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Posts Tagged ‘Canada Mayflower’

I was afraid our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) were late this year but it turned out to be impatience on my part that made it seem so. As this photo shows, they’re doing fine. These plants shown grow in a wet roadside ditch but it hasn’t rained enough to amount to anything for a while now, so their ditch has gone dry.

I’ve noticed the curl on the petals of these and other flowers. This is usually a sign of stress, in this case dryness. I’ve also notice the level of water in our river is low and lawns are starting to burn. It’s hard to believe after all the rain we had this spring. The name “flag” comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves. Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic. I’m happy just admiring their beautiful flowers.

Pretty little bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Just like the dogwood tree flower the large (relatively) white bracts of bunchberry surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give it its common name. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Dogwood (Cornus) blossoms have 4 large white bracts surrounding the actual small greenish flowers in the center, just like bunchberries. They have both just come into bloom.

Plant breeders have been working on tradescantia and I’ve seen purple and white flowered varieties as well as the standard blue. I find this purple flowered one in a local park. Interesting but I like the blue that I grew up with best. Bees, especially bumblebees, seem to like this one best though. Why that is, I don’t know.

I think this is my new favorite tradescantia, at least for this year. The white flowers with a hint of blue mixed in make for a striking blossom, in my opinion. This is the first year I’ve ever seen it and, since it was growing in a clump of blue flowered plants, I wonder if it isn’t a natural hybrid.

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

When I was a boy we had a hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth. The one pictured looked and smelled just like those old cabbage roses and I had a hard time leaving it. It brought back a lot of great memories.

One of the strangest little flowers I find in the woods hides under the tiered, whorled leaves of the Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) and they have just started blooming.

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. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. Native Americans used Indian cucumber roots as food. As 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.

False Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) have just started blooming. The largest example I’ve seen was close to three feet tall but normally they grow lower to the ground with an arching growth habit. They always seem to have tiny black beetles on them and if you look closely you’ll see several on these blossoms.

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

A flower that will always say June to me is the Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare.) I was married in June and because we couldn’t afford flowers from the florist we picked hundreds of Ox eye daisies. They wilted quickly and looked much better in the meadow than in a vase, and I don’t think I’ve ever picked one since. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. I always like to see their spiraled centers.

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive but it does form monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. It grows in the shade of the forest and it does very well there. Its tiny white four petaled flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals, and of course they help its spread.

Red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) never looks red to me; it always looks purple. But whatever the color it always looks beautiful to me. When I can see it anyway. Red sandspurry was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s but it could hardly be called invasive. It is such a tiny plant that it would take many hundreds of them just to fill your shoe.

This photo of a red sandspurry blossom over a penny that I took a few years ago will give you an idea of just how tiny they are. Each one could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. For those who don’t know, a penny is .75 inches [19.05 mm] across. I’m guessing you could fit 8-10 blossoms on one.

There is a tree in a local park that I wondered about for years before finally discovering it was a red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) which is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) I’ve read that bees and hummingbirds love the beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

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

Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. I like its color and it’s nice to see it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses but it can be a real problem in gardens.

I once worked for a lady who absolutely loathed anemones and forbade me to plant them in her yard. I never heard the whole story so I don’t know why she had such a reaction to them, but when I pointed out that she already had anemones growing right there in her yard in the form of meadow anemones (Anemone canadensis ) she softened a bit. Since she had traveled and lived all over the world I’m guessing it must have been some type of foreign anemone she didn’t like. I’ve seen photos of a lot of different anemones from around the world and I’ve always thought they were beautiful, but what do I know? Meadow anemone is an old fashioned garden favorite that has much larger flowers than our other native wood anemone.  This plant is also called crowfoot because of the foliage. Native Americans used this plant for many different medical reasons.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today in fact, but I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the small, pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and other insects. The surface of the flower is roughly pebbled, presumably to make it easier for the butterfly to hang onto. Though it was used by Native Americans to treat pain and infections the plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some south eastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s.

Now that the common lilacs are done blooming the dwarf Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri) take over. They are fragrant but have a different scent than a common lilac. I recently walked through a park where dwarf lilacs, fringe trees, and black locusts, all very fragrant flowers, were all blooming at once and it was unbelievable. I thought I’d float away. Though called Korean lilac the original plant was found in a garden near Beijing, China by Frank Meyer in 1909. It has never been seen in the wild so its origin is unknown. If you love lilacs but don’t have a lot of room this one’s for you. They are a no maintenance plant that is very easy to grow.

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

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Last Sunday we had a day that was as close to perfect as a day could be, with sunny skies, low humidity and temperatures in the mid-seventies with a slight breeze, so I decided it was time for a climb. I chose the High Blue Trail in Walpole because it’s an easy, gentle climb that doesn’t wear me out. It also wanders through a beautiful forest.

The first thing I noticed was a colony of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara.) They had gone to seed but this one surprisingly still showed some color. It’s late for a spring ephemeral.

Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadensis) grew all along the trail, all the way to the overlook. Though this is a native wildflower it acts like an invasive, growing in huge colonies of tens of thousands, and it chokes out just about anything else. It also invades gardens and once it gains a foothold it’s almost impossible to eradicate. Its stem breaks off at the soil surface and the roots live on.

Canada mayflowers tiny four petaled white flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals, and that’s one way it spreads. Another way is by a thick mat of underground stems.

I saw a lot of wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) still blooming along the trail, which was a surprise. The ones in my yard stopped blooming a week or more ago, so I should check for berries. My kids used to love eating them, sun warmed and sweet.

Of course the trail has to go uphill but the grade isn’t steep and I think most people would find it an easy climb. My camera has trouble with such dappled light, high contrast scenes such as this one.

When I was up here in March the snow on the other side of this gate was nearly waist deep and I was forced to take a detour. I’m hoping I don’t see that much snow again until at least January.

The breeze lasted until I met this pink lady’s slipper orchid growing beside the trail, and then it turned into a wind that wouldn’t stop no matter how patient I was. After about 30 wasted shutter clicks I finally got one useable photo of it. This is the first pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) I’ve ever seen growing up here. The experience showed me just how much wing a lady’s slipper can take, and it’s quite a lot.

Though I’m sure these woods must be full of them this is the first Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana) I’ve ever seen here. This shot shows how the mature knee high plants have two tiers of whorled leaves. A whorl means the leaves radiate around the stem at the same place on it, so if you looked at a whorl of leaves from the side you would see the edge of a flat plane, like the edge of a plate.

The reproductive parts of this Indian cucumber root flower were much redder than the flower that I found along the Ashuelot River two posts ago.

