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Posts Tagged ‘Chicory’

In my last flower post I ended with a stand of wildflowers that I drive by each morning on my way to work. I didn’t think that photo showed all of the beauty there was to see there so I went back and took more photos. This is one of them.

And this is a wider view. How lucky I am to see this each morning. I think about how, if they stopped mowing the roadsides, they might all look like this. I don’t know why they can’t wait until the flowers are finished blooming to mow certain areas. Some states actually spend a lot of time and money trying to get their roadsides looking like what happens here naturally.

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have bloomed quietly all summer; so unobtrusive but always able to coax a smile and warm a heart. Long used medicinally in Europe, here it is a welcomed alien. It is plant that has been known for a very long time and goes by many common names. It’s said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heartsease and was used in love potions. Viola tricolor is believed to be the original wild form of all the modern varieties of pansy. I’m lucky enough to have them popping up at the edge of my lawn. I always make sure I miss them with the lawn mower.

Finding one or two forsythia blossoms in fall isn’t that unusual but if I saw a bush full of them I’d be concerned. This shrub had exactly one over anxious blossom on it, so it should still bloom in spring like it usually does. Forsythia was first discovered by a European growing in a Japanese garden in 1784 by the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg.

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is still blooming, I was happy to see. Orange is a hard color to find among wildflowers in this part of the world.  Other than orange daylilies which really aren’t wildflowers, and orange jewelweed, I can’t think of another orange wildflower.

This New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) had a lot of red in its purple and leaned toward a rose color. My color finding software sees violet, plum, and orchid.

Though it is nearing the end of September I wasn’t surprised to see silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) blossoming. Sometimes the shrub can have ripe fruit on it and still grow a flower cluster or two in a fall re-bloom. These bushes are big; many are 10 feet across. Silky dogwood is named for the soft, downy hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans used dogwood branches to make fish traps and twisted the bark into rope.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. I thought I’d show a blossom on a penny so you could see just how small they are. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods. The plant gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

A plant I’ve never noticed before is this nightshade, which I think is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country, so I’d say this example might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

But is this plant Solanum nigrum? It doesn’t look hairy enough to me but it does have pea size green berries that I’ve read should turn black. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

The swept back petals and bright yellow centers remind me of another nightshade I regularly see called bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara.) Its flowers are blue and yellow rather than white and yellow but they look much the same otherwise. If this plant reminds you of a potato plant, that’s because they’re in the same family.

According to an article on National Public Radio scientists have found that once sunflowers mature they stop following the sun and face east. When young they greet the sunrise in the east and then as the day progresses they follow it to the west until it sets. During the night time they slowly turn back to the east to again to wait for the next sunrise. They do this through a process called heliotropism, which scientists say can be explained by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour internal clock that humans also have. The plant actually turns itself by having different sides of its stem elongate at different times. Growth rates on the east side of the stem are high during the day and low at night. On the west side of the stem the growth rate is high at night and low during the day, and the differing growth rates turn the plant.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) bloomed in a field that has been mowed all summer long.  This plant stood about three inches tall but it was still blooming as if it hadn’t been touched. I love its cheery, bright blue color. Our average first frost happens in mid-September, so this might be the last photo of it this year.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba,) is a plant in the aster family that blooms as late as asters do. It is said that the common name comes from the way that some Native American tribes used the plant to treat snakebite. William Byrd of Virginia wrote in 1728 that “the rattlesnake has an utter antipathy to this plant, in-so-much that if you smear your hand with the juice of it, you may handle the viper safely.” I hope nobody actually tried that. This plant is not toxic, at least not enough to kill; the Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of it in a tea that they used to relieve pain.

This cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows on the banks of the Ashuelot River and I’ve never seen them anywhere else. The small oval burs aren’t quite as sticky as burdock burs but they will catch on clothing. Cocklebur leaves require long nights to trigger production of the chemicals needed to produce flowers, so they are considered “short day” plants. Their leaves are so sensitive that any light shining on them at night can keep the plant from flowering.

Cockleburs grow male flowers along its upper half, and female flowers grow in the lower half but I’m never early enough to catch them. All I ever see are the burs.

I can’t explain these white squiggly things appearing from the cocklebur fruit. The plant is here in a flower post because I thought they might be flowers but good information on this plant is very hard to find, so I’m not sure what they are. The seeds in cocklebur pods were eaten raw or cooked by Native Americans and among certain tribes in the Southwest the seeds were ground with squash and corn and applied externally to heal puncture wounds.

Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful dark blue veins.

I liked this zinnia I found in a friend’s garden recently. These flowers are usually butterfly magnets but I didn’t see any this day.

