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Posts Tagged ‘Cardinal Flower’

Here on my first day of retirement I don’t think the reality that I have nothing I have to do and nowhere I have to go has fully sunken in yet. Maybe I’ll need time to decompress after 50+ years of working. It was an odd career that went from gardener to mechanical engineer and then buildings and grounds maintenance. Though I started out fine with maintenance nearly 7 years ago I didn’t end fine. The job, always a dirty and dusty one, became increasingly difficult due to weakening lungs and I could feel myself slowing down, so it was time to go. One of the more pleasant memories of those last 7 years that comes to mind is of the many beautiful things I saw on those 25-mile drives to and from work; like clouds of mist rising up out of the forest in Marlborough, or the morning sunlight turning the snow-covered peak of Mount Monadnock to pink and orange. These sights were always unexpected and, though the drive wasn’t always welcome, they always were.

When I finally got to work each day, there on the shores of Half Moon Pond in Hancock, it wasn’t that uncommon to find something like this waiting. Each morning I would cross the road and stand on the shore in the quiet and watch as the sun rose behind me. It was a wonderful way to start the day and it wasn’t long before I felt that I had stumbled into paradise. I might not miss the work but I will miss the place.

You could feel an energy on the shores of the pond; an infectious childlike spirit, and that’s because children have come here for over 100 years to learn about and enjoy nature. The land, all 700+ acres, is known as The Sargent Center for Outdoor Education, owned by Boston University and currently in use by Nature’s Classroom, which is an outdoor environmental education program. Children, musicians, artists and other groups come from all over the world and the happy shouts and laughter of children can be heard all day every day, almost all year round. It was like music to me and I loved hearing them and seeing them having so much fun, but then covid came along and everything had to stop for a time. I can’t see that the place will ever stop attracting children though; after a fallow year in 2020 they returned for 10 weeks last summer and this summer looks like it will be even better.

The children come to what we call the camp to learn about nature and though that wasn’t my reason for coming, I learned right along with them. This was the first place I had ever seen dragonfly nymphs clutching the pond weeds, waiting to shed their exoskeletons. Once free they are apparently disoriented for a time. (I know how they feel) I had them land on me several times over the years and their empty shells, called exuvia, can be found here and there all along the shoreline.

This was the only place I knew of where I could get close enough to the big mother snapping turtles to see them laying their eggs. It was a slow, seemingly exhaustive process.

Before I went to work there, I had to drive for half an hour to see a rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) in bloom but that first year I found them along the shoreline. I was able to get to know them like I never could before. They’re one of our most beautiful early spring flowers and it was great to know that I could now find them with ease.

The same is true for sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). I used to have to drive for miles to find it and even then I had a hard time, but there it was right on the shore of the pond. This is another relatively rare and beautiful native shrub which blooms later than the rhodora. Our native laurels have 10 anthers that fit into tiny pockets and spring out when an insect lands on the blossom, dusting it with pollen. The thought of it always fascinates me.

Before I started working at the camp the only way I could see a beautiful marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) was from a kayak, and if you’ve ever tried taking photos while sitting in a kayak you know how that went. Here, I could walk right up to them and see them in all their beautiful glory. It’s a relatively rare plant so I was happy to find them growing right along the shoreline. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our others St John’s worts are yellow.

A little further up on shore I found my favorite milkweed, swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). As I watched over the years one plant became two, and the first plant grew more and more flowers. The pretty flower clusters always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Humble little Narrow leaf cow wheat plants (Melampyrum lineare) grew and bloomed by the hundreds there. I know of only one other place to find them and they don’t grow well there. This little, shoe top high plant may look innocent but it has a secret; it is a hemiparasite, which is a plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants. It seems to want more than its share. 

One year I cut a large area of brush right along the pond edge to open up a view and the following year I was surprised to find it full of wildflowers, including the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) above. This is one of the last of our spring ephemeral flowers to bloom and it’s a signal that it’s time to start looking for flowers out in the sunny meadows rather than in the woods. Other plants that grew in this spot were pink lady’s slippers, painted trillium, blue bead lily, and partridge berry.

In certain places in the camp woods you can sometimes find large colonies of painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum). Throughout my experience I have found only one or two plants here and there, so finding large numbers of them here in this place was surprising. And beautiful; painted trilliums are our most beautiful trillium, in my opinion. They will bloom in May, just about the same time as the rhodora we saw earlier.

