Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Dame’s Rocket’

It was funny, after walking all around Goose Pond looking for them, to find blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) growing just down the road from my house. The flowers seem to appear overnight, even when the plants didn’t look budded the day before. Then, when you see one or two blossoms you start seeing them everywhere. They love wet feet and will often grow in water. The name “flag” comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves.

Black locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia) are just coming into bloom and they’re beautiful with their long white tresses of very fragrant flowers. Honey made from the flowers is considered choice and commands a high price. These are beautiful trees and we’re lucky to have them as natives. Lucky that is, unless you want to get rid of one. Then you might not feel quite so lucky because there’s a good chance shoots will keep growing from the stump and you’ll probably have seedlings all over the yard. But why would you want to get rid of something so beautiful in the first place?

Black locust is in the pea family, as is easily seen by the shape of the flowers. The wood of the tree has been used for fence posts historically, because it is completely rot resistant. Black locust fence posts have survived a hundred years or more without rotting away. I wish you could smell those flowers. They remind me of white wisteria blossoms.

Native blue bead lilies are having a good year and it’s about time. For the last few years they haven’t bloomed well and the only thing I can think of that is different is all the rain we had last summer. The leaves of the plant look like lady’s slipper leaves without the pleats and the flowers do indeed look like miniature Canada lilies.

Since the flowers nod at the ground they’re hard to get a good shot of but the flower stalk is strong and will take a little gentle bending. Each blossom is slightly bigger than a trout lily blossom and there are usually two or three per stalk. Flower parts appear in multiples of three in the lily family and to prove it this blossom has three petals, three sepals, and six stamens. 

This photo from a few years ago shows the beautiful electric blue berries that give blue bead lily its name. They will appear later on in July and August and I hope I see some this year because they can be hard to find. The berries are said to be toxic but birds and chipmunks snap them right up as soon as they ripen. Some Native American tribes rubbed the root of this plant on their bear traps because its fragrance attracted bears.

It’s spiderwort (Tradescantia) time again and I hope you aren’t tired of seeing them or hearing stories about them. They used to grow wild on the railroad tracks all the way from my house to downtown Keene and my father used to see them when he walked to and from work at the screw factory each day. That’s why he asked me why I was “dragging those damned old weeds home” when he saw me planting them in the yard. Even trains couldn’t kill them! I don’t remember what my answer was but he never made me dig them up so it must have been a satisfactory one. I’ve always loved their color and I’d guess that was probably just what I told him.

Then a few years ago I ran into a purple flowered tradescantia and I was surprised that plant breeders would be working with damned old weeds like them, but here they were.

I like the purple but I always considered blue my favorite until I saw this one. I just about fell over the first time I saw it and I thought it must be some kind of natural hybrid but no, you can buy it. Its name is “Osprey” and it works so well for me because it is simple but so very beautiful at the same time. If I had to choose which flowers new to me that I had found over the eleven years I’ve been doing this blog that were the most beautiful, this would have to be in the top five. I might just have to have one in my yard someday. Tradescantias do have a bad reputation though, because the old varieties tend to sprawl and have very viable seeds that come up everywhere but I doubt the new hybrids are very challenging. If anyone reading this has tried them, I’d be interested in hearing about the aggressiveness of the newer varieties.

This wisteria is another plant that just about knocked me over when I first saw it. It grows high up in a black cherry tree at a local school and blooms beautifully ever year at this time, unless someone can’t tell what it is by the leaves and cuts it down. That has happened but you aren’t going to kill a wisteria that easily, so it grows right back.

Since the flowers dangle high over head its hard to get good shots of them but this one is good enough to show that wisteria is another plant in the pea family, like the black locust we saw earlier. It is also very fragrant. This is a plant I’d love to have but it’s a big aggressive vine that needs a lot of room and I doubt I could keep it away from the house. If too close to a house they’ll climb up onto the roof and grow under the shingles and eventually tear them right off the roof. They’ll also find any holes in the siding, soffits and fascia and if you aren’t careful, you could find one growing inside your walls. A doctor’s wife I used to work for had me lean out of a second-floor window with a pole pruner occasionally to keep that from happening to her house. They had planted the vine to grow on a pergola that was attached to the house and it was a never-ending battle.

