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Posts Tagged ‘Common Speedwell’

Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) blooms here and there along the edges of woodlands, and about mid-June is when I first start seeing it. I don’t see it in the wild that often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. There were 5 or 6 plants in this group and they were beautiful. The plant is originally from Europe but it could hardly be called invasive.

I always like to try to get a bee’s eye view of foxglove blossoms. The lower lip protrudes a bit to give bees a landing pad, and from there they follow the spots, which are nectar guides, up to the top of the blossom where they find the nectar. While the bee is busy with the nectar the anthers above it rub on its back and deposit the flower’s pollen, which will then be taken to another blossom. If successfully pollinated a foxglove plant can produce from one to two million seeds.

These foxglove blossoms looked quite different with their somewhat pinched openings. I don’t know if I saw them before they had fully opened or if this is some type of natural cross with this habit. In old England picking foxglove was unlucky, and its blooms were forbidden inside because it was believed that they gave witches access to the house. I tried to think back to all the times I might have picked it and find that there are maybe two. It isn’t a plant that makes me want to pick it like a daisy or a rose might.

I’m always of two minds when it comes to black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia.) Though I like to see them I think of them as a fall flower, so in my mind June always seems far too early for them to appear. Are they really blooming earlier these days or have they always bloomed in June? Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. I did notice that this one had a lot of red in its petals, but only on half the flower.

Native spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a perennial wildflower that looks like a two foot tall shrub. It spreads by both seeds and underground stems and is considered a weed in some places. I find large colonies of it growing in sandy soil along sunny forest edges. The plant in related to milkweed and many species of butterflies rely on it.

Spreading dogbane has small, light pink, bell shaped flowers that have deeper pink stripes on their insides. They are fragrant but their scent is hard to describe. Spicy maybe. This plant is pollinated by butterflies and the flowers have barbs inside that trap short tongued insects. That’s how it gets another of its common names: flytrap dogbane. Each flower is just big enough to hold a pea.

The name peached leaved bluebells (Campanula persicifolia) comes from this plant’s leaves resembling those of the peach tree. I’ve read that it grows in the Alps and other mountain ranges in Europe, but its natural habitat is woodland margins, rocky outcrops in broad-leaved woods, meadows and stream banks. It is very easy to grow-literally a “plant it and forget it” perennial and it is said to be an English cottage garden classic.

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) trees can be messy but they’re one of our most beautiful trees. Imagine a tree covered in large white, orchid like blossoms and you’ll have a good idea of the catalpa. This tree is used ornamentally, but it needs plenty of room because it gets very large. When I was in grade school I had to walk under a big catalpa tree to get to school and I loved seeing it bloom because that meant school was almost over for the summer. In the fall when school started again the trees were filled with what looked like string beans. Each catalpa flower becomes a long, bean like seed pod and we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. Then the leaves, as big as our heads, began to turn yellow and fall before too long. They were the biggest leaves any of us had ever seen, but we were only in second grade.

At 1-2 inches across catalpa tree flowers are large and beautiful. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba. Some tribes used its inner bark to make a tea which had a sedative effect and is said to be mildly narcotic. The bark tea was also used to treat malaria.

White daisy fleabane flowers (Erigeron strigosus) can appear pink in the right light, as these did. This plant will bloom right up until fall, when it will sometimes be confused with asters. I regularly find fleabane growing in sunny spots quite deep in the woods where you wouldn’t expect it to be.

The first perforate St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) flowers have appeared and they’re beautiful as always. Originally from Europe, St. John’s wort has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun. The leaves are yellow-green in color with scattered translucent dots of glandular tissue, and that’s where the perforatum part of the scientific name comes from. These dots can be seen better when held up to the light but you can just see them in the small leaf in the lower center, partially hidden by the flower. They do make the leaf look perforated with pin holes.

Five pale yellow heart shaped petals surround a center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils in a sulfur cinquefoil blossom (Potentilla recta.) Close to the center each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I like its soft, butter yellow color.

White campion (Silene latifolia) can sometimes shade towards pink but this one was pure white. You can see the deep cleft or split in the petals, which is a good way to identify it. It has 5 petals that at first glance look like 10. This plant is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on different plants. One way to tell if a flower is male or female is by counting the veins on the bladder (calyx) behind it. Male plants have 10 parallel veins on their calyx and females have 20. This well-known plant was introduced from Europe and prefers fields and waste places with soil on the dry side.

Catchfly (Silene armeria) is an unusual plant that I rarely see. I’ve seen four or five of them this year, but all in the same general area. It is originally from Europe and is also called sweet William catchfly. It is said to be an old fashioned garden plant in Europe and is supposed to be a “casual weed” in New Hampshire. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. I’ve felt it and it is indeed quite sticky. Small insects are said to get caught in it and I can see how that would happen. Its leaves and stems are a smooth blue grayish color and along with the small pinkish purple flowers they made for a very pretty little plant that I’m hoping to see more of.

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) has just come into bloom and I’m happy to see it because I think it’s a beautiful flower, even if it is invasive. It’s another one of those that often 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.

Tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) gets its common name from the way that its seeds cling to clothing like ticks. The plant is also called lance leaved coreopsis and that is where the lanceolata part of the scientific name comes from. Coreopsis is found in flower beds as well as in the wild and can form large colonies if left alone. It is often used to stabilize embankments as can be seen in the above photo.

The pretty, bright yellow flowers of tickseed coreopsis are about an inch and a half across and stand at the top of thin, wiry stems. This is a native plant with a cousin known as greater tickseed that grows in the south. It can be a bit weedy in a garden but the seedlings are easily recognizable and usually pull easily.

