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Posts Tagged ‘Common Milkweed’

Like a tree full of orchids, that’s what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. These big trees are blooming all over the area right now, about a week later than usual.

At 1-2 inches across catalpa flowers are large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. Each one is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough to put your finger in, with room to spare. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

From huge flowers to small flowers. I can’t call cow wheat blossoms tiny, but they are small. Narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite.

Cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils) but this year I’m seeing more single blooms than pairs. I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The flowers bloom at about shoe top height. I thought I’d put one on a penny so you could see how small they really are.

Cow wheat blossoms seem big compared to the tiny blossoms of 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. 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.

Here is a tiny enchanter’s nightshade blossom on a penny. They’re among the smallest flowers that I try to photograph for this blog.

Last year when I showed what I thought was bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) a helper wrote in and asked if it could be sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) instead. Since I found the plant growing in standing water and since the flower clusters were terminal, appearing at the ends of the branches, I didn’t think so. But now I’m not so sure because sheep laurel also has terminal flower clusters and the new leaves come out below the flower clusters and grow up around them, and that’s exactly what this plant does. But names of things are becoming less and less important to me as I get older and I can live with knowing it’s one or the other. I hope you can too.

One thing I know for sure is that it is a laurel and you can tell that by the ten pockets in each flower, where the anthers reside under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on the flower the spring loaded anthers release from their pockets and dust it with pollen.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. These flowers are about the same diameter as a pencil eraser and, since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

Beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) started blooming about a week ago. This is a plant that I’ve searched for many years for and could never find until I finally found some growing in an unmown lawn, and now I know of two places it grows in. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flowers are notorious for catching onto the legs of insects and not letting go so I thought that’s what had happened to this fly, especially since it let me take shot after shot without flying off, but I finally poked it with my finger and away it went. Apparently it was simply too involved with what it was doing to pay me any mind.

Cranberries are one of the native fruits that grow abundantly here in the northeast. I usually find them in wet, boggy areas but they will grow in drier areas near water. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries and that has evolved into what we call them today. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

Sometimes if you’re lucky you can catch a cranberry blossom before its petals have recurved, but on this day I only saw one or two out of many hundreds.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) has just started blooming in the tall grass along roadsides. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.

Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It grows in dry soil at the edge of forests.

It’s hard to believe that something as tiny as a river grape blossom (Vitis riparia) could be fragrant but in places right now you can follow your nose right to the vines, so strong is the fragrance. And this isn’t the end of the joy they bring; in the fall the fermented fruit on a warm day will make the woods smell just like grape jelly.

I don’t see tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) in meadows unless the meadow is wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. Meadow rue can grow 7-8 feet tall so getting above it can be next to impossible. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance.

It wouldn’t be the fourth of July without fireworks and every year, right on time, tall meadow rue blossoms with fireworks of its own.  At least the male flowers do, with starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens. Knowing when flowers bloom is a fun thing; they give you something beautiful to look forward to all summer long.

None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones. ~Forbes Watson

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Tall meadow rue flowers (Thalictrum pubescens) always bloom close to the 4th of July and always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” These are the plant’s male flowers; starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.

I don’t see tall meadow rue in meadows unless the meadow is very wet. I usually find it growing at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream. It was down an embankment, which was a good thing because it often grows 7-8 feet tall and towers over me. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance. In spring the plant’s young leaves fool many into thinking they’ve found wild columbine.

Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) also reminds me of fireworks. This one grows in my garden and also reminds me of the friend who gave it to me several years ago. Hers grew to towering heights but this one usually stays at about three feet.

This beautiful hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) blossomed after the rain we finally got last Thursday. It wasn’t enough but it helped. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds it has gotten to the point where all I see now are these bicolor ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves.

As I was admiring the hedge bindweed blossoms I happened to glance over to where one of our most beautiful wildflowers bloomed. Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are blooming about two weeks early this year. These plants are sometimes very tall and can tower over a person of average height but this one came only to my chin, and I’m not tall.

