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Posts Tagged ‘Choke Cherry’

On May 17, 1854 Henry David Thoreau wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and indeed that is exactly what it is doing now. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is in the rhododendron family and is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada. Both Its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. It was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes wet roots and needs cold winters.

Rhodora flowers appear on short (3 feet or less) upright shrubs that like to live in wet places. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water in full sun but they usually grow just on shore. The flowers appear before the leaves and light up the edges of swamps and bogs for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will be only a memory here.

Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) is our third and final trillium to come into bloom, and in my opinion is the prettiest of the three. Unlike its two cousins its flowers don’t point down towards the ground but usually face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. This one was different however; its flower pointed directly at the sky.

Each bright white petal has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. According to the USDA, painted trilliums grow as far west as western Tennessee and south to Georgia.

Native starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are everywhere in the woods right now and grow in either dry or moist soil. Starflowers are a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, and seven sepals, but I’ve seen them with fewer or greater than seven.

If nature was to have a rule it would be that no rule in nature is hard and fast and the starflower with 8 petals in the above photo proves that. It does however still have seven anthers. Starflower leaves turn yellow and fade away in mid-summer, leaving behind a leafless stalk bearing a tiny round seed capsule.

Native blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) blossoms are decorating our roadsides right now but I doubt you’ll ever see them while driving. This beautiful little aspirin size flower is in the iris family and is said to have some of the same features. The leaves look like grass but are the grayish color of German iris leaves. All of the iris family is usually thought of as very poisonous but Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant. I still think I would have called it yellow eyed grass.

Common chokecherry trees (Prunus virginiana) are blossoming everywhere along our roadsides and they’re very easy to see. Chokecherries are small trees that sometimes can resemble shrubs when they grow in a group as these did.

If pollinated each chokecherry flower will become a dark purple one seeded berry (drupe) which, though edible but can be bitter or sour. Many Native American tribes used the fruit as food and used other parts of the tree such as the inner bark medicinally. They also used the bark in their smoking mixtures to improve the flavor. The flowers are very fragrant and resemble those of black cherries which bloom a bit later, but black cherry leaves don’t have fine teeth around the outer perimeter like choke cherry leaves.

This wisteria vine has been trying hard to make it all the way to the top of a cherry tree for years now and though I usually forget it’s there on this day I remembered and I was glad I did, because it was beautiful.

Big, beautiful, fragrant flowers dangle from a wisteria and they’re beautiful but you have to watch where you plant them because they can be aggressive. A lady I once worked for made the mistake of planting one on a pergola that was attached to the back side of her house. Each year I had to lean out of a second story window with a pole pruner to cut it away from the eaves because it had once again reached the roof. She wouldn’t hear of removing it though, and these flowers explain why.

In spite of a few faults I can’t think of many flowers more beautiful than a wisteria. They always remind me of lupine flowers.

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen.

Each sarsaparilla flower is tiny enough to hide behind a pencil eraser but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. Sarsaparilla roots were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

Thyme leaved speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia) has started showing up in lawns. The blossoms are about 1/8th of an inch across and aren’t very easy to get a photo of. Thyme leaved speedwell is considered a noxious lawn weed, but I like it. Speedwell blossoms have one petal that is smaller than the others and though it’s hard to see here the lower petal is indeed smaller than the others.

This little garden speedwell has plagued me for years now because, though I’ve tried to tell you what it is I can never be sure. From what I’ve seen online it is called spreading speedwell or creeping speedwell (Veronica filiformis.)

The flowers cover the plant and though small they’re very pretty.

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is usually seen in gardens rather than in the wild. They flower profusely and are said to make an excellent hedge.

The fragrant flower heads of witch alder are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. Their color comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments.

The pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) is the New Hampshire state wildflower and they have just come into full bloom. Once collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better this native orchid is making a good comeback. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will die if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be. They’re one of our most beautiful native orchids and everyone should have a chance to see them.

Bees pollinate pink lady’s slippers and they start by entering the flower through the center slit in the pouch. Once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in but luckily guide hairs inside the flower point the way to the top of the pouch or slipper, and once the bee reaches the top it finds two holes big enough to fit through. Just above each hole the flower has positioned a pollen packet so once the bee crawls through the hole it is dusted with pollen. The flower’s stigma is also located above the exit holes and if the bee carries pollen from another lady’s slipper it will be deposited on the sticky stigma as it escapes the pouch, and fertilization will have been successful. The seeds of this orchid are as fine as dust and will for in a single seedpod.

When you find a large colony of early azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum) in the forest you understand the true meaning of the word “breathtaking.” They’re doing better this year than I’ve ever seen. They’re also called roseshell azalea.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. Another common name, wooly azalea, comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, and that fragrance is said to induce creative imagination. It’s just such a beautiful thing and I’m so glad to have found them scattered here and there throughout the countryside. For a while I knew of only one but now I’ve found several.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

Thanks for coming by.