If there had been three red sand spurry flowers (Spergularia rubra) growing together in a triangle with their petals just touching, I could have just about hidden them all from view with a pencil eraser. That’s how small these flowers are. But size doesn’t matter where beauty is concerned because they are a quite beautiful little “weed.” This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s and it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.  I find them growing in dry, sandy waste areas.

Blunt leaved sandwort (Moehringia lateriflora) with its masses of aspirin size white flowers is blooming and I think this year it is blooming better than it ever has, because I’m seeing many thousands of flowers everywhere I go. It’s a pretty little native plant that looks like it might make a good groundcover. It is said to like woodlands, woodland edges, prairies, and along streams in rocky or sandy soil. I’ve read that it is easily overlooked and I would say that was true. Another name is grove sandwort.

I saw a beautiful old fashioned bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia) at the local college. It looked like a floral waterfall. If you’re looking for a low to no maintenance shrub that asks for nothing, this is the shrub for you. When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one but I don’t see many now. This one is huge; it grew far up over my head.

I find large drifts of dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) in a local park and I’m always glad an overzealous weeder hasn’t weeded it out. But I suppose technically, it is a weed. In fact it’s an invasive species, but it’s a pretty one that has a heavenly fragrance. This drift used to be well mixed with white, pink and purple but now it is mostly purple, which must be the dominant color.

Dame’s rocket at a glance could easily be confused with garden phlox but just count the petals. Phlox has five petals and dame’s rocket has four. I’m seeing these plants along roadsides more each year, so they are spreading.

This is the first time you’ve seen a camas on this blog because this is the first one I’ve ever seen. It’s a very pretty flower that is in the lily family and grows from a bulb. I don’t know for sure what its name is but it resembles photos I’ve seen of the common camas (Camassia quamash.) The bulbs of the plant were highly valued by many Native American tribes. Once cooked, a third of bulb’s weight became the sugar fructose and Natives dried them or ground them into a kind of sweet flour after steaming or roasting them. According to the U.S. Forest service the prairie tribe Nez Pierce fed Lewis and Clark camas in 1805. Lewis liked them so much he over ate and became sick, but he wrote a detailed description of the plant; one of the most detailed accounts of any plant he collected on the entire expedition. If you decide to go to the prairies and try one beware, because there is one called death camas. I think it is a white flowered plant but there is no telling if they cross breed.

A new customer once told me under no circumstances should I plant anemones in her yard. She detested them, she said. Well I told her, you have anemones growing right over there. They’re native Canada or meadow anemones (Anemone canadensis.) She said they weren’t the same anemones she was talking about so I said alright, I just won’t plant any anemones, no matter where they come from. Though I worked for her for many years I never did find out what it was about anemones that she disliked so much. Since they had lived all over the world in many different countries, I’m guessing they must have been the smaller windflowers.

We have so many varieties of native viburnum here that it’s easy sometimes to say “ho hum, just another viburnum.“  That is apparently what I’ve done with the native nannyberry, also called sheepberry (Viburnum lentago,) because it has never appeared on this blog except in bud form. I found this one while searching for nodding trilliums and realized how pretty it was. In fact people like it so much it is often used as a native landscape shrub. It can also be trained to a single stem and used as a small tree.

The numerous small, five lobed white flowers are very pretty with their five yellow tipped stamens. They’ll be followed by edible dark blue, juicy one seeded berries (drupes), which are sometimes called wild raisins. If you are trying to attract birds and other wildlife to your garden nannyberry, or any of our many other native viburnums, would be an excellent choice. And you’d also have a garden full of beautiful flowers as well.

It’s going to be a good year for both raspberries and blackberries. These plants grow along one of the walks I regularly take, so I might have to sample a few before the birds get them all.

For the violet lovers out there, I finally found a true marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata) that I can be sure of. I can say, also for certain, that it is not the only violet that raises its flowers high above the leaves on long stems, as the Forest Service says it is. There has to be at least one other violet that does that because it is that one that I have kept confusing with the marsh blue violet. Whatever it is, it grows by the hundreds in the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland.

If you’ve ever looked closely at a violet blossom, you probably noticed that most of them have fine hairs called “beards” on the two side petals, just at the throat. Marsh blue violets have short, thick, club shaped hairs instead and it is that feature that will make them easy to identify from now on. At least I hope so. This plant has given me a rough ride.

The first rose I saw this season was a single pink one that reminded me of an old standby called “Betty Prior” but I think it was too tall and too uniformly pink to be Betty.

