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Posts Tagged ‘Cypress Spurge’

Last Saturday was a beautiful spring day so I decided to walk a rail trail in Winchester, which is south of Keene. This particular section of trail has an abundance of wildflowers and native flowering shrubs all along it and I wanted to see what was blooming. Out and back the hike I usually do through here is 6 miles but on this day I cheated and only did about three miles. It was enough to see plenty of flowers.

The trail follows along the southern stretch of the Ashuelot River after it leaves Keene. In this area the river is at its widest. Not too far from where this photo was taken, in Hinsdale New Hampshire it meets up with the Connecticut River, and from there it will flow south to the Atlantic.

The railroad engineers had to hack their way through some serious ledges out here but nothing too deep, so plenty of light gets in. I think that must be why so many flowers grow here.

One of the first flowers I saw were these very small white violets and I wondered if they could be northern white violets (Viola pallens.) From what I’ve read it’s an early white violet that prefers damp woodlands, and it is certainly damp here.

The flowers sat atop long stems but they were half the size of the violets that I usually see. In fact they were so small that I couldn’t even tell they were violets from five feet away. They’re pretty little things and there were lots of them.

I think every shade of green I’ve ever seen was represented here on this day. The forest was amazingly beautiful and I felt like I was being bathed in chlorophyll.

Some trees like this cherry couldn’t have fit another blossom on its limbs.

Oaks were in the business of flowering too, but this one’s buds hadn’t opened yet. I think this was a northern red oak (Quercus rubra.) We have other oak species but red oaks are the most common in this part of the state.

I thought that these tiny oak leaves, just opened and velvety soft, were very beautiful.

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

All parts of spurge plants contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock. Cypress spurge has very unusual flowers. There were tiny insects flying all over this group of plants but I couldn’t tell what they were.

I was hoping the hobblebushes would be blooming and wow, were they ever. Winter must have been kind to these native shrubs because I’ve never seen them bloom as heavily as they are this year. Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is one of our most beautiful native shrubs in my opinion, and they have just started blooming. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads.

Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster. Hobblebush flower heads are made up of small fertile flowers in the center and large infertile flowers around the perimeter. The infertile flowers are there to attract insects to the much less showy fertile ones and it’s a strategy that must work well because I see plenty of berries in the fall. They start out green and go to bright red before ripening to a deep purple color. The outer infertile flowers are about three quarters of an inch across and a single fertile flower could hide behind a pea. All flowers in a hobblebush flower head have 5 petals, whether fertile or infertile.

These beautiful shrubs bloom all along this trail and when they’re finished native azaleas will take their place. The azaleas will be followed by native mountain laurels, so this place will be blooming for quite some time.

For the first time I decided to get off the rail trail and follow this old road, which leads to the site of a ruined factory which stood out here years ago. Undergrowth and trees grew close to the road, making it narrow and hard to see what was going on very far up ahead. I talked to a man a few years ago who told me that a black bear had followed him and his wife when they were hiking out here once, so this closed in place made me want to be super aware of every sound. I heard lots of beautiful birdsong and what sounded like a fawn calling for its mother, but I didn’t hear anything that sounded like a bear. I’d guess this place must be a bear’s dream come true though, because all these flowers will eventually become fruit. Rose-hips, hobblebush berries, blueberries, apples, crab apples, grapes, raspberries and blackberries are just a small sampling of what could be on a bear’s menu here. When all that fruit ripens it could literally eat its way over six miles of trail.

Rubble piles are all that’s left of the factory, which I believe was a paper mill. I think someone told me that it burned down quite a few years ago. There were a lot of bricks but little wood, so it seems plausible.

You can’t see it because of all of the growth on the far side of the river but there is a road behind the trees. At one time a bridge crossed the river here and led directly to this factory from that road. This pier in the middle of the river is all that’s left of the bridge, which was probably taken by a flood.

! was surprised to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) blooming out here because I’ve been here several times and have never noticed it, but a colony like this one has obviously been here for years. It grew almost vertically on moss covered stone.

This will probably be the last time I see these flowers this year. The brown spots on them is a good sign that they’re just about done.

There was a Boston and Maine railroad siding near my grandmother’s house and there were always boxcars parked there so I used to climb all over them when I was a boy. These tired old boxcars are slowly sinking into the ground they sit on but I like to come and see them. They bring back some happy memories.

These cars were originally from the Green Mountain Railroad, which still runs as a scenic railway through parts of Vermont. Why they were put out here I don’t know, but I’m sure they must have once served the paper mills in the area.