The flowers of Canada lilies 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. Speaking of anthers; many have found out the hard way that the pollen from those and other lily anthers will stain a white tablecloth permanently. 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.

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is often called the ditch lily, because that’s where it grows. It is also found in cemeteries, often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. These days it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common.

This plant was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes and all of which have the potential to spread just like the original has. If you find yourself doing battle with a particularly weedy daylily, no matter the color, there’s a very good chance that the common orange is one of its parents.

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape, especially near brooks and streams. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

Common elderberry flower clusters look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. Each flower is tiny at only 1/4 inch across, and has 5 white petals or lobes, 5 yellow tipped stamens and 3 very small styles that fall off early after blooming. Each flower will be replaced by a single black (dark purple) drupe. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a single seed like a peach or cherry. Native Americans dried the fruit for winter use and soaked the berry stems in water to make a black dye for basketry.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and they can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area yet. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years but last year they seemed a little more plentiful.

Several times over the years I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are another yellow loosestrife that blooms at about the same time as the whorled loosestrife. Not surprisingly, they like to have their feet wet most of the time and are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. These plants stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife. The red dots on these petals seem to have run a bit and blended together. This is the first time I’ve seen this.

Pretty fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. It’s also the tallest and biggest flowered of the three yellow loosestrifes we have. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife usually blooms later. Like the lilies, this year it’s about two weeks early. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. Trout lily is another plant with elaiosomes.

Many years ago a friend gave me a piece of her Japanese iris. I don’t know its name but it’s a beautiful thing that is blooming now. It has very big flowers; they must be 2 or 3 times as big as a bearded iris blossom.

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that; it’s a very sharp, almost acrid odor and on a hot summer day your nose will tell you that you’re near this plant long before you see it.

Black swallowwort is a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. It is believed to have come to North America from Ukraine in the 1800s.  Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level. In Canada it is called the dog strangling vine and Canadians are testing the use of Hypena opulenta moth caterpillars as a means of biological control. So far they say, the results look promising. The caterpillars come from Ukraine and are a natural enemy of the plant. This plant illustrates the biggest danger of importing plants; the animals and insects that control them are left behind in their native lands, and once they arrive in their new home they are able to grow unchecked.

Two years ago 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 once again I’ve been following its progress off and on for months, watching it grow and produce buds, hoping all the while that nobody would pick it or a deer wouldn’t eat it. Finally it bloomed at exactly the same time it had last year and the year before.

This is easily one of the most beautiful flowers that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of flowers.  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 the spring there is standing water, so it obviously likes wet feet. I’ve read that 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. The Native American Iroquois tribe actually dug this orchid up for its roots and  made tea from them to protect them from ghosts. Ghosts or not, I’d have a very hard time digging up something so beautiful.

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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Imagine a tree 80-100 feet high and 50 feet wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

Each beautiful catalpa flower is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough for a bumblebee.

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I always find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Once you get used to seeing both dogwoods and viburnums you can tell them apart immediately. The flowers on our native viburnums like the the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) has tiny hooded flowers that remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. This one had a friend visiting.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years.

Several times I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Heartsease (Viola tricolour) has been used medicinally for a very long time as an expectorant, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Used both internally and externally, the violet is said to be helpful for cystitis, rheumatic complaints, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Though Viola tricolor, the parent of today’s pansy, is native to Europe the medicinal qualities have been found to be the same for all of the species. Native Americans used our native blue violets for cancer treatment. American pioneers thought that a handful of violets taken into the farmhouse in the spring ensured prosperity, and to neglect this ceremony brought harm to baby chicks and ducklings.

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms and you can see certain roads that are lined with the glossy leaved, white flowering shrubs. They seem fussy about where they grow but when they find a spot that they like they can form dense thickets that are nearly impossible to get through. In this spot they grow to about 10 feet tall.