Red clover is doing well this year and I’m very happy that I can say that, but it wasn’t always so; there was a time when I cursed this plant. It was an ugly, ungainly weed that was hard to pull, looked terrible when it was mowed or weedwhacked, and quickly made a garden look there was no gardener tending it.

But then one evening a single ray of sunlight fell on a red clover blossom at the edge of the woods and I went and knelt by it to take its photo. I think it was really more practice photo than anything; after all who would want to see a photo of an ugly old weed? But then I saw the beauty of each tiny orchid like flower, and how each one had an inner light shining out from it. I have never looked down on it or any other plant or flower since. Telling this story always reminds me of the words from the hymn Amazing Grace: “I once was blind but now I see,” because that’s truly the way it happens. Your eyes can be opened to whatever they fail to see in a millisecond, even when what they fail to see is you.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) is also called self-heal and has been used medicinally 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. To me heal all flowers always look like they’re shouting “Yay!” Why would they be so happy? Because they’re alive. They exist. All of nature is in a state of ecstasy because it simply is. That’s another lesson nature tries to teach us, but we’re usually far too busy to pay attention.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) is another common weed, maybe not hated but certainly stepped on by many a heel because of its ground hugging, sprawling habit. But as is often the case when you really look at some neglected thing, you find beauty. Common speedwell has been used medicinally for centuries in Europe and its leaves were used as a tea substitute there. Though it isn’t really invasive it is considered an agricultural weed. It sends up its vertical flower stalks in May and each flower stalk (Raceme) has many very small blue flowers streaked with dark purple lines. They’re beautiful little things, but they sure aren’t easy to photograph.

The aspirin size flowers of white wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) are smaller than the leaves and hide beneath them, so you have to look closely to find them. Looking for them always makes me feel like I’m sneaking up on a rabbit or a deer or some other shy creature.

It’s worth looking closely, because white wood sorrel flowers are pin striped and very beautiful. This plant is scarce here; I’ve seen it in only two places.

This shot of ox-eye daisies is for Ginny, who a couple of posts ago admired the way they stood so straight and tall compared to garden variety Shasta daisies, which flop all around. These examples were some of the tallest I’ve ever seen, and stood ramrod straight. They proved her point perfectly.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.  ~A.A. Milne

Thanks for coming by. Happy Summer!

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There is an old stone wall in Swanzey that I like to follow in winter because it has a southern exposure, and that coupled with evergreen branches overhead usually means that very little snow is on the ground. This year though, I got there to find that all the pine trees along the wall had been cut so there was snow right up to the wall. It’s still a great place to explore, so the bit of snow I got in my hiking boots didn’t really bother me. The reason the stones look like they do in this photo is because they are almost completely covered by rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis).

Rock greenshield lichens are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty. They must like it here because they cover entire lengths of this wall. It had rained all day the day before so all the lichens I saw were at peak beauty.

The bushy rock lichen (Ramalina intermedia) I first found here a couple of years ago has grown quite a lot and there are even smaller ones growing under it now. Lichen communities grow in succession with many varieties of crustose lichens as pioneers. Foliose lichens come next as intermediary species and finally fruticose lichens like this one are considered climax species. What I don’t know is, how much time is between pioneer and climax? Climax communities of lichens are considered “old growth” communities.

The sun tried to come out but the clouds won the battle.

I believe there must have been animals kept here in the past because holes were drilled into stones and steel rods inserted into them to increase the wall height by about a foot and a half. Each rod has a flattened tip with a hole in it and the hole most likely had wire passed through it. It was fairly common practice in New England.  Stone walls were usually too low to be effective and cows and other farm animals often jumped right over them, so their height was increased by adding wire or other materials. You had to pay a fine if your animals escaped and were caught roaming free. They were brought to the town pound and the owner had to pay to get them back plus the cost of feeding them.

As the steel ground against the granite over the years the holes were made bigger so cut nails were driven in beside the rods to keep them straight. The cut nails seen here date the steel rods to sometime between 1800 and 1900, but the wall itself has been here I think since the mid-1700s.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter plants like to grow along them. Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) thrives here. This European native is common here and has been used medicinally for centuries. Its leaves have also been used as a tea substitute and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the early settlers brought it with them.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) also does well here along the wall. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall. Native Americans used tea made from mullein’s large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

This is a shot of one of the roots of a very old pine stump. They looked to be slowly rotting away but the wave pattern in this one caught my eye. You don’t see things like this every day.

Pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) grow all along the wall. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) grow all along the wall in sunnier spots. They are quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun.

All of the sudden I’m seeing lots of chipmunks, and here was a chipmunk burrow. These little rodents, bigger than a mouse but smaller than a squirrel, store food for winter in underground chambers and stay underground until spring. In spring they’re usually very hungry, hence all the activity. They love to run along stone walls as well and often follow me through the woods that way, chirping and chucking the whole way.

Some of the stones here are like quilts with such a patchwork of lichens on them.

The most common stone walls in this area are “tossed walls.” Farmers worked from dawn to dusk in Colonial New England and tossed walls required the least amount of time and effort because smaller stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. In the early years getting rid of the plentiful stones quickly and efficiently was more important than enclosing the fields, but this farmer took the time to build a seat into this wall. It’s at the perfect height to sit on (I tried it) and wide enough for two people.

Near the stone seat is an iron ring in the wall where a horse could be hitched. Both the stone seat and hitching ring are in the shadiest part of this property so it makes perfect sense that this would be the place to sit and have lunch.

The farmer could even have had black raspberries for lunch, in season. They grow in several places along the wall.

