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Posts Tagged ‘Closed Gentian’

I know of only three places to find gentians and only one place to find bottle or closed gentians, and that place is along the Ashuelot River in Keene. Last year I got upset when I went looking for them and found that the Keene Parks and Recreation Department had sent someone out here with a weed wacker, and that person had cut down countless beautiful wildflowers all along the trail, including the gentians. I didn’t know what I would find this year but last Saturday down the trail I went.

One of the first things I noticed was how ripe the false Solomon’s seal fruit (Maianthemum racemosum) was getting. It goes from mottled to solid red and many of these were red. They’re very pretty berries that are said to taste like molasses.

Virginia bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus) bloomed all along the trail. This is a close relative of water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and looks much like it except for its purple tinged leaves.

It was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods and I petted dogs, talked to strangers, and was happy to be in a place I’ve known since I was about 10 years old. To think I was walking a trail which was, in high probability, a Native American fishing trail which has probably changed little in thousands of years. Remains of settlements dating back 12,000 years have been found very near here and it boggles the mind to think about all that might have gone on in this place.

I always seem to see something I haven’t seen before out here, even though I’ve walked this trail for over 50 years. On this day it was a nice colony of one of our prettiest native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule.) I wonder if I’ll remember where they are next June when they’re in bloom.  

One of the lady’s slippers still had last year’s seed pod on it, and on that was a spider’s egg sac.

The branches of this fallen tree always make me think of the ribs of an ancient sunken ship. Indeed, at one time sections of this river were dredged so that river boats could navigate it, but the railroad coming to town put a stop to that.

Other trees might add to the hazards in the river; I could see right through this hollow red maple (Acer rubrum.)

There was lots of duckweed on the backwaters where the current is almost nonexistent.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) grew on the sunny parts of the riverbank. The skullcap part of the common name comes from the calyx at the base of the flower, which is said to look like a medieval skull cap. The plant was once thought to cure rabies, and that is where the “mad dog” part of the common name comes from. There is powerful medicine in many skullcap species and when Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. The small blue and white flowers always grow in pairs in the leaf axils on mad dog skullcap but you have to look closely because sometimes one bloom will fall off before the other, which is what has happened with this example.

The seed pods of fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) are unusual and hard to confuse with any other plant. I saw hundreds of seedpods but only one flower left, growing out of reach down the river bank.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) hasn’t changed into its fall yellow yet. When they are near a water source royal ferns can grow quite large and appear to be a shrub, but this one was young and on dry ground so it wasn’t very big. The royal fern is found on every continent except Australia, making it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over 100 years. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are also in the Osmundaceae family and also grow here. It is thought that the genus might have been named after King Osmund, who ruled in the British Isles in the eighth century. Royal ferns are one of my favorites because they are so unlike any other fern.

I think, in the eight years I’ve been doing this blog, that I’ve only show beech nuts (Fagus grandifolia) one other time and that’s because I rarely see them. But on this day I stumbled onto hundreds of them that must have just fallen, because many of the kernels were still inside the prickly looking husks seen here. If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards.

I put a kernel on a penny so you could get a sense of scale. A penny is 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Chipmunks and squirrels and even bears love the kernels, so you usually find more empty husks than anything else.

As I’ve said so many times, spring and fall really begin on the forest floor, much earlier than many of us realize. This wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is a good example of that. It might be leafless before many of the trees it grows under have even started to turn color. The roots of the plant 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.

There was a single blossom on what looked like an all but dead St. John’s wort plant (Hypericum perforatum.) I haven’t seen these blossoms for a few weeks now so I’m going to say this may be the last one I see this year. It’s a beautiful thing. This plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun but will stand some shade as it did here.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) climbed up over the shrubs along the trail. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers a bit of shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem.

When those maples on the other side of the river turn scarlet in the fall this is an awesome view, but it isn’t really so bad in green either.

I saw a single New England aster blossom (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) As I’ve said in previous posts, they are our biggest, most showy aster. Some tower up over my head but this one had bent down to about knee level.

I was very surprised to see turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) blooming out here. I’ve never seen them here before this day.