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. I saw several bumblebees working these flowers and you can see some relaxed anthers in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the tough wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like roadsides but I think most are escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers on this example look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

I found this white mallow looking for all the world like a white hibiscus.

I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

A very special guest flower for this week is the rare (here) and beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), a plant that I’ve searched for for many years and could never find. Where I finally found it was amazing; one of the lawns where I work had construction going on near it and couldn’t be mowed for two weeks, and in those two weeks up popped several ragged robin plants. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it.

Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S., like the very beautiful Clarkia pulchella shown recently on Montucky’s blog,  this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England. It might have come as a garden ornamental, but when ships arrived from foreign lands it was once common practice to dump their ballast of gravel and stones on our shores so they could take on cargo, and this plant was reported growing in ship’s ballast in 1880. However it got here I was very happy to see it. This is the kind of thing that makes my pulse quicken and my breath catch in my throat and is what can take me out of myself to a higher place, much like art or music might do for you. The chance of seeing something so beautiful is part of what keeps me going back to nature day after day, year after year.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. ~Rumi

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1. Ox-Eye Daisy

We’ve had hot dry weather in this part of New Hampshire but ox eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) continue to delight. When I saw these in a small meadow by the side of the road they shouted JUNE! so I had to stop and visit with them. It’s hard to have a bad day while living among such beautiful, cheery things and I’m very lucky to be able to work outside and see them every day.

2. Maiden Pinks

One way plant breeders come up with new plants is by selection, in which hundreds of plants are searched through for that one that is just a little better than all the others. It might be a different color or have bigger blossoms, it might be shorter or taller than normal, it might have fragrance where there is usually none, or it might flower longer or earlier or later than usual. I thought of that when I found this colony of maiden pinks. Most were the expected deep violet purple color but a few were very pale and almost white. I’ve never seen this before in the wild (escaped) varieties, and I wonder if anyone else has.

3. Maiden Pink

The lighter colored maiden pinks still had the same jagged red line at the bases of the petals and even had blushes of the deeper purple color but the petals were very light lavender. A Google search shows lighter colored flowers but I didn’t see this exact version. Some of those I saw were truly gorgeous.4. Milkweed

After not seeing any monarch butterflies at all last year I saw one just the other day flying from milkweed to milkweed plant (Asclepias syriaca,) but it chose the wrong spot because none of the blossoms had opened yet. It was too fast for me to get a useable photo and when I found a spot where the flowers were open there were no monarchs visiting them. Maybe I’ll have another chance. That can’t be the only monarch butterfly in these parts.

5. Dogwppd

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult.

6. Grape Blossoms

Tiny grape blossoms are among the most fragrant in the forest, especially those of river grapes (Vitis riparia,) but though the blossoms look the same those in the photo were on a cultivated grape and had no scent at all. Fragrance is often sacrificed by plant breeders to improve flavor, increase size, or intensify color. Personally I think they get a little carried away at times, like when they produce a beautiful rose that has no scent.

7. Vetch

This seems to be the year for vetch. The fields are full of them, and I can’t remember ever seeing so much of it.

8. Crown Vetch

Crown vetch has just come into bloom and I’m happy to see it because I think it’s a beautiful flower. It’s one of those that seem to glow with their own inner light and I enjoy just looking at it for a time. Crown vetch has seed pods look that like axe heads and English botanist John Gerard called the plant axewort and axeseed in 1633. It is thought that its seeds somehow ended up in other imported plant material because the plant was found in New York in 1869. By 1872 it had become naturalized in New York and now it is in every state in the country except Alaska.

9. Knapweed

I’ve always liked knapweed but according to the U.S. Forest Service brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) is a “highly invasive weed from Europe that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.” The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

10. Dandelion

I wonder if dandelions dislike heat and dryness, because though they were abundant earlier in spring  I now have to search for them. The month of May started off warm but now it is hot and very dry. The weather people say we’re in a moderate drought, having had only three quarters of the expected rainfall. Last summer was much the same and dandelions were scarce then too, though larger pockets of them were spotted here and there by various correspondents.