As time passed barbed wire was often added to stone walls to keep animals in or out. This wire grew out of the very center of a pine tree, so it was tacked onto the tree quite a while ago. Running their saw into steel wire is one of a wood cutter’s worst nightmares come true but many things have been found inside trees, from axe heads to gravestones to even bicycles.

This chain hook is one of my favorite bits of antique iron work that I find here. A link from a chain would have been hooked over it and then another link hooked over a similar hook a certain distance away. Chains were (and are) often hung across roads or driveways as a way to say “no admittance.”  What I like about this example is the way the blacksmith tapered the hook over its length and finally ended it in what looks like a dragon’s tail. You can still see the marks of the hammer all along its length. It’s a beautiful thing and if I owned it, especially since my grandfather was a blacksmith, it would be considered a work of art.

Even in silhouette pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) can be readily identified by the long stalks that held its berries. What surprised me by these plants is how they were still standing. Pokeweed stems weaken quickly at ground level and it doesn’t usually take much snow to bring them down. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

A small oak tree hung on to its fall color and was beautiful on this cloudy, wet day. I loved seeing its bright cheery colors.

The truth is not in the touch of a stone, but in what the stone tells you. ~Rene Denfeld

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In June our biggest and most beautiful wildflowers come into bloom and, though most wildflowers are now found in sunny pastures and meadows, there are some still blooming in the woods. One of the most notable summer woodland wildflowers is the pink lady’s slipper(Cypripedium acaule.) I can remember when it was hard to find this native orchid but now thankfully they are making quite a good comeback, I think that’s because people realize that they can’t just dig them up and expect them to grow in their gardens. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for them to reproduce. They will die in just a few short years if the fungus isn’t there. 

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. Many different insects pollinate orchids but in lady’s slippers bees do the job. They enter the flower through the center slit in the pouch and once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in.

Once it enters the pouch through the slit seen here there is only one way out for a bee; guide hairs inside the flower point the way to the top of the pouch or slipper, and once the bee reaches the top it finds two holes big enough to fit through. Just above each hole the flower has positioned a pollen packet so once the bee crawls through the hole it is dusted with pollen. The flower’s stigma is also located above the exit holes and if the bee carries pollen from another lady’s slipper it will be deposited on the sticky stigma as it escapes the pouch, and fertilization will have been successful. Isn’t evolution amazing?

At a glance the leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) are often mistaken for those of lady’s slippers, but lady’s slipper leaves are deeply pleated and blue bead lily leaves are not, they’re smooth like those seen here. The two plants like the same conditions and often grow side by side. It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. I like seeing both the flowers and the blue berries that follow them. It’s been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

Every time I look closely at blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) I wonder why they didn’t call it yellow eyed grass, but that’s not all that’s wrong with the name because the plant isn’t a grass at all; it’s in the iris family. Its light, blue green leaves do resemble grass leaves though.

Beautiful little blue eyed grass flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find. I think they must be sun lovers because that’s where I usually find them. Some plants like cool damp weather, but this isn’t one of them.

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms but its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. They’re a good indicator of where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mowed lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes. I’ve seen several already.

Robin’s plantain has the biggest, most beautiful flower of any of the fleabanes in this area in my opinion.

I’ve never seen germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) bloom like it is this year. All of the sudden  I’m seeing them everywhere and I wonder if they’re becoming invasive. It’s also called bird’s eye speedwell and is another plant introduced from Europe and Asia.

After trying to photograph speedwell flowers that are one step above microscopic the germander speedwell seems gigantic in comparison because of its 3/16 to 1/4 inch flowers. It has the strange habit of wilting almost as soon as it is picked, so it isn’t any good for floral arrangements. Like all the speedwells I’ve seen it has one lower petal smaller than the other three.

So wait just a minute. I just said that “all the speedwells I’ve seen have one lower petal smaller than the other three,” but that can’t be true any longer because the common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) in this photo doesn’t have a smaller petal anywhere. Though I’m sure it’s common speedwell I can’t explain why the flowers would be so different unless the plant is a natural hybrid. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries. Its flowers are about a third the size of a germander speedwell blossom.

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.

When we move out of the forest to their edges we find sun loving plants like hawthorn, which was in full bloom on this day. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify. 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.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms aren’t much in the way of fragrance because of a compound called trimethylamine, which gives the plant a slightly fishy odor, but they’re big on beauty with their plum colored anthers. They are also important when used medicinally. 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.

The club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) are very easy to confuse with those of red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but that plant’s flower head is spherical rather than elongated. The flower head of white baneberry is always taller than it is wide and if pollinated the flowers will become white berries with a single black dot on one end. That’s where the common name doll’s eyes comes from. The berries are very toxic and can be appealing to children but luckily they are very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

I find goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis) growing in a meadow in full sun and that single spot is the only place I find them. Goat’s beard flowers close up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify. It is native to Europe but doesn’t seem to be at all invasive here. In fact I often have trouble finding it.

Bridal wreath spirea shrubs (Spiraea prunifolia) are loaded with beautiful flowers right now but I suppose they’re considered old fashioned because you never see them at newer houses. In Greek the word spirea means wreath, but the plant comes from China and Korea. Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune originally found it in a garden in China in the 1800s but it grows naturally on rocky hillsides, where its long branches full of white flowers spill down like floral waterfalls. After seeing the plant pictured it was easy to see why he chose to bring it back on board a ship.

When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one bridal wreath spirea growing in it but now I hardly see them. They’re very pretty, I think.