I saw quite a few forget-me-nots near the old boxcars. They weren’t really a surprise because I’ve seen them along this rail trail before. Only Myosotis scorpioides, native to Europe and Asia, is called the true forget me not. The plant was introduced into North America, most likely by early European settlers, and now grows in 40 of the lower 48 states. In some states it is considered a noxious weed though I can’t understand why. I hardly ever see it.

The big surprise on this day was seeing white forget-me-nots. I’ve never seen them before and didn’t know they came in white. They were pretty enough but I think I like the blue ones more.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts. ~Susanna Clarke

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is seeing plenty of spring wonders!

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

1. Bulbous Buttercup aka Ranunculus bulbosus

I try hard to not misidentify the plants that appear here and all of the little yellow, 5 petaled flowers growing in lawns increase the chances of that happening, so I usually leave them alone. This bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) was relatively easy to identify though, so here it is. This plant gets its common name from its bulbous root, which is a corm.

2. Red Trillium

Most of the red trillium (Trillium erectum) blossoms have faded or have been eaten, but I still see them here and there. They lighten from deep red to a pale purple color before finally turning brown.  The fading of red trilliums means it’s time to start looking for pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) and painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum.)

 3. Hawthorn Blossoms

I love the plum colored anthers on these hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms. They are very beautiful, in my opinion.

 4. Mayapple Blossom

I’ve decided that mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum ) are hard to photograph, and that’s because I’ve never been happy with a single one that I’ve taken.  The flowers are very close to the ground but even if I lie out flat they never seem to be fully in focus.

 5. Sessile Leaved Bellwort

Our native sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) have put on a good show this year. I’ve seen more than I ever have. Botanically speaking the word sessile means sitting, as in the leaves are sitting on the main stem, which means that the leaves themselves don’t have a stem (petiole.)

 6. Red Baneberry Blossoms

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra) is blooming early this year-probably because of the early warmth we had. Soon each tiny blossom will become a poisonous red berry. Native Americans dipped their arrowheads in concentrated baneberry juice to use as a poison.

7. Dwarf Ginseng Blossoms

Dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) will set a cluster of yellowish fruit if the tiny white flowers are pollinated.  If it doesn’t set berries this plant often disappears without a trace shortly after flowering. The trifolius part of the scientific name refers to the three compound leaves that always appear in a whorl around the stem. Each leave has three to five leaflets that are nearly sessile on the stem.

 8. Jack in the Pulpit

I wasn’t sure if I’d see a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) this year. I visited all of their growing places that I know of and found only two plants. That could be because last year was a banner year and I saw them everywhere. Many plants-even oak trees-“rest” after a bountiful year. This plant is in the arum family, along with skunk cabbage and many others.

 9. Jack in the Pulpit

I always pop the hood on jack in the pulpits to see what ‘Jack” is up to. I also like to see the purple stripes on the inside of the spathe, which is the hood that overhangs Jack. Jack is a club shaped spadix which in this photo appears black, but is actually purple. At the bottom of the cup shaped spathe male or female flowers will form at the base of this spadix. The spadix smells like mushrooms and if its female flowers are pollinated by tiny fungus flies, they will become bright red berries that deer love to eat.

 10. Blue Bead Lily

I found quite a large patch of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) recently. If you gave this plant a quick, passing glance you might mistake its leaves for those of pink lady’s slipper, but blue bead lily leaves don’t have deep pleats like lady’s slipper leaves do.

 11. Blue Bead Lily

Blue bead lily is in the lily (Liliaceae) family and it’s not hard to see why when you take a good look at one of the small flowers-they look just like a Canada lily. If pollinated each flower will become a single berry that will turn from green to white and finally to an almost fluorescent, bright blue. I had a hard time finding any berries last year so I’m hoping there will be many to see this year.

 12. Bluets

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are still blooming in great drifts across mowed places.  This plant is considered an ephemeral, but given enough moisture it will bloom well into summer. Their range of color goes from almost white to dark blue and I always try to find those with the darkest color. These ones looked fairly dark.

 13. Cypress Spurge aka Cemetary Weed aka Euphorbia cyparissias

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

14. Gaywings

One of my very favorite woodland flowers is fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia,) also called gaywings. This plant is a low growing creeper which at a glance is easily mistaken for a violet. I know that from experience because last year was the first time I ever really paid any attention to it. I think that I have passed it off as just another violet for most of my life, which is too bad. The flowers are made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal which is mostly hidden. When an insect lands on the fringed part, the third petal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube. There are 3 or 4 flowers in this photo, and they all seem to be growing on top of each other.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

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