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Posts Tagged ‘Common Buttercup’

Our locust trees are now in bloom. The one shown here is a bristly locust (Robinia hispida,) which is more shrub than tree, though it can reach 8 feet. What sets this locust apart from others are the bristly purple-brown hairs that cover its stems. Even its seedpods are covered by hairs. Bristly locust is native to the southeastern United States but has spread to all but 7 of the lower 48 states, with a lot of help from nurseries selling it for ornamental use. The beautiful pinkish purple bristly locust flowers are very fragrant and bees really love them. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge.

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) are also blooming and are loaded with white, very fragrant blooms. One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains. You can just see some of them unfolding in this photo.

If you don’t know this flower then you don’t know beans. Or peas, or lupines, or chickpeas, or soybeans, or peanuts, or any other of the more than 18,000 species in the legume (Fabaceae) family. Most have flowers much like the black locust example shown here but some tropical species can resemble orchids. Only the orchid and sunflower families have a larger presence in the plant kingdom. The huge legume family is made up of shrubs, trees, vines, and herbs which grow all over the world and feed its populations. Many plants in the family like clover have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots that convert inert atmospheric nitrogen into a form which is useable to other plants. That’s part of the reason Native Americans planted beans, squash and corn together. Legumes have fed mankind for thousands of years and this world would be a very different place without them.

You can see the same type of flower as the locust has on the puffy little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus.) It is also in the legume family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods, which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives.

If you Google “Herb Robert” (Geranium robertianum) you find two very interesting things. First is how it is named for a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases with it, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb.

Second is that many people, scientists included according to an article in The Healing Journal, have discovered that it grows most abundantly in areas that have high levels of radiation and is said to absorb radiation from the soil in powerline corridors. It is thought to absorb the radiation from the soil, break it down and disperse it. Obviously I can’t confirm that but it’s a story that I first heard years ago and which persists; I just heard about it again the radio the other day.

I’m sure everyone has seen a buttercup (Ranunculus) but I wonder how many have seen their shine? The waxy shine on the petals is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed. Capturing the shine in a photo is a challenge I’m glad I only face once each year because it means taking many photos before I get it right.

This yellow daylily (Hemerocallis) is very early, blooming just after the Siberian irises bloom. This plant was given to me many years ago by a friend who has since passed on and I have divided it many times for family and friends. Two things make this plant special: the early bloom time and the heavenly fragrance that smells of citrus and spices. I have a feeling this is a Lemon daylily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) which is a very old species brought to America in colonial days and originally from China and Europe.  The Greek word Hemerocallis means “beautiful for a day,” and that’s how long each flower lasts. It’s a shame that many of today’s daylilies, bred for larger and more colorful flowers, have lost their ancient fragrance.

There are two times when our wild grapevines tickle my nose; once in the fall when their ripening fruit makes the woods smell like grape jelly, and once in the spring when their tiny flowers emit a huge fragrance that can be detected from many yards away. These flowers are so small that I really can’t come up with an accurate way to describe their size. When you smell them your first thought will probably be “no, that fragrance can’t be coming from these tiny things,” but it is.

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that few people grow. It’s one of the last to leaf out in late spring and its fragrant hanging white flowers give it the name old man’s beard.  Male flowered trees are showier but then you don’t get the purple berries that female flowered trees bear. Birds love the fruit and if I had room I’d grow both.

Here’s a closer look at the male fringe tree flowers. I’ve read that these trees are very easy to grow and are pollution tolerant as well.

I felt bad when I accidentally knocked a columbine (Aquilegia) flower off while mowing near it but once I got down on my knees to get a photo I felt nothing but joy, because by then I was lost inside its beauty. Evolution yes; flowers have evolved to be appealing to the birds, bats and insects they want to attract, but that doesn’t explain their beauty. Or maybe it does; do birds and insects see it as we do?  If not then why are they so beautiful? It’s easy to think that maybe all that beauty is there just to please humanity, but that might be too crooked a path to follow.

When I was a boy I read books like Ivan Sanderson’s Book of Great Jungles, and I dreamed that one day I’d go to those jungles as a plant explorer and I’d bring back plants with flowers so beautiful they would make the people of the world weep with joy. The plant shown here wasn’t quite as beautiful as all that and it might make you weep for different reasons, but my sharp intake of breath and quickening heart rate told me that I had discovered something I’d never seen before.

After some searching I found that these small white flowers belong to a plant called flowered cancer root, also called naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora.)  The naked part of the name comes from its lack of leaves. It doesn’t need them because it is parasitic on the plants that surround it, in this case mostly raspberry, from what I could see. It pierces the roots of other plants and slowly sucks the nutrition from them, weakening them, so it isn’t as innocent as it might appear. The small flowers are white and fuzzy with a yellow center and tiny purple hairs around the outside that make it appear to have an aura in the right light.

According to a New York Times article by Dave Taft, there are records of medieval medical uses of the plant as an astringent healer of “old green wounds.” It is said that Native Americans used the plant to treat skin infections but little seems to be known about how they used it. According to Wildflowers of the United States, the broomrape name comes from the way a European cousin of the plant parasitizes certain species of broom, an old world name for vetch, and the orobanche part of the scientific name means “vetch-strangler.” According to Wikipedia this plant is considered rare or vulnerable in 17 states. In New Hampshire it is simply listed as “present” but since I’ve seen it exactly once in 60+ years its presence isn’t common. It is listed as rare in the Midwest.

It’s finally clematis time here in New Hampshire, and here is Ramona to prove it. She starts off with dark flowers…

…and then the flowers lighten as they age.

Orange is a hard color to find in wildflowers here in New Hampshire so luckily we have orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca.) I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed and I’m not sure why that is. The plant might be from Europe but it’s far from invasive. Maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. They do reflect ultraviolet light though, so that means that some insects must find them. The only other orange wildflower I can think of is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis.)

The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows but they will also grow in abandoned lots and other waste areas. I see them by the hundreds.

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) has just started flowering. Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

It’s already time to say goodbye to one of our most beautiful native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper. As can be seen here New Hampshire’s state wildflower had a good year.

Humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also 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. Yarrow 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.

If there is a sweeter name for a flower than fawn’s breath, I haven’t heard it. It comes from the way the flowers, which sit at the ends of long thin stems (pedicels,) will move and dance even in the gentle breath of a fawn. Since I’ve never seen a fawn near one I can’t confirm that but I do know that even the slightest breeze will set them all dancing. Of course that’s a flower photographer’s worst scenario but while I wait for the flowers to stop dancing I can admire their beauty.

Asymmetrical is what the flowers are, with petals that look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler, but it gives the plant a certain charm I think. It makes me search the plant for that one flower that must be perfectly symmetrical, but of course I never find it. The plant is also called Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata.) It is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, so another common name is American ipecac. 

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher

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

1. Black Eyed Susan

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

2. BlueToadflax

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

3. Tall Buttercup

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

4. Catalpa Blossoms

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

5. Crown Vetch

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

6. Indian Cucumber Root Flower

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

7. Dogbane

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

 8. Mountain Laurel Flowers

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

 9. Mountain Laurel Flower Backs

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

10. Yellow Rattle aka Rhinanthus minor

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

 11. Lobelia

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

 12. Lobelia-Single Flower

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

 13. Flowering Raspberry

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

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

Thanks for coming by.

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