I found a very fragrant azalea blooming in a local park that looked a lot like our native early azalea. Unfortunately all the leaves were being eaten by something. The soft tissue was gone and only the ribs were left. Whether this will weaken the plant enough to keep it from blooming next year, I don’t know. I hope not, because it’s a beautiful thing. There is no such thing as too much beauty in this life.

Every bird, every tree, every flower reminds me what a blessing and privilege it is just to be alive.
~Marty Rubin

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

I didn’t think I was going to see our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) this year because every plant I visited had no flower stalks or buds, but then I saw this beauty growing in a roadside ditch. The name “flag” comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves. In this instance they were growing right in the water of the ditch, which shows that they don’t mind wet roots.

Beautiful blue flag irises always say June to me and here they are, right on schedule. There is also a southern blue flag (Iris virginica.) Though Native Americans used native irises medicinally their roots are considered dangerously toxic.

Dogwoods (Cornus) have just come into bloom and I caught up with this one on a recent rainy day. Dogwood blossoms have 4 large white bracts surrounding the actual small greenish flowers in the center. The dogwood family is well represented in this area, with many native species easily found.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is in the dogwood family and just like the tree dogwood blossom we saw previously 4 large white bracts surround the small greenish flowers in the center. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give it its common name. That little starflower in the lower part of the photo jumped in just as I clicked the shutter.

Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) blossoms also have 4 larger white bracts surrounding the actual flowers in the center but everything is so small it’s hard to see. Gray dogwood flower clusters are sort of mounded as is seen here, while silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) are flatter. 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. The silky dogwood will have berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Now that the common lilacs are done blooming the dwarf Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri) take over. They are fragrant but have a different scent than a common lilac. Each year at this time I visit a a park where dwarf lilacs, fringe trees, and black locusts, all very fragrant flowers, all bloom at once and it is unbelievable. Though called Korean lilac the original plant was found in a garden near Beijing, China by Frank Meyer in 1909. It has never been seen in the wild so its origin is unknown. If you love lilacs but don’t have a lot of room this one’s for you. They are a no maintenance plant that is very easy to grow.

Bearded irises seem to be doing quite well this year. I’m seeing them everywhere I go.

Beautiful Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the native fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms, while 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, especially in cemeteries, it seems. This year I learned another name for them: wandering fleabane. That’s a good one because this plant gets around.

Another plant I often see in cemeteries is the old fashioned bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia). When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one and I liked them because they’re a low to no maintenance shrub that really asked for nothing. You could prune it for shape if you wanted but you didn’t need to. The 6-8 foot shrubs are loaded with beautiful flowers right now but I suppose they’re considered old fashioned because I seem to see fewer of them each year.

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.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) was so highly valued that it was brought over from England by the colonists in the 1600s. They used it as an ornamental back then and it has been with us ever since. Though it is considered invasive most of us don’t really mind because it’s beautiful. This plant forms clumps much like phlox and can get 5 feet tall under the right conditions. It is very fragrant in the evening.

The easiest way to tell whether you’re seeing Dame’s rocket or phlox is to count the flower petals. Dame’s rocket has 4 petals and phlox has 5. If there are no flowers look at the leaves; phlox leaves are opposite while Dames rocket has alternate leaves. Even easier is to simply not care, and just enjoy their beauty.

This wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) grew right beside the Dame’s rocket and showed the differences very well. A close look shows that the flowers really don’t look anything like those of Dame’s rocket.

I know of only one red horse chestnut tree and it grows in a local park. The red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) I’ve read that bees and hummingbirds love the beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today in fact, but I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the small, pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and other insects.

The surface of the pipevine flower is roughly pebbled, presumably to make it easier for the butterfly to hang onto. Though it was used by Native Americans to treat pain and infections the plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some southeastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s. If you have a view you’d like to screen off just for the summer months this plant might be for you, but you’ll need a sturdy trellis.

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is a plant that is not doing well this year. I’m seeing plenty of leaves but this is the only flower I found. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, so maybe that is why. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

A mayapple colony is made up of plants with large leaves that grow close together, so to find the flowers you have to move the leaves a bit.

Red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) is a beautiful but tiny thing. I can usually only see a bit of color and  have to let the camera see the flower but on this day I was able to see the actual flowers, and there were many of them. 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 a coffee cup.

Here is shot of a blossom overhanging a penny that I took a few years ago. Because it isn’t touching the penny perspective makes it look a bit bigger than it is. it’s really about the size of Lincoln’s ear.