I was also surprised to find so many broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) growing at the camp because I normally see so few of them. They were introduced from Europe in the 1800s and almost immediately escaped gardens and are now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. Scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature, and wasps have been seen moving away from it in a kind of staggering flight. Strangely, the plants have chosen to grow in the shade around building foundations.

Since I’m colorblind, before I started working at the camp I had seen only one cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and that was only because a kind reader had sent me directions to it. But it was across a stream, so I could never get close to it. When a red cardinal lands in a green tree it disappears to these eyes, so I almost stepped on the plant in this photo before I saw the red flower. It grew in a peaceful place beside a stream at the camp. It was a real treat to finally see them up close after so many years of looking for them but now I know that I should stop looking, because the only way I’ll ever find them is by luck. If I should happen to stumble across them again well, that will be a lucky day.

Another plant that I had never seen before working at the camp was the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). Like the cardinal flower it is a plant I searched for for many years. I stumbled across it growing in a lawn, which is the last place I’d have thought to look for it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

As I think back on my time at the camp, I can see that it was really just one discovery after another, and I could probably fill two posts with all the “firsts” I saw, like the eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) above. Its “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. It has a spine that it can click and use to propel itself away from predators, and it used it to jump and hit me in the back, otherwise I’d have never seen it. One day a bobcat walked past a group of us from just feet away, and one morning I saw a young moose come up out of the pond. Several people told me that a black bear walked just 10 feet from me when I was blowing leaves one day, but I never heard or saw it. This was also the first and only place I ever heard the song of a whippoorwill. It really is a magical place that is filled with natural wonders, and I’m very grateful to have had the chance to spend time there.

Another wonder was the cluster of Dryocosmus deciduous galls I found on a red-oak leaf one day. These galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree. I remember how amazed I was when I read that about them.

One of the jobs I had at the camp was mowing a 13-acre meadow. The first time I mowed it I noticed that there were one or two chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) in it, so I started mowing around them. Year by year their numbers increased until last year there must have been 15 plants, all blooming together. Several people asked me about them over the years and I think everyone enjoyed the blue flowers, even though they looked a little odd out in such a big expanse of grass.

The meadow that I mowed was full of tiny black insects which I think must have been weevils. There were so many thousands of them I could feel them peppering any uncovered spot on my body as I mowed, so I had to always wear glasses and keep my mouth closed tight. But mowing was when I first noticed something strange; a group of dragonflies would fly alongside the tractor, a few on either side, and every now and then one or two would peel off for a moment or two before coming back to rejoin the group. I realized then that the dragonflies were eating all the insects that were being scared up by the mower. I also realized that they were intelligent creatures. They must also have some type of a memory, because they flew along beside me every time I mowed the meadow in summer. The one in this photo was so used to me mowing I rode right up to it and took this shot with my macro camera as it perched on a chicory plant. If a fish can learn to come when it is called at feeding time, why can’t a dragonfly?

Because I spent most of my time outside, I could keep a close eye on the local monarch butterfly population, which seemed to rise and fall quite a lot from year to year. Last summer seemed to be a good one for them and I hope the future will be kind to them.

I realize as I work on this post how much there was to see and discover in an area smaller than the center of an average small New England town. It’s just amazing, but it isn’t just the beauty of it all; it’s also the rarity of the things found here, like the dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) flowers above. I’ve seen them in exactly one other place in over 50 years of wandering through nature.  

And then there is the purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) I found growing beside a trail through a swamp one day. People had been walking by it without seeing it perhaps for years and if I hadn’t caught just a glimpse of color out of the corner of my eye, I would have done the same. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget how I felt that day. I think it has to be the most beautiful flowering plant I’ve ever seen in these New Hampshire woods.

All of the animals, plants, insects, and amphibians that have made this place their home is what makes it so special. Just think of all the children, more than a hundred years’ worth of them, who came to this place and might have seen one, two or all of the things in this post. Think of how much they might have learned. This place, full of beauty, wonder and enchantment, should always be here for them.