This roadside view of asters is quite different from the first two photos in this post. It’s more pastel and subdued and has a different kind of beauty than those views I started out with, but I like them all.

The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of nature, was the first spiritual experience. ~Henryk Skolimowski

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It’s time to say goodbye to chicory (Cichorium intybus) I think, though I have seen it blooming in late September before. I found these plants still blooming along a roadside. The flowers were small for chicory at about 3/4 of an inch across, but their beautiful shade of blue more than made up for their small size. Chicory is one of my summer favorites.

I found the first dark purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) of the season recently. I look for the darkest ones I can find each year and these were beautiful but New England asters are very beautiful, no matter what shade of purple they are. When light and dark flowers grow together the bees always seem to prefer the lighter ones but in this area there were no lighter ones so I had to hope I didn’t get stung. There were bees everywhere, and they were loving these flowers as much as I was.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I see them still blooming here and there. This one looked as fresh as they do in July. There are still plenty of pollinators about so I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) are very tall with large flower heads (panicles) and weak stems, so when all the flowers bloom the stems often bend and the flowers end up at ankle level. This is one of the earlier, more showy asters that spreads by underground rhizomes and usually grows in large colonies of plants. I see them on forest edges.

I liked this pond-side view with its patch of wildflowers blooming.

When our native yellow loosestrifes have all bloomed then it’s time for purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) to start in and despite the belief that they need wet places to grow in I found this river of loosestrife at the edge of a dry cornfield. Purple loosestrife is an invasive that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant is becoming very difficult.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) still blooms on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Its common name comes from the way the leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.

Individual white snakeroot flowers are small, bright white, and fuzzy. The plant seems to prefer moist, shaded locations and doesn’t mind disturbed ground. It can often be found quite deep in forests and blooms from August to September. If you should happen to have farm animals you should know it well.

It’s also time to say goodbye to the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea.) This one looked like it had been through the wash. Its color had faded and its dry petals felt like paper.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) must be one of the longest blooming wildflowers we have here. It usually starts blooming in May and I’m still seeing it in quite large numbers here in September. You can’t ask more from a flower than that. I love the shade of blue that it wears.

There are about 15 different species of agrimony but I think this one is woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata.) The small, bright yellow flowers grow in long spikes (racemes) on a small, knee high plant. The last time I showed its flowers I forgot to show the foliage, so this photo corrects that oversight. If you know it as something other than woodland agrimony I’d love to hear about it.

Woodland agrimony is also called roadside agrimony, and that is just where this one grew.  Agrimony has been used medicinally for many thousands of years, dating back to at least ancient Egypt, but though woodland agrimony is native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans.

I saw these beautiful chive blossoms in a friend’s garden. I think they must have been garlic chives (Allium tuberosum.)

Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small and beautiful, but it’s a plant that comes with a lot of baggage. As the story goes author and forager Samuel Thayer calls them ground beans rather than hog peanut because he claims that the name “hog peanut” was a racial slur against Native Americans. He says that the Europeans came to a point where they refused to eat them because even though the small legumes saved many of their lives they insisted they were only fit for hogs (implying that Native Americans were hogs.) Personally I find this story hard to believe because anyone who has ever raised pigs knows that they root around in the soil looking for just the kinds of legumes that grow on these vines, and it isn’t hard to imagine colonials, who raised pigs, saying “look, the hogs have found some peanuts.” I call it hog peanut here not to slander anyone but because nine out of ten people will use a plant’s common name when they look for it in field guides, and field guides call the plant hog peanut. If Samuel Thayer can get them to change that, then I’ll be happy to call it a ground bean.

Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds. Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good a tripping up hikers.

I tried many times to get a photo looking into these tiny but pretty flowers, but this is the best I could do.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I don’t know if this was tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) but it was a tall goldenrod that stood feet above the other plants in the surrounding meadow. Its height was amazing.

I tried and failed to get a shot of a single goldenrod flower for you, but it’s close. I think there are two here.

One of the things I like most about native pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is the way a child’s face will light up and break into a smile when they crush it and smell it. Usually when I tell them that it smells like pineapple they don’t believe it, so it’s a surprise. The conical flower heads are easiest to describe by saying they’re like daisies without petals, or ray florets. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and the leaves are also scented and have been used to make tea. The plant was used by Native Americans in a tonic to relieve gastrointestinal upset and fevers. The Flathead tribe used the dried, powdered plants to preserve meats and berries. It is said to make a nice pineapple flavored tea.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. Its flowers are sparse at this time of year but I find it blooming here and there. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heavens? ~ A.J. Balfour

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It has been so hot and dry here lately some of the lawns have gone crisp and make a crunching sound when you walk on them, but there was a single dandelion blooming on one of them all the same. I was surprised to see it because dandelions rest through the hottest part of the summer and don’t usually bloom until it gets cooler in fall. I hope this isn’t the last one I see this year. It’s a cool rainy day as I type this, so maybe that will convince more of them to blossom.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) is still blooming in lawns everywhere I go. This plant is also called self-heal and has been used medicinally for centuries. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Native Americans drank tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed it improved their eyesight. The tiny orchid like flowers look like a bunch of little mouths, cheering on life.

Bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) grows in the shade away from the hot sun but it has still been hot enough even there to melt all of the wax crystals from its stems. It is this natural wax coating, the same “bloom” found on plums and blueberries, that makes the stems blue and without it this looks like many other goldenrods, and that makes them a little harder to identify. Luckily these examples are old friends and I know them well, so there is no doubt.

I think this was an example of the bushy American aster (Symphyotrichum dorsum) which has small blue flowers and looks much like the small white American aster (Symphyotrichum racemosum) in size and growth habit.  Each flower is about a half inch across and plants might reach waist high on a good day, but they usually flop over and lean on the surrounding plants as this one has. It likes dry, sandy fields and that’s exactly where I found it growing.

I found a tiny, knee high bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) with a single flower head on it, in a color that I’ve never seen it wear before. It had a lot of white in it and bull thistle flowers are usually solid pinkish purple. It is also called spear thistle, and with good reason; just look at those thorns.

Here’s another look at the bull thistle flower head. I’ve never seen another like it. I wonder if it’s some sort of natural hybrid. Or maybe, because it is so loose and open, I’m just seeing parts of it I haven’t seen before.

I was surprised to find creeping bellflowers (Campanula rapunculoides) still blooming. This pretty flowered plant was introduced as a garden ornamental from Europe and escaped to find nice dry places in full sun, which it loves. It’s usually finished blooming by the time the goldenrods start but this year it looks as if this plant will outlast them. It’s a plant that is very easy to identify, with its pretty blue / purple bell shaped flowers all on one side of its stem.

I don’t know if it’s the unusual hot temperatures we’ve had or if there is another reason but I’m seeing a lot of summer flowers that I shouldn’t be seeing now, like this St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum.) It usually blooms in June and July and should be long since done by now but I guess it can do whatever it wants. In any event it’s a pretty thing and I was happy to see it. Originally from Europe, St. Johnswort has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun.

Yet another plant that I was surprised to find still blooming was purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus.) This plant is in the rose family and has flowers that are 2 inches across and large, light gathering leaves that it needs to grow in the shade. It usually blooms in July for about 3 weeks but I was happy to see it in September.

At about 2 or 3 times the size of a standard raspberry the berry of the purple flowering raspberry looks like an extra-large raspberry. It is said by some to be tart and dry but others say it tastes like a raspberry if you put it on the tip of your tongue. This was an important plant to the Native Americans. They had over 100 uses for it, as both food and medicine.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) starts blooming in late July and is usually finished by now, but you can still see them here and there. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name. I learned just this year that monarch butterflies love these flowers.

Most purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) plants stopped blooming weeks ago so I was surprised to find one still blooming. This is an invasive perennial that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows but will grow just about anywhere. It’s hard to deny its beauty, especially when you see a meadow full of it growing alongside yellow goldenrods, but the plant chokes out natives including goldenrod and creates monocultures.

I was also surprised to see an ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) blooming but that’s one of the great things about nature study; there is always another surprise right around the next bend. I’m always grateful to be able to see and smell flowers but even more so in at this time of year because it is then, when they really shouldn’t be blooming, that I remember what a great gift they are. The plant came over from Europe in the 1800s but is much loved and many believe it to be a native.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) still blooms here and there but it’s pretty well finished for this year. Its final act will be to drop millions of seeds before it dies back completely until spring. This plant was brought to Europe from Japan sometime around 1829. It was taken to Holland and grown in nurseries that sold it as an ornamental. From there it found its way across the Atlantic where we still do battle with it today. It is one of the most invasive plants known and the only plant I have ever seen overtake it is purple loosestrife, which is also an invasive weed. Japanese knotweed is also a tough plant that is very hard to eradicate once it has become established.

Japanese knotweed does have pretty flowers but they aren’t enough to convince people that it’s a plant worth having on their property. It can take over entire yards when left alone.

Bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa) bloomed in a local children’s butterfly garden. This plant gets its common name from its powerful fragrance that is said to chase away bugs when bouquets of its long racemes are brought inside. Other names for it include black snakeroot and black cohosh. Native Americans used it for centuries to treat pain, fever, cough, pneumonia, and other ailments. They also taught the early European settlers how to make a tonic from the plant to boost women’s reproductive health; a kind of spring tonic.

The pee gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) is a “panicled” hydrangea, meanings its flower heads are cone shaped rather than round. These plants grow into large shrubs sometimes reaching 10-20 feet tall and nearly as wide. Though originally introduced from Japan in 1862 this plant is thought to be native by many and is a much loved, old fashioned favorite. What I like most about this hydrangea is how the flower heads turn a soft pastel pink in the fall. When they’re cut and dried they’ll hold their color for quite a long time.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. Its flowers are sparse at this time of year but I find it blooming here and there. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

I never thought I’d see chicory (Cichorium intybus) blooming in September but here they were on the roadside and I was happy to see them. The flowers were small for chicory at about 3/4 of an inch across, but their beautiful shade of blue more than made up for their small size.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

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Right now wildflowers, both native and non native, seem to bloom on every square foot of available space in some places. The view across this stream showed the yellows of several varieties of goldenrod and St’ John’s wort, purple loosestrife, the whites of asters and boneset, and the dusty rose of Joe Pye weed. Scenes like this are common at this time of year but that doesn’t diminish their beauty.

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. I took this photo early one morning and this example was very wet with dew.

If you know arrowheads at all then this photo probably surprises you, because this leaf looks nothing like the usually seen common arrowhead leaf. The plant is also called slender arrowhead, and I’m assuming it’s due to the leaf shape.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. Flowers are about an inch across. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a late summer blooming native clematis vine that drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees, but in this photo it has set its sights considerably lower and grew over a stand of yarrow. As long as it finds the sunshine it needs, it doesn’t matter what it grows on.  An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

Another name for this vine is traveler’s joy, which it is, but its small white flowers are another reminder that fall is near.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) is a shy little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of meadows and I usually find it growing in full sun. It has the unusual habit of dropping all of its opened flowers each afternoon. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day, which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

Slender Gerardia is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the slender, sword shaped leaves. The blossoms are very hairy and have a long curved protruding pistil and especially from the side look nothing like foxglove to me.

Another reason I doubt that slender gerardia could ever be confused with foxglove is its size. You could fit a few gerardia blossoms in a single foxglove blossom.

I’m seeing a lot of flowers this summer that I’ve never seen before and I thought this was one of them, but my blog tells me that I have seen it once before. There are about 15 different species of agrimony but I think this one is woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata.) The small, bright yellow flowers grow in long spikes (racemes) on a small, knee high plant. Research shows that the plant is threatened in New York and Maryland and I wonder if it is rare here. I’m surprised that I’ve only seen it twice.  It is also called roadside agrimony, though I’ve never seen it there. Agrimony has been used medicinally for many thousands of years, dating back to at least ancient Egypt but though woodland agrimony is native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans.

I usually stay away from goldenrod identification because there are so many of them that even botanists get confused, but slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is easy because of its long, slender leaves and its fragrance. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf.  Still, I always smell them just to be sure.

I wrote about boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) in the last post but since it’s so common at this time of year I thought I’d show it again. At a glance it looks like white Joe Pye weed, but a close look at the foliage shows that it’s a very different plant. This example had a visitor, up there on the right.

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

Here was a nice stand of Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) growing at the edge of the forest. Even from a distance it is easy to see how different the foliage is from boneset. If you’re trying to identify the two plants when they aren’t blooming it helps to know how their foliage is arranged.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is considered an invasive species in some areas but I don’t see it that often and when I do it’s in fairly small colonies of up to maybe a hundred plants. These few examples grew next to a cornfield. 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.

Because the flower is nearly closed by its lower lip it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to pry open and pollinate yellow toadflax. When it is grown under cultivation its flowers are often used as cut flowers and are said to be long lasting in a vase. It always reminds me of snapdragons and goes by many common names. “Butter and eggs” is probably one of the best known and “Dead men’s bones” is probably one of the least known.

Big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) need big, light gathering leaves because they grow in the forest under trees. The leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify. As is common on many asters the flowers look like they were glued together by a chubby fisted toddler.

The leaves on big leaf aster are heart shaped and about as big as your hand. They are especially impressive when they grow in large colonies. I’ve seen whole hillsides with nothing but these big leaves growing on them, so they must shade out other plants or have something toxic in their makeup that doesn’t allow other plants to grow.