It’s honeysuckle time and Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is one of the prettiest, in my opinion. Unfortunately it is also invasive, originally from Siberia and other parts of eastern Asia. In fall its pretty flowers become bright red berries. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre, according to the Forest Service. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, and the land around these colonies is often barren.

Morrow’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) is another invasive honeysuckle. It was imported in the 1800s for use as an ornamental, for wildlife food, and for erosion control. It has pretty white flowers that turn yellow with age. As is true with most honeysuckles the flowers are very sweetly fragrant. Unfortunately it spreads by its berries like Tatarian honeysuckle and it can form dense thickets and outcompete native shrubs. It seems more aggressive than Tatarian honeysuckle; I see it far more often.

While I was looking to see if the nodding trilliums were blooming I stumbled upon what I knew was a honeysuckle, but it was one I had never seen. After a couple of weeks of waiting for its buds to open I finally found that I had discovered a very pretty native wild honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica.) The plant is also called limber honeysuckle or glaucous honeysuckle and though I can’t speak of its rarity I can say that this is the first time I’ve seen it, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time outdoors.

Wild honeysuckle is a low shrub with vining characteristics, meaning that it will loosely twine around other shrubs that might be growing nearby, trying to reach more sunlight. One inch long red or sometimes yellow tubular flowers with bright yellow stamens appear at the ends of the branches. Their throats are hairy and like other native honeysuckles the stigma is dome or mushroom shaped. The leaves are white on the underside and you can just see that on the left in this photo.

I took this shot to show you the urn or egg shaped ovaries at the base of the flower tubes. Each tubular flower has a small bump at its base, just before the ovary. I’ve read that this honeysuckle likes sandy, wet places at high elevations in mixed hard and soft wood forests, but I found it just a few feet from a road. I’m hoping it will like it there and spread some.

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
~James Wright 

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

If you’re tempted to pass by what you think are violets you might want to take a closer look, because our beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) have just started blossoming. Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets has fooled me in the past. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in pairs as can be seen in the photo above. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the little wings. The little fringe at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect lands on the fringe the third sepal, called the keel, drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. Surprisingly this little insect landed on the flower I was taking a photo of it and let me actually see how it works. I think it was a sweat bee.

In this shot the reproductive structures are exposed. That little bump or nub just under the tube formed by the petals makes up the reproductive structures and this is the first time I’ve ever seen them. Though I’ve searched high and low in books and online apparently little is known about how they function. I did read that the seeds are coated with a fatty tissue that ants like, so ants disperse them. I usually find this plant in shady, mossy places and I think it prefers moist ground. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual flower that I always look for in May.

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and a colony as big as this one is a beautiful sight. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their striking foliage as the flowers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

The small, numerous flowers of foamflower have 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. It is said that the long stamens are what give foamflowers their frothy appearance, along with their common name. Native Americans used the leaves and roots of foamflower medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “coolwort” because the leaves were also used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) has just come into bloom, right on schedule. This plant was introduced from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae but is sometimes mistaken for phlox, which has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) has just started blooming and something has already chewed a hole through the side of one of them. I can remember bringing my grandmother, whose name was Lilly,  wilting bouquets of lily of the valley along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw when I was just a young boy, so it’s a flower that comes with a lifetime of memories for me. The plant, originally from Europe and Asia, is quite toxic. It is actually in the asparagus, not the lily family.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are another spring flower that have just started blooming. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

Books will tell you that starflowers have 7 petals but as this one shows, they can have as many as 9. They can also have as few as 6.

When you see big umbrella like leaves like these you should look under them, because that’s where the flowers of Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) hide. Mayapple is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten.

Mayapple flowers are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves, but it can be done. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, but this colony seems to bloom well each year.

One of most beautiful spring flowering shrubs is the rhodora (Rhododendron canadense.) Henry David Thoreau once wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that’s what this little two foot tall shrub does each spring. The flowers appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because they aren’t common. Rhodora is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

Because of their habit of growing in or very close to the water it can be hard to get close enough to get a shot of a single flower, but if you’ve ever seen an azalea blossom then you know what they look like. It’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

My mother died before I was old enough to retain any memory of her but she planted a white lilac before she died, so now the flowers and their scent have become my memory of her. Whenever I see a white lilac she is there too. I know that long time readers are probably tired of hearing all these flower stories but there are new readers coming along all the time who haven’t, so I hope you’ll bear with me. When I see certain flowers I often think more of the connection it has in my memory to a certain person than I do the flower.