Last year a group of artists came to stay for a week and my co-workers cajoled one of them into doing an oil painting of the bog orchid, which they gave me on my last day. It was a great gift and it now hangs here where I’ll see it every day. Though I doubt I could ever forget the camp, this painting will make sure I don’t. I hope many people who pass through the camp will get to see and admire the flower that inspired it, especially the artist. He did the painting from a photo that I had taken.  

There was a time when I could sit in the quiet of dawn on a summer morning and listen to the birds sing through the open windows, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing again more than anything else. In the evening I can walk to the stream down the road and watch the sunset turn it to liquid gold, and then when it gets dark I can sit outside and watch the stars while listening to the the spring peepers. These are some of the things that are most important to me, and I’ll have time now to do them and anything else that comes to mind. The possibilities are infinite.

One sweet dream, came true today. ~The Beatles

Thanks for coming by.

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When I thought about the title of this post I wondered if anyone would really want to look back at the last year, but then I thought that these “looking back” posts are as much about looking forward as they are looking back, because in nature it’s a pretty fair bet that what happened last year will happen this year. To a point anyway; I hope the drought will ease this year so I can see mushrooms and slime molds again. The above shot is from last January, when I was stunned by the beauty of fresh snow.

I was also stunned by pussy willows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in January before.

In February the first skunk cabbages appeared from under the snow. A welcome sign of spring in February, which can sometimes be the coldest and snowiest month of all.

It was in February that I also saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Very small but beautiful, and with a fragrance that you can smell from two blocks away.

In March I saw the first of the American hazelnut blossoms; truly the first wildflowers of the year.

Things start happening in gardens in March as well. That’s usually when reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) appear. They are one of the earliest bulbs to show growth. They’re very cheery after a long winter without flowers.

April is when our spring ephemerals start to appear, and one of the largest and showiest is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum).These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. 

With so many flowers appearing in spring it’s very hard to choose the ones to put into these posts but one I felt I had to choose for April is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and I chose it because most people never see it. They aren’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They will for the most part bloom only when the sun shines on them but you can occasionally find them on a cloudy day. Their common name comes from the bright red or orange sap in their roots.

One of my personal favorites among the spring ephemerals is the spring beauty (Claytonia carolinana.) Though they sometimes appear in April, May seems to be the month I can really count on seeing them. I know where a colony of many thousands of plants grow and I have happily knelt in last year’s leaf litter taking photos of them for years now. I love their aspirin size, pink striped blossoms.  

Around the end of May is when I start seeing the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia). Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets make them easy to miss so you have to pay attention. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in quite large colonies but not always. They are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. Once you’ve found some you can go back to see them year after year. They seem quite long lived.

June is when our most well known orchid, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) blooms. Once collected into near oblivion by people who thought they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens, they have made a strong comeback and I see quite a few now. They’re beautiful and unusual, and should be left alone so we can all admire them. If transplanted they will not live long.

June was also when I found some larch flowers (Larix laricina). These tiny but beautiful things are so small all I can see is their color. I have to point the camera at the color and “shoot blind” until I get a shot. They can appear in mid May but I usually expect them in late May to early June. If you know a larch tree you might want to have a look. These tiny things will become the cones that hold the tree’s seeds, so if you look for the cones first that will give you an idea of which branches the flowers are most likely to appear on.  

Around the end of June and the first week of July I start looking for one of the most beautiful wildflowers I’ve seen; the purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). The big, two foot tall plant looks like a bush full of purple butterflies. They are quite rare in this area and that’s most likely because they grow in swamps. I can usually expect to have wet ankles after taking photos of this one.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blossoms right at the same time every year; just in time for the 4th of July, and its flowerheads just happen to look like fireworks. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo.

One of our prettiest and smallest wildflowers bloom in early August. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

In my last post I described how colorblindness prevented my ever seeing a cardinal. It works the same way for cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) unfortunately, so I was elated last August when a coworker and I stumbled upon a group of them. I knew what they looked like, and once I was right on top of them I could see their color, which was beautiful. Note how this much larger flower with its arching stamens uses the same strategy as the tiny forked blue curl we saw previously. The chief difference is, these stamens dust hummingbirds with pollen instead of bees.

It wouldn’t be September without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and this one just happens to be my favorite color aster. Unfortunately it’s also the hardest color to find so each year I have to go hunting for them. I can’t complain though; hunting for flowers is a pleasure, not a chore.