After seeing broad leaved helleborine orchids blooming I knew that it was nearly time for downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens) to bloom, so I visited a small colony I know of. This native orchid has tiny white flowers but I like its mottled silvery foliage as much as its blossoms.  The flowers grow on a relatively long stalk and though I’ve tried hundreds of times I’ve been able to show the flower stalk and basal leaves together clearly in a photo only once. This orchid grows in the woods usually in deep shade, but I find that most plants get at least an hour or two of sunshine no matter where they grow, and I just happened to be there when this one had its moment in the sun.

I’ve learned from many frustrating attempts at photographing this plant to carry a small 8 X 10 inch piece of black foam core board with me because its narrow racemes and tiny flowers are easily lost in the background vegetation.

I’ve taken hundreds of photos of downy rattlesnake plantain orchid flowers but this is the only time I’ve seen any color except white in one. I suppose the yellow color must be nectar, but I don’t know for sure. The tiny flowers look like miniature versions of our native pink lady’s slipper orchid flowers. Each one is so small it could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. This photo also shows where the “downy” part of the common name comes from. Everything about the flower stalk is hairy.

I was driving along the highway north of Keene when I saw a flash of beautiful blue, so of course I had to go back and see what it was. I was happy to see a large stand of chicory (Cichorium intybus) still blooming while all the other chicory plants I know of finished blooming weeks ago. I love the beautiful blue color of these flowers and if I could have a yard full of them I would.

Narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) blossoms are also a beautiful shade of blue. These flowers appear identical to those of bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but the foliage is quite different. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them in this area very often. 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. These examples grow in a roadside ditch in Nelson, which is north of Keene.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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Nothing says summer to me like lilies blooming, and we’re lucky to have them blooming in fields and along roadsides right now. The flowers of Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are as big and as beautiful as the garden lilies I think we’re all familiar with, and they come in red and orange as well as yellow. Their habit of nodding towards the ground can make getting a photo difficult, but I (very gently) tilt the stem back with one hand while I take the photos with the other. It’s not the ideal set up but it lets me show you the brownish purple spots on the inside throat of the trumpet and the huge red anthers. I had a hard time finding them this year though. One spot I know of where a large colony grows had nothing but chewed stems, and I think deer might have eaten them. Another spot near a stream had many lilies blooming 2 years ago and now there is no sign of them. I’m not sure where they could have gone.

These big lilies don’t toil or spin but they thrive out in the fields, sometimes reaching 7 to 8 feet tall. They always remind me of arts and crafts period chandeliers. These examples had a lot of orange on their outsides which is something I don’t often see. They’re usually bright yellow. The flower buds and roots were gathered and eaten by Native Americans. The scaly bulbs were cooked and eaten with other foods, such as venison and fish. They were also cooked and saved for winter use. They are said to have a very peppery flavor.

Lilies say summer but black eyed Susans remind me that summer will end all too soon. This plant will always be a fall flower to me, probably because they have such a long blooming period and are seen everywhere in the fall. I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by. At least this year they waited until July to bloom.

For some reason chicory (Cichorium intybus) likes to grow in places that get mowed regularly, like along our roadsides. I’m always dismayed when I see such beautiful flowers being cut down but I have seen normal size flowers can bloom on a plant no more than three inches tall, so though the plants may get mowed they aren’t being killed. I’m glad of that because I love their blue color.

One day I was walking on the banks of the Ashuelot River up in Surry, which is north of Keene, and came upon a plant that I had never seen. It turned out to be herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) and my question, once I had identified it, was: Robert who? As it turns out Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

Stinky or not herb Robert has a pretty little flower, but they’re much smaller than other geraniums. Each one seems to be no bigger than a standard aspirin.

Blue, bell shaped flowers all on one side of the stem can mean only one thing; creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides.) The pretty flowered plant was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in dry places that get full sun. It is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time the goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom. It is considered an invasive plant in some places because it is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It can choke out weaker native plants if it is left alone. It isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire though, and in fact I usually have to look for quite a while to find it. When I do it is usually growing on forest edges.

American basswood trees (Tilia americana) are members of the linden family. Though they are native trees I rarely see them. They belong to the same genus as the lime trees commonly seen in Europe and England. Its flowers are very fragrant and it’s a nice looking shade tree but unfortunately it is also an insect magnet and among the insects it attracts are Japanese beetles in the many thousands. Bees are also attracted in great numbers and the honey produced from basswood foraging bees is said to be choice and highly sought after.

Each of the basswood’s flower clusters (cymes) clings to the middle of an elongated whitish green floral bract. Each small flower is about a half inch in diameter with 5 cream-colored petals, 5 cream-colored sepals, a pistil with a white style, and several stamens with yellow anthers. They are always hard to get a good photo of for some reason, and I usually have to try several times. The seeds of this tree are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for the tree and made rope from its tough inner bark. Freshly cut bark was also used as bandages. Syrup was made from the sweet sap and young leaves were eaten in the spring. Not a single part of the tree was wasted.

