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Posts Tagged ‘Catalpa’

I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog lately that I’ve been doing a lot of walking, so I thought I’d show you some of the things I see on these walks. If I choose to go this way, I can see a pond full of water plants like burr reed and yellow pond lilies. The big circular plant colonies are all yellow pond lilies, and they appear to be trying to take over the pond.

I’ve seen lots of hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) on an old hemlock stump and the pile of logs beside it. For the first time I’ve had a chance to see these mushrooms grow day by day and I can now understand that they grow quite fast. This one went from looking like a piece of dough to what we see here in less than two weeks. It’s about the size of a salad plate; less diameter than a dinner plate but more than a saucer. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom, and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) burned brightly in roadside ditches. This is our first yellow loosestrife to bloom each year and I sometimes see them in great numbers. They like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. In fact my knees were getting wet so this isn’t a very good shot.

Soft or common rush (Juncus effusus) also grew in a ditch alongside the road. Ditches are always a good place to find a variety of plants that like wet feet, like rushes and sedges. Soft rush can form large clumps and are easy to grow. They’re interesting if placed here and there around garden ponds.

Sedge stems are triangular and have edges but soft rush stems are smooth and cylindrical, with a light pith inside. They feel soft if you pinch them, not sharp. The flower head, shown in the above photo, looks like it grows from one side of the stem but the stem actually ends at the flowers. Anything appearing above the flowers is a bract, not part of the stem. The flowers are tiny and not showy, but overall the plant is pleasing to the eye.

Gray’s sedge (Carex grayi) always reminds me of the spiky mace weapons that knights used in the Middle Ages. A botanist would say this about that: each spikelet consists of a globoid cluster of perigynia that radiate in all directions. A perigynium is a fleshy cup or tube, which in this case comes to a point or beak. Coming out of each beak are the flowers, which are what look like threads in this photo. They start out white and brown as they age. Gray’s sedge is named after Asa Gray, who wrote Grays Manual of Botany in 1848. I read my copy about 50 years ago and have used it many times since that initial reading. If you have trouble sleeping at night just read Asa’s manual for a half our or so before bedtime. You’ll sleep like a stone.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) had recently flowered and I knew that because the tiny threads at the ends of the perigynia were still white. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds.

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) has flowered and is now producing its tiny winged seeds, which look a bit like stalks full of flakes.

If you look closely, you will see that each flake, which is more like a wing, has a tiny seed on it. It looks like a seed pearl at this stage but as they ripen and age the seed and its wing will turn brownish. Finally they will fall from the plant and the wind will catch the tiny wings and blow them to new places to grow. They will often persist through winter and fall the following spring. Since March is the windiest month, it is a sensible strategy for a plant that depends on the wind to get around.

Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) is another ditch loving plant that likes full sun and wet feet. This one had a fern ball on its tip. Fern balls appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like what the photo shows. Inside the ball is a caterpillar, which has pulled the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tied it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the fern leaflets and live completely in the fern ball until they are ready to become a moth. Emily Dickinson once wrote “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else,” and I wonder if she didn’t see a fern ball just before she wrote it.  

Native Americans called blueberries star berries, and now you know why; the blossom end of each berry forms a five-pointed star. They used blueberries, and also the plant’s leaves and roots, medicinally as well as for food. They cultivated the bushes and made a pudding out of corn meal and water and added the blueberries to it. They then baked it, and it saved the life of many a European settler, as did their pemmican.

I see several native catalpa trees (Catalpa speciosa) on my walks and right now they’re in full bloom and very beautiful. It’s like looking at a tree full of orchids.

Catalpa flowers are big; your index finger will fit right in there. The trees they grow on are also very big and a mistake I see people make over and over again is planting them too close to their house. Catalpa, for all its beauty, is also a messy tree. First the spent flowers fall by the thousands in early summer, and then in fall the giant heart shaped leaves turn yellow and fall. In the spring the seedpods come down. These are like two-foot-long string beans and they make quite a mess. It is a tree that creates a lot of work if planted where everything that falls from it has to be raked up but in spite of all of this if someone asked me if they should plant a catalpa I’d say absolutely, just keep it away from the house. Plant it at the edge of the property, or by a pond if you have one.

I saw a bittersweet nightshade plant (Solanum dulcamara) coming up out of the center of a yew, and it was loaded with its pretty blue and yellow flowers. It might be pretty but it’s a real stinker, and if you break the stems, you’ll smell something unusual. It produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic, so that might account for the smell. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. It’s originally from Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes. The fruit is a red berry, which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. I wouldn’t eat one though.

I like the flowers when they’re fully open like this one but you have to be quick to catch them this way because the petals recurve quickly. You can see that most of them have done so in the previous photo. Cranberry flowers do the same thing.