Lupines found in our meadows and along the roadsides in this part of the state are thought to be a cross between our western lupine (Lupinus polyphyllos) and various European varieties, so they are not native to New Hampshire, but they’re still very beautiful. Our native lupine is the sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis,) which is host to the endangered Karner blue butterfly. Lupines are in the pea family and like white and red clover fix atmospheric nitrogen into a soluble form that can be used by plants. It is said that the lupine has been cultivated for 2000 years or more, beginning in ancient Egypt, because the seed is so high in protein. These are beautiful plants to have in the garden but are very susceptible to aphid attack. 

Native azaleas can be hard to find in this area but I know a few places where I can find the early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum.) Even though it is called early azalea the Rhodora often blooms earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet. Finding a seven foot tall one of these blooming in the woods is something you don’t forget right away, and I think I remember the exact location of every one I’ve ever found. Unfortunately there aren’t many.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers, which you can see here on the buds. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them. It’s a great time to be outside finding beautiful things like these.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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Actually stone walls can talk, but you have to speak their language to be able to decipher what they’re saying. Having built a few myself this one was relatively easy to understand. It told me that its builder didn’t have time for tight joint stone masonry and in any case most likely didn’t know how to build with stone anyway. He needed a field to plant crops in so he and his family could survive and these stones were in the way of the plow, so he tossed them in a long undulating pile, and that became what is now called a tossed or thrown wall, because the stones were literally just thrown on top of one another with no time or eye for intricacies.

The landowners on either side of the wall didn’t have time to patrol the wall and pull tree seedlings so many of them started growing down in the wall where their seeds fell. Some saplings were too close to stones to cut with an axe or saw so they grew to massive size, sometimes pushing the wall stones apart ever so slowly  to make room for the huge trunk. Now, over 250 years later they shade the wall and keep it from being covered in deep snow. Some, like the white pine shown above, still stand even after being struck by lightning. The old split in its bark runs from the top of the tree all the way down its trunk, following a root right down into the ground. I’ve found trees like this one soon after they were struck and the ground around them was covered with narrow strips of bark, blown right off the wood by the lightning bolt.

You can see many interesting things if you look at our stone walls carefully, like this blacksmith made hitching ring where someone would have hitched up a horse. The odd thing about it is its location in the wall. It’s in an empty place where it doesn’t look like there would have much going on but 250 years ago it could have been a community information hub, for all I know. Most likely it was simply a shaded place for the horse to rest while the rider did whatever they had to do here.  I’m guessing it involved a lot of work.

My grandfather was the town Blacksmith in Westmoreland which is to the north west of here, so I’m always fascinated by iron work. The chain hook shown here is one of the best examples of 18th century blacksmithing I know of. I like it because it shows hand hammered marks and shows the fine workmanship and talent of the smith. He didn’t have to make such a utilitarian object as beautiful as a dragon’s tail, but he did.

This stone in this wall is only the second place I’ve found a beard lichen growing on stone. I’ve seen thousands of beard lichens but they were growing on wood 99% of the time. I think this one might be a bushy rock lichen (Ramalina intermedia.) Lichen communities grow in succession with many varieties of crustose lichens as pioneers. Foliose lichens come next as intermediary species and finally fruticose lichens like this one are considered climax species. What I don’t know is, how much time is between pioneer and climax? Climax communities of lichens are considered “old growth” communities.

As this stone shows stone walls absorb a lot of heat from the sun and release it slowly all night long until the sun shines again the following day.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter many plants like this mullein like to grow along them. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall.

There are many ferns growing along this old wall. Some are evergreen and others, like this one, are trying to be.

Many types of trees grow along the old wall including shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) which is named, not surprisingly, for its shaggy looking bark. These trees drop large amounts of hickory nuts each fall so I thought I’d find one and show it to you.

Unfortunately the squirrels had already found all the nuts and I didn’t see a single one.

I did see a lichen on the bark of the hickory that I’ve never seen before though, made up of a grayish body (Thallus) with tiny black fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) I think it might be the tiny button lichen (Amandinea punctata) which grows on wood and has a grayish, barely perceptible thallus and flat, disk shaped, black apothecia. Each black dot seen here is very small; about the size of a period made on paper with a pencil.

At the base of the hickory was a stone with a forest of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) on it. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

Shield lichens have become kind of a ho-hum lichen for me because I see thousands of them, but the way this one seems to overlap like shingles and the way it grows in concentric circles is different, and I’m not so sure it’s a shield lichen at all. I’m leaning towards the zoned dust lichen (Lepraria neglecta) but I’ll have to go back and have another look to be sure. It also resembles the shingled rock shield (Xanthoparmelia somloensis.) Like any other part of nature, stone walls have their own mysteries.

Another lichen that I don’t see often is what I believe is the rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) seen here. Its rosy or orange apothecia are large and pad like and I’ve read that though it usually grows on wood it can grow on stone as well. It could also be a scattered rock posy lichen but I don’t think so.

Sometime I can be fooled into thinking I’m seeing lichens when I’m really seeing something else. In this case I’m not sure what the green “something else” was but possibly algae. Why it was here in this spot and nowhere else along the wall, I’m not sure.

Common speedwell was enjoying the warmth from the wall and looked as good as it does in early June but of course it wasn’t flowering. This European native is common here and has been used medicinally for centuries. Its leaves have also been used as a tea substitute.

I think a lot of us believe that winter is a very wet season and it can be when the snow melts, but when it is cold and there isn’t any melting going on it can be very dry, and this white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) reminded me of that. When dry it pulls its tiny needle like leaves in close to the stem and if dry enough it looks like strands of string or clumps of worms, and this gives it another common name of medusa moss. It hadn’t reached that point when this photo was taken but it was quite dry, even with snow on it.

