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Posts Tagged ‘Cardinal Flower’

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

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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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