A button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) was budding up and preparing to flower. It will have a perfectly spherical flower head that looks a lot like a pincushion before it is through. I’ve seen lots of button bush flowers but apparently, I’ve never paid any attention to the buds. These reminded me of the game Jacks that we used to play long ago.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) flowers open in rings as they circle their way up the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else but I see more of it each year.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) has just started blooming. This now common plant wasn’t always common in this area. When I was a boy, I had a transistor radio and at night I used to fall asleep listening to it. One of the songs I could count on hearing every night was Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White. It was about a poor southern girl who had only pokeweed to eat because her mother was on a chain gang and her grandmother was eaten by an alligator. Her father and brothers were lazy, so all they had were the poke greens. Of course all of us school kids talked about both the song and the plant, but when we asked our parents what pokeweed was, they didn’t know. They just said it must be a southern plant, but no more; now it’s an everywhere plant, and it is big and noticeable.

Pokeweed flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. Native Americans called the plant pocon and used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses. People still use it to dye wool today. If you’d like to hear the song about Polk Salad Annie that I used to hear in 1969, just click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCSsVvlj6YA

Pokeweed is toxic unless you get the early spring shoots and I’ve read that it can make you kind of crazy if you eat too much of it, so that might account for all the grunting and oohing you hear from Tony Joe White.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is having an amazing year and the plants are huge. It starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. This plant was once so highly valued that it was traded among all the people of the earth, but now we hardly give it a glance. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it was found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and its value was most likely due to its ability to staunch the flow of blood. The Achillea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek god Achilles, whose soldiers it is said, used the plant to treat their wounds. Because of its being so freely traded it is one of just a few plants that now grow on every continent except Antarctica. I see it everywhere I go.

Poplar seeds fall from the female trees and often find each other in the wind, and then roll into a ball of what looks like cotton. This is the reason the trees are also called cottonwoods. A tree 100 feet high and five feet across can grow from a seed just 5/32 of an inch long. For a certain amount of time in spring the air is filled with them.

Back when I was a boy everyone said that when the wind blew hard enough to show the bottoms of the leaves on trees like silver maple, it meant that it was going to rain. I have since learned that what it really means is that the wind is blowing, and nothing more. The strong wind might be caused by a front passing through, but that doesn’t always mean rain. On this day all the leaves were showing silver but we didn’t see a drop fall.

I like to watch grasses flower and turn purple, and one of the most purple of them all is Timothy, named after farmer Timothy Hanson, who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720. Each tiny flower on Timothy grass has three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. I spent a lot of time when I was a boy chewing on a piece of this grass hanging while I walked the railroad tracks and as I’ve mentioned before, it is the grass I think of when I hear the opening line of the song Ventura Highway by the band America, which starts Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road… I just listened to it and it still sounds as good as it did in 1972. It reminds me of simpler times.

These are the leaves of staghorn sumac, which I see just about everywhere I walk and which in spring remind me of bamboo. Later on they’ll remind me of palm trees. If I’m lucky I’ll see them wearing bright red in the fall.

I hope you enjoyed this walk, just one of several that I do. There is nothing easier than walking; you don’t even have to choose where to go because the paths are just there and going right or left really doesn’t matter. I’ve always been more of a walker than a driver but until now I never really paid attention to the health benefits. I’m losing weight, my legs and knees feel better and I can breathe much easier than I could just a few months ago. I don’t think of distance or destination or anything else. I just walk until I’m ready to stop. If you’re healthy and interested open your door and start walking, and just see what you see. Give yourself the time and freedom to wander. You might be surprised by what you find.

The only way to understand a land is to walk it. The only way to drink in its real meaning is to keep it firmly beneath one’s feet. Only the walker can form the wider view. ~Sinclair McKay

Thanks for stopping in.

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Wednesday the weather people said we’d probably see a dusting of snow that might “stick to grassy surfaces.” They were right; we got a dusting plus 6 inches that stuck to grassy surfaces and every other surface as well. One of the benefits of being newly retired is, I was able to go out and play in it.

But I was the only one playing it it at 8:00 am Thursday, apparently. The only other tracks I saw were of the four footed kind.

The sun was trying but hadn’t accomplished much yet. It was supposed to be sunny and 50 degrees F. on this day and if that turned out to be true all of this snow would quickly melt.

It was a light fluffy snow full of air spaces, but with just enough moisture to make it stick to things.

And it stuck to everything. I admired these coated tree branches and the strange wintery light behind them. I love the changeable light of winter. It’s very different than summer light.

Every tree, every shrub, and every twig was outlined in snow and it was beautiful. It was also absolutely silent; the kind of silence that calls to you. It speaks to the silence that is within us, and I believe that is why we are drawn to nature.

There are few times in nature when it is as silent as it is during and right after a snowfall. Science has found that as little as two inches of snow can absorb nearly 60 percent of sound when it is freshly fallen and fluffy, with plenty of air spaces. As I stood listening to the silence, snow fell from the trees. I call it “snow smoke” and though it isn’t rare, it is rare that I’m there with a camera when it happens.