Many plants that can tolerate a lot of shade have large, light gathering leaves and the shade tolerant purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is one of those. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. Flowering raspberry has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it just as much as roses and it’s common to see the large leaves looking like they’ve been shot full of holes. The fruit looks like a large raspberry but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

I thought I’d show a rose blossom so those who have never seen a flowering raspberry flower could compare the two of them. The flowering raspberry really doesn’t look anything like a rose except maybe in size of bloom, but they do get confused occasionally. This is a “wild” rose; beautiful and fragrant enough that I wished it grew in my own yard.

I’ve seen this plant before but I’ve never seen it bloom because the single example I know of grows near a shopping mall and in the past it has always been cut down before it could blossom. But it is persistent and keeps growing back, and finally this year it was able to blossom in peace before being cut. At first I thought it was some type of vining honeysuckle but the tiny flowers and its white latex sap pointed me in the direction of milkweeds.

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

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

Tall thimbleweed’s (Anemone virginiana) white flower sepals don’t seem to last very long. Every time I see them they have either turned green or are in the process of doing so, and you can just see a hint of green on two or three of these. There are usually plenty of yellowish stamens surrounding a center head full of pistils though. The seed head continues growing after the sepals have fallen off and it becomes thimble shaped, which is where the common name comes from. These flowers are close to the diameter of a quarter; about an inch. Though the plant is poisonous Native Americans used the root to ease whooping cough and the smoke from the seeds was used to treat breathing difficulties.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. I almost always find it near water. It is another plant which for me marks summer’s passing.

Tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) can reach 10 feet tall, towering above other plants in the area. This makes it easy to see but sometimes it’s not so easy to get a good photo of. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even the leaves on the same plant looking different from each other. Native Americans used the plant for pain relief, as a stimulant, and for calming the nerves. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium, which has narcotic and sedative properties. It is still used in medicines today but should be used with caution because overdoses can cause death.

Though tall lettuce can reach 10 feet tall its flowers are very small; no more than a 1/4 inch across, and appear in loose clusters at the top of wiry stalks.

The pale yellowish green flowers of tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted by red or pink on their edges and are really quite pretty, but I think they are flowers that most people miss. This one was offering up a lot of pollen.

Last year I followed a trail through a swamp and was astonished to see a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) growing right there beside the trail. This year I’ve been following its progress off and on for months, watching it grow and produce buds, hoping all the while that a hungry deer wouldn’t come along and eat it. The deer left it alone and finally it bloomed at exactly the same time it had last year.

Gosh what a beautiful thing it is; like a bush full of purple butterflies. It is something I’d happily walk many miles to see because such a sight is so very rare; truly a once in a lifetime find in these parts. It grows in black, very wet swamp mud where for part of this spring there was standing water, so it obviously likes wet feet. Last year I was confused about its identity because the middle lower petal didn’t show any fringe but this year as you can see they are fringed, so that clinches it. The flowers are pollinated by large butterflies and moths, but I’ve never seen an insect near them. I do hope they get pollinated and produce plenty of seeds. I was stunned to read that the Native American Iroquois tribe actually dug this orchid up for its roots! They made tea from the roots to protect them from ghosts. Maybe there were a lot more plants then. I could never dig up something so beautiful and rare.

How I wish everyone could become lost in nature at least once. A camera is a good way to experience it because a camera makes you focus intently on what you see, and often when you do that you find that all other thoughts will fade. Your mind and heart open and then it is just you and the incredible beauty of what is before you. You become lost in that beauty and become part of it, and time slips away. It doesn’t matter that you are kneeling in mud because you can’t care about such things. It’s just you and what your attention is focused on, and for that moment in time there is simply nothing else. I’m often astonished to find that what seemed like just a few minutes has actually been an hour or more. That’s how I know that I have been taken away to that other place. It’s a place where, once visited, you know you’d love to stay, and I do hope you’ll find that out for yourself one day.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.
~ Zenkei Shibayama

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1. Crooked Stem Aster

This crooked stem aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) is one of the first blue asters I’ve seen this year. I found a small colony growing in a sunny spot in the woods, surrounded by many other white asters.  I don’t usually try to identify asters but the one inch diameter light blue flowers and zigzagging stems made this one easier than most. The Native American Iroquois tribe used this plant medicinally to treat fevers and other ailments.