And there they were; one of my favorite shades of blue is found on bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but I don’t see many because they are quite rare here. This is the only place I can find them so you can imagine my delight when I found that they hadn’t been cut down again. When they start to go by theses flowers become even more beautiful by turning very dark blue and then a kind of purple. They closely resemble narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) but that plant has much narrower leaves. Why anyone would cut such a rare and beautiful thing is beyond me.

I’ve been here enough times to know that the only thing beyond this bridge is a highway, so this is where I turn and go back. As I chose what photos to use for this post I was amazed that I saw so much on what is a relatively short walk of only an hour or so, and once again I was thankful that it hadn’t all been cut down again, because it’s a beautiful walk.

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring- these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ~ John Burroughs

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Last Saturday it rained most of the day but Sunday had hit or miss showers so I hoped for the best and went for one of my favorite walks along the Ashuelot River in Keene. It was a damp, humid day.

I’ve known this section of river all my life. I used to fish here at the dam when I was a boy and they still fish for trout, pickerel and sunfish here today. All I ever caught were perch and dace but the river was a lot dirtier in those days. This dam is known as the Faulkner and Colony dam because it was built around 1777 by that company to power their mill. A few years ago there was talk about removing it to open up the river and another idea would refurbish it to generate power but I haven’t heard anything lately about either idea. I like the thought of restoring the river to what it once was without any dams on it. Two other dams have been removed in the past 20 years; one in Swanzey and one in Hinsdale.

Twelve Native American sites have been found along this section of river so far. At least one site dates back 10, 500 years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these trails were originally made by the Natives, because they hug the river closely and have many good fishing spots along them.  The word Ashuelot means “collection of many waters” in Native American language and many small tributaries pour into it throughout the area. The Ashuelot in turn, empties into the Connecticut River before it finally finds its way to the Atlantic.

Arrowwood viburnum berries (Viburnum dentatum) were ripe along the shore but hadn’t been touched by the birds.

Elderberries on the other hand, were being eaten the minute they ripened. There were green berries and half ripe red berries, but no fully ripe purple-black berries on this bush. I don’t suppose I’ll ever understand why birds choose to eat what they do. We still have staghorn sumacs full of last year’s fruit, and what’s wrong with viburnum berries?

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) still blooms alongside rivers and ponds but its cousin steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) has finished. Native Americans used both plants medicinally.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) was ready to call it a summer. The leaves on this plant sometimes turn a beautiful purple color at the end of summer. Some Native American tribes used this plant to treat nosebleeds and others used it as a spice. It likes to grow in disturbed soil near water.

The most popular spot for turtles in this part of the river is the end of this old log. You can almost always see a turtle or two on it at any time of day so it’s a good place for children to walk. When I was a boy it seemed like this place had everything a boy could want, and I spent many happy days here.

In places the trail widens enough so that 4 people could walk side by side, but this width doesn’t last. On most of the trail 2 people side by side is more like it.

The prize for the most unusual thing I saw on this day has to go to what I think is a bleeding tooth fungus (Hydnellum peckii.) This large fungus gets its common name from the many droplets of blood red liquid it exudes when young. Though some of the droplets on this example were red most were more amber colored. The “tooth” part of the common name comes from the spines on its underside. The liquid the fungus oozes contains a chemical called atromentin, which has anti-bacterial and anticoagulant properties.

Here is a look at the mushroom under LED light, which shows that most of the droplets are not red. Because of the color of the liquid and the fact that I found it growing on a tree rather than on the ground I question my identification, but I can’t find another mushroom that “bleeds” and grows on trees. If you know of another species that does this and grows on trees I’d love for you to tell me about it.

A large tree had fallen into the river on the far side. This is a fairly regular occurrence and it always reminds me that, however slowly, the river is always getting wider. It was also quite high due to all of the rain. I think we’re up to about 10 inches in three weeks, according to the rain gauge where I work. This is after a moderate drought in the first half of summer and the dry land has been sponging it up fairly well until lately. Now there aren’t many places for more water to go. Even the forest floor has standing water on it in many places, so we need a dry spell. As I write this it’s pouring rain yet again.