I could have shown a fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) in any month following May but this is the only photo from last year that showed the center of the flower, where a golden flame burns. I remember standing on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of these beautiful flowers last summer and being able to smell their glorious scent on the breeze. It was one the most amazing things, and I suspect that it wall last in my memory until I no longer have one.

I did see things other than flowers last year; things like this beautiful cedar waxwing I saw eating the berries of silky dogwoods at the river one September evening.

In October I went to see if the old stone staircase was still standing; all that’s left of Madame Sherri’s “castle” in Chesterfield. The castle was actually more of a chalet but it had quite a lot of elaborate stonework. It also had trees growing through the roof. How they kept the rain out is a mystery. Though I didn’t mention it in the original post I walked to the spot I had chosen and promptly tripped over a tree root and fell flat on my face in front of about 15 people who were all jostling to get a shot of the stairway. The camera was unscathed and I got my shot. The fall foliage was beautiful that day and the weather was perfect but the stairway was in need of some immediate help from a mason.

I also went to Willard Pond in October and walked through one of the most beautiful hardwood forests I’ve ever seen.

In November witch hazels bloomed. Also in December, but I doubt I’ll see any in January.

Also in November I was looking at lichens, including the smoky eye boulder lichen seen here. It’s one of the most beautiful in my opinion and I’ve put it here as an answer to the question “What is there to see in winter?” There is as much beauty to be seen in winter as there is at any other time of year. You just have to look a little closer, that’s all.

What could be more beautiful that this mossy hillside? It was like a green carpet covering the earth. What I like most about the colder months is how you can see the bones of the forest. There is no foliage to block your view in December.

One thing I’ll remember about the past year is how it was too dry for fungi. I saw very few until December, when I saw these mock oyster mushrooms (Phyllotopsis nidulans). They were big and beautiful, and looked as if they had been covered in orange velvet. They were well worth the wait but I hope to see more in 2021.

I hope this look back at 2020 wasn’t as bad as what you might have imagined. I’d rather have this blog be an island of calm in a sea of chaos than a running commentary on current events. Current events come and go like the tides and have no permanence, so about all you’re ever going to find here is nature, which is timeless. I do hope that’s why you come.

You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you’ll all have a happy, heathy new year.

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Native grass leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) grows in the calm water of streams and ponds. There are about 30 species of arrowheads out there and many of them are similar, so I hope you’ll take my identification with a grain of salt. Common to all arrowheads is how they grow in shallow, still waters at pond and stream edges, or in the wet ground of ditches and swamps. Grass leaved arrowhead has flower stalks shorter than the leaves and though perspective makes it look as if these stalks were taller than the leaves they were not.

Arrowheads have such simple clean white flowers; they are very easy to understand.

Wild senna (Cassia hebecarpa) is a native plant that is rarely seen in the wild here in the Northeast and is listed as threatened or endangered. They say this is primarily due to loss of habitat. The leaves and seed pods of wild senna contain compounds called anthraquinones, which are powerful laxatives, so deer leave it alone. I have this plant in my yard to attract butterflies and bees and also because I like the yellow flowers with their hairy pistils and dark brown anthers. Once it finds a place it likes it will spread.

The coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) have taken on that papery petal look that signals their passing. The Echinacea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek echinos, which means hedgehog or sea-urchin, and it refers to the spiny center. Soon that’s all that will be left and it will persist through winter, feeding gold finches and other birds. Coneflowers are native to our prairies.

I took this photo because of the beautiful intense yellow of the goldenrods but it’s getting harder to get a shot of goldenrods without purple loosestrife being there with them.

Groundnut (Apias americana) has just come into bloom. This plant grows as a vine, usually twining its way through and over any nearby shrubs or tall plants like goldenrod. Its flowers often can’t be seen because of all the foliage and when they are seen you usually see a view like the one in the above photo.

But it’s worthwhile to look a little closer because groundnut flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown. They are complicated things but they 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.

From the side groundnut flowers look even more like a helmet. They’re very unusual flowers.

I saw this clematis from quite a distance and decided to look a little closer because I liked its plum color.

But this clematis came in two shades of plum. This darker shade appears on the new flowers and they lighten as they age.