11. Pineapple Weed

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 has also been used medicinally in the past.

12. Yellow False Indigo

Since Indigo is the color of a blue dye it seems strange to name a plant yellow false indigo, but here it is. False indigo (Baptisa) is a shrub-like perennial with blue, purple, and even yellow flowers that resemble pea blossoms.  This is a very tough, 3-4 foot tall plant that can stand a lot of dryness and bumble bees love it.  I found this example in a friend’s yard.

13. Yellow Hawkweed

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower and each forms its own seed. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval, overlapping leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk. It is an introduced invasive and names like “yellow devil” and “devil’s paintbrush” show what ranchers think of it.

14. Wild Radish

Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) usually has pale yellow flowers similar in color to those of the sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) but this example was canary yellow. The flowers  can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. I always find it growing at the edges of corn fields at this time of year, not because it likes growing with corn but because it likes to grow in disturbed soil. 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.

15. Fragrant White Waterlily

I’m sorry to be showing so many photos of fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) lately but they’re blooming by the hundreds right now and they’ve always been one of my favorites.

16. Fragrant White Waterlily

The water level in the pond in the previous photo was so low that I was able to actually walk to this water lily and get a photo looking onto it, rather than from the side as most water lily shots are taken. It’s a first for me because usually unless you have a boat it’s an impossible shot to get.

17. Fragrant White Waterlily

This view is the one usually seen when water lilies are involved and I have to say that I like it better than the previous shot looking into a blossom. That’s probably because I’m more used to this one because it’s the view that is seen 99% of the time. Either way it’s a beautiful flower; another of those that seem to glow from within.

I have lost my smile, but don’t worry.
The dandelion has it.
~Thich Nhat Hanh

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1. Black Eyed Susan

Few flowers say summer to me like the black eyed Susan, but they always whisper of summer’s passing too, and tell me that summer is fleeting, and I’d better get out there and enjoy it before the crisp winds of fall start to blow. Though it’s actually an early summer flower, I always think of it as a fall flower because of its very long blooming season. These flowers will often still be blooming when we see the first hard frost, several months after they’ve started.

2. Black Eyed Susan

A spider had built a web on this black eyed Susan. Nothing unusual about that but I wondered why it was yellow. Can the color somehow come off the petals, I wonder?

3. Campion

Red campion (Silene dioica) likes alkaline soil with a lot of lime and that’s why we rarely see it here. That’s also why I’m fairly sure that this plant is a white campion (Silene latifolia,) which can also be pink. Just to confuse the issue red campion flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa. It was pretty, whatever it was.

4. Tradescantia

I used to see spiderwort plants (Tradescantia) growing wild everywhere when I was a boy. I thought they were beautiful and used to dig them up from along the railroad tracks to plant at home. My father also saw them growing along the tracks and he called them weeds, so he couldn’t understand why I kept “dragging those damned old weeds home” and planting them in the yard. Now every single time I see the plant I think of him. I also understand how one man’s flower can be another man’s weed.

Apparently our early settlers thought tradescantia was beautiful too, because it was introduced into Europe as an ornamental in the 1600s. Since it can be a bit weedy I wonder if it has become an invasive there.

5. Purple Tradescantia

I didn’t realize until a couple of years ago that plant breeders had been working on tradescantia and had created a purple variety. Personally I prefer the blue that I grew up with, but the purple flowers seem do to attract more insects. At least they did on this day when I was watching the blue and purple flowers in a local park.

