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Posts Tagged ‘Common Chickweed’

When I came to this wildlife management area back in September, I saw an amzing number of flowers in bloom but I also noticed the trees. They were almost all maples and of course they were all green then but I thought they must be glorious in the fall, so that’s what this post is about. We’re going into that forest you see in the above photo.

The wires you saw in the previous photo are from the high-tension powerlines that run through here. I played under them as a boy and have walked under them off and on for most of my life, but a few years ago a man was electrocuted very near here when a wooden cross arm failed and a wire fell and touched the ground. The current travels through the ground and will kill you long before you get close to the fallen wire, so now I always look up to make sure all the wires are hanging where they should be. On this day they looked fine but I wasn’t going to be under them long.

It was a cloudy, cool day; the kind of day you find bees sleeping on flowers, and that’s what one was doing. At this time of year I often find bumblebees have died while hanging on to flowers but I saw it slowly move so not this one, not yet. I’ve always thought that there is little in nature more perfect than a bee dying while clinging to a flower. The two are inseperable. In fact the two are really one.

There were pockets of New England asters still blooming beautifully in the sunniest spots, but most are done for this year.

The mowed trail makes it seem as if you are walking through a vast park laid out by a landscape designer but this is still the same forest I grew up playing in as a boy. The path must have been the idea of the local college. I’m happy to see it because it opens the forest up to many people who would have never come here otherwise.

I’m glad this place will be protected. Maybe other children will fall in love with it as I did.

The colors weren’t what I expected and I think that was because the trees here are mostly all silver maples, which turn yellow in the fall. You need red maples for the rich oranges and reds. Silver maple is a short lived tree, and that’s why most of the trees in this post appear young.

I’ve never met a single person out here but I’d like to run into someone who knew what these mile markers are all about. I’ve seen two, this one and another that says 1.56 miles. Without knowing where the start point is they don’t mean much but I’m guessing that local college students must run through here. The area floods so the soil is too soft for a bike race, I would think. It’s almost mud in places.

Wild cucumbers (Echinocystis lobata) have finished flowering for the year…

…and now they’re busy making fruit. My friends and I used to spend a lot of time throwing these soft spined fruits at each other at this time of year.

Smallish asters grew in the woods in the sunnier spots. They were too big and too light colored to be blue wood asters I think, but not big enough to be New England asters.

I saw rose hips but for a change they weren’t on an invasive multiflora rose. They were too big for that rose, so I’ll have to come back next year to see what rose it is.

Some of the staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) had changed color and they were getting beautiful. Sumacs have quite a color range, from purple to bright red to pumkin orange.

I walked a few steps to the edge of the river and remembered that these river banks are often undercut, so you can find yourself standing on only an inch or two of soil without realizing it. They’ve crumbled away beneath me before and I didn’t need that, so I took a couple of quick shots and backed off. That’s one of many things I learned here as a boy. Nature taught me much and I dreamed a lot of dreams out here. After reading Ivan Sanderson’s Book of Great Jungles this is where I hatched the plan to become a great plant explorer. I told myself I’d visit all of those jungles I had read about and bring back plants so beautiful people would weep at the sight of them. In the end I had to lower my sights a bit and bring plants back from nurseries instead of jungles. I did indeed bring beautiful plants to people’s gardens but there wasn’t any weeping involved. I might have heard a gasp or two.

Here was one of those muddy spots I was talking about. Much too damp for bicycles I would think, though I have seen those wide tire bikes going through snow.

This was the wettest spot. The river flooded over summer and this land has never completely dried out because of the weekly rains we’re still seeing. Out here is where the fear of high water first took hold of me. We lived very close to the river and almost every spring snow melt made it rise right to the very top of its banks. Luckily the river bank on the side farthest from our house was slightly lower, so if the river topped its banks all the water spilled into these woods and into the many cornfields in the area. I saw it happen again just this past summer and it’s still scary.

I was surprised to find the lots of the pale-yellow flowers of wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) out here. These were kind of sulfur yellow but they can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

Here is another example of the soft, muted color of silver maples. They’re still pretty but for color variation and saturation they can’t match red maples. The day was also cloudy and that can also knock some of the punch out of certain fall colors.