This plant has had me scratching my head for a few years now. At first I thought that it might be the mountain hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis) which is a small flowered native with maple shaped leaves, but the USDA says that it doesn’t grow in this area of the country. Blogging friend Clare Pooley thought that it might be Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) but again the USDA says that plant doesn’t grow naturally in this area. And that is the hitch; this plant is in a garden so it isn’t growing naturally, and that means that it could be anything. I’ve read that the calyx and a few other identifying features will tell the tale so I’ve got to get back and take more photos.

Purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) is another flower that shines out its divine inner light. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. I always have to  stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just for a few moments.

Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) were cultivated by Native Americans for thousands of years for their tuberous roots, which they cooked and ate much like we do potatoes. They are said to be starchy with a nutty flavor and they were immediately adopted by the early settlers. The tubers have fewer calories than potatoes and the plant’s carbohydrates and sugars can be assimilated by the digestive tract without insulin. This makes them an excellent choice for diabetics. Though I’ve never eaten one I used to dig them for clients of mine that grew them for food and I’ll never forget how very tall these plants can be. This one grew up through the middle of a native dogwood and towered over it.

Obedient plants (Physostegia virginiana) are among the most invasive native plants that I have seen. Obedient plants get their common name from the way the flower stalks stay where they are if they are bent; they are “obedient.” I like the flowers, but don’t like having to weed them.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is said to be very invasive but I usually have to look for them each year. The plant is from Europe and Asia and has been in this country since it was introduced from Wales as a garden flower by Ranstead, a Welsh Quaker who came to Delaware with William Penn in the late 1600s. It has been used medicinally for centuries, since at least the 1400s, and modern science has shown it to have diuretic and fever-reducing qualities. In the Middle Ages, yellow toadflax was called wild snapdragon because of its close resemblance to the garden snapdragon.

The common name toadflax comes from the leaves , which are narrow like flax leaves, and the flower’s mouth “like unto a frog’s mouth,” from an old herbal. Another old source says that “Toads will sometimes shelter themselves amongst the branches of it.”

The trick though, is that you have to pinch the flower to get to see its open mouth. When pinched on the sides the lower lip falls and the flower opens, revealing four toothlike stamens and a double pistil or tongue. It takes a heavy insect like a bumblebee to force open the flowers and get inside. Once inside they have to crawl as far down into the spur as they can to reach the nectar with their tongues. It sounds like an awful lot of work, so I hope the nectar is extra sweet.

This is the time of year when gardens are filled with phlox blossoms, some so fragrant they will just carry you away on a warm late summer evening. I wanted to get a photo of this particular example because it is such a difficult color for my camera to get correct unless the lighting is perfect. I think it came out true to the original.

White can be another tough color to photograph so I had to try those too. Phlox are beautiful things.

I’ve spoken here probably far too many times of how colorblindness can often prevent my seeing red in nature. If a red cardinal lands in a green tree it immediately disappears from my sight and the same is true for the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis.) The first time I ever saw this flower a couple of years ago I had the help of Judy from the New England Garden and Thread blog. She sent me directions on where to find them, and it was worth the effort. This time I found them with the help of a friend from work. They grew on the banks of a stream and though I was almost stepping on them and still had trouble seeing them I was finally able to find them, and once again they were very beautiful.

Red is one of the hardest colors for a camera to see, so I had to take many photos to get what you see here. A single cardinal flower has five petals with three on its lower lip and two on its upper. These petals come together in a tube at their base. This makes it very difficult for insects to get at the nectar which hides at the base of the tube, so cardinal flowers rely on hummingbirds for pollination. Its five stamens are joined together into another tube formed around the style, with brushy anthers at the top. When a hummingbird, or sometimes a butterfly, dips in to get at the nectar the anthers deposit a dot of pollen on its head. When it visits another flower pollination will be complete. This flower isn’t at all common here and so far getting close to it has involved a bit of work, along with muddy feet.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.  ~Henri Matisse

Thanks for stopping in.

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Because I have trouble seeing red I doubted I’d ever be able to show cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) on this blog but finally, after years of searching for them, here they are. Judy from the New England Garden and Thread blog wrote and told me she had seen them along a stream up in Stoddard and her excellent directions led me right to them. The color red when it is against the color green becomes invisible to me, but these bright red flowers were against gray stones and blue water and for the first time in my life I saw cardinal flowers. Though I couldn’t get close they were even more beautiful than in photos.