6. Elderberry

American elder (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis) was highly valued by Native Americans for its medicinal qualities and it has been found that their uses of the plant closely parallel the ways that Europeans used their elder (Sambucus nigra.) Both old and new world people used the plant for everything from an emetic to a treatment for headache. Hippocrates is said to have referred to the elderberry bush as his “medicine chest,” and it appears that modern medicine is finally catching up with him; the National Institutes of Health has given five universities a total of $37.5 million for a five-year study exploring possible medical benefits of elderberries, including its use in fighting prostate cancer. I don’t have much taste for alcohol these days but if I can find a bottle of good elderberry wine I might drink a small glassful each night before bed. It can’t hurt, as long as it was made from the berries and not the plant’s poisonous roots.

7. Vervain

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is also called swamp vervain because it likes water, and I find it either in wet meadows or along river and pond banks. It is also called simpler’s joy after the herb gatherers of the middle ages. They were called simplers because they gathered medicinal or “simple” herbs for mankind’s benefit and since vervain was one of the 9 sacred herbs, finding it brought great joy. It was thought to cure just about any ailment and Roman soldiers carried the dried plants into battle. Since blue is my favorite color finding it always brings me great joy as well.

8. Rattlesnake Weed

I can’t think of many plants that are rarer in this area than the native rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum.) I know of one plant and this is it. As you might suspect from its flowers it is in the hawkweed family, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Its flowers stand at the end of long wiry stems so it’s usually impossible to get both the flowers and leaves in one photo but this time I was able to do it. Its purple veined leaves don’t show that well but they are very unusual, as the following photo will show.

9. Rattlesnake Weed Foliage

One story says that because people thought its foliage resembled a snake’s skin, rattlesnake weed was a cure for snakebite. I’ve also heard other stories that say the name comes from the plant’s habit of growing in places where snakes were seen. It’s hard for me to believe that such a rare plant is considered an invasive weed in some places, but it is.

10. Bristly Sarsaparilla

Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) isn’t common but I know of two places where it grows in dry, sandy soil. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Every time I see its flowers they’re covered in ants but curiously this time they were absent. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter. Each small flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job. The USDA lists this native plant as endangered in Indiana, Ohio and Maryland.

11. St. Johnswort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known and used medicinally since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The brown / black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. The perforatum part of its scientific name refers to the many clear dots on its leaves that look like pin holes when its leaf is held up to the light. Originally from Europe, it was introduced in 1696 to Pennsylvania by a religious group who believed that it held magical properties. Today it can be found in all but 4 of the lower 48 states; Utah, Arizona, Alabama, and Florida. In all of the others it can be found in meadows and along roadsides growing in full sun.

12. Dwarf St. Johnswort

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that might get ankle high on a good day and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference apart from their smaller size is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. I find them growing at the edge of a local pond and soak my knees every time I try to take a photo of them. It’s worth it though because they’re beautiful little things.

13. Milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies visiting them yet. I was going to write about how complicated these flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated that I got lazy and instead will just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll just enjoy their beauty and their scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

14. Rose

Roses are adding their perfume to the sweet smell of summer and I smelled this bush full of tender pink blossoms before I saw it. I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

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1. Flowering Raspberry

Native flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is in the rose family but they look like roses that didn’t have time to iron their petals before they put them on. Still, they are one of my favorites. Each blossom is an inch and a half to two inches across. Later a red fruit that looks like a large raspberry will form, but the fruits are on the dry side and don’t taste much like raspberries.

2. Crown Vetch 2

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) is terribly invasive but also very beautiful, with its rounded clusters of pea like, purple and white flowers. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, it was imported in the 1950s to be used for erosion control and almost immediately began to spread until today it is present in every US state except North Dakota, and throughout much of Canada.

3. Mountain Laurel

June is the month when our native mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) bloom. The wood of this shrub twists and turns and can form dense, almost impenetrable thickets when it grows in suitable locations. An older name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

4. Mountain Laurel Front

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel have ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. You can see a flower with relaxed anthers in the upper left part of this photo. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them. Though related to the blueberry, all parts of this plant are very toxic.