A freshly fallen silver maple leaf on the trail looked nice and bright though.

There were large colonies of foxtail grass (Setaria faberi) out here too. It and all of the other plants in this post don’t mind wet feet, and can even stand a bit of flooding.

In this spot it had gotten so wet in the flooding that all of the grass disappeared from the trail but the sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) on either side still thrived, and that’s because they don’t mind wet ground. For that reason they’re a good wetland indicator. They always make me happy I’ve had sense enough to wear waterproof hiking boots.

Common milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca) are releasing their seeds. They like to colonize disturbed ground and can form huge colonies in places that are to their liking. They like dry ground though, so it was surprising to find them here. Last summer the spot where they grow was under water for several days.

Because of all the flooding that has gone on here for who knows how many thousands of years the soil is rich and fertile, and nothing showed that better than the chickweeds that grew more thickly and looked healthier than I’ve ever seen. It’s as if they had been fertilized. I believe this was common chickweed (Stellaria media.) Originally from Europe, it has found a home here and has settled in comfortably. It likes damp, shady places.

The Stellaria part of chickweed’s scientific name means star and that’s what the flowers look like; tiny stars shining on the forest floor. They may be considered invasive by some but I think my world is a better place for having them in it. As with most things in this world, if you take a moment to really see them you find that they’re quite beautiful.

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

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The appearance of little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) tells me that it’s almost time to come out of the woods where the spring ephemerals bloom into the sunny meadows, where more summer wildflowers than you can count bloom. These little beauties will sometimes grow in a sunny clearing in the woods but more often than not I find them along the edges of the forest. They’re easy to pass off as “just another violet” at a glance so you’ve got to look closely. And there is no such thing as just another violet.

Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the little wings. The little whirligig at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect lands on the fringe the third sepal, called the keel, drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. They’re beautiful little things and it’s easy to see why some mistake the flowers for orchids. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

You might have notice a whitish blur under the flower in that last shot. It was a little crab spider that dropped off the flower when I started taking photos. As is often the case I didn’t see it until it saw me and started moving. Crab spiders can change their color to match the color of the flower they’re on but I’ve read that it can take days for them to change.

Hawthorns (Crataegus) have also just come into bloom. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify, so I don’t try. The flowers usually have large plum colored anthers but I think I took this photo before they had matured. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today. There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

I like the buds on hawthorns as much as I do the flowers.

Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) is blooming. This plant is also called cemetery weed because it’s often found in them. It was introduced from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. Of course, it immediately escaped the gardens of the day and is now seen in just about any vacant lot or other area with poor, dry soil. This plant forms explosive seed pods that can fling its seeds several feet. Here it grew by a stream, which was a bit of a surprise.

Shy little nodding trilliums (Trillium cernuum) are the second of out three trilliums to bloom. Red trilliums are about done and painted trilliums will come along soon. Nodding trillium flowers open beneath the leaves almost like a mayapple and they can be very hard to see, even when you’re standing right over them.

When the buds form they are above the leaves but as they grow the flower stem (petiole) lengthens and bends, so when the flower finally opens it is facing the ground. At barely 6 inches from the ground there isn’t a lot of room for a camera so I hold my camera in one hand and with the other I very gently bend back the stem until I can see the flower. It doesn’t hurt the plant at all; they snap right back up.

My favorite thing about the nodding trillium blossom is its six big purple stamens but you’ve got to be quick to see them. This flower’s swept back petals means it was just about done blooming and they have just started. Nodding trillium is the northernmost trillium in North America, reaching far into northern Canada and Newfoundland. It is also called whip-poor-will flower because it blooms when the whip-poor-wills return. And that’s true; a friend heard the first whip-poor-will on the same day he saw the first nodding trillium.

Many plants are showing an abundance of bloom this year like I’ve never seen and creeping phlox is one of them. If you’re a flower lover this is your year for most of them.

Blueberries are blooming so well this year I doubt there would have been room for any more blossoms on this bush. The bears will eat well. Both low and highbush varieties are loaded with flowers.

I don’t usually “do” small yellow flowers because I have found that you could devote your entire life to them and still not identify them all, but I think this one is a common cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex.) They’ve just opened this past week.