Sometimes you can hear the snow fall from the trees and other times it is silent. It depends on the consistency of the snow, I suppose. On this day there was a barely perceptible Shhhh, as if it were telling me to be even more quiet than I was.

As is often the case the evergreens bore most of the weight. Their branches are supple and made for this, so they can usually take it.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the big white pines off across the swamp lost some limbs though. The bigger the limb the more weight can pile up on them and white pine limbs get very big.  

Birch seeds had already fallen all over the new snow by the thousands, in less than 24 hours.

I heard a knocking and looked up and saw a woodpecker, and I wondered if it was knocking some of the seeds loose. The small red patch at the back of its head and its small size tells me it might be a downy woodpecker. I was really too far away for a good shot but I didn’t let that stop me.

I walked by some catalpa trees and couldn’t resist taking a photo. When they’re at this stage with their long seedpods hanging from the branches they take me back to second grade, when we called them “string bean trees.” Though nobody ever told us anything about the trees, we knew instinctively that we shouldn’t eat the “beans.” It was a good thing too, because they’re poisonous.

Someone has tried to fence off the forest, which means they get to keep mowing as long as they own the land. Large open spaces around houses may keep a brush fire from reaching the house, and back in the 1600s it might have let you see a bear or wolf’s approach, or the approach of Natives who were angry that you took their land, but it really is time to get over these huge lawns that take almost all of our free time to care for each week.

The fence rails showed the snow’s depth. I’d guess maybe four inches in this spot. Snow depth can vary quite a lot from place to place, even on different side of the same street.

At the river there was just a hint of blue in an otherwise black and white scene.

I looked up into a maple and saw sunshine, and it is that warm March sunshine that is waking it and all of its cousins up, and making their sap flow.

There was sunshine above and below these hemlocks, too.

Beeches added some beautiful color but soon these leaves will be pale enough to appear almost colorless, and thin enough to almost see through.

When the sun comes out right after a snow it can be very beautiful, but the sun has a lot of warmth at this time of year so by the time I got back home it had already started melting. There is an old saying that calls this kind of snow this late in winter “poor man’s fertilizer.” Science has shown that nitrates from the atmosphere attach to snowflakes and fall to earth, and then are released into the thawing soil as the snow melts. The nitrates help feed plants, so the old saying is true.

I wanted to do a post about this storm because I thought it might be the last snow for many months but now they say we’ll see more today, so the roller coaster continues on its way. We’ll have bare ground for a day or two and then snow covers it up again, but the further we get into March the shorter its stay. By Friday most of the snow you saw in this post had melted.

Great truth that transcends nature does not pass from one being to another by way of human speech. Truth chooses silence to convey her meaning to loving souls. ~Kahil Gibran

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Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) blooms here and there along the edges of woodlands, and about mid-June is when I first start seeing it. I don’t see it in the wild that often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. There were 5 or 6 plants in this group and they were beautiful. The plant is originally from Europe but it could hardly be called invasive.

I always like to try to get a bee’s eye view of foxglove blossoms. The lower lip protrudes a bit to give bees a landing pad, and from there they follow the spots, which are nectar guides, up to the top of the blossom where they find the nectar. While the bee is busy with the nectar the anthers above it rub on its back and deposit the flower’s pollen, which will then be taken to another blossom. If successfully pollinated a foxglove plant can produce from one to two million seeds.

These foxglove blossoms looked quite different with their somewhat pinched openings. I don’t know if I saw them before they had fully opened or if this is some type of natural cross with this habit. In old England picking foxglove was unlucky, and its blooms were forbidden inside because it was believed that they gave witches access to the house. I tried to think back to all the times I might have picked it and find that there are maybe two. It isn’t a plant that makes me want to pick it like a daisy or a rose might.

I’m always of two minds when it comes to black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia.) Though I like to see them I think of them as a fall flower, so in my mind June always seems far too early for them to appear. Are they really blooming earlier these days or have they always bloomed in June? Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. I did notice that this one had a lot of red in its petals, but only on half the flower.

Native spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a perennial wildflower that looks like a two foot tall shrub. It spreads by both seeds and underground stems and is considered a weed in some places. I find large colonies of it growing in sandy soil along sunny forest edges. The plant in related to milkweed and many species of butterflies rely on it.

Spreading dogbane has small, light pink, bell shaped flowers that have deeper pink stripes on their insides. They are fragrant but their scent is hard to describe. Spicy maybe. This plant is pollinated by butterflies and the flowers have barbs inside that trap short tongued insects. That’s how it gets another of its common names: flytrap dogbane. Each flower is just big enough to hold a pea.