Here’s a closer look. Unfortunately because of all the rain the stream had come up on the stems and the plants swayed back and forth wildly, which made getting a photo almost impossible. Out of probably close to 50 attempts I got exactly one useable photo and this one is cropped out of that single shot we saw previously. But the beauty of it all is now I know what the plants look like, where they grow and when they blossom, so I’ll be able to go back and see them next year. Thank you Judy, it was worth the drive!

I can’t think of a single time that I have found northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing away from water. It’s an odd little plant that might get knee high on a good day, and often leans toward the water that it grows near. Its tiny flowers grow in round tufts at each leaf axil and remind me of motherwort, which has the same habit. It is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. It is also closely related to American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and the two plants are easily confused. Paying close attention to leaf shape helps tell them apart. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food.

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. The tiny things are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed. I think this is the earliest I’ve ever seen it flower.

Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) have just started to bloom. I love their bright color and always look forward to seeing them as soon as August arrives.

Eastern forked blue curls have beautiful flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day and the entire plant barely reaches ankle high, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can just see the white pollen granules on the ends of the arched stamens in this photo.

The insect is guided by the spotted lower lip of the flower. This plant is an annual that grows new from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and sometimes roadsides, and sometimes in my own yard.

This very beautiful rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) grows just off the side of an old dirt road at the edge of a swamp. At least I think it is rosebay willowherb; there seems to be some confusion among sources about the regions it grows in. According to the USDA it doesn’t grow in New England, but the University of Maine lists it in its database. Another name for the plant is fireweed and Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it in 1857, so I’m wondering if the USDA map is incorrect. If you live in New Hampshire and have seen this plant I’d love to hear from you.

Narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis) grow alongside the same road that the rosebay willowherbs were on. Gentians of any kind are extremely rare in these parts and I’m always as excited to see them as I would be to see a field full of orchids.

Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often, because our soil is generally acidic. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I hope this small colony will spread. Luckily readers have told me that there are also other hidden colonies of it in Nelson as well.

It isn’t uncommon to see a carpet of knee high, white blooms in the woods at this time of year. White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is known for its drought tolerance and will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant. The small, one inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

A roadside stream was filled with fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) and I had to stop and see.

It’s hard not to just sit and stare at something so beautiful, lost in the fire that burns at its center.

I first met the beautiful little marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) when I was in a kayak and I remember what a time I had getting a photo of them then. Luckily though, I found them growing in the wet soil at the edge of a pond so getting their photo is easier these days. Sort of, anyway; this plant closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine the following afternoon, so you’ll never find them blooming on a cloudy day or in the morning.

This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow. The plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline. The flowers are small, about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This beautiful little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

Like the cardinal flower seen earlier the club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata) has never been seen on this blog, because I’ve never seen one until very recently. I jumped a roadside ditch, looked down and discovered that I was almost stepping on a group of 5-7 plants. They’re small plants, no taller than 6 inches, and the flowers are also very small. Each plant has a single leaf at the base of the stem and another about half way up.

The flowers of this orchid seem to go every which way, spiraling up the stem as they do, so getting a photo of just one is impossible. I couldn’t even seem to get a shot looking into one. My orchid books say this orchid is “occasional“, meaning it isn’t rare but it isn’t common either. It self-pollinates so it doesn’t have to rely on insects. Orchids are notorious for disappearing from one year to the next but I hope to see these again.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. Once the blossoms reach the very top of the flower spike the plant is done. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

Mullein is a biennial and flowers and dies in its second year of growth. It is considered a weed but if all of its flowers opened at once along its tall flower stalk I think that it would be a prized garden specimen.

The Shasta daisy was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank over 100 years ago and was named for the white snow of Mount Shasta. These plants are a hybrid cross of the common roadside ox-eye daisy and an English field daisy called Leucanthemum maximum. They are one of the easiest perennials to grow and, other than an occasional weeding, need virtually no care. Dwarf varieties are less apt to have their stems bent over by heavy rains. I haven’t seen many of them this year, and this one was quite late.

I’m still seeing scenes like this one here and there along roadsides and I always try to stop and get a photo when I do. That leads to a few curious stares from people but I hope they also notice the flowers when they stare. Next time maybe it will be they who will stop and take photos.

Many people have never learned to see the beauty of flowers, especially those that grow unnoticed. ~Erika Just

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