Stone walls will give many gifts to those who walk slowly along their length and look closely. One of the greatest gifts they give me is green leaves in winter, even when there is snow on the ground.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

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It’s a flower that is hated as much as it is loved. The humble little orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) is from Europe and is considered an invasive weed in places, especially by ranchers, but I searched for quite a while to find one.  Why would I? Count all the orange wildflowers you know and I’d guess that you’ll count them all on the fingers of one hand if you live in this part of New Hampshire. That’s why I like to see them. Orange seems to be a rare color in nature, possibly because it’s a color that is nearly invisible to bees. Orange hawkweed does reflect ultra violet light, so it is thought that some insects must find them.

Orange hawkweed starts out very red when it just comes out of the bud and it looks a bit like a paintbrush, so it is also called Indian paintbrush and / or Devil’s paintbrush. I think the latter name probably came from farmers or ranchers.

The queen of the aquatics, fragrant white waterlily has just started blooming, and they dot the surface of ponds and slow flowing rivers. They are such beautiful things with that golden flame burning in the center of each one. And fragrant too; they are said to smell like ripe cantaloupe. I watched a teen on a boardwalk once lean out to smell one and he couldn’t decide exactly what it smelled like, but he said it was very pleasant. This is a flower I could sit with all day long, even if I couldn’t smell them.

Red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) never looks red to me. It always looks purple, but it is a deeper purple than the tiny blossom in this photo is wearing. This one was taken by the sky so it seems lighter than it actually is. Red sandspurry was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s but it could hardly be called invasive. It is such a tiny plant that it would take many hundreds of them just to fill your shoe.

This photo of a red sandspurry blossom over a penny that I took last year will give you an idea of just how tiny they are. Each one could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. For those who don’t know, a penny is .75 inches [19.05 mm] across. I’m guessing you could fit 8-10 blossoms on one.

We go from the tiny sandspurry blossom to the huge (relatively) blossom of goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis.) Like red sandspurry this one likes to grow in waste areas and roadsides in full sun. I have to get to them in the morning though, because goat’s beard flowers close up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify. It is native to Europe but doesn’t seem to be at all invasive here. In fact I usually have trouble finding it.

Our locust trees are blooming. The one shown here is a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) 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.

Locusts are in the same family as peas and beans and the flowers show the connection. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well .They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

Bristly locust (Robinia hispida) is more shrub than tree, but 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.

Compared to some speedwells with flowers that are one step above microscopic I find that the germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) seems gigantic in comparison because of its 3/16 to 1/4 inch flowers. It’s also called bird’s eye speedwell and is another plant introduced from Europe and Asia. It has the strange habit of wilting almost as soon as it is picked, so it isn’t any good for floral arrangements. Like all the speedwells I’ve seen it has one lower petal smaller than the other three. Speedwell is very common in lawns but I know of only one place to find this one.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) has been blooming for about a month and it has taken me almost that long to get a useable photo of its flowers. The flowers are very small and hard to get a good photo of but they’re also very pretty and worth the effort. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries.

Wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) is a ground hugger that is easily hidden by taller plants. I can’t speak for its rarity but I know of only two places to find it. It is considered a climax species, which are plants that grow only in mature forests, so that could be why I rarely see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist and the humidity is high, and I’ve always found it near water. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow west of the Mississippi. It’s a pretty little flower that is worth searching for.

The waxy shine on the petals of a buttercup (Ranunculus) 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. These layers act together to reflect yellow light, while blue green light is absorbed. Though the shine is easy to see it’s quite hard to capture with a camera. I had to try several times.

Friends of mine grow alliums in their garden and every time I see them I wonder why I never grew them. It wasn’t just me though; nobody I gardened for grew them either. It’s another one of those plants like hellebore that people didn’t seem to want, but I like them both and I’m happy to see more of them these days.

This is the first appearance of native blunt leaf sandwort (Moehringia laterifolia) on this blog, probably because I’ve walked right by it in the past thinking it was another stitchwort, chickweed, or even sweet woodruff, which at a quick glance it might be thought to resemble.  It is considered rare in some places though, so maybe it is here as well. Clusters of small (1/3”) white 5 petaled flowers dance at the end of long weak stalks that often need the support of other plants. The stalks are covered with fine hairs and each flower has 10 stamens and 3 styles. The plant’s common name comes from its preference for growing in sand and gravel.

How can you not love the five heart shaped petals on a sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) blossom? They fade from bright to pale yellow and have veins that point the way directly to the center of the blossom where there are 30 stamens and many pistils. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. Here in this area it could hardly be called invasive; I usually have to hunt to find it. This beautiful example grew in an unmown field.

At one time I thought fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) were an exotic import from China or another Asian country but as it turns out they’re native to the east coast right here in the U.S. It’s a beautiful and fragrant tree that you rarely see anywhere, and I wonder why it’s so under used. It is said to be tougher than dogwood, more dependable than saucer magnolia, longer-lived than cherry, and smells better than Bradford pears. So why don’t more of us use it?

When it comes to small yellow flowers in my opinion one lifetime isn’t enough time to identify them all. I usually admire them and leave them alone but its silvery leaf backs make silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea) easy to identify. It comes from Europe and is considered invasive but though they are easily found they don’t choke out other plants. I like the way they often line sunny roadsides.

We 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 from a soldier’s wounds. Closer to home, Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant. 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.