Before I knew it I was at the cornfield that used to be a hay field. The farmer had planted his corn but it wasn’t up yet so I was able to walk the field without harming corn seedlings. Orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) usually grows here but it wasn’t blooming yet so I don’t have any to show you. Orange hawkweed is on the rare side in this area; I probably see one orange for every thousand yellow hawkweeds, and this is one of only two places I know of where it grows.

Here was a yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum,) just out of the bud. There were hundreds more just like it.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) just appeared in my last post but here it was again in the cornfield. I’m seeing a lot of these pretty little, aspirin size flowers this year.

The small pond near the overlook was covered in duckweed, as I expected. I used to wonder how it ever got up here until I read that the tiny plants  can get stuck in a bird’s feathers and move from place to place that way, so this duckweed probably found its way here via duck.

I loved the different colors of the pond’s surface. I was wondering why the blue reflection of the sky on water was always bluer than the sky itself when I heard a croak and a splash.

Hearing a croak and a splash while standing at the edge of a pond might not seem to be an earthshaking event until you realize that I’ve never seen a living thing in this pond other than duckweed. I looked to my left and there was a turtle so I took a photo of its shell because that’s all that showed. Then when I got home and looked at the shot I saw that the turtle was being watched by a frog, which showed up in the lower left. I never saw it when I was at the pond, but I heard it. How either one of them got way up here is anyone’s guess.

Once I was done playing at the pond I went on to the overlook. The sign let me know that I had arrived.

The view let me know too. That’s Stratton Mountain off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont. Stratton Mountain is a popular skiing mountain and because of our cold, snowy March they had an extended season this year. Thankfully it didn’t last into June.

You can just barely make out the ski trails through the haze, there on the right end of the mountain.

I love seeing the varying shades of blue on the distant Vermont hills. It’s a beautiful scene that seems like it would be so easy to paint; just a simple watercolor wash, but if I had it hanging on my wall would the real thing be as enticing? I can’t imagine not coming here anymore, so it probably would.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

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There is nothing special about this photo of a swamp, other than to mark the place where I heard the first red winged blackbird of this year. I haven’t seen any but I’ve heard them and that’s another sign of spring.

I hope the red winged blackbirds know what they’re doing because this frozen pond is right across the road from the thawed swamp in the previous photo. Our nighttime temperatures are still falling below freezing but I hear the birds each morning.

Half Moon Pond in Hancock certainly didn’t look very spring like after one of our many recent nor’easters. Before this cold came in March it looked like the ice would be gone in less than another week.

The wind blows strongly off Half Moon Pond almost all of the time, and this lake sedge (Carex lacustris) shows the direction. This sedge grows in large colonies near lakes, ponds, and wetlands and is native to Canada and the northern U.S. It is a pleasant shade of green in summer and can sometimes be the dominant plant along shorelines and in swamps. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds.

When I saw a mullein seedling (Verbascum thapsus) I realized that I had never seen another one, most likely because I wasn’t paying attention. It was every bit as wooly as its adult counterparts and ready to start photosynthesizing. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. This one was about the size of a baseball, or just over 9 inches.

I went to see my old friends the striped wintergreens (Chimaphila maculata) to see how they came through the winter and I was happy to see that they looked good and healthy. This is a plant I don’t see that often and I only know of three or four small colonies. Hopefully they will bloom and set seed in mid-July.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) grows near the striped wintergreens and also came through the winter looking well. This plant always reminds me of my grandmother because it was one of her favorites. The plant is also called mayflower and was once nearly collected into oblivion so the very fragrant blossoms could be used in nosegays, but it is now protected in many states. It relies heavily on a relationship with certain fungi mycelium in the soil and it absolutely refuses to grow anywhere that the mycelium isn’t present. Native Americans used to use the plant medicinally to break up kidney stones. It was so valuable to them that it was thought to have divine origins.

The basal leaves of hawkweed (and many other plants) often turn deep purple in winter. Many trees and other plants conserve a lot of energy if they don’t have to make  chlorophyll so in the fall many stop making it. When that happens other colors which were there all along start to show. Carotenoids make leaves orange and yellow and anthocyanins make them red, pink or purple. Anthocyanins can also protect leaves from getting sunburned in winter if they are evergreen.

Beaked willow gall is caused by a tiny midge laying its egg in a willow bud. The reddish galls usually form at branch tips in the fall and will house the fly larva all winter. It will eat the tissue in the gall until spring, when it will pupate and an adult midge will emerge. Winter is a great time to look for galls, which are often hidden behind leaves at other times of year.

I’m always amazed by how much red there is in highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and nothing shows it better than the witch’s brooms that are so common on these shrubs. On blueberries witch’s brooms are cause by a fungus that deforms branches or roots and causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. In my experience they don’t really harm the plant and can even be quite pretty with snow on them.

An old trick that gardeners sometimes use when they want to grow plants that aren’t hardy in their area is to plant the sensitive plats near a stone or brick wall. The mass of masonry absorbs the warmth of the sun during the day and releases it slowly at night, protecting the plants from frost damage. Sweet gum trees grow near such a sunlit wall at the local college and the above photo is of one of their seed pods (Liquidambar styraciflua.) Seeing these pods here seems very strange because sweet gum is thought of as a “southern tree,” and Massachusetts is the northern most point that it grows naturally. I never saw the seed pods as a boy but I wish I had because they’re interesting and hold their shape well when dried. They would have made a great addition to my collection of natural oddities.

The base of this eastern hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) was covered by what I think must be yellow green algae (Pleurococcus vulgaris.) These algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, on soil, stones and even on walls. Their closest relatives are said to grow in lakes and rivers, but these species can withstand some dryness. Fossil evidence shows that algae have existed for at least 540 million years.

A saw another hemlock that had a deep crack in its bark that ran straight and true from the ground to about 15 feet up. At first I thought it must be a frost crack but I’ve never seen one so long, so I’m guessing it must have been a lightning strike. Since it was an older wound there were no pieces of bark that might have been blown off lying around. I came upon a tree once that had been recently struck by lightning and there were strips of bark all over the ground. No matter how the crack was made I’m sure it made quite a loud noise when it happened.  On cold winter nights you can sometimes hear stressed trees cracking in the forest. It is sudden and sounds like a rifle shot.

The bud scales on many of the male alder catkins have gone from their deep winter purple to shades of pink, orange, red and brown. Soon the bud scales will open to reveal the yellow green flowers that will release the pollen to the wind. They become very beautiful at this time of year and sometimes when the light is right it looks like someone has strung ropes of multicolored jewels on all the bushes.