2. Bigleaf Aster

Native large leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla) is another aster that is relatively easy to identify because of its big heart shaped leaves. The plant spreads by rhizomatous roots and can form very large colonies, especially on hillsides as these examples were. Its leaves are often as big as my hand and they can take a lot of shade. The plant seems to be blooming well this year in spite of drought so I’m assuming that they don’t mind dry soil. They don’t like being disturbed by human activity so I don’t see them close to roadsides often. These were separated from the road by a wide drainage ditch.

3. Bigleaf Aster

Most of the flowers that I find on large leaved asters are white but they can also be light blue or lavender. As in many asters the ray florets are irregularly spaced around the central disc florets. The tubular disc florets turn from yellow to orange-red as they age and then change to dark red before finally turning brown.

4. Mint

If the square stems and tufts of tiny pink / purple flowers in the leaf axils don’t ring a bell, then one sniff of a crushed leaf will tell you immediately that this plant is wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) Mint has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. Each time we see it we are seeing one of mankind’s earliest memories. I find it growing in the tall grass at the edge of the forest and I always have to smell it.

5. Narrow Leaved Speedwell aka (Veronica scutellata)

I never thought of speedwell as an aquatic plant until I met the narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata.) It is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense, because it grew in standing water in full sun at the edge of a field last year. This year there was no standing water but the soil was still saturated. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

6. Narrow Leaved Speedwell aka (Veronica scutellata)

Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there are many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice.

7. Forked Blue Curls

Tiny eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) has flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day, 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. 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. It’s a beautiful little thing that’s worth looking for, but getting a good photo of it is tricky. It took 8 tries to get this one.

8. Forked Blue Curls

Forked blue curl plants barely reach your ankle. The entire plant pictured could have easily fit inside a coffee mug.

9. Pilewort

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is a strange plant with inch long flower buds that never seem to open beyond what you see in the above photo. Even after they open they still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely.  This plant gets its common name from the belief that it was useful in the treatment of piles (hemorrhoids,) because the buds are the size and shape of suppositories. The Native American Algonquin people used the plant to treat poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) rashes. It has also been used as a source of a blue dye for cotton and wool.

10. Pilewort

This is all we see of a pilewort flower when it opens. It is made up of many disc florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. Once they go to seed they will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds. In some areas it is called burn weed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

11. Pipewort

The drought we find ourselves in is presenting many problems but also a few opportunities. Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep standing water but the water of this pond had receded enough so that I could walk right up to the plants shown without taking my shoes off. Since they grow with their lower stems submerged I’ve never been able to see the entire plant, but now I could.

12. Pipewort

I’m not sure what I expected to see but the leaves surprised me. With leaves the pipewort looked just like many other plants but its basal leaves normally grow underwater, which seems a little strange. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize. The stem has a twist to it with 7 ridges and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort.

13. Pipewort

Most pipeworts grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of very tiny white, cottony flowers. Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which of course is exactly what pipewort looks like. Pipewort is wind pollinated. It is also called hat pins, for obvious reasons.

14. Wild Cucumber

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees and hangs on using tendrils like a grape. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers partial shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. These plants are annuals and grow from seed each year.

15. Wild Cucumber

The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

16. Wild Cucumber fruit

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of the wild cucumber have a watermelon shape. Though the spines look menacing they are quite soft and children have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. The fruit is not edible. The example shown here hadn’t grown to full size yet.

17. Toadflax

Little native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) has been blooming since May and is one of our longest blooming wildflowers. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers. They sparkle like sugar candy in the sunlight.

18. Chicory

Last year the Town of Swanzey cut down all the plants and shrubs along a short stretch of the Ashuelot River and one of those plants was the chicory (Cichorium intybus) in the above photo. It gets mowed regularly now, so I was surprised to see a normal size flower on a plant no more than three inches tall. It looks a little stressed, whether from drought or being mowed I don’t know but it’s a beautiful flower, and stronger than I ever knew.

Beauty does not linger; it only visits. Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm; it calls us to feel, think and act beautifully in the world: to create and live a life that awakens the beautiful. ~ John O’Donohue

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We’re coming into high summer now and though we still haven’t had any really beneficial rain, flowers continue to bloom. This shy little Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) peeked out of the tall grass at the edge of the forest. They don’t always grow in the same large clumps as their cousins the maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) do, and this was the only one I saw. They also don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center as maiden pinks do, and that’s a good means of identification. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide their beautiful faces at the sunny edges of the forest.