Some of you seem to enjoy hearing about the memories that are attached to the flowers I know, so here’s one about a lowly weed that helped me see things differently: There was a time when all red clover (Trifolium pretense) plants meant to me was more hard work. I didn’t like having to weed it out of lawns and garden beds but it was so unsightly with its long, weak flower stems and sprawling, weedy habit. And then one evening a single ray of sunshine came through the clouds and fell directly on a red clover plant at the edge of a meadow, and when I knelt in front of it to take its photo for the first time I saw how beautiful it really was. I saw that it had an inner light; what I think of as the light of creation, shining brightly out at me. I’ve loved it ever since, and since that day I don’t think I’ve ever truly thought of another flower, no matter how lowly, as a weed.

Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought?
~Sophie Scholl

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Back a few years ago I had the luxury of working from home, telecommuting in a way. At times it could get slightly monotonous so to break up the monotony I took a walk at lunch time each day. Of course I had a camera with me and many of the photos I took on those lunchtime walks appeared here on this blog. The above photo shows the road I walked on, what we always called the “dirt road,” because it was a dirt road for many years until the town came along and paved it.

To the right of the road is a small pond where Canada geese used to swim but now it is home mostly to frogs, snapping turtles, and muskrats.

The muskrats eat the cattail roots. The snapping turtles eat the frogs, and the frogs eat up a lot of mosquitoes, for which I am very grateful. I’m looking forward to hearing the spring peepers start singing again in March.

To the left of the road is a large alder swamp where in the spring red wing blackbirds by the many hundreds live. They don’t like people near their nesting sites and when I walked by here they always let me know how disappointed they were with my walking habits. Just out there in the middle of the swamp was an old dead white pine I used to call it the heron tree, because great blue herons used to sit in its branches. Since it fell I haven’t seen as many herons fishing here.

The alders were heavy with dangling catkins, which in this case are the shrub’s male (Staminate) flowers. I believe that most of the alders here are speckled alders (Alnus incana) but I can’t get close enough to most of them to find out, because this swamp never freezes entirely.

The beautiful alder catkins, each packed with hundreds of male flowers, will open usually around the last week in March to the first week of April. When the brownish purple scales on short stalks open they’ll reveal the golden pollen, and for a short time it will look as if someone has hung jewels of purple and gold on all the bushes. That’s the signal I use to start looking for the tiny crimson female (Pistillate) flowers, which will appear in time to receive the wind born pollen. They are among the smallest flowers I know of and they can be hard to see.

The female alder flowers become the hard little cones called strobiles which I think most of us are probably familiar with.  These strobiles have tongue gall, which is caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the developing cone and causes long, tongue like galls called languets to grow from them. I’m guessing that the fungus benefits from these long tongues by getting its spore bearing surfaces out into the wind. They don’t seem to hurt the alder any. In fact most galls don’t harm their hosts.

Medieval writers thought witch’s brooms were a bewitched bundle of twigs and called them Hexenbesen, but witch’s brooms are simply a plant deformity; a dense cluster of branches caused by usually a fungus but sometimes by a parasitic plant like mistletoe. Witch’s broom can sometimes be desirable; the Montgomery dwarf blue spruce came originally from a witch’s broom. This example is on an old dead white pine (Pinus strobus) and is the only one I’ve ever seen on pine.

A colorful bracket fungus grew on a fallen log. Or maybe I should say that it was frozen to it, because it was rock hard. My mushroom book says that this fungus can appear at all times of year though, so it must be used to the cold. It’s described as hairy with ochre to bright rust yellow and rust brown banding and if I’ve identified it correctly it’s called the mustard yellow polypore (Phellinus gilvus.) That’s an odd name considering that it has very little yellow in it but even the photo in the book shows only a thin band of yellow.

This bracket fungus was very thin and woody and grew in several examples around the perimeter of a fallen tree. I think it’s probably the thin maze polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa,) which is fairly common.

This photo is of the maze-like underside of the thin maze polypore. This is a great example of how some mushrooms increase their spore bearing surfaces. When fresh the surface is pale gray and turns red when bruised. This fungus causes white rot in trees.

Despite having more cold days than warm days the sun is doing its work and melting the snow in places with a southerly exposure. Our average temperature in February here in southern New Hampshire is 35 degrees F. so try as it might, winter can’t win now. It can still throw some terrible weather at us though; the average snowfall amount is 18 inches but I’ve seen that much fall in a single February storm before. We are supposed to see 10-12 inches later today, in fact.

The reason the area in the previous photo is so clear of growth is because a large stand of bracken fern grows (Pteridium aquilinum) there. Bracken fern releases release chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants and that’s why this fern grows in large colonies where no other plants or trees are seen. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns, with fossil records dating it to over 55 million years old. Though they usually grow knee high I’ve seen some that were chest high.

Down the road a ways a large colony of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) grows. Since this was the first plant I learned to identify I’m always happy to see it. It is also called teaberry or checkerberry and those who have ever tasted Clark’s Teaberry Gum know its flavor well. Oil of wintergreen has been used medicinally for centuries and it is still used in mouthwash, toothpaste, and pain relievers. Native Americans carried the leaves on hunts and nibbled on them to help them breathe easier when running or carrying game. The leaves make a pleasant minty tea but the plant contains compounds similar to those found in aspirin, so anyone allergic to aspirin shouldn’t use this plant.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) has also been used medicinally for centuries in Europe and its leaves were used as a tea substitute there. Though it isn’t really invasive it is considered an agricultural weed. It forms mat like growths like that seen in the above photo but sends up vertical flower stalks in May. Each flower stalk (Raceme) has many very small blue flowers streaked with dark purple lines. They are beautiful little things, but they aren’t easy to photograph.