Boxwood (Buxus) is called man’s oldest garden ornamental because it has been used for hedges and specimen plantings for centuries. The early settlers thought so highly of it they brought it with them in the mid-1600s. The first plants were brought over 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. These examples I found in a local park were budded. They’ll bloom In late April or early May but so will many other flowers, so these small but pretty ones will probably be overlooked.

The willows seem to be in a holding pattern. They’ve had their fuzzy gray catkins for two weeks now but there are no signs of the bright yellow flowers yet. Maybe I’ll see some later today.

I was flabbergasted when I saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) still blossoming. They’ve been through three nor’easters and zero degree cold but there are at least five bushes still full of flowers, so I’d say they were well worth what it cost to buy them. I wish you could smell them. I’ve heard their scent compared to laundry taken in fresh from the line but another description I just read says a hint of citrus-maybe lemon-is there as well. They seem a bit spicy to me but it’s a very pleasant scent that you can smell from quite a distance.

It’s always nice to see budded daffodils in spring. These were coming along well in spite of the zero degree cold we’ve had. They grow near the brick wall of a building and I think the heat radiating off the wall keeps them warm at night, just like the sweet gum trees we heard about earlier.

Not all the daffodils were lucky enough to have a brick wall, and this is what happened to many of those that didn’t. This is the second year in a row that this has happened to these bulbs and I’m not sure if they’ll make it now. A bulb needs leaves to photosynthesize and build up the strength it needs to blossom the following year. With their first spring leaves dying off for two years now I doubt they have much strength left. If they were mine I’d dig and replace them with later blossoming bulbs. They’re a bit overanxious I think.

Sometimes sunlight on moss is really all I need. I pity those who spend their lives chasing after riches, all the while missing the incredible richness all around them.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy. ~Anton Chekhov

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This is the time of year when some of our most beautiful flowers appear. Lupines are blooming about a week early this year, so they’re in a May post rather than a June one as usual. I’m not sure if this example a native plant or a garden escapee but I was happy to see it blooming along a roadside. It’s such a beautiful shade of blue.

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) flowers have big plum colored anthers and that helps tell them apart from some of our other white flowered trees and shrubs. It is more shrub than tree and is considered an important forage plant. Bear, birds, rabbits, mice, chipmunks, deer, elk, moose, bear, and bighorn sheep eat various parts of the plant and ants, butterflies, honeybees, flies, and hummingbirds drink its nectar. Native Americans used all parts of the plant medicinally. The fruit was used for canker sores and sore throats and the roots were dried, chewed, and placed in wounds to stop bleeding. The stems were boiled to make tea to treat fevers. The small drupes have an edible outer fleshy layer but the single seed contains high levels of hydrogen cyanide and children have died from eating handfuls of them without removing the seed.

The rhododendrons have started blooming and this pink one was the first one I saw one recent rainy day.

After a poor showing last year the sweet little bunchberries (Cornus canadensis) seem to be doing well this year, and that tells me that they must like a lot of rain. This colony grows right up into the V made by the two trunks of this oak tree near my house and it seems to be doing well. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be so others can enjoy it.

 Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The large (relatively) white bracts surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give the plant its common name.  Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves, and this shot took many tries. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. This year they seem to be flowering well, so if that is true I suppose I should lower my expectations for next year. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should never be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive but it does form monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. It grows in the shade of the forest and, as the above photo shows, it does very well there. Its tiny white four petaled flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals, and of course they help its spread.

Though it is banned from being sold or planted here in New Hampshire invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is here to stay. Each tiny greenish flower will became a bright orange red berry that birds love, and they’ve helped spread this invasive shrub far and wide. Burning bush is also called winged euonymus.

Burning bush flowers are what a botanist would describe as insignificant, but the shrub has had a significant impact of the landscape, often growing in large colonies that choke out native plants.

There is a tree in a local park that I’ve wondered about for years. Each spring it is covered with beautiful red and yellow blossoms and I knew it was a horse chestnut but didn’t know anything else about it. Then recently I read on Mr. Tootlepedal’s blog of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) which is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) From what I’ve read I think this one is an example of that same tree. I also read that bees and hummingbirds love the flowers.

I find goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis) growing in a meadow in full sun. Luckily I was there in the morning because goat’s beard flowers close up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify. It is native to Europe but doesn’t seem to be at all invasive here. In fact I usually have trouble finding it.

At a glance it might be easy to confuse the large oval leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) with those of lady’s slippers, but they don’t have the deep pleats that lady’s slipper leaves have, and of course once the flowers appear there is no doubt. The two plants often grow side by side and bloom at the same time. It can take more than 12 years for blue bead lily plants to produce flowers from seed.

It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. Ants like them and they were crawling all over these plants. I like seeing both the pale yellow flowers and the blue berries that follow them. Their color has been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

Pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) have just come into bloom but I’m seeing far fewer of them than I did last year. I have a feeling that the drought last year must have affected them. But at least they’re here; there was a time when these plants were collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If the plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be.

For those who haven’t seen one, a pink lady’s slipper blossom is essentially a pouch called a labellum, which is a modified petal. The pouch has a slit down the middle, which can be seen in this photo. Veins on the pouch attract bumblebees, which enter the flower through the slit and then find that to get out they have to leave by one of two openings at the top of the pouch that have pollen masses above them. When they leave they are dusted with pollen and will hopefully carry it to another flower. It takes pink lady’s slippers five years or more from seed to bloom, but they can live for twenty years or more.

Our native azaleas have also just started to bloom. I haven’t held out much hope for the plant pictured because a tree fell on it two summers ago. It seemed to be hanging on by a thread last year but this year its strong will to live has it blooming beautifully again. It grows in a shaded part of the forest and is called early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination. I don’t know about that but it always makes me smile.

Beautiful little fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers often grow in pairs like those shown in the photo. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings” that give them the name gay wings. The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen.

You can just see in this photo how any weight on the brushy part of the fringed polygala flower would cause it to drop down and create an opening that a bee could crawl into. That pollination happens at all in a fringed polygala seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are more unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

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1-purple-cort

Do mushrooms wait until it rains before they fruit? This purple cort (Cortinarius iodeoides) would have me answer yes to that question because it’s the latest I’ve ever seen them. I usually find them in August. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of mycelium, which is found underground. The mycelium could be compared to a tree and the mushroom its fruit. The fruit is what we see growing above ground, but this fruit has spores instead of seeds. Rain helps mushrooms spread their spores., so it would make sense for them to wait for rain to fruit. We had a good day of rain recently and finally, here are the mushrooms. Purple corts often have a slimy cap and are toxic enough to make you sick. Slugs are the only critters that I’ve seen eat them.