White lilacs hold my mother’s memories and tradescantia flowers hold my father’s. When I was just a young boy living with my father I decided that our yard needed a facelift. We had a beautiful cabbage rose hedge and a white lilac, and a Lorelai bearded iris that my mother planted before she died but I wanted more. I used to walk the Boston and Maine railroad tracks to get to my grandmother’s house and I’d see these beautiful blue flowers growing along the tracks, so one day I dug one up and planted it in the yard. My father was quiet until I had planted 3 or 4 of them, and then he finally asked me why I was bringing home those “dammed old weeds.” He also walked the tracks to get to work and back, so he saw the tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants just as often as I did. Though I thought they were lost and needed to be rescued, he thought somebody threw them away and he wished they’d have thrown them just a little farther, because now they were all ending up in his yard. Today every time I see these flowers I think of him. I hope your flowers come with such pleasant memories.

Common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is often confused with clover but clover has oval leaflets rather than the heart shaped ones. Yellow wood sorrel’s three leaflets close up flat at night and in bright sunshine, and for that reason it is also called sleeping beauty or sleeping molly. The flowers also close at night. The stricta part of the scientific name means “upright” and refers to the way the plant’s seedpods bend upwards from their stalks. This small grouping had the largest flowers I’ve seen; twice the size as they usually bear. I’m not sure what would cause that.

We have several invasive honeysuckle species here in New Hampshire and I’ve given up trying to identify them all. Most or all are banned from being sold but birds love their bright red berries and that makes the shrubs impossible to ever eradicate. Though most of their flowers are white you do see an occasional pink example. They can be very pretty and also very fragrant.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus ) takes quite a long time to bloom after the melting snow reveals  its cluster of basal leaves in  early spring. This commonly seen plant originally comes from Europe and Asia and is considered invasive.

Greater celandine’s yellow / orange colored sap that we used to call mustard when I was a boy has been used medicinally for thousands of years, even though it is considered toxic and can irritate the skin and eyes. It is said that it can also cause liver damage if used incorrectly. We might have called it mustard but as far as I know, nobody ever ate it.

Little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is one of my favorite spring flowers and it has just started blooming. Toadflax flowers have an upper lip that is divided into 2 rounded lobes, and a lower lip which is divided into 3 lobes that are rounded and spreading. They also have a long spur in back, which can’t be seen well in this photo. Toadflax likes sandy soil and waste areas to grow in. The cheery blue flowers are always a welcome sight.

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) is a plant that quite literally helped me see the light. There was a time when all this plant meant to me was more hard work. I didn’t like having to weed them out of lawns and garden beds but they were so unsightly with their 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.

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them. ~John Ruskin

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

I thought I’d start this flower post where I left off in the last one and show you pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in full bloom. I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will die if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be. They’re one of our most beautiful native orchids and everyone should have a chance to see them.

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, which can be seen here. Once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in.

There is only one way out for a bee trapped in a lady’s slipper blossom; 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.

For years I’ve heard of a very special place up in the woods of Westmoreland where endangered orchids, squawroot, hepatica, Dutchman’s breeches, maiden hair fern and other plants that love a lot of lime in the soil grow, so over Memorial day my daughter and I decided to pay this special place a visit. The terrain was rough, with climbs so steep you had to use ropes tied to trees to pull yourself along, but we made it through and didn’t see a single plant that was supposed to grow there. I did see a hepatica leaf, but that was about it. My daughter found this beautiful long spurred violet in bloom (Viola rostrata); the first example I’ve seen, but it isn’t even mentioned in the list of plants that are supposed to grow here.

This is a pretty little violet but I doubt I’d go through what we went through to see it again.

We also found a yellow violet just opening. This was only the second time I had ever seen one. I think it was a round leaved yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) which likes to grow in rich woods. It might have also been a downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens,) which likes the same conditions.

