’ve seen them doing so. Bobwhites, grouse, red foxes, skunks, and white-footed mice are also said to eat them. This little trailing, ground hugging vine makes a great native groundcover if you’re looking to attract birds and wildlife.

10. Poison Ivy

I’ve always suspected that birds or animals were eating poison ivy berries (Toxicodendron radicans) because they disappeared so quickly, but it wasn’t until I visited Grampy’s Goat Sass Farm blog that I saw photos of them actually doing so. By the way, if you’re a bird lover you’d be wise to visit Grampy’s blog; you’ll see some of the most amazing photos of them that you’ve seen, including bald eagles. For example I saw some photos of warblers, chickadees and sparrows eating these poisonous berries and thought Ah ha, I knew it! I’ve since read that vireos, cardinals, goldfinches, woodpeckers, deer, black bears, muskrats and rabbits consider the berries a delicacy. For a human, eating these berries would be a very bad idea. People have nearly died from getting the rash produced by poison ivy inside their bodies.

11. Burning Bush

Unfortunately birds also love the berries of the highly invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and spread the seeds everywhere, so it isn’t uncommon to find a stand of them growing in the woods. I know a place where hundreds of them grow and though they are beautiful at this time of year not another shrub grows near them. This is because they produce such dense shade it’s hard for anything else to get started. The sale and cultivation of the shrub is banned in New Hampshire. There are many native shrubs that make a good substitute.

12. Barberry

Another highly invasive plant with berries that are loved by birds is the Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii.) In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. These thickets are so thorny that only the smallest animals can get through them so for years the plant was used for hedges.

European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) also grow in parts of New England but each of those has clusters of three or more thorns while Japanese barberry has a single thorn, as can be seen in the above photo. Thorn count is a good identifying characteristic when the plants have no leaves. This is another shrub that is banned in New Hampshire but I don’t think we’ll ever stop its spread.

13. Rose Hips

Rose hips are a fruit that’s good for birds, animals, and humans; they are one of the richest sources of vitamin C known. During World War 2 vitamin C syrup was made from rose hips because citrus fruits were almost impossible to find. The best rose hips for harvesting are found on Rosa rugosa, named for the wrinkled (rugose) surface of its leaves. Personally I like to leave them for the birds and animals. Squirrels, rabbits, deer, bears, moose, and coyotes are animals that are known to eat rose hips. Birds include blackbirds, robins, grouse, juncos, bluebirds, grosbeaks, pheasants, quail, and thrushes.

14. Shadbush

Shadbush (Amelanchier arborea) is a tree with a lot of historical baggage. The Native American food pemmican was flavored by its fruits along with dried meat and fat. Natives also made arrow shafts from its dense, hard wood and showed early colonists how to use the blue-black berries. The name shadbush comes from the way the trees bloomed in spring when the shad fish were running in New England Rivers. I recently found a spot where many of them grow and they were heavily laden with fruit, which surprised me because bluebirds, cardinals, cedar waxwings, gray catbirds, orioles, red squirrels, and scarlet tanagers all eat the fruit. Beavers and deer eat various other parts of the tree but I didn’t see any signs of them either. It seems odd that there would be so much fruit left and I wonder why the birds and animals haven’t eaten it.

15. Shagbark Hickory

We have many different nut trees here in New Hampshire, including beechnuts, walnuts, butternuts, hazelnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts. We have several hickories here including bitternut and shagbark, like the one in the above photo. Unfortunately most of our chestnuts were wiped out by blight in the early 1900s, but I’ve heard rumors of them possibly making a comeback.

16. Shagbark Hickory

Bears, deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, grouse, pheasants, and wood ducks are just some of the animals and birds that eat our native nuts. Without nuts many forest animals and birds wouldn’t survive.

17. Acorns

I’ve never seen so many acorns on the ground as we have this year. A single large oak can produce 15,000 acorns in a good year and there are so many on the ground right now that walking the trails is like trying to walk on marbles. The blue jays, pigeons, ducks, woodpeckers, squirrels, mice, chipmunks and other birds and animals are having an easy time of it, thankfully. I ate some red oak acorn meat once when I was a boy and I don’t think I’ll ever forget how bitter it was, but acorns were the main food source for many Native Americans tribes who knew how to remove the bitterness.

If you’d like to try to make flour from acorns as the natives did, choose only those with their caps still on, because when acorns are ripe they normally fall fully dressed. Usually only the added weight of a worm thrashing around inside can make them break free from their caps while still on the tree, and you don’t want wormy acorns.