Something had been munching on the starflowers (Trientalis borealis.) The Trientalis part of the plant’s scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin, and that’s just about how tall this pretty little plant gets. The spring woods wouldn’t be the same without its white star shaped flowers. This one had a seed pod; you can just see the tiny white dot between the leaf at 12 o’clock and the one at 1 o’clock.

Tiny starflower seedpods always remind me of soccer balls. They’re just about the same size as an air gun BB. The few brown seeds inside need a cold period to germinate and will not do so until the fall of the second year. Ants and other insects “plant” the seeds.

I saw some colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor,) the first fresh ones I’ve seen this season. I’m hoping to see lots of blue and purple ones this year.

Woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata) looks almost like goldenrod from a distance. The small yellow flowers grow on long spikes (racemes) on a short, knee high plant.

Woodland agrimony is said to be rare in New England and I believe it because this is one of only two places I’ve ever seen it. It grows in the shade near a tangle of many other plant species. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years dating back to at least ancient Egypt. Though the plant is said to be native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans, and that’s unusual. It is also called roadside agrimony.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is one of my summer favorites, mostly because it dresses in my favorite color. This is another plant that loves water and it grows near ponds and rivers, and even wet roadside ditches. The bitter roots of this plant were used by native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into flour by some tribes, and others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to treat nosebleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the Europeans and they used it in much the same ways.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit this place was because I had seen narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) blooming in Nelson the previous week and I wanted to see if the closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) were blooming. Not only were they not blooming, they were barely budded. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. These leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian.

The trail narrowed and got muddy after a time, but I was too busy enjoying all the wildflowers to care.

One of the wildflowers I saw was spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis,) which gets its name not from its orange flowers but from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

I turn around at this little bridge because not too far beyond it you come to one of the main roads through Keene, and I didn’t need to see it again. Though this was a wet walk I made it all the way back and never did get rained on. It always does me good to be close to the river. I always come away feeling recharged, as if the 12 year old me has joined the me of today. I think that must be mainly due to the memories, because there isn’t a bad one to be found here.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her. ~ Buffalo Joe

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1-asters

I’ve seen the white of frost on rooftops a couple times but it was very light and from what I can see didn’t harm a single plant, so we’re still seeing a few flowers. Our average first frost date is September 15th, so we’re very lucky to be seeing them nearly a month later. I found this nice clump of what I think is purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) growing on the shore of a pond recently.

2-asters

I’m seeing this aster everywhere right now. It has flowers that are quite small and grows at forest edges and other dry locations. I think it’s the late purple aster (Symphyotrichum patens.) It’s rough, hairy stems tell me that it isn’t the smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve.) Whatever its name is, it’s a beautiful small plant that’s loaded with blossoms.

3-globe-amaranth

I’m not sure why but as a gardener I never had much to do with globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) but I saw some recently in a town garden. It’s a native of Central and South America so it must have loved the warm weather we had this summer. I’ve read that blossoms can be purple, red, white, pink, or lilac.

4-globe-amaranth

This globe amaranth reminded me of red clover.

5-globe-amaranth

There was also a darker colored variety that I thought was pretty.

6-mum

It can’t be fall without mums (Chrysanthemum) and this pink one was given to me by a friend many years ago. It has grown well all that time with no special treatment and it’s very cold hardy; it has survived -35 °F (-37 °C.) I’m hoping that it will never have to again.

7-bottle-gentian

I had to walk out to where the bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) grow in their moist, shaded spot along the banks of the Ashuelot River. I hoped to see plenty of them but just these 3 were left, so I’m guessing they’re done this year. I love their beautiful blue color but I wish they’d open like a fringed gentian. Bees have to pry them open to get inside. I’ve read that these plants won’t tolerate drought so we’ll have to see what next year brings.

8-viburnum-blossoms

I first saw this viburnum growing beside a box store a few years ago and have wondered its name ever since. It’s the latest blooming viburnum I’ve ever seen but since there are something like 150–175 species, I’m not surprised. I’m fairly sure after a few years of off and on research it must be a viburnum cultivar called “Dart’s Duke” (Viburnum x rhytidophylloides.)