Like most of the white spring flowering trees, chokecherries (Prunus) and chokeberries (Aronia) grow on the edge of the forest. Though they look alike from a distance, chokeberries and chokecherries are only distantly related in the rose family. The common name is the giveaway here: A cherry is a stone fruit with one seed, so the chokecherry will have one seed. A berry will have multiple seeds; in the case of the chokeberry 5 or fewer. Chokeberry flower clusters are smaller than chokecherry and kind of flat on top. Chokecherry flower clusters are usually long and cylindrical like a bottle brush. Positive identification between these two is important because chokecherry leaves and seeds contain prussic acid which can convert to cyanide under the right conditions, so it wouldn’t be good to eat too many seeds. The simplest way to be sure is by counting the seeds in a piece of fruit before picking and eating from the tree.

A close look at a chokecherry blossom.

Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid to late May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

From above the flowers of eastern larch look like a rose, but at less than the diameter of a pea they are far less showy. Each beautiful little flower will become a small brown cone.

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’ve been trying since they started opening and I’d bet I had to try 10-20 times before getting it right.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

There just happens to be a phlox plant or two growing near the dame’s rocket and I thought it was good chance to show how phlox blossoms have 5 petals. I’m not sure if these plants were wild phlox or garden escapees but I’m guessing they probably came from a nearby garden.

The yellow flowers seen in the first photo of Dame’s rocket are those of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus.) Pliny the Elder said chewing the root of greater celandine would relieve a toothache, but modern science has found that every part of it contains a range of isoquinoline alkaloids that makes it toxic if used in large amounts. When used in the correct dosage the plant’s yellow sap can be used against warts and moles. If used at all, all of the latex sap should be washed from the hands because it can cause irritation if rubbed into the eyes. Greater celandine is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S.

All the books will tell you that the flowers of greater celandine have four yellow petals but I’ve seen them with 5. When I was a boy we stained our hands with the plant’s yellow sap and called it mustard. Thankfully we never ate it.

Friends of mine grow this beautiful clematis in their garden. This is the first blossom of the summer, just opening when I took its photo.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, much like an Indian cucumber root. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned ground cover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe. I don’t see it often and I’d call it rare in this area.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. ~Aldo Leopold

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

When I think of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) I think of another spring ephemeral, but they don’t really fit that definition because they blossom after the leaves come out on the trees. They get away with that because their big strap shaped leaves can take in plenty of light even under trees, and they prefer shade. But this is a time of transition, because the forest flowers are finishing up and the sun loving meadow flowers are just beginning. It’s an exciting time for flower lovers because we know that the best is yet to come.

Blue bead lily looks like a miniature Canada lily because it’s a member of the lily family. Each blossom is slightly bigger than a trout lily blossom and there are usually two or three per stalk. Flower parts appear in multiples of three in the lily family and to prove it this blossom has three petals, three sepals, and six stamens.  Its name comes from the beautiful electric blue berries that will appear later on in summer. The berries are said to be toxic but birds and chipmunks snap them right up. Some Native American tribes rubbed the root of this plant on their bear traps because its fragrance attracted bears.

Our native azaleas have just started to bloom. I was worried about the one pictured because a tree fell on it three summers ago. It seemed to be hanging on by a thread for a while but it is getting stronger over time and looks like it will hang on to bloom beautifully again each year. It grows in a shaded part of the forest and is called early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet.

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. 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 just see on the bud over on the right. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are supposed to be a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but I’ve seen eight and nine petals on flowers, and I’ve seen many with six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

This blossom lived up to the 7 theory and had 7 petals. It also has 7 anthers. I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at though, because many I’ve seen have more or fewer and 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves, and this shot took several tries. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, but I’ve seen these plants bloom well for a few years now. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should never be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

I’m lucky enough to know where there are two or three sizeable colonies of Pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) and this year I found another with 12-14 plants in it. There was a time when these plants were collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If the plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be.

For those who haven’t seen one, a pink lady’s slipper blossom is essentially a pouch called a labellum, which is a modified petal. The pouch has a slit down the middle. Veins on the pouch attract bumblebees, which enter the flower through the slit and then find that to get out they have to leave by one of two openings at the top of the pouch that have pollen masses above them. When they leave they are dusted with pollen and will hopefully carry it to another flower. It takes pink lady’s slippers five years or more from seed to bloom, but they can live for twenty years or more.

When pink lady’s slippers first set their buds they are a kind of off white, almost yellow color and some think they have found a white or yellow one, but they quickly turn pink. The pink Lady’s slipper is New Hampshire’s state wildflower.

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.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

There just happened to be a phlox plant or two growing among the dame’s rocket and I thought it was ggod chance to show how phlox blossoms have 5 petals. I’m not sure if these plants were wild phlox or garden escapees but I’m guessing they probably came from a nearby garden.