Yet another plant found in large colonies along the road is yarrow (Achillea milefolium.) Yarrow has been used medicinally since the dawn of time, and bunches of the dried herb have been  found in Neanderthal graves. It is one of the nine holy herbs  and was traded throughout the world, and that’s probably the reason it is found in nearly every country on earth. I’ve never looked closely at its seed heads before. I was surprised to see that they look nothing like the flowers. If it wasn’t for the scent and the few dried leaves clinging to the stem I’m not sure I would have known it was yarrow.

In one spot a small stream passes under the road. Strangely, on this side of the road it was frozen over…

…while on this side of the road it was ice free. That shows what a little persistent sun or shade can do at this time of year.

This is the tree that first got me wondering why some Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) had red on their bark when most didn’t. I’ve never been able to answer that question so I don’t know if it’s caused by algae, or is some type of loosely knitted lichen, or if it is simply the way the tree’s genes lean.

My lunchtime walk sometimes found me sitting in the cool forest on an old fallen hemlock tree, with this as my view. Just over the rise, a short way through the forest, is a stream that feeds into the swamp we saw previously. This is a cool place on a hot summer day and one that I used frequently. Sometimes it was hard to go back to work but you need discipline when you work from home and I always made it back in time. It was fun taking this walk again for this post. So many good memories!

The walks met a need: they were a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and once I discovered them as therapy they became the normal thing, and I forgot what life had been like before I started walking.  ~ Teju Cole

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This woodland path was dominated by white wood asters and goldenrods on either side and I didn’t see anything else blooming there, but though in this part of New Hampshire asters and goldenrods sing the loudest right now there are still other flowers to see. You just have to look a little closer to see them at this time of year, that’s all.

I found some very dark purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) recently. I look for the darkest ones I can find each year and these might win the prize for 2017, but I’ll keep looking.

New England asters are large flowers and very beautiful, no matter what shade of purple they are. When light and dark flowers grow together the bees always seem to prefer the lighter ones but in this area there were no lighter ones so I had to hope I didn’t get stung. There were bees everywhere, and they were loving these flowers as much as I was.

The pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) are blooming in my garden; one of the very last plants to do so. A friend gave me this plant many years ago and I think of her every time I see it bloom. That’s one of the best things about giving and receiving plants; they come with memories. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

It’s very hairy inside a turtlehead blossom. The hairs remind me of the beard on a bearded iris.

I was surprised to see common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) still blooming. The flowers are very small and hard to get a good photo of but they’re also very pretty and worth the effort. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries.

Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is a garden flower native to Mexico. The flowers are usually daisy like, but some have tubular petals. Cosmos is an annual plant that self-sows quite reliably. If you’re careful weeding in the spring and don’t pull all the seedlings, a six pack of plants might sow themselves and produce seedlings year after year for quite some time. I found this one at the local college.

Cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum ) are tall native perennials that can reach 8 feet, and with the flowers at the top I don’t get many chances to show them, but this plant had kindly bent over. It’s called cup plant because its leaf pairs-one on each side of the square stem-are fused together and form a cup around the stem. This cup usually has water in it. The plant produces resins that smell like turpentine. It was used medicinally by Native Americans.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) are still showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It is native to eastern North America.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods. The plant gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I was very surprised to find sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) still blooming. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them this late in the year. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. Here in this area it could hardly be called invasive; I usually have to hunt to find it. This beautiful example grew in an unmown field.

This pink rose grows in a local park. I was going to call it the last rose of summer until I saw all the buds surrounding it. It’s a beautiful thing but unfortunately it has no scent. Plant breeders will often sacrifice scent in favor of larger, more colorful blooms but give me an old fashioned cabbage rose any day. I grew up with them and they had a marvelous scent that I’ve never forgotten.

Annual fleabane (Erigeron annuus) is an easy flower to ignore and I’m often guilty of doing so, maybe because it’s so common and I see it everywhere all through the summer, from June to October. At this time of year it would be easy to mistake annual fleabane for an aster if the fleabanes didn’t start blooming so much earlier. There’s also the fact that they just don’t have the “aster look” when you see the entire plant. There can sometimes be 40-50 small, half inch flowers blooming at the same time.

The white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is a plant that is so loaded with small white flowers along its stems that it doesn’t look as if you could fit one more on it. For that reason it has another common name; the many flowered aster.

There are many asters that look alike and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids, so they can be hard to identify. One of the features that help with the identity of the heath aster is how it has nearly every inch of free stem covered by a blossom, all of them on the sunny side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmown fields and pastures.

White heath aster blossoms are fairly small; 1/4 to 1/2 inch across at best. Asters were burned by the Greeks to drive away serpents, and the Romans put wreaths made of aster blossoms on alters to the gods. In this country Native Americans used asters in sweat baths.

Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) should have stopped blooming quite a while ago but every now and then I stumble on a plant still in bloom. Since it’s one of my favorites I had to get another photo of it. These little beauties get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun.

Phlox still blooms here and there but it’s about time to say goodbye to these beauties for another year. Late summer wouldn’t be the same without them. Native Americans used phlox medicinally to heal sores and burns. They were among the first wildflowers in the United States to be collected and exported back to Europe, where they became very popular.

I saw a large swath of yellow from quite far away and I supposed it was a large colony of Jerusalem artichokes or one of the other native Helianthus species, but as I got closer I could see by the leaves that I was wrong. I’d been by this area many times and had never seen these plants but this time I saw a sign that said the area was a wetland restoration project, and warned me not to harm the plants or wildlife.