2-velvet-shank-mushrooms

Velvet foot (Flammulina velutipes) mushrooms are considered a “winter mushroom” and they can usually be found from October through early spring. Though many say that they grow on logs I always find them growing in clusters on standing trees, particularly on American elm (Ulmus americana) as they were in this photo. They are very cold hardy and I sometimes find them dusted with snow. This group had just appeared and was very small; no more than an inch and a half high.

3-velvet-shank-mushrooms

On another nearby elm tree this grouping, probably about six inches from top to bottom, grew. The orange caps of these mushrooms often shade to brown in the center and are very slimy and sticky. The stem is covered in fine downy hairs that darken toward the bottom and that’s where their common name comes from. When the temperature drops below freezing on a winter day it’s a real pleasure to see them.

4-velvet-shank-mushrooms

Still another grouping of velvet foot mushrooms grew on another nearby elm, and these had reached full size, with caps maybe 3 inches across. Though the caps are slimy it was raining on this day so they were also wet. They aren’t usually this shiny. I’ve never been able to find an answer to the question of why some mushrooms wait until cold weather to fruit. Another one that is commonly seen when it gets cold is the fall oyster mushroom (Panellus serotinus.)

5-turkey-tails

Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) have been all but invisible this year but I did find the brown ones pictured here recently. I was hoping for another year like last year when they grew in beautiful shades of blue, purple, and orange but I suppose the drought has affected them. This bracket fungus gets its common name from the way it resembles a turkey’s tail, and according to the American Cancer Society there is some scientific evidence that substances derived from turkey tail fungi may be useful against cancer.

6-lion-s-mane-fungus-aka-hericium-americanum

Bear’s head, also called lion’s mane mushroom (Hericlum americanum) is a beautiful toothed fungus that looks like a fungal waterfall. Soft spines hang from branches that reach out from a thick central stalk. As it ages it will change from white to cream to brown, and the brown tips on this example means it has aged some. This one was small; about the same size as a hen’s egg, but I’ve seen them as big as a grapefruit. They seem to fruit toward the end of summer but this year they’re later than in recent years.

7-wolfs-milk-slime-mold

I keep my eye out at this time of year for what look like small, pea size white or pink puffballs. They aren’t puffballs though, so if you squeeze them you’ll be in for a surprise.

8-wolfs-milk-slime-mold

The “puffballs” are actually a slime mold called wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) and if you squeeze them when they’re young instead of the smoke like spores you would expect from a puffball, you often get pink or orange liquid. Though books say that the consistency is that of toothpaste I almost always find liquid like that seen in the photo. As it ages the liquid will become like toothpaste before finally turning into a mass of brown powdery spores. By that time the outside will have also turned brown and at that stage of its life this slime mold could probably be confused with a small puffball. I think these examples were very young.

9-fallen-tree

Something you don’t hear much about until you have a drought is how the dryness weakens the trees enough to make them topple over. Dryness can cause the root system to shrink and makes it hard for the roots to hold onto the dry soil. Without a good strong root system trees can become almost top heavy. Sometimes all it takes is a gust of wind to bring down a big tree like the one in the above photo, so you have to watch the weather before going into the woods. I just heard that, rather than a single summer of drought, this current one has been ongoing for about 4 years. Though that may be true this was the first year that it was so obviously dry in this corner of the state.

10-maple-leaf-viburnum

Falling trees or not I’ll be going into the woods because that’s where you find things like this beautiful maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) The leaves on this native shrub have an amazing color range, from purple to orange to pink, but they always end up almost white, with just a faint hint of pastel pink.

11-bittersweet-berries

There are many berries ripening right now and the birds are happy. Unfortunately they love the berries of invasive Oriental bittersweet and help it in its quest to rule the world. This vine is very strong like wire and as it twines its way around tree trunks it strangles them. Once it reaches the tree canopy it grows thickly and covers it, stealing all the light from the tree. It’s common to see a completely dead tree still supporting a tangle of bittersweet, and sometimes the vine is the only thing holding it up.

12-burning-bush-fruit

Another invasive that’s fruiting right now is burning bush (Euonymus alatus.) It’s a beautiful shrub in the fall but Its sale and importation is banned here in New Hampshire now because of the way it can take over whole swaths of forest floor. Birds love the berries 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.

13-canada-mayflower-berries

Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is described as “a dominant understory perennial flowering plant” and dominate it is, often covering huge swaths of shaded forest floor. It forms monocultures in forests and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. Its tiny white four petaled flowers become red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals. It’s a native plant that acts like an invasive.

14-cranberry

The native cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) have ripened and normally you’d get your feet wet harvesting them, but this year they were high and dry because of the drought. The pilgrims named this fruit “crane berry” because they thought the flowers looked like sandhill cranes. They were taught how to use the berries by Native Americans, who used them as a food, as a medicine, and as a dye. Bears, deer, mice, grouse and many other birds eat the fruit.

15-geese

Each year for as long as I can remember hundreds of Canada geese have stopped over on their way south in the fall to glean what they can from the cornfields. The harvester must spill quite a bit to feed such large flocks of geese.

16-sensitive-fern

Early settlers noticed this fern’s sensitivity to frost and named it sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis.) This fern loves low, damp places so when you see it it’s a fair bet that the soil stays on the wet side. I don’t know if they eat it or use it for bedding, but beavers harvest this fern and I’ve seen them swimming with large bundles of it in their mouth.

17-forsythia

A Forsythia couldn’t seem to make up its mind what color it wanted to be.

18-witch-hazel

Another odd thing about this drought is how trees like oak are loaded with acorns and shrubs like witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) have more flowers than I’ve ever seen. They’re very beautiful this year, and fragrant too.

19-monkshood

Witch hazels might be late bloomers but so is aconite, commonly called monkshood (Aconitum napellus.) It’s a beautiful flower which, if you look at it from the side, looks just like a monk’s hood.  This plant can take a lot of cold and its blooms appear quite late in the season. Though beautiful the plant is extremely toxic; enough to have been used on spear and arrow tips in ancient times. In ancient Rome anyone found growing the plant could be put to death because aconite was often used to eliminate one’s enemies. It is also called wolfbane, because it once used to kill wolves.

Beauty is something that changes your life, not something you understand. ~Marty Rubin

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1. Maiden Pink

Most wildflowers will be found in full sunshine away from the forest now and meadows and roadsides are just coming into bloom. The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows.

2. Bird's Foot Trefoil

Puffy little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is suddenly everywhere. It’s in the pea family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods, which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives.