Dandelion is another plant that is having a fantastic year; I’ve never seen them bloom like this. My phone camera made these look like they had just come out of a flower shop.

My mother died before I was old enough to retain any memory of her but she planted a white lilac before she died, so now the flowers and their scent have become my memory of her. Whenever I see a white lilac she is there too, as she was on this day when I was taking photos of them. Once the lilacs have passed the cabbage roses, heavy with wonderful scent, will start to bloom. She also planted those in the yard before she died, so in fragrance she is with me all summer long. Her gifts and her memory are carried on the breeze.

The first iris of the season was dark purple with yellow beards. I’m hoping for native blue flag irises soon. They usually come along around the first of June before garden irises bloom, so this one might be an early one.

Magnolias are still blooming. There was no wind but you’d never know it by looking at this flower. The wind was in the bud.

I’ve never seen so many violas in one place as there are in this bed on the grounds of the local college. I’d say they’re having a very good year.

As I’ve said here before two of my great loves are history and botany, and they come together in the poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus.) It is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on, and it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. Its scent is spicy and pleasing but it is said to be so powerfully fragrant that people can get sick from being in an enclosed room with it. It blooms later than other daffodils so I wait impatiently for it each spring. I’m guessing that it must be used to a Mediterranean climate since the antient Greeks knew it.

It’s already time to say goodbye to trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) even though it seems as if they just started blooming. They had a poor showing this year and I’m not sure if it was the early heat or the May cold or last summer’s drought, but hopefully they’ll be back to normal next year. I usually see many thousands of blossoms and this year I’m not even sure that I saw hundreds.

I think this is common chickweed (Stellaria media,) but chickweeds can be tricky. It was little; this blossom could easily hide behind a pea. I’ve read that chickweed is edible and is said to be far more nutritious than cultivated lettuce.

I believe that this is a plant in the mustard family called winter cress or yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris) but it is very easy to confuse with our native common field mustard (Brassica rapa or Brassica campestris.)  If I’m right it is native to Africa, Asia and Europe and is found throughout the U.S. In some states it is considered a noxious weed. In the south it is called creasy greens. It is also known as scurvy grass due to its ability to prevent scurvy because of its high vitamin C content. Winter cress is about knee-high when it blooms in spring and stays green under the snow all winter. This habit is what gives it its common name.

Heart leaved foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. These cheery plants usually form large colonies and are quite common in this area. There are also many hybrids available and they are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

Each foamflower stalk is made up of multiple tiny white flowers. The “foam” comes from their many anthers that make them look like they’re frothing. Or at least they did to the person who named them. They’re pretty little things by themselves but when you see large drifts of plants in the woods you don’t forget it right away.

I wasn’t sure if I’d see Jack in the pulpit blossoms (Arisaema triphyllum) this year. They seem a little late but here they are. In this shot the hood of the pulpit is pulled down over “Jack” and this is the way you will find them in the woods. They like sunny, damp, boggy places so when you get down to take photos you can expect wet knees.

Jack in the pulpit is in the arum family and has a spathe and a spadix much like another arum, skunk cabbage does. In this case the spathe is striped and beautiful on the inside as you can see if you gently lift the hood. And there is “Jack,” which is the spiky spadix. Though in this photo the spadix looks black it is actually plum purple in the right light. Later on in the fall it will be covered by bright red berries and if a deer doesn’t come along and eat them I’ll show them to you. Another name for this plant is tcika-tape, which translates to “bad sick” in certain Native American tribal language. But they didn’t get sick on the roots because they knew how to cook them to remove the calcium oxalate crystals that make them toxic. That leads to another common name: Indian turnip.

By the way, when I’m done taking photos of Jack I always gently fold his hood back down to leave him the way I found him.

My relationship to plants becomes closer and closer. They make me quiet; I like to be in their company. ~Peter Zumthor

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Last week we had enough warm days to melt just about all the snow and then we had a rainy day on top of it, so the Ashuelot river was filled nearly to bankful. The word “Ashuelot” is pronounced Ash-will-ot if you’re from this area or Ash-wee-lot if you’re from away. The word is a Native American one meaning “collection of many waters,” and that’s exactly what it is; in Keene and surrounding towns all the streams and tributaries empty into this river, so it can fill quite fast.