The yellow flowers, many hundreds of them, turned out to belong to the long-bracted tickseed sunflower (Bidens polylepis.) This plant likes wet feet and partial shade and is considered a wetland indicator. It is said to be of special value to native bees and is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of them. It is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year and is a native, but I wondered if it had been planted since I’ve never seen it. In any event it’s a native plant with a beautiful flower so it doesn’t really matter how it got here. Native Americans used the plant to treat fevers and I’ve read that it can produce natural dyes in brown and orange. I’m going to have to return next spring and summer to see what else might grow here.

Our indigenous herbalists say to pay attention when plants come to you; they’re bringing you something you need to learn. ~Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Here are a few more of the wildflowers that I’ve seen recently.

 1. Chicory

Blue has always been my favorite color and I can’t think of another flower more blue than chicory (Cichorium intybus.) I’ve read that chicory flowers can also rarely be white or pink, but I’ve never seen them. These plants aren’t real common here but you can find small colonies dotted here and there throughout the countryside. The large, inch and a half diameter flowers on 4 foot tall plants means they’re easy easy to see. The roasted and ground root of chicory makes a passable coffee substitute.

 2. Blue Vervain

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see the same beautiful blue color that I see in the chicory flower in the previous photo. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Sometimes color blindness isn’t so bad! Vervain flowers are considerably smaller than chicory, but there are usually so many blooming that they’re as easy to spot as that plant is. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans.

3. Common Speedwell aka Veronica officinalis

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) is another flower that looks blue to me, but that some books describe as purple. In other books I’ve seen it described as “blue to white.” In any case the flowers are very small, so you usually have to lie on your stomach in the dirt to get a good photo of them. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries.

4. Ants on Bristly Sarsaparilla

This bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) flower head had ants all over it, so I’m assuming that’s how it is pollinated. This plant is a native but it isn’t common and isn’t well known. I find it growing in full sun in very dry, sandy waste areas. It is listed by the USDA as endangered in many states. The stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. The lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter, so technically it is considered a shrub.

5. Moth Mullein

Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) gets its common name from the way the flowers’ stamens resembled moth antennae to the person who named it. This plant was introduced from Europe and found in Pennsylvania in 1818 and immediately escaped gardens to become a roadside weed now found in every state except Wyoming and Alaska. It isn’t very common in this area however-I only know of one plant. Its flowers can also be white.

6. Tall Meadow Rue

In early spring it is easy to confuse tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) with columbine because their leaves look so much alike, but as you watch the plant grow to sometimes 6 feet in height it is obvious that it isn’t columbine. The flowers of tall meadow rue don’t have any petals-the yellow tipped white parts are male stamens on the example in the photo. Female plants have white pistils that appear much like the male stamens at a glance. It’s appropriate that these plants bloom near the 4th of July because they remind me of “bombs bursting in air.”

7. Partridgeberry

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) flowers have filled the woods this year. This is an evergreen trailing plant that can form dense mats that are quite large. The strange thing about partridgeberry is how its two flowers fuse at the base to form one ovary. In one flower the male stamens are long and the female pistil is short. In the other flower the female pistil is longer than the male stamens. This prevents self-fertilization. The two flowers produce one red berry that bears two dimples, showing where the flowers were.  I always try to show the very hairy white petals when I take photos of partridgeberry.

8. American Wintergreen

 American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is just starting to open its small white flowers that look a lot like blueberry flowers. Wintergreens get their common name from the way they stay green in the winter-what we call evergreen-and this plant is probably the most well-known among natives because of its shiny green leaves that turn purple when it gets colder. I call the plant teaberry because its red berries taste just like teaberry gum. My grandmother always called it checkerberry.

 9. Shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) is a common wildflower in the wintergreen family. Many plants in the wintergreen family contain compounds that are very similar to aspirin, and shinleaf was used by Native Americans as a poultice on injured shins and other parts of the body. That’s how this plant gets its common name. Shinleaf leaves form a rosette at the base of the single, 4-5 inch tall flower stalk.

10. Shinleaf Blossom

Ten orange tipped, pollen bearing stamens hide under the upper two petals on shinleaf blossoms. Shinleaf is pollinated by flies.

11. Shinleaf Blossom

The best way to identify shinleaf is by the long, curved style that hangs down from the center of the flower. It’s easy to see how an insect would use the stigma at the end of the style for a landing pad and leave sticky pollen behind.

12. Pipsissewa Colony

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate or Pyrola umbellata) is also in the wintergreen family and recently I found a large colony of it. This plant likes to grow in groups, but they are usually made up of 10-15 plants. This group had many hundreds of plants and is the largest I’ve seen. The shiny green leaves make this plant easy to find.

13. Pipsissewa Flower

 Pipsissewa has nodding flowers that grow quite close to the ground and this makes getting a good photo difficult. Luckily I found a plant with a bent flower stalk and was able to get a look at the large center pistil and the 10 odd shaped anthers. It is said that the plant’s common name comes from the Native American word pipsiskeweu which means “it breaks into small pieces.” This refers to their belief that pipsissewa would break up kidney stones.

14. Striped Wintergreen

Yet another plant in the wintergreen family is striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata,) but unlike pipsissewa, teaberry, and shinleaf, this plant is rare in this area. In fact, it is considered rare in Canada and all of New England. I’ve only seen two in my lifetime and the plant pictured is one of them. This plant is also called spotted wintergreen or striped pipsissewa. The flowers are very beautiful and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to find this plant again so I can show them to you. Native Americans used striped wintergreen medicinally for a variety of internal and external ailments.

He who is born with a silver spoon in his mouth is generally considered a fortunate person, but his good fortune is small compared to that of the happy mortal who enters this world with a passion for flowers in his soul. ~ Celia Thaxter

Thanks for coming by.

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