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It’s blueberry picking time here in New Hampshire and one of the best local places I know of to do that is on Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. Wild blueberry season in New Hampshire usually starts around the end of July and people come from all over to pick them. I like to come here at this time not to pick blueberries but to meet the people who do.

The trail, as mountains go, is relatively easy to climb even for me and I often meet elderly people climbing here.

Hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) line the trail and they were starting to turn white, here and there. Another signal that fall is in the air. This fern likes shade and will tolerate extreme dryness as well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. It does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

A young mountain ash tree was covered with wooly aphids, almost from the soil to its tip. These sucking insects can be winged or unwinged. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of trees and in spring nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage. I’m guessing that this young tree will be severely weakened by such large numbers of aphids. The drops of liquid are their waste, which is called “honeydew.” It’s very sticky and often leads to sooty black mold.

Someone left a small stone on top of a larger one. I used to collect rocks and minerals and I could see that it wasn’t anything special. I almost tossed it into the woods but then I thought that it might have been special to the person, possibly a child, who left it there, so I put it back. Speaking of children I saw a few here on this day, and that made my heart glad. There’s no such thing as too many kids in the woods, and one of the greatest gifts we can give them is introducing them to nature.

There were lots of white whorled wood asters (Oclemena acuminata) growing along the trail but many hadn’t bloomed yet. This plant can take quite a lot of shade.

The leaves were all mottled on this wood aster. I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what would have caused it. It didn’t look like leaf miners.

Before I knew it I was at the meadow. The white puffy clouds though unexpected, were fun to see.

The clouds were unexpected because the weatherman said wall to wall sunshine for the day. Instead it looked like the clouds might be on their way to becoming wall to wall and some were huge. That dark area out there is a cloud shadow.

Theses hay rolls (?) were placed near where I saw the big black bear in May on my last trip up the mountain. I’ve thrown hay bales up onto wagons before but I was very thankful that I never had to roll these big things around. They must be for the Scottish highland cattle that live up here.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) dangled red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

Unfortunately most of the cherries in this area have black knot disease. It is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

Flocks of these little gray and black birds flew along the trial beside me. I think they were dark eyed juncos. They were very quiet and didn’t seem frightened of me at all. In fact they were as inquisitive as chipmunks and watched me the whole way.

The old ranger cabin told me I was just a few yards from the summit.

The ranger cabin had me wondering just how often the people in charge come up here, because the boards someone ripped off one of the windows were still missing since at least May. There was also an alarm sounding on the generator that powers the fire tower, but nobody around to silence it.

I’m not sure what would happen if the power was cut to the fire tower. There sure are a lot of antennas on it. You find people on most mountaintops in this area and popular ones like Mount Monadnock can at times seem as busy as a Manhattan sidewalk. There were a few up here on this day and I even saw a woman wearing flipflops, which I wouldn’t recommend. I call the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

I met a man with a German (?) accent who was very interested in blueberries. I told him that there were plenty of bushes right here on the summit and he should just help himself. The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a native plant that you can quite literally find just about anywhere in this part of the state. There are areas where they are more concentrated though, and Pitcher Mountain is one of those areas. This is what the man was after and though they grow in great numbers near the summit he wasn’t having much luck finding any berries. I saw people carrying containers around and I saw ripe berries, so I’m not sure why he wasn’t finding any.

Native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum) has smaller fruit than that of the Vaccinium corymbosum highbush blueberry in the previous photo and also grows on the summit. Some say they are sweeter while some say the other highbush blueberries are sweeter. Though I told him that they are both native berries the man with the German accent said he didn’t want these berries because they must be “some kind of strange hybrid.” He wanted native berries he said again, so I finally had to say good hunting and move on. Clearly someone has given him erroneous information about blueberries but it can’t be just him, because most of these berries go untouched by the pickers. When I come up here in January I find them mummified by the thousands, still on the bushes. I’ve eaten many of both kinds and in my experience one isn’t any better or worse than the other, in my opinion. I wish I could have convinced the visitor of that.

It’s been quite dry lately so I was surprised to see water in what I call “the birdbath.” I saw a dark eyed junco taking a bath in it once but they didn’t follow me all the way to the summit to bathe on this day. I did see a black Labrador retriever roll in it though.

There was a certain haziness to the atmosphere so I couldn’t see much detail on  Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey.

Before long the clouds had almost fully come together and they seemed almost low enough to touch. I began to wonder if wall to wall sunshine was going to turn into wall to wall rain.

So off I went back down the trail, wondering about the woman climbing a mountain in flip flops and the poor man who couldn’t find a blueberry even though he was surrounded by thousands of them. I’ve always found it easier to understand plants than people, and sometimes human nature really does baffle me.

Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

Thanks for coming by.

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