The name peached leaved bluebells (Campanula persicifolia) comes from this plant’s leaves resembling those of the peach tree. I’ve read that it grows in the Alps and other mountain ranges in Europe, but its natural habitat is woodland margins, rocky outcrops in broad-leaved woods, meadows and stream banks. It is very easy to grow-literally a “plant it and forget it” perennial and it is said to be an English cottage garden classic.

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) trees can be messy but they’re one of our most beautiful trees. Imagine a tree covered in large white, orchid like blossoms and you’ll have a good idea of the catalpa. This tree is used ornamentally, but it needs plenty of room because it gets very large. When I was in grade school I had to walk under a big catalpa tree to get to school and I loved seeing it bloom because that meant school was almost over for the summer. In the fall when school started again the trees were filled with what looked like string beans. Each catalpa flower becomes a long, bean like seed pod and we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. Then the leaves, as big as our heads, began to turn yellow and fall before too long. They were the biggest leaves any of us had ever seen, but we were only in second grade.

At 1-2 inches across catalpa tree flowers are large and beautiful. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba. Some tribes used its inner bark to make a tea which had a sedative effect and is said to be mildly narcotic. The bark tea was also used to treat malaria.

White daisy fleabane flowers (Erigeron strigosus) can appear pink in the right light, as these did. This plant will bloom right up until fall, when it will sometimes be confused with asters. I regularly find fleabane growing in sunny spots quite deep in the woods where you wouldn’t expect it to be.

The first perforate St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) flowers have appeared and they’re beautiful as always. Originally from Europe, St. John’s wort has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun. The leaves are yellow-green in color with scattered translucent dots of glandular tissue, and that’s where the perforatum part of the scientific name comes from. These dots can be seen better when held up to the light but you can just see them in the small leaf in the lower center, partially hidden by the flower. They do make the leaf look perforated with pin holes.

Five pale yellow heart shaped petals surround a center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils in a sulfur cinquefoil blossom (Potentilla recta.) Close to the center each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I like its soft, butter yellow color.

White campion (Silene latifolia) can sometimes shade towards pink but this one was pure white. You can see the deep cleft or split in the petals, which is a good way to identify it. It has 5 petals that at first glance look like 10. This plant is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on different plants. One way to tell if a flower is male or female is by counting the veins on the bladder (calyx) behind it. Male plants have 10 parallel veins on their calyx and females have 20. This well-known plant was introduced from Europe and prefers fields and waste places with soil on the dry side.

Catchfly (Silene armeria) is an unusual plant that I rarely see. I’ve seen four or five of them this year, but all in the same general area. It is originally from Europe and is also called sweet William catchfly. It is said to be an old fashioned garden plant in Europe and is supposed to be a “casual weed” in New Hampshire. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. I’ve felt it and it is indeed quite sticky. Small insects are said to get caught in it and I can see how that would happen. Its leaves and stems are a smooth blue grayish color and along with the small pinkish purple flowers they made for a very pretty little plant that I’m hoping to see more of.

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) has just come into bloom and I’m happy to see it because I think it’s a beautiful flower, even if it is invasive. It’s another one of those that often seem to glow with their own inner light and I enjoy just looking at it for a time. Crown vetch has seed pods look that like axe heads and English botanist John Gerard called the plant axewort and axeseed in 1633. It is thought that its seeds somehow ended up in other imported plant material because the plant was found in New York in 1869. By 1872 it had become naturalized in New York and now it is in every state in the country except Alaska.

Tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) gets its common name from the way that its seeds cling to clothing like ticks. The plant is also called lance leaved coreopsis and that is where the lanceolata part of the scientific name comes from. Coreopsis is found in flower beds as well as in the wild and can form large colonies if left alone. It is often used to stabilize embankments as can be seen in the above photo.

The pretty, bright yellow flowers of tickseed coreopsis are about an inch and a half across and stand at the top of thin, wiry stems. This is a native plant with a cousin known as greater tickseed that grows in the south. It can be a bit weedy in a garden but the seedlings are easily recognizable and usually pull easily.

Red clover is doing well this year and I’m very happy that I can say that, but it wasn’t always so; there was a time when I cursed this plant. It was an ugly, ungainly weed that was hard to pull, looked terrible when it was mowed or weedwhacked, and quickly made a garden look there was no gardener tending it.