3. Autumn Olive

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) was imported for cultivation from Japan in 1830 and is now one of the most invasive shrubs we have. It’s a plant that’s hard to hate though, because its berries are delicious and their content of lycopene is 7 to 17 times higher than tomatoes. Also, the pale yellow flowers are extremely fragrant just when lilacs finish blooming. It is a very vigorous shrub that is hard to eradicate; birds love its berries and spread it far and wide. Its sale is prohibited in New Hampshire but that will do little good now that it grows along forest edges almost everywhere you look.

4. Autumn Olive

Autumn olive was originally introduced for landscaping, road bank stabilization and wildlife food. The undersides of the shrub’s leaves are scaly and silvery and grow alternately along the stem. A closely related shrub, Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), has narrower silvery leaves with a smooth underside that appear oppositely arranged along the stem.

5. Canada Mayflowers

I think Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is the only plant in this post that grows in the shade of the forest and, as the above photo shows, it does very well there.

6. Canada Mayflower

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe Canada mayflower as invasive but it does form monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. Its tiny white four petaled flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals.

7. Beauty Bush

Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis.) originally came from China and is popular as an ornamental, but it has escaped cultivation in this area. I found the above example growing at the edge of a forest in dry, sandy soil. I find it only in this spot so it doesn’t seem to be at all invasive. It gets quite tall-sometimes 8 feet or more-and can get as wide, so it needs a lot of room. It is sometimes used as a hedge but it is difficult to trim once it gets above 6 feet tall, so it’s best to keep it on the short side. The trimmings are very itchy if they get inside your shirt as you’re trimming overhead.

8. Fleabane

Fleabane continues to bloom and always remind me of spring blooming asters. I believe this example is Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus,) which is our earliest blooming fleabane. It has inch to inch and a half diameter showy white to purple flowers. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center.

9. Rhody

Our rhododendrons follow the native azaleas into bloom. This one blooms in my yard. I’ve never known its name but I like it.

10. Multiflora Rose

Invasive multiflora rose originally came from China and as the old story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by hogging all the available sunshine and I’ve seen it grow 30 feet into a tree. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.

11. Multiflora Rose

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

12. Upright Bedstraw

Upright bedstraw (Galium album) is also called upright hedge bedstraw, and that name is perfect because it describes where this plant is found growing. Where the meadow meets the woods there can be found millions of tiny white, honey scented flowers lighting up the shade. Bedstraws hail from Europe and have been used medicinally for centuries. In ancient times entire plants were gathered and used as mattress stuffing and that’s where the plant gets its common name. The dried leaves are said to smell like vanilla in some species of Gallium and honey in others.

13. Upright Bedstraw

When I see it’s foliage before it blossoms the plant always makes me think of sweet woodruff, because its leaves grow in whorls along the stem just like sweet woodruff, which is also in the Galium family.

14. Smooth arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)

Smooth arrow wood (Viburnum dentatum) has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and is blooming along stream banks and drainage ditches right now. Native dogwoods are also beginning to bloom, but they have four petals and the viburnums have five. Dogwood flower clusters also tend to be much flatter on top and seem to hover just above the branch. Smooth arrowwood viburnum has a much more rounded flowering habit. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

15. Smooth arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)

There’s an awful lot going on in a viburnum flower head but taking a close look and counting a single tiny flower’s petals is the best way to tell it from a dogwood.

16. Heal All

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

17. White Water Lily

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have just come into bloom. Last summer I was with someone who crawled out on a plank to smell one of these beauties and he said the fragrance was very pleasant but impossible to describe. When I told him that others thought the fragrance was close to that of honeydew melon he said yes, maybe that’s it. Each beautiful blossom lasts only 3 days before the stem coils and pulls it underwater to set seeds. After several weeks the seeds are released into the water so currents can carry them to suitable locations to germinate. The stamens that glow at their center always remind me of a golden fire, and I love to see it burn.

A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions — so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect.  ~Terri Guillemets

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1. Trail Start

Last Saturday I decided to see if the hobblebushes were in bloom, so I followed one of my favorite rail trails out into the forest to see them. It’s a six mile round trip along the Ashuelot River and there’s usually plenty to see, so I’ve been looking forward to it.

2. Coltsfoot

Before I had walked half a mile I saw coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) growing in a ditch by the side of the trail and I was surprised that they were still blooming now, on this last day of April. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot leaves appear just as the flowers finish their brief display and there were plenty of leaves to be seen, so this is probably the last photo of a coltsfoot blossom to appear on this blog until next spring. It’s hard to say that; it seems like spring has barely gotten started.

4. Dandelion

We won’t have to go without yellow flowers though, even when the coltsfoot flowers fade. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) as we have this year. We should really grow (and eat) even more dandelions; I was just reading a paper by the University of Maryland Medical Center that said dandelions are “chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc.” When I was a boy I ate the young spring leaves cooked just as spinach would have been. Like lettuce the leaves turn bitter with age, so you want to pick them young.  I’ve also roasted and ground the roots to use as a coffee substitute, and it wasn’t bad.

5. Trestle

Before long the rail trail crosses the Ashuelot River in Winchester. The old steel trestles still seem as strong as when they were built and are used by hikers, snowmobilers and bike riders. Other than snowmobiles in winter no motorized vehicles are allowed on rail trails, so it’s always a very peaceful hike.

6. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot was calm here on this day, but it isn’t always so. Lack of runoff from snow melt has kept it at summer levels and it will be interesting to see how it looks in August, which is usually when it reaches its lowest levels in this area. In some places you can walk across it and barely get your ankles wet in high summer, but it would be wise know the place well before you try it.

7. Maple Leaves

Spring was busting out all over along the trail.

8. Depot

Ashuelot is a town named after the river, (I think) and this is their old railroad depot. There was once an upper Ashuelot (Keene) and lower Ashuelot (Swanzey) and Ashuelot streets and roads are still found today. The word Ashuelot is pronounced ash-wee-lot by out of towners or ash-wil-ot by locals. The pronunciation is most likely a corruption of the original Native American word, which meant “place between” in the Native Pennacook or Natick languages. Between what remains a mystery. Hills maybe; we have plenty of those and the river does run between them before finally joining the Connecticut River.