I have trouble seeing red against green due to colorblindness and that’s why you don’t see much red in these posts, but these bee balm blossoms stood high enough above the surrounding foliage to be clearly visible. The name bee balm comes from the way the juice from its crushed leaves will soothe a bee sting. Our native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) is also called Oswego tea, because the leaves were used to make tea by the Native American Oswego tribe of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for tea when they ran out of the real thing. It’s a beautiful flower that I’m always happy to see. Hummingbirds love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

3. Mallow

Driving home from work one evening I saw a flash of what looked like blue on the side of the road out of the corner of my eye so I turned around, hoping that I’d found another stand of chicory plants. Once I’d driven back to where I saw the plants I found that not only hadn’t I seen blue flowers, I hadn’t seen chicory either. But I wasn’t disappointed, because the mallow plants I found there were beautiful. I think they might have been musk mallow (Malva moschata.) Since it’s another plant that is originally from Europe it was probably a garden escapee, but you could hardly call it invasive. I see them once in a blue moon, even less than the elusive chicory that I’m always hoping to see.

4. Mallow

I thought the mallow flowers were pink but my color finding software sees lavender. I love looking at such beautiful flowers, especially those that I rarely see. I’m sure there were many people who drove by that day wondering why I was kneeling on the side of the road, but it wasn’t the first time for that.

I had to stop working on this post and go out for a while and when I did, just after writing that I rarely see chicory (Cichorium intybus,) there was a large stand of it beside the road. Actually the road was a very busy highway and I wasn’t sure about stopping but in the end I did and was glad that I had. Chicory is a large, inch and a half diameter flower that is a beautiful shade of blue. Unfortunately it’s rare in this area and I’m lucky if I see it at all. I always hope the plants that I do see produce plenty of seeds but its habit of growing so close to roads means it gets mowed down a lot.

Many plants that can tolerate a lot of shade have large, light gathering leaves and the shade tolerant purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is one of those. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. Flowering raspberry has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it just as much as roses and it’s common to see the large leaves looking like they’ve been shot full of holes. The fruit looks like a large raspberry but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

I thought I’d show a rose blossom so those who have never seen a flowering raspberry flower could compare the two of them. The flowering raspberry really doesn’t look anything like a rose except maybe in size of bloom, but they do get confused occasionally. This rose grew at the edge of the woods so I don’t know anything about it except that it was beautiful and fragrant enough so I wished it grew in my own yard. There was a sun shining radiantly at its center.

8. Enchanter's Nightshade

When I get a new camera like I did recently one of the first things I do is look for the smallest flowers that are blooming at the time so I can try out its macro ability, and they don’t come much smaller than enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.) This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. The new camera surprised me on this day; I’ve never gotten such clear shots of this little flower.

At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) that most of us have tangled with. Though it does have spines along the leaf margins and stem, they are quite small. Despite its common name the plant is actually a native of Europe but has spread to virtually every country in the northern hemisphere. It has a deep and extensive creeping root system and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold. For that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states.

I’ve grown a lot of beans but I’ve really never paid that much attention to the flowers. They’re unusual and quite pretty I thought, when I saw them in a friend’s garden.

13. Vervain

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see the same beautiful blue color that I saw in the chicory flower. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Vervain flowers are considerably smaller than chicory, but there are usually so many blooming that they’re as easy to spot as chicory is. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans.

14. Swamp Milkweed

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is one of those flowers that take me out of myself. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful of all the milkweeds and is one of those flowers that I most look forward to seeing each summer.

How could you not look forward to seeing something so beautiful? I could look at it all day.

16. Purple Fringed Orchid

I walked down a trail through a swamp that I didn’t know well one day and there growing beside it was a two foot tall purple fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes.) It was one I’ve never seen; it looked like a flock of beautiful purple butterflies had landed right beside me.

17. Purple Fringed Orchid

Once I came to my senses I moved closer and knelt beside the plant. Struck dumb by its beauty, all I could do was gaze and admire, so very grateful that I had found such a wondrous thing.

18. Purple Fringed Orchid

Later, after I left the swamp I thought of John Muir, who wrote of finding the beautiful calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) after being nearly lost in a swamp all day:

I found beautiful Calypso on the mossy bank of a stream… The flower was white and made the impression of the utmost simple purity like a snowflower. It seemed the most spiritual of all the flower people I had ever met. I sat down beside it and fairly cried for joy… How long I sat beside Calypso I don’t know. Hunger and weariness vanished, and only after the sun was low in the west I plashed on through the swamp, strong and exhilarated as if never more to feel any mortal care.

John Muir was completely lost in the beauty of nature; totally absorbed by the flower before him. It’s a wonderful experience and anyone it has ever happened to longs for it to happen again, and it does. I hope everyone has the chance to experience it, at least once.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

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