But then one evening a single ray of sunlight fell on a red clover blossom at the edge of the woods and I went and knelt by it to take its photo. I think it was really more practice photo than anything; after all who would want to see a photo of an ugly old weed? But then I saw the beauty of each tiny orchid like flower, and how each one had an inner light shining out from it. I have never looked down on it or any other plant or flower since. Telling this story always reminds me of the words from the hymn Amazing Grace: “I once was blind but now I see,” because that’s truly the way it happens. Your eyes can be opened to whatever they fail to see in a millisecond, even when what they fail to see is you.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) is also called self-heal and has been used medicinally since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, 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. To me heal all flowers always look like they’re shouting “Yay!” Why would they be so happy? Because they’re alive. They exist. All of nature is in a state of ecstasy because it simply is. That’s another lesson nature tries to teach us, but we’re usually far too busy to pay attention.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) is another common weed, maybe not hated but certainly stepped on by many a heel because of its ground hugging, sprawling habit. But as is often the case when you really look at some neglected thing, you find beauty. Common speedwell has been used medicinally for centuries in Europe and its leaves were used as a tea substitute there. Though it isn’t really invasive it is considered an agricultural weed. It sends up its vertical flower stalks in May and each flower stalk (Raceme) has many very small blue flowers streaked with dark purple lines. They’re beautiful little things, but they sure aren’t easy to photograph.

The aspirin size flowers of white wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) are smaller than the leaves and hide beneath them, so you have to look closely to find them. Looking for them always makes me feel like I’m sneaking up on a rabbit or a deer or some other shy creature.

It’s worth looking closely, because white wood sorrel flowers are pin striped and very beautiful. This plant is scarce here; I’ve seen it in only two places.

This shot of ox-eye daisies is for Ginny, who a couple of posts ago admired the way they stood so straight and tall compared to garden variety Shasta daisies, which flop all around. These examples were some of the tallest I’ve ever seen, and stood ramrod straight. They proved her point perfectly.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.  ~A.A. Milne

Thanks for coming by. Happy Summer!

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1-lilac

I’ve spent many winters watching the buds of trees and bushes, especially those right around my house like the lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo. I check it regularly starting in February for signs of swelling. In winter buds are my connection to spring and I love watching the bud scales finally open to reveal tiny leaves or flowers. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate with scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud. The lilac bud above is a good example of an imbricate bud.

2-rhody

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds like lilacs fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds. This one was half the length of my thumb.

3-cornelian-cherry

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. I was surprised to see the bud scales on this example opening already. We can still get below zero cold.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

4-nannyberry

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) are also examples of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. The bottom bud scale was broken on this one. Nannyberry is another of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit. Native Americans ate them fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally.

5-staghorn-sumac

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) have no bud scales so their naked buds are hairy and the hairs protect the bud. Another name for staghorn sumac is velvet tree, and that’s exactly what its branches feel like. Native Americans made a drink from this tree’s berries that tasted just like lemonade, and grinding the berries produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice.

6-hobblebush

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is another native shrub with naked buds. This photo shows that the flower bud in the center and the two leaf buds on either side are clothed more in wool than hair, but there are no scales for protection. Still, they come through the coldest winters and still bloom beautifully each spring.

7-magnolia

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds,” which means that instead of using scales or hairs they use both. The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Meanwhile, the bud stays wrapped protectively in a fur coat.

8-red-oak

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

9-sugar-maple

Terminal buds appear on the end or terminus of a branch and nothing illustrates that better than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) The large, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by smaller lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. In 2016 New Hampshire produced 169,000 gallons of maple syrup but the season only lasted through the month of March due to the warm weather. The average cost per gallon in 2015 was $59.40. I’m guessing it went up in 2016.

10-striped-maple

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) have colorful twigs and buds and are among the easiest trees to identify no matter what time of year because of the green and white vertical stripes on their bark. Their terminal buds have two scales and are valvate like the nannyberry buds. Striped maple is very fussy about where it grows and will not stand pollution, heat, or drought. It likes cool, shady places with sandy soil that stays moist. They bloom in June and have very pretty green bell shaped blossoms.

11-striped-maple-bark

Striped maple bark makes the trees very easy to identify when they’re young, but as trees age the bark becomes uniformly gray.

12-beech

The bud I’m probably most looking forward to seeing open in spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.”

13-gray-birch

It was about 15 degrees and snowing when this photo was taken and you can see the frozen gummy resin that glues some bud scales together on this gray birch (Betula populifolia) bud and male catkin on the right. Ruffed grouse will eat the buds and catkins and. pine siskins and black-capped chickadees eat the seeds. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap and I’ve seen beavers take an entire clump of gray birch overnight, so they must be really tasty. Deer also browse on the twigs in winter.

14-sweet-birch

Black birch buds (Betula lenta) don’t have as many bud scales as gray birch buds and the bark doesn’t look at all like other birches, so it can be hard to identify. Another name for the tree is cherry birch and that’s because its bark looks like cherry bark. It is also called sweet birch because it smells like wintergreen, and I always identify it by chewing a twig. If it tastes like wintergreen then I know it’s a black birch. Trees were once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen. So many were taken that they became hard to find, but they seem to be making a good comeback.