18. Gray Squirrel

My little smiling friend seemed very happy to see such abundance in the forest but it isn’t always this way. Plants go through cycles and sometimes a year of abundance can be followed by a year of scarcity. One way to help animals and birds survive the winter is by planting native trees, shrubs and plants. Our natives often have beautiful flowers as well as fruit that animals and bids love, so you really can’t go wrong in choosing them.

Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits. ~Samuel Butler

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Over the course of the almost 5 years that I’ve had this blog I’ve seen many things that have gotten my goat. That’s New England Yankee speak for something that angers you, by the way.  Anyhow, I’ve decided that keeping my mouth shut about these annoyances is accomplishing nothing except allowing them to continue, so I welcome you to the first installment of Things that get my goat. Maybe I’ll hear from others who are also bothered by these things. I can’t be the only one.

1. Gomarlo's Market

At one time there was a small grocery store that stood very close to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey, New Hampshire. You wouldn’t have had to walk too far behind the car in this 1952 photo to have reached the covered bridge that crossed the river, and still crosses it today. Not too long ago, a couple of years I think, I watched this building being torn down and it was then that I heard rumors of a town park being built on the property. I didn’t have a good feeling about that.

2. Terracing

The park, as it stands now, seems to consist of granite block terracing and an expanse of crab grass. It reminds me of an amphitheater, but if you sat on these granite blocks you would look out on more crabgrass, so I’m not sure amphitheater is the right word.

3. Fake Stone Wall

The park is sunken below street level and the retaining wall where it meets the street was once part of the foundation of the store in the first photo. Now concrete blocks that are supposed to look like stone are used as a retaining wall.

4. Fencing

A new fence was installed and it makes sense because there is a 7-8 foot drop from street level down to where the riverbank starts.

5. Cut Embankment

What doesn’t make sense is what was done to the riverbank. All of the shrubs and wildflowers that once grew there have been cut down, and what is left is an ugly scar.

6. Ashuelot Wildflowers

This photo I took last year shows what this section of the river bank once looked like. There were lupines, ox-eye daisy, birds foot trefoil, asters, yarrow, goldenrod, button bush, silky dogwood, smooth and staghorn sumacs, Virginia creeper, and many other plants and shrubs that were important to the birds, waterfowl and other wildlife in the area.

7. Thompson Bridge

One of the things Swanzey is known for its covered bridges. This one was built in 1832 and is called the Thompson Bridge, named after the playwright Denmon Thompson, who lived in town. Of open lattice design, it has been called the most beautiful covered bridge in New England and it draws a lot of tourists to the area. Tourists easily translate to income and the cutting has opened up the view so they can see the bridge better. I understand that; it seems like a valid reason. But what I can’t understand is why all of these plants had to be butchered back to ground level when more selective cutting would have opened up the view and left a riverbank overflowing with blooming shrubs, vines, and wildflowers. Why not have someone who knows what they’re doing come and at the very least give their opinion about what should be done before just hacking away at it?

8. Ashuelot Wildflowers

Because what once looked like this…

9. Butchery

…now looks like this. I doubt very much that tourists are going to be drawn to this. Are there more “improvements” in store, I wonder? I have to say that I hope not. Over there on the upper right is where one of only two examples of chicory plants that I knew of grew. The beautiful blue flowers would have pleased the tourists more than this empty riverbank, I think.

10. Silky Dogwood

At this time of year the beautiful blue berries of silky dogwood hung out over the water.

11. Cedar Waxwing

You might say “big deal, sumacs and silky dogwoods grow everywhere, so who cares if we cut a few of them down?” Well, the cedar waxwing in the above photo probably cares. They rely heavily on silky dogwood berries at this time of year and when I was on the bridge watching one recent evening he and many of his cousins kept flying to where the shrubs used to be, as if they couldn’t figure out why there were no berries there. Who knows how many generations of birds have been taught to forage here?

And that’s saying nothing about the 25 species of ducks and 28 species of birds that feed on buttonbush seeds. Or the robins, bluebirds, crows, mockingbirds and 300 species of songbirds that feed on the sumac berries. Or the raccoons, rabbits, muskrats and squirrels that used the shrubs for cover and food. Or the birds that nest in the thickets the shrubs create. Or the bees, butterflies and other insects that feed on the wildflowers.