9-viburnum-blossoms

Dart’s Duke is a big viburnum which can reach 8’ tall by 8’ wide in sun or shade.  It has large, showy white flower heads in May and can rebloom in the fall as I’ve seen it do for several years running.  The flowers are followed by bright red berries. The large, leathery leaves are said to be deer resistant.

10-dandelion

I’m still seeing dandelions but only occasionally. The very hot and dry summer seems to have knocked the wind from their sails.

11-queen-annes-lace

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) sometimes has a second blooming period. Though the flowers are smaller and not as tall they can almost fool you into thinking that it’s summer again.  When freshly cut Queen Anne’s lace flowers will change color depending on the color of the water in which they are placed, so if you put a bouquet into purple water you’ll have purple Queen Anne’s lace.

12-blaxk-eyed-susans

I’m not seeing very many now but black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) still blooms here and there. It’s one of our longest blooming flowers, often blooming from June to our first hard freeze. I found this pair growing near a pond. Since the water is warmer than the air now the pond probably moderates the nighttime temperature. By October 19th the probability that we’ll have a hard freeze is around 90%.

13-sweet-everlasting

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is another plant that won’t be finished until we have a freeze but it doesn’t start blooming as early as black eyed Susans do. I finally remembered to crush a few blossoms and smell them, and they really do smell like maple syrup. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as this example shows. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

14-datura-metel-fastuosa-double-purple-blackberry

The gazania blossom in my last flower post was a big hit so I went back to our local college to get more photos of other examples, but every blossom had closed up, so instead I got a shot of this ornamental Datura (Datura metel) blossom.  I’ve seen Datura many times, but never as beautiful as this. A little research leads me to believe that it is a black Datura hybrid called Datura metel Fastuosa “Double Purple Blackberry.” A native Datura found here is called Jimson weed, which is a corruption of the original Jamestown weed, signaling where it was first found. Each blossom opens in the evening and lasts until about noon the following day.

15-bee-on-datura

Bees were all over the Datura, but some were moving slowly and seemed confused. The blossoms are doubled with many ruffles and bees in the know crawled in from the side and then down into the trumpet, but a few like the one pictured just crawled around the outside looking for a way in. Datura contains several powerful toxic compounds and even the honey made from its flowers can sometimes lead to poisoning.

16-datura-seed-pod

Another name for Datura is thorn apple because of the spiny seed pods that appear on some varieties.  The seeds and flowers are the most toxic parts of the plant, but they were used in sacred rituals for many thousands of years by Native American shamans and the plant is still called “Sacred Datura” by many. Native Americans knew the plant well though, and knew what dosages would and wouldn’t kill. Many with less experience have died trying to test the hallucinogenic effects of the plant.

17-datura-seed-pod

The black Datura, Datura metal, has unusual seed pods but the seeds within are just as toxic as other varieties. If the plant wasn’t so toxic I’d hollow out a seed pod and dry it to see if it would hold its color and shape. It’s very unusual.

18-heal-all

Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Its tiny flowers have an upper hood and a lower lip which are fused into a tube. Tucked up under the hood are the four stamens and forked pistil, placed perfectly so any visiting bees have to brush against them. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt.

There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of heal all; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

19-witch-hazel

In a recent post I said that witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) would bloom once the leaves fell off, but I should have said that the flowers would be easier to see once the leaves fell. The flowers are there now but most are surrounded by leaves and can be hard to see. Native Americans used the plant to treat skin irritation in the same way it is used to this day. The common English name witch hazel was given to it by early settlers after the Wych Elms (Ulmus glabra) that they knew in England. Wych means pliable or bendable.

20-witch-hazel-blossoms

Witch hazel flowers are our latest blooming native flower and are always worth looking for, starting in October. I can’t think of any others quite like them. It can be quite a surprise to come upon a whole grove of them on a cool day in November. I’ve seen them blooming as late as January in a warm winter.

A beautiful thing, though simple in its immediate presence, always gives us a sense of depth below depth, almost an innocent wild vertigo as one falls through its levels. ~Frederick Turner

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