15-catalpa

Everything about the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) tree is big. It grows to 70-100 feet and has huge heart shaped leaves. Great trusses of large white orchid like flowers blossom appear on them in late spring, and even the seedpods look like giant string beans. But then there are its buds, which are tiny. In this photo the brown leaf bud appears just above the suction cup like leaf scar, which is where last year’s leaf was. Each tiny bud has about six small pointed scales. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew large plantations of them to use as rail ties. It has also been used for telephone poles. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe.

16-catalpa-leaf

Catalpa trees have the biggest leaves of any tree I know of. This shot of my camera sitting on one is from a couple of years ago. It’s amazing that such a big thing can grow from such a tiny bud.

17-white-pine

Clusters of small, sticky buds appear at the ends of white pine branches (Pinus strobus.) They are sticky because they’re coated with pine sap, which we call pine pitch. They aren’t sticky when it’s cold though; the white platy material is frozen pine pitch. Once the weather warms it will go back to being a thick, amber, sticky fluid that doesn’t easily wash off.

I have to apologize for the quality of some of these photos. With it dark before and after work these days photography can only happen on weekends and if it’s dark and cloudy on those days then I have to assume that nature is giving me a lesson in great patience and I just have to do what I can with the camera.

Despite the poor photos I hope this post has shown how interesting and beautiful buds can be, and I hope you’ll have a look at the buds in your own yard or neighborhood. You might be very surprised by what you find.

Leaves wither because winter begins; but they also wither because spring is already beginning, because new buds are being made. ~Karel Capek

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1. Catalpa

Imagine a tree 100 feet high and 50 wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba.

2. Catalpa Leaf

For those who have never seen a catalpa leaf, here is my camera sitting on one. I took this photo last fall.

3. Heal All

And since we’re thinking about orchids, here is our old friend heal all (Prunella lanceolata,) whose tiny hooded flowers also remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, 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.

4. Knapweed

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

5. Partridge Berry

The unusual twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the berries.

6. Mt. Laurel

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms. The pentagonal flowers are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. You can see flowers with relaxed anthers in the upper center and left parts of this photo. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them.

7. Mt. Laurel from Side

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

8. Hedge Bindweed

I saw a beautiful bicolor hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) flower one day. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds these bicolor ones have become more numerous over the last few years. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has arrowhead shaped triangular leaves.

9. Red Sandspurry

This is the first time that red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) has appeared on this blog, maybe because it is so small I’ve never noticed it. The tiny flowers aren’t much bigger than a BB that you would use in an air rifle, but grow in groups that are large enough to catch your eye. I find them growing in sand at the edge of roads and parking lots.

10. Red Sandspurry

The pretty little flowers of red sandspurry are pinkish lavender, so I’m not sure where the red in the common name comes from. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s. An odd fact about the plant is that it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.

11. Silky Dogwood

Silky dogwood has just started blooming. One way to tell that it’s a dogwood that you’re looking at is to count the flower petals. Dogwoods have 4 and viburnums have 5. What I like most about this shrub are its berries. They start off white and slowly turn deep blue, but for a while they are blue and white and remind me of Chinese porcelain. In fact I’ve always wondered if the Chinese got the idea for blue and white porcelain from these berries. This shrub is also called swamp dogwood. I usually find it growing on the banks of rivers and streams.

12. Columbine

I saw these beautiful wine red columbines in a friend’s garden. I think they probably started life as flashy bicolor hybrids and now the seedlings reverted back to one of the parents.

13. Sulfur Cinquefoil

Five pale yellow heart shaped petals surround a center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils in a sulfur cinquefoil blossom (Potentilla recta.) Close to the center each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I like seeing its pale yellow flowers among the purple maiden pinks and white ox-eye daisies.

14. Tulip Tree Blossom

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) gets its common name from the way its flowers resemble tulips, at least from the outside. As the photo shows, the inside looks very different. The fruit is cone shaped and made up of a number of thin, narrow scales which eventually become winged seeds. Another name for this tree is yellow poplar. It is the tallest hardwood tree known in North America, sometimes reaching 200 feet. Native Americans made dugout canoes from tulip tree trunks.

15. Crown Vetch

I love all flowers but some seem to have a little extra spark of life that makes me want to kneel before them and get to know them a little better. One of those is the lowly crown vetch (Securigera varia.) I know it’s an invasive species that people seem to either despise or ignore but it’s also beautiful. In fact if I had to design a beautiful flower, I don’t think I could do better than this.

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

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Here are a few more examples of what we have blooming here right now.

1. Black Eyed Susan

Really? I thought. Black eyed Susans already? I like these flowers but at the same time I’m never in any hurry to see them because to me they represent the top of the hill we have been climbing since the last of the snow melted. Once Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) bloom we start down the other side of that hill towards autumn, and I’m in no hurry to get there.  These plants are native to the U.S. anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, and introduced west of them.

2. BlueToadflax

Dry, sunny, sandy roadsides suddenly turn blue when blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) blooms. Tiny, pale blue and white flowers sit on thin, wiry stems. This native plant was introduced to Europe and has naturalized in some areas, including Russia. It is in the snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison.