As John Muir once said: When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

12. Cedar Waxwing

The saddest and most ironic part of this story is, I think, how just a few hundred yards downriver on the other side of the bridge a 250 year old timber crib dam was torn down in 2010. At the time that section of river bank was also “improved” and good money was paid by taxpayers to plant native shrubs and trees there. Many of the shrubs that were planted are silky dogwoods!

So here we are on one side of the bridge spending tax dollars to plant silky dogwood while on the other side of the bridge, just a couple of hundred yards away, we’re busy paying more tax dollars to cut them all down. I’m sure this must make sense to someone somewhere who probably wouldn’t know a dogwood from a dandelion, but it makes absolutely no sense to me.

13. Uncut Riverbank

Just as ironic is how most of the native wildflowers were cut and good sized patches of purple loosestrife, one of the most invasive plants that we have in this area, were left standing. There are still one or two goldenrods, asters and smartweeds growing here but they won’t be able to compete against the loosestrife. It will eventually win out.  Instead of using it to cut down native plants would the money be better spent trying to eradicate invasive species along the river bank? There are many, including Japanese barberry, burning bush, and oriental bittersweet. They’ve taken over the woodland just downriver from here.

14. Clouded Sulfur Butterfly

Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance. ~Theodore Roosevelt

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Kayaking With Friens on the Old Skatahootchie

Some friends of mine live on a local pond and recently we went exploring in our kayaks. The pond is fed by a wide, shallow stream that was as smooth as glass. It winds in and out between small wooded islands and the shore line and was a beautiful place to explore. None of us knows the name of the stream so I told my friends that I was going to call this photo Kayaking with friends on the old Skatahootchie. I don’t know why the word Skatahootchie popped into my mind, but it did. Maybe it means botanical abundance.

2. Mad Dog Skullcap

I’ve been walking the shores of ponds and lakes for many years and have found one or two mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants here and there, but in this place great bunches of them grew along the shoreline. I would have gotten a good close up of one for you but I’ve discovered that keeping a kayak from moving while trying to get a photo is darn near impossible. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. There is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. 3. Pickerel Weed

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) grew here and there but wasn’t as prevalent as I’ve seen in some other ponds. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid.

4. Kayaking

It was easy to be stunned into silence by the beauty of this place and at times floating through it seemed like floating through a dream. There might not be a heaven on earth, but there are still pieces of Eden left. 5. Fragrant White Water Lilies

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are still in bloom. There are certain flowers that are beautiful enough to make me want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. Some say the scent of fragrant white water lilies reminds them of honeydew melon. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds, so if you see some and come back a week later and find that they’re gone, you aren’t imagining things.

6. Yellow Water Lily Seed Pod

It isn’t often that we get to see a yellow pond lily (Nuphar luteum) seed pod, so I thought I’d get a photo of one while the kayak was handy. This one still had its petals attached. The seeds of this plant 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. 7. Pipewort

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area. In fact, I know of only one pond that it grows in, so I had to hike a bit to see it. The plants grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers. I’ve found that this plant is very hard to get a good photo of.

8. Pipewort

Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I wish I had a better photo to prove it. 9. Bur Reed

Bur reed is another plant found growing just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down. The female flowers are less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

10. Buttonbush Flower 2

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a shrub that I often find overhanging rivers and streams. It’s very easy to identify when it’s flowering because the inch diameter spherical flower heads don’t resemble those of any other native shrub that I know of. The fragrant, long white, tubular flowers each have an even longer style that makes the whole flower head look like a spiky pincushion. Once pollinated the flower heads become hard brown seed heads made up of small, two seeded nutlets that are a favorite of ducks and shore birds. Not surprisingly the first part (genus) of the scientific name Cephalanthus comes from the Greek words cephalo, meaning head and anthos, meaning flower.

11. Dwarf St. Johnswort aka Hypericum mutilum

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. These flowers are about the same diameter as a pencil eraser and, since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

12. Arrowhead Flowers

Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is another plant that grows just off shore in ponds but it can also be found it ditches and other wet places. The tuberous roots of this plant are said to have the texture of potatoes but to taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour.  Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

13. Arrowheads

All the arrowhead leaves pointed heavenward and looked as if they were about to lift off, and the damselflies hung on for the ride.

14. Frog

Mr. Frog knew that if he stayed very still I wouldn’t see him and neither would the damselfly. I think he’s a green frog rather than a bullfrog but I can’t ever seem to feel 100% certain of my amphibian identifications.

Note: Jim at the jomegat blog has identified this frog as a female bullfrog, so I wasn’t even close. Thanks Jim!