9. Ashuelot Covered Bridge

The town of Ashuelot also has a beautiful covered bridge built in 1864, which is a strange time because the Civil War was still raging. I’ve read that it was originally built so wood could be carried across the river to wood burning locomotives, but I have no way to verify that. Anyhow, in spite of the fighting it was built in two spans and is 160 feet long. It’s a Town lattice truss style bridge, patented by architect Ithiel Town in 1820. The open lattice work sides were a big step away from the solid walled bridges that came before it. Now, instead of being dark like a cave covered bridges were filled with light and had better air circulation. They also often had covered walkways for pedestrian traffic, as can be seen on this bridge. I’ve crossed both styles and the difference is amazing. The change must have been a very welcome one to people of the 1800s.  At one time there were about 400 covered bridges in New Hampshire, and 70 of them were left at the end of the 20th century. The Ashuelot Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

10. Violets

Violets blossomed in great profusion along the trail and made me wonder about all the beautiful things the railroad workers must have seen along these rail beds when the trains ran through here.

11. Violets

I didn’t bother trying to identify which violets they were. I just enjoyed them.

12. Garlic Mustard

I didn’t have to try to identify the invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) that grew in several places; I know it well.  Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It’s really too bad that more restaurants don’t use this potherb, because people foraging for it might be a good way to control it.

13. Canada Mayflower

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe the Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive, but it does form monocultures much like garlic mustard and I’ve seen large swaths of forest floor with nothing but Canada mayflowers, as the above photo shows.  Woe befalls the gardener who finds it in their garden, because its fibrous root system is almost impossible to eradicate once it has become established. If you try to pull the plant the leaf stem just beaks away from the root system and it lives on. The speckled red berries are eaten by ruffed grouse, white footed mice, and chipmunks, all of which help spread it throughout the forest.

14. Trail

I stopped here and took this photo because this is where a hawk circled over me, just above the treetops as I walked along. It didn’t make a sound but its shadow crossing in front of me gave it away and I didn’t even have to look up to know that it was escorting me down the trail. But of course I did look up and knew it was a hawk by the beautiful stripes on the underside of its tail feathers.  Unfortunately many hawks seem to have like stripes, so I don’t know its name. I’ve had vultures circle me but never a hawk; for it to do so for a few minutes seemed like odd behavior and I wondered if I had stumbled into its nesting site.

While trying to find the identity of the hawk I read that some Native American tribes believed that a hawk showed itself to a person when the person needed to pay attention to the subtle messages found in the natural world around them. The hawk was also a messenger and was said to bring gifts that included clear sightedness, courage, wisdom, and illumination, the ability to see the bigger picture, creativity, truth, magic, and focus.

15. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot gets very rocky in this area, mostly because of the low water level, and picking your way through in a canoe or kayak seems like it would be very tiring. If the rafts I built as a boy had done their job I would have had to face getting through it.

16. Pine Tree in River

There are other obstacles to river travel as well. That’s a full grown white pine (Pinus strobus) that was stuck on the rocks. White pines are the largest trees in eastern North America, and often grow to 150 feet tall. In Colonial times they were said to grow to over 200 feet but later verifiable accounts measured them ae about 180 feet. It’s a tall tree in any event and seeing one lying in the river like that reminds you just how big this river can be.

17. Bliss

There are places of bliss and torment in this world and we can usually tell which is which by the way we feel attracted to or repelled by them. This spot always calls to me when I hike here but when I took this photo I was about 30-40 feet above the river, and there is no good way down to it. It reminds me of an island in the river that I used to visit when I was a boy, and if I was 12 years old again I’d be spending a lot of my time down there in that little piece of Eden because if I couldn’t have found a path I’d have made one. Sometimes you have to put up with a little torment before you reach your place of bliss.

18. Hobblebushes

If you’ve ever lost yourself inside a painting, a poem, or a piece of music then you know why I’ll happily walk 6 miles to see a hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in bloom. To see an entire riverbank full of them is beauty rare enough to see me walk twice as far. There really isn’t anything else quite like it in these spring woods, so you have to just stop and look.

19. Hobblebush

I had to get a fallen tree off this example before I could take a photo because it had squashed most of the blossoming branches down to ground level, and as a thank you for freeing it the bush didn’t trip me up. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker. The name is a good one; I’ve found myself sprawled on the forest floor beside it a few times. I was a little early in visiting them this time so some of the small fertile central flowers hadn’t fully opened, but the large outer sterile ones more than made up for it. If it wasn’t for the rail trail through here no one would ever see these beautiful shrubs or the wild azaleas and mountain laurels that will follow, and that would really be too bad.

Note: A viburnum with similar flowers called cranberry bush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) can be found at nurseries.

20. Bent Railroad Tie

Someone made a bench out of an old railroad tie. Normally there wouldn’t be anything noteworthy about that but this one is bent, and that’s very strange. It must be natural, maybe because of the weather; I don’t think mankind could find a way to bend one of these in that way unless steam was used. Surely it wasn’t done out here in the middle of the woods with only hand tools.

21. Box Culvert

Man can do some remarkable things out in the woods with only hand tools though, and I wonder how many of these box culverts were built along these Boston and Maine Railroad tracks back in the mid-1800s. There must be thousands of them. This one caught my interest because every other one I’ve seen was put up dry with no mortar, but this one had all its joints mortared. I’m guessing it was a repair that came later. You can see how the bottom left corner of the opening is kicked in towards the center a bit and instead of repairing it correctly someone must have tried to cement it back together. How the damage could have happened in the first place I don’t know, but since I usually have a pocket full of mysteries when I leave places like this, adding one more was no real burden.

22. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots asked that I remember all I had seen here today. I’m fairly certain that it’ll stay with me for quite a while.

Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams. ~Ashley Smith

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Here are a few more of those odd or unusual things that I see which don’t seem to fit in other posts.

British Soldier Lichens

British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) are so small that I often can’t see them clearly when I try to get their photograph. I sometimes have to just set the camera down on the moss next to them, press the shutter release, and hope for the best. What you see is what the camera gave me this time. There is a very similar lichen called lipstick powder horn, but it doesn’t branch near its tips like this lichen does. Both kinds can be found on well-rotted fallen logs and stumps.

Bootstrap or Honey Fungus aka Armillaria mellea_gallica

Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms (Armillaria), which send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh these rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. I found the above example on a fallen tree that had lost its bark. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot. It kills many species of hardwood trees.

Honey Mushrooms

These are the honey mushrooms (Armillaria) that cause the bootstrap fungus shown in the previous photo. These were growing on a standing, living tree, but it probably won’t be living or standing long.

Canada Mayflower Fruit

Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) berries are ripe and their leaves have turned yellow. This plant is sometimes called two leaved Solomon’s seal or false lily of the valley. The “May” part of the name refers to its flowering time. Native Americans used the plant for headache and sore throats.

Brown Jelly Fungus

Brown jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) have started to appear on downed trees and limbs. This fungus can absorb water until it eventually weighs over 60 times its dry weight. When dry it becomes a tiny black speck, hardly noticeable on tree bark.