3. Tall Buttercup

I’ve tried several times to get a photo that shows the waxy shine on common buttercup (Ranunculus acris) petals, and I think this one might be it. This shine is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed.

4. Catalpa Blossoms

The orchid-like flowers of the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) tree have opened. These native trees grow to 70 feet or more and often the branches are so high up that you can’t see the flowers closely, but I was lucky to find an immature tree. Each flower is made up of petals that fuse to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple can be seen in the throat. Flowers will give way to long, thin pods that we used to call string beans when I was a boy.

5. Crown Vetch

Crown vetch (Coronilla varia) has an interesting flower head made up of up to 25 individual flowers. The standard is upright and deeper pink than the 4 lighter petals that make up the keel. Flowers have a typical pea-like shape. This plant was introduced as a forage crop and has escaped to the point where it is found regularly along sunny roadsides.

6. Indian Cucumber Root Flower

The flowers of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) can be challenging to photograph. Out of more than 20 shots this is the only one worth posting. It shows how the yellow-green petals curve backwards to reveal a long, spidery style and 6 stamens, all in crimson and plum. When these plants aren’t flowering they are sometimes mistaken for starflower because of the way the leaves whorl around the stem. The root of this plant tastes like cucumber and Native Americans used it for both food and medicine. People seem to feel the need to taste the plant’s root and because of it Indian cucumber is now endangered in many areas. Please admire them and let them be so the rest of us can also admire them.

7. Dogbane

Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) is supposed to be toxic to dogs so the Apocynum part of the scientific name means “Away dog!” The second part of the scientific name, cannabinum, means “like hemp,” which helps explain the plant’s other common name of Indian hemp. Dogbane has white, sticky sap that is toxic, so animals avoid it. Native Americans made thread and cord from dogbane and used it for nets and snares because the fibers hold their shape and do not shrink when they get wet. Dogbane fibers have been found in archaeological sites that are thousands of years old.

 8. Mountain Laurel Flowers

Our woods are full of native blooming mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) right now. Many believe that these evergreen shrubs are related to rhododendrons, but they are actually more closely related to blueberries. The white to pink flowers of Mountain laurel each have 10 pockets or depressions in the petals that the anthers bend to fit into. When a pollinator lands on the blossom the anthers spring from these pockets and dust the insect with pollen.

 9. Mountain Laurel Flower Backs

This view of the back of mountain laurel blossoms shows the unusual pockets that the anthers fit into. Mountain laurel is very toxic and has been known to kill livestock that have eaten it.

10. Yellow Rattle aka Rhinanthus minor

Yellow rattle box (Rhinanthus crista) is a very strange plant that is, in botanical terms, “hemi parasitic” on pasture grasses. This means that even though it creates its own food through photosynthesis its roots attack the roots of other plants and literally suck the life out of them. If enough of them grow in a pasture they can destroy the grasses in it. This plant is from Europe and gets its common name from the way the dry seeds rattle around in the round, flat pods that form behind each flower.

 11. Lobelia

There are so many lobelias that it is often hard to tell, but I think this is pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata.) Lobelias usually prefer moist places so I was surprised to find it in a small, dry clearing on the side of a hill. I was also surprised that the flowers on some plants were such a deep blue, because they usually range from pale blue to white. Flowers are found on a thin, wiry stem. When I was looking for information on this plant I was surprised to find that it is listed as rare in New Hampshire. In my experience it is quite common. Lobelias are toxic so no part of the plant should ever be eaten.

 12. Lobelia-Single Flower

Each flower of Lobelia spicata has an upper lip that is divided into 2 lobes and a larger lip that is divided into 3 lobes. A dark blue stigma sits between the upper 2 lobes. The petals are fused and form a tube. At a glance it might be easy to confuse this plant with blue toadflax.

 13. Flowering Raspberry

The petals of our native flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) always look like somebody forgot to iron them before they put them on. If this flower reminds you of a rose, that’s because it is in the rose family. The 2 inch wide flowers are fragrant and attract butterflies. If pollinated, they are followed by large berries that are said to taste good, but have too many seeds to be useful. The red to orange fruit is shaped like a thimble and that gives this plant another common name-pink thimble berry.

Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.  ~John Ruskin

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I thought it was time to visit some flower gardens again before they got too far ahead of me. There are some beautiful things happening in them.A few years ago a woman I worked for gave me a piece of this Japanese iris (Iris ensata.) I think it’s one of the most beautiful flowers in my yard and this year has 7 or 8 buds on it for the first time since I planted it. The only problem (if there is one) with Japanese iris is they like constantly moist soil, so I’ve planted other shorter perennials in front of it to keep the soil shaded so it doesn’t dry out so fast. In its native Japan it is a wetland plant much like our native blue flag iris, so it needs plenty of water. I had trouble deciding if this red bee balm (Monarda) should go into a garden flower post or a wildflower post, because it is a native plant that is seen more in gardens than in the wild. This one I planted years ago and it is one of the oldest plants in my gardens.  Bee Balm is also called horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot. Many Native American tribes used this plant medicinally and a tea made from it can still be found in many stores. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew.  I saw this garden lily at a local school and was surprised that it looked so untouched. We have an infestation of Asian lily beetles here and unless we spray they eat first the leaves and then the flowers. Some people have stopped growing lilies because of this plague. Lilies are among the most beautiful garden flowers and like full sun and sandy, well-drained soil. They will absolutely not survive in heavy soil that stays wet.I’d guess that most people grow hosta for the variegated leaves but I like the flowers too. Hostas are in the lily family and come from mountain slopes in Korea, China and Japan. The more water they have, the better they will grow. Their flowers are white or lavender. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium ) is a plant that has been used medicinally for centuries. The “parthenium” part of the scientific name comes from the ancient Greeks who, as legend has it, used the plant to heal someone who had fallen from the Parthenon. Feverfew is a plant that has appeared in herbals from the earliest texts up to the present. It has been used to relieve everything from migraine headaches to fevers. In fact, the name Feverfew comes from the Old English pronunciation of the Latin “febrifugia,” or fever-flee.  Feverfew flowers look like small ox-eye daisies and its leaves smell of citrus when crushed. Each flower is about the size of a nickel but might sometimes be as large as a quarter on robust plants. It is originally from Europe and Asia and spreads quickly. It would probably be called an invasive weed if it wasn’t loved by so many. Evening primrose (Oenothera ) is another native plant that can be found in both gardens and the wild. The 4 petals and X or cross shaped stigma are excellent identifiers for plants in this family. In the evening the flowers close so that by nightfall the plant looks like it is filled with flower buds that haven’t opened yet. The flowers take about a minute to re-open the next day. In the wild evening primroses can be found in waste areas, riverbanks and roadsides. Our native northern Catalpa (Catalpa) trees are large, growing up to 90 feet tall with a crown that can be 50 feet wide, so it isn’t usually seen in small yards.  In the south the southern catalpa is sometimes called “cigar tree” but as a boy in second grade I called it the string bean tree because of its long seed pods that look like string beans. Catalpas are fast growing, somewhat messy trees; in summer their falling orchid like blossoms make it look like it is snowing and later their curled seed pods and large, heart shaped leaves make fall cleanup a chore. The tree that the flower pictured was on stands near a local river.Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is another native plant that can be found in gardens or in the wild. They are useful in gardens because the strong stems don’t need staking to withstand rain and wind.  Ancient Greeks thought the center of the flower looked like a sea urchin, so they called it echino.  Echinacea was used medicinally for hundreds of years by Native Americans, who used it to treat coughs, sore throats, and many other ailments. It is still used medicinally today by some. I planted one about 15 years ago and now have them in flower beds throughout the yard.Pliny the Elder thought the hairy purple stamens on these flowers looked like the antennae found on moths, so he called them “blattaria,” which means moth-like. Forever more the plant would be known as Verbascum blattaria; what we now call moth mullein. This plant is originally from Europe and has become naturalized, but it isn’t what I would call invasive because it isn’t seen that often. I see it in gardens more than I do in the wild. The plant pictured was in a representation of an 18th century herb garden. The plant’s only resemblance to the common wooly mullein is the tall flower spike; both leaves and flowers look quite different. Each flower lasts only one day and can be white or yellow. I found this purple Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis ) growing in a local park. I like the feathery plumes of astilbe but I’ve never seen this color before. There is a purple cultivar called “Tanquetii,”but I’m not sure if it is the one pictured. Astilbes are good plants for shady areas that do well even with virtually no care. I might have to get this one to go with the red, white and pink ones that I already have. In previous posts I’ve shown common white yarrow ( Achillea millefolium) and yellow garden yarrow. Here is a pink-lavender garden yarrow. I haven’t seen any red or gold ones yet. Yarrow is one of the easiest plants there are to grow in hot, sunny places with soil on the poor side. Soil that is too rich will make the flower stems weak so they fall over rather than stand straight. This is the second earliest daylily (Hemerocallis) to bloom in my garden. The earliest is a yellow fragrant variety that blooms in very early spring. I’ve had the plant pictured for so long that its name has long since been forgotten, but red daylilies with yellow throats are common and easy to find. I have another with yellow flowers and a red throat that blooms right after this one. Daylilies are easy to grow and will grow virtually anywhere there is sunshine.

Almost any garden, if you see it at just the right moment, can be confused with paradise ~ Henry Mitchell

I hope you enjoyed seeing what is blooming on the cultivated side of things. Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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