5. Mountain Laurel Side

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom on mountain laurels. This side vies shows the cups that the anthers fit into. The way that these flowers work to make sure that visiting insects get dusted with pollen is really amazing.

 6. Black Eyed Susan

I have mixed feelings about black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) because, even though I like seeing the cheery flowers they remind me of how fast time is passing. It’s as if they mark the half-way point of the warm weather, if only in my mind.

7. 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 the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

8. Yarrow

Another plant that was known well in ancient times for its medicinal qualities is common yarrow (Achillea millefolium.) 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. I think yarrow must be the plant with the most common names, probably because it has been known for so long. Some of them are: Bad man’s plaything, bloodwort, carpenter’s grass, carpenter’s weed, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, dog daisy, fern weed, field hoop, herb militaris, knight’s milfoil, little feather, milfoil, nosebleed, old man’s pepper, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort, squirrel tail, staunch grass, staunch weed, thousand-leaf, thousand-seal, thousand-weed, and yarroway.

 9. Tulip Tree Flower

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) gets its common name from the way its flowers resemble tulips, at least from the outside. As the photo shows, the inside looks very different. The fruit is cone shaped and made up of a number of thin, narrow scales which eventually become winged seeds. Another name for this tree is yellow poplar. It is the tallest hardwood tree known in North America, sometimes reaching 200 feet. Native Americans made dugout canoes from tulip tree trunks.

10. Tradescantia

Spiderwort flowers (Tradescantia virginiana) are usually blue or violet blue, but not this one-it looked very purple to me. Since I found it in a local park I wondered if it might not be a cultivar of the native plant. This plant always reminds me of my father who, when I was a young boy, used to wonder why I was “dragging all those damn weeds home.” I often found plants growing along the railroad tracks and transplanted them to our yard. This was one of my favorites, but he didn’t seem to care much for them.

 11. Maple Leaf Viburnum

Maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium) have started blooming. The size of the flower heads on this shrub can vary greatly depending on how shaded they are. This one was the size of a golf ball but I’ve seen some as big as a grapefruit. They are valuable plants to wildlife. Many songbirds eat the berries and beavers, rabbits, deer and moose eat the bark, twigs and leaves. What I like most about this plant is the way its leaves change colors in the fall. They can go from deep maroon to orange red to light, pastel pink and can be mottled with several different colors at once.

 12. Sulfur Cinquefoil

If you’ve ever seen sulfur then it will make perfect sense why this plant is called sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta.) The flowers are pale yellow, just like the mineral they were named for. This very hairy plant is a native of Europe and Asia and is considered a noxious weed in many parts of the U.S., especially in states with a lot of pastureland. Sometimes its flowers can be white or deeper yellow.

13. Wild Radish

Another sulfur colored flower is found on wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), but these blossoms have only four petals instead of five like sulfur cinquefoil. The flowers of wild radish can be white, sulfur yellow, or light purplish pink. The petals often have purple veins, but they weren’t very noticeable on the ones in this photo. I find this plant growing at the edges of cornfields.

 14. Milkweed Flowers

I could spend a lot of time and effort explaining how complicated the process of pollination is for a milkweed blossom, but I won’t do so today. That information is easily found elsewhere and I’d rather readers just appreciate the beauty of these blossoms, found on a plant that so many consider a weed not worth looking at. Sometimes by losing ourselves in the natural beauty of this world we find ourselves, and begin to see that the observer and observed are one and the same.

Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air. ~George Bernanos

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Winged euonymus or burning bush (Euonymus alatus.)

 

False Solomon’s seal fruit (Maianthemum racemosum.) 

Maple-leaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)

 

Every path leads to colorful leaves, the smell of them drying in the sun, and the sound of them falling-almost like rain.

 Royal fern (Osmunda regalis

Double arch stone bridge over the Ashuelot River in Keene, New Hampshire. Built with no mortar in 1840.

 

Now autumn’s fire burns slowly along the woods

And day by day the dead leaves fall and melt ~ William Allingham

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