Dewy Web 2

It took all summer but I finally saw a dew covered spider’s web.

Large Fishing Spider aka Dolomedes tenebrosus on Goldenrod

I also saw a gargantuan spider on another web, built on a goldenrod that was leaning out over the river. The people at bgguide.net tell me this is a fishing spider but unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of its abdomen so they couldn’t tell me its scientific name. These spiders get their common name from the way that they occasionally catch fish. This one must have been at least 4 inches from leg tip to leg tip.

Wooly Bear

 According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the wider the brown stripe in the middle of the wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. “Between 1948 and 1956, Dr. C. H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, collected these caterpillars and counted the number of brown segments on each. Average brown-segment counts ranged from 5.3 to 5.6 out of the 13-segment total, meaning that the brown band took up more than a third of the woolly bear’s body. As those relatively high numbers suggested, the corresponding winters were milder than average.” In case you’re wondering, the one in the photo has about 5 1/2 brown segments.

Garter Snake

One day a small garter snake was pretending to be a stick. If it wasn’t for the stone I might have stepped on him.

Hawthorn Fruit

My color finding software sees hot pink, crimson, brick red, Indian red, and pale violet red in these hawthorn (Crataegus) fruits (berries). The fruit is high in pectin, so they are often added to other fruits when making jelly. Nobody seems to know how many species of hawthorn there are, but some say that it could be a thousand or more. Native Americans used the often tasteless fruit in ointments and other medicines.

Fern

Fall always starts at the forest floor and ferns show some of the most colorful signs that it has arrived.

Turkey Tails

Last fall and winter I didn’t see many turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) but this year there seems to be plenty of them. Like most mushrooms most of this fungus lies below the bark of the trees it grows on. I wonder if the width of the rings or “zones” reveals what the weather has done like the rings on trees do. Last year the few turkey tails that I saw had quite wide zones and, as the photo shows, this year they are very narrow.

Maple Leaf Viburnum

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) leaves seem to start out colored just about any color you can name in the fall, but after their red / yellow / orange/ purple phases all of the leaves eventually become a very pale, ghostly pink, making this shrub’s fall color among the most beautiful in the forest, in my opinion.

Unknown Wading Bird 2-2

I saw two of these wading birds probing the shore of a local pond. They weren’t very big-maybe a little bigger than a robin. I’ve been trying to identify them since I took their photos but haven’t had much luck. I think they must be some kind of sandpiper, but I can’t find one with spots on its back. If anyone reading this recognizes it is I / we would love to hear from you.

Update: This bird has been identified by two readers as a Solitary Sandpiper. Here is a link with a photo of that bird: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Solitary_Sandpiper/id

Unknown Wading Bird

Here is a side shot of the maybe sandpiper. They seemed to be finding plenty to eat in the pond shallows.

There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties. ~ John Muir

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This past week I was determined to find some real live, growing things. I’m happy to say that my quest was a success.

1. Pines

The snow has melted in the woods now, so both hiking and finding plants has become easier.

 2. White Clover

White clover (Trifolium repens) was looking very spring like in a ditch beside the road.

 3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot bloomed happily in yet another roadside ditch. Other than skunk cabbage, this is the first wildflower I’ve seen this spring. The plant’s lack of leaves and the scaly stems make coltsfoot hard to confuse with dandelions. Coltsfoot originally comes from Europe, Africa and Asia and is considered an invasive weed in some areas. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years, but it can be toxic to the liver if it isn’t prepared correctly.

 4. Coltsfoot Closeup

Composite flowers are highly evolved, and coltsfoot is a plant with this type of flower. It has flat, petal like ray flowers in a corolla around the outside of a central disk shaped area that holds disk flowers. Botanically speaking, each “flower’ on this plant is actually a flower head made up of many flowers. This photo shows the lily like, pollen bearing center disk flowers just starting to open.

 5. Little Brown Mushroom

I’ve seen several mushrooms, even when there was snow on the ground, and I’m convinced that many mushrooms that guide books describe as “late fall” mushrooms also grow in early spring.  There is a group of mushrooms called LBMs, (for little brown mushrooms) that can be very poisonous and are often hard to identify.  Since I haven’t been able to identify this one I’ll just call it a little brown mushroom.  I can’t vouch for its edibility, but I know that I wouldn’t eat it.

 6. Pussy Willow

Pussy willows can be seen everywhere now.

 7. Common Alder aka Alnus glutinosa Catkins

Every now and then nature will put something in your path that leaves you standing silently- awestruck at the beauty before you.  I had one of those moments when I saw hundreds of these beautiful male alder catkins (Alnus glutinosa) hanging from shrubs that surrounded a small pond.  Soon the wind will blow pollen from these catkins to the waiting female flowers.

8. Poplar Catkins

Two weeks ago these poplar (Populus) catkins were as small as pussy willows, but now they have lengthened in preparation for pollen release. The poplar family is split into 3 main groups:  the cottonwoods, the aspens, and the balsam poplars. This tree is in the aspen group. The female blossoms appear on different trees and, if pollination is successful, they will develop cottony seeds that will fill the air in May. The old New England Yankee name for this tree was popple.

9. Trailing Arbutus

The flower buds of our native evergreen trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens,) also called Canada Mayflower, are all set to bloom once it gets a little warmer. These small, waxy, 5 petaled blossoms are very fragrant, and can be white or pink. This plant is also called gravel plant because the Shaker religious sect sold it as a remedy for kidney stones. Native Americans also used the plant for kidney ailments, indigestion, and joint pain. Modern tests have shown that the plant can be toxic.  Trailing arbutus was nearly picked into extinction in the past because of its strong, pleasant, almost tropical scent. Its flowers should never be picked.

 10. Skunk Cabbage Flower

 Nobody will be picking this flower because of its pleasant scent! We’ve probably all seen enough pictures of skunk cabbages to last us until next spring, but what we are usually seeing is the splotchy, red / purple / yellowish-green hood that covers the actual flower. This hood is called a spathe and protects the flower, which is called a spadix. In this photo you can see the spadix inside the spathe, as well as flecks of pollen on the outside surfaces.  The plant’s disagreeable odor attracts the flies and bees which pollinate it. Occasionally hungry black bears just out of hibernation will eat these flowers, but most animals leave them alone.

 11. Skunk Cabbage Flower

 The plant in the previous photo had a spathe with an opening that was large enough to sneak the lens of my Panasonic Lumix into, so here is a close up shot of the spadix, or flower, covered in pollen. If the plant is successfully pollinated it will produce a round, red fruit head that will contain several berry like fruits.  Each fruit will have a single seed. The strange lighting in this photo is from the sun shining through the spathe wall.

12. Mountain Haircap Moss aka Polytrichastrum pallidisetum

 The leaves of mountain haircap moss curl around the stem when they’re dry. The upright fruiting bodies are called sporophytes and each is covered by a pointed, whitish cap, called a calyptra. Each calyptra is covered with hairs and that is where the name haircap comes from. As the capsules, shown in the following photo, containing the spores mature and enlarge these calyptrae will fall away.

13. Mountain Haircap Moss Spore Capsules aka Polytrichastrum pallidisetum

These are the tiny capsules that contain the spores of mountain haircap moss. They are 4 sided like a box and have a lid, which eventually falls off to release the spores to the wind. The capsules in this photo lost their lids and released their spores last summer, but were still standing.

Go out, go out I beg of you
and taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
with all the wonder of a child.

~Edna Jacques

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There are still plenty of wildflowers blooming.  In fact, they come and go so quickly that I can barely keep up with them, but here are a few that I was lucky enough to find. Autumn Olive (iElaeagnus umbellate) is still blooming. This shrub’s fragrance is amazing even as you ride by in a car if you have the windows open. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shrub attract as many insects as this one does. Autumn olive is originally from Asia and is considered an invasive species. The fruit is edible. It looks like it will be a good year for most berries.  Both blackberry (pictured above) and raspberry canes are loaded with blossoms. Blue Toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis ) has just started blooming. These small sky blue and white flowers bloom on wiry stems, starting at the bottom and working their way up. The native plants prefer dry, sandy soil and are often seen on roadsides, which is where these were. The more common and well known butter and eggs plant is also a toadflax. The name “toadflax” was supposedly given to the plant because toads liked to hide “among its branches.” Since none of the toadflax plants that I’ve seen over the years had branches, this must have been a difficult thing for the toads to do. Canada Mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense ) are still blooming. Their blooming season seems to be extended this year as it is with many other plants. As a gardener I can say that this is one of the worst plants to allow in your garden beds because once it is in, it is there to stay. When pulled it breaks off at ground level and the root lives on to grow new plants and it stands up quite well to herbicides. If Canada mayflower is allowed to grow in a garden before too long the garden will look like this. Note the almost complete lack of other species. The white, flat topped flower clusters and feathery leaves of common yarrow can be seen everywhere on roadsides now. Yarrow must take the prize for the plant with the most common names, because it is also called–are you ready? Bad man’s plaything, bloodwort, carpenter’s grass, carpenter’s weed, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, dog daisy, fern weed, field hoop, herb militaris, knight’s milfoil, little feather, milfoil, nosebleed, old man’s pepper, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort, squirrel tail, staunch grass, staunch weed, thousand-leaf, thousand-seal, thousand-weed, and yarroway. Whew! This plant and all of its baggage in the form of names originally came over from Europe. Plant breeders have been working with it for years and have produced many beautiful cultivars for the garden. This plant has been used medicinally for many centuries-remains of yarrow were even found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Native Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) isn’t one of those showy wild flowers. If you weren’t looking for it you might never even see it because of the flower’s greenish yellow color. I look for the leaves rather than flowers to find it, because its leaves grow in (usually) two whorls around the stem. The edible roots are eaten raw and are said to taste like cucumber, but this plant is scarce and shouldn’t be dug up. It should also never be confused with the similar looking Whorled Pogonia, which is poisonous. This maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) grows in my backyard and has just started blooming. Over the years I’ve watched as it has increased to a sizeable colony and I’m happy to have its white flower clusters light up the dark edges of the forest. These plants are very useful because they do well in shaded, dry, poor soils like that usually found at forest edges. In the fall the leaves turn a deep, reddish purple and dark blue, almost black fruit clusters hang where the flowers were. Opposite leaves, five petals and five stamens help identify viburnums. The leaves of American high bush cranberry (Viburnum opulus) are very similar, but that plant has red berries. There are over 100 species of viburnum, but only 15 of those are native. I finally found a 4 flowered starflower (Trientalis borealis) plant! Actually, 3 flowers and a bud, which I’m sure has become a flower by now. That might not seem like a lot to crow about but I’ve never seen more than 3 flowers on a single plant.Showy yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis,) also known as meadow salsify, has the odd habit of closing its flowers at around noontime each day. This gives it the strange common name of Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon. Aids in identification are how the large, 2 inch flowers follow the sun so that they are always facing it and petals that have 5 notches on their outer edges. Also, the seed heads look like a large dandelion seed head and a white latex sap will ooze from the stems if they are broken. The plant shown here was about 3 feet tall and was found at the local landfill. There is also a very similar western yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon dubius.) The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is by the green bracts, which are shorter than the petals on Tragopogon pratensis and longer than the petals on Tragopogon dubius. This plant is originally from Europe. Showy Yellow Goat’s Beard Bud. Showy Yellow Goat’s Beard seed head. These are big-just slightly smaller than a baseball. I don’t haveto go far to find Yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum)  because it grows in my yard. This plant is in the sunflower family and is related to the dandelion. One flower head can produce as many as 50 seeds and the plant can also spread by underground stems called rhizomes. This plant is all about reproduction and it does it well-I’ve never seen as much of it as I have this year. Yellow hawkweed has a familiar story; it was introduced from Europe as a garden ornamental, escaped, and is now trying to take over the world. This plant is much harder to control than dandelions. This Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea ) had a friend visiting when I took its picture. This small flowered plant likes to hide in among the tall grasses at the edges of mown fields and roadsides.  It blossoms on a weak, wiry stem that tends to flop around every which way, so it’s hard to tell where it begins. The white, half inch flowers look like they have 10 petals but actually have only 5 that are deeply split or cleft. Each flower stays open for three days, but there are many of them. This plant that I walk by everyday bloomed only for about a week. It is native to Britain. Tall Meadow Rue (Thalictrum pubescens) probably gets mistaken for columbine quite often when it isn’t blooming because the foliage resembles that of columbine.  Once it blooms though, there can be no mistaking the quarter sized, petal-less flowers that are made up of long, thin stamens if it is a male plant and pistils with just a few stamens if it is female. These plants get quite tall-I’ve seen them at about 4 feet but the books say they can reach 6 feet and a few web sites say 9 feet. I have a cultivated version of this native plant in my garden that has much larger, purple flower clusters. Bees and butterflies love these plants.

None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones ~Forbes Watson 

Next time I may have to do a post with more wildflowers because there are so many blooming. Thanks for stopping in.

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