15. Raft

When I saw this old raft my boyhood came rushing back in the form of many pleasant memories of building rafts with friends. They never did float us down the Ashuelot River to the Atlantic but we sure had fun building them, imagining all the while the great adventures we would find. Kayaking is kind of like a rafting-maybe that’s why it’s so much fun.

Discovering this idyllic place, we find ourselves filled with a yearning to linger here, where time stands still and beauty overwhelms. ~Anonymous

Thanks for coming by.

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The blooming time is very short for spring ephemeral wildflowers so the chances are good that you’ll see them on just about any nature blog that you visit now, and rightly so- seeing them on a blog is the only way a lot of people get to see them. But, there are many other beautiful garden flowers blooming now that I think deserve a little bit of our time as well, so here are a few of those.

This native plant is called the pasque flower (Anemone patens.) “Pasque” refers to Easter, and some call it the Easter Flower. Others call it meadow anemone.  They are cold lovers that grow naturally on the tundra and prairies of Canada and the U.S. The showy lavender “petals” are actually sepals. The plant is in the buttercup family along with other plants like clematis, which I think it resembles. The seed heads that follow the flowers are also very showy. The pasque flower was used by Native Americans in childbirth but is considered toxic. Rabbits and deer will not eat it, so it is good in gardens that get night time critter visits. This Japanese bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) grows in my yard and this is the earliest I’ve ever seen it bloom. These large plants are “summer dormant” so their foliage will yellow and die back to the ground by the end of June. This fern leaved or fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) also grows in my yard, and it’s blooming right on schedule. This is a native shade lover that will bloom until frost. I found this shrub growing in a local park and have no idea what it is. I think it might be a button bush (Cephalanthus,) but haven’t been able to positively identify it yet. I found this flowering crabapple (Malus) growing in a vacant lot. It was a true dwarf tree that was no more than 7 feet tall and was absolutely covered with pink, very fragrant flowers. It was a tree that any homeowner would love to have as a landscape specimen, but there it was in a vacant lot. Oh well-maybe more people are able to enjoy it that way. This barberry (Berberis) was also growing in the park, I thought the tiny yellow flowers and the deep maroon foliage were a nice combination. They were also quite difficult to get a decent picture of. There are several deep maroon /purple colored barberry hybrids with yellow flowers. This bishop’s hat or barrenwort (Epimedium) grows alongside some maidenhair fern in my yard. Some think that the tiny flowers resemble miniature columbine (Aquilegia.) This is a low growing plant that makes an excellent groundcover for shady areas; in my yard it might get an hour of sunlight each day. Bishop’s hat shouldn’t be confused with bishop’s cap, also called miterwort (Mitella,) which is an entirely different plant. I bought this shrub last year and planted it in my yard at the edge of the forest and so far am very happy with it. It’s from Japan and in the rose family so it is called Japanese rose (Kerria japonica.) Each lemon yellow blossom is about the size of a nickel. When fully grown it will be 6-8 feet tall and covered with thousands of flowers in early spring. Is this an azalea or a rhododendron? Gardeners haggle over which is which but the differences between them are so slight that botanists don’t separate the two; to a botanist they are all rhododendrons. The flowers on this small shrub were so beautiful that at the time I didn’t care what it was, but now I see that it’s an azalea. How? Most rhododendron blossoms will have 10 stamens while most azaleas have five or six, so counting the stamens will usually tell you what it is.I didn’t care much for the color of this dwarf bearded iris that I found growing in the park, but it has to take the prize for the earliest blooming iris that I’ve seen. This plant is called spurge and it is in the euphorbia family, which contains over 2000 species of plants including poinsettia, cassava, and many popular house plants. The variety shown here is called Euphorbia polychroma, variety “Bonfire.” If deer and rabbits have eaten your plants this is a good replacement, because they won’t touch it. Many plants in the euphorbia family have a milky, toxic sap. The longer yellow “petals” are actually bracts; the flowers are the very small yellow parts in the center of the bloom.

 I don’t think the early 80 degree temperatures we had in March forced the creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) into early bloom, but the plants seem to be blooming much longer than they usually do. I think it has been close to a month now that this plant in my yard has bloomed non stop.

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.  ~Vincent Van Gogh

I hope you haven’t minded straying away from wildflowers for a time. Flowers are beautiful whether wild or tame, so I think they all deserve equal time. Thanks for stopping by. Don’t forget mom’s day tomorrow!

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