Mouse ear chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) is one of those plants that keep the big herbicide companies making billions because they’ve convinced people that “fuzzy green patches don’t belong in their lawn.” They tell us that this “pesky plant loves to wreak havoc on the open spaces in our lawns and gardens,” but what they don’t tell us is how the plant was here long before lawns were even thought of.  A few hundred years ago in cottage gardens turf grasses were pulled as weeds so medicinal or edible plants like dandelion and chickweed could flourish. How times have changed.

One flower that will always say June to me is the Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare,) even though I found this one in May. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. Soon our roadsides will be carpeted by them. I like their spiraled centers.

Sweet little blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) has always been one of my favorite wildflowers. It’s in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light green leaves resemble grass leaves.  The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find. Native Americans had several medicinal uses for this plant.

This blue eyed grass had two blossoms on one stem, which is rare in my experience.

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 mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

I saw this view along one of our roads recently. Lupines and Ox eye daisies seemed to go on forever. There were a few white lupines but most were blue / purple. It’s a hint of what will come; soon our meadows will explode with color.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

When I was growing up we had a hedge of rugosa roses and I’ll never forget their wonderful scent. This rose reminded me of them because it too had that same scent. I think it was in the rugosa rose family but it wasn’t the exact one we had. The Latin word “rugosa” means “wrinkled,” as in the wrinkled petals  this one had.  They are a shrub rose that come along just after lilacs so if you’re looking for an extended period of fragrance in the garden I can’t think of anything better to extend it with. Rosa rugosa has been cultivated in Japan and China for about a thousand years but it has only been in this country since 1845. After its introduction it immediately escaped cultivation and can now be found just about anywhere on the coast of New England.

Pliny the Elder said chewing the root of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) would relieve a toothache, but modern science has found that every part of it contains a range of isoquinoline alkaloids that makes it toxic if used in large amounts. When used in the correct dosage the plant’s yellow sap can be used against warts and moles.  If used at all, all of the latex sap should be washed from the hands because it can cause irritation if rubbed into the eyes. Greater celandine is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S.

All the books will tell you that the flowers of greater celandine have four yellow petals but nature doesn’t know the words always and never, so you have to use a little common sense when identifying plants. Things like leaf shape, where it grows, flower size and color, and the yellow sap all have to be considered when identifying this one.

I love the beautiful colors and shapes found in the perennial bachelor’s button blossom(Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a friend’s garden.

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.

This beautiful clematis was spotted in the garden of friends of mine. Its blossoms are large, probably 6 inches across. I think its name is “Nelly Moser.” Though we do have native clematis most clematis cultivars have a Chinese or Japanese lineage. According to Wikipedia the wild clematis species native to China made their way into Japanese gardens by the 17th century, and in the 18th century Japanese garden selections were the first exotic clematises to reach European gardens. From there came our first “exotic” clematis, an old favorite called Jackmanii, which is still grown today.

Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) might look like another exotic import from China or Japan but they’re native to the east coast of 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 seen alone the fringe tree’s blossoms don’t seem like much to get excited about but when they get together in lacy, drooping clusters at the ends of the branches they are quite beautiful. Fringe trees are one of the last to show new leaves in spring and they can look dead until the leaves and flowers appear.

I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some south eastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today, but most don’t see these small flowers. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and other insects. The plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally.

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen. Each sarsaparilla flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

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. Its hanging flower heads remind me of wisteria.

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. The beautiful pinkish purple 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. 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 little flowers of red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) are hard for me to see because they’re so small, so I take photos of them so I can see them better. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s and it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.  I find them growing in dry, sandy waste areas. I’m not sure what the web or plant fibers surrounding this flower were all about.

I was bending down the stem of a sandspurry with one hand and taking its photo with the other so the penny is out of focus, but at least you can see how tiny this beautiful little flower really is, and that’s what’s important. I think you could fit about 8-10 of them on a penny.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

1. Maiden Pink

How to tell a maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) from a Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria)? Just look for the dark ring near the center of the flower. Deptford pinks don’t have the ring and are smaller flowers. Both plants were introduced from Europe and have naturalized here.  It is another flower that people mow around much like fleabane, because it is so beautiful.

2. Dame's Rocket

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is another introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae but is sometimes mistaken for phlox, which has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

3. Fringe Tree

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?

4