I was able to practice my wave catching skills at the river in Swanzey. Nothing teaches you that a river has a rhythm more than trying to catch a curling wave in the viewfinder of a camera. The trick is to match your rhythm to the river’s. Too fast or slow with the shutter release and you’ve missed it.  

Blueberry buds are swelling and the bud scales are starting to pull back a little but it will be a while before we see leaves on them. Blueberries are everywhere you look here and many birds and animals (and humans) rely on a good crop each year. Most years nobody is disappointed. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used them medicinally, spiritually, and as food. One of their favorite uses for them was in a pudding made of dried blueberries and cornmeal.

This is the first time an annual chickweed has appeared on this blog in March but some varieties of the plant are said to be nearly evergreen in milder climates, and we’ve had a mild winter. I think this one is Common chickweed (Stellaria media,) a very pretty little thing to see in March. And it was little; this blossom could easily hide behind a pea. I’ve read that chickweed is edible and is said to be far more nutritious than cultivated lettuce.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has suddenly appeared here and there but I’m not seeing a lot of blossoms just yet. Soon I’ll be seeing flowers by the hundreds in some places. It’s a pretty little thing which can also be invasive, but nobody really seems to care.

I thought I saw a lot of frog eggs in this small pond but I couldn’t get a good shot of them. I left the photo in anyway though, because I liked the colors and because I wanted to tell you that spring peepers, the tiny frog with a loud voice, have started to sing. I heard them just the other day and it was a very welcome song.

There is yellow hidden in the willow catkins and I’m guessing that I’ll see flowers this weekend.

There just happened to be a poplar tree beside the willow and it too displayed its fuzzy catkins.

Red maples (Acer rubrum) have responded to the warm temperatures in a big way and though last week I saw a blossom here and there, this week I’m seeing them everywhere. This photo is of the sticky, thread like female stigmas that catch the pollen from male trees. Soon they will become seeds; many millions of them.

Last week I saw no male red maple blossoms but this week I saw thousands, and many were already producing pollen. This usually happens in mid-April, so this year they’re about a month early.

Virtually every part of the beautiful red maple tree is red, including the male stamens.

Male and female red maple flowers often grow on the same tree but this is only the second time I’ve ever seen them grow out of the same bud cluster as these were doing. Just when you think you have nature all figured out it throws you a curve ball.

Last week I looked at this spot and didn’t see a single sign of reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) but this week there was a basket full of them. What a beautiful color. They are also called netted iris; the “reticulata” part of the scientific name  means “netted” or “reticulated,”  and refers to the netted pattern found on the bulbs.

Each petal wore a pretty little badge. If I understand what I’ve read correctly reticulated iris flowers are always purple, yellow and white, but the purple can be in many shades that vary considerably.

But here was a very pretty little reticulated iris that looked blue to me and in fact my color finding software sees several shades of blue. Apparently this plant didn’t read what I read about them always being shades of purple.

I saw a different vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis,) much wilder looking than most of the restrained blossoms I see in spring. Quite often plant breeders have to sacrifice something when they breed for larger or more colorful blossoms, and often what is sacrificed is scent. I think that was the case with this plant because its scent was very weak. Many vernal witch hazels have a scent strong enough to be detected from a block away.

Hundreds of crocuses bloomed in one of my favorite color combinations.

Oh to be a bee, just for a day.

The fuzzy bud scales of magnolias are opening, revealing the buds within. Though the flowers of this one are white its buds are yellow.

American hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) have taken on their beautiful golden spring color but the tiny male flowers aren’t showing quite yet. The catkins have lengthened and have become soft and pliable in the breeze though, so It won’t be long.

Tiny little female American hazelnut flowers are all over the bushes now so it looks like we’ll have a good crop of hazelnuts again this year. Native Americans used these nuts to flavor soups and also ground them into flour. In Scotland in 1995 a large shallow pit full of burned hazelnut shells was discovered. It was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so we’ve been eating these nuts for a very long time.

Yes that’s a dandelion. A lowly, hated weed to some but in March, to me it is as beautiful as any other flower I’ve seen. I hope you can see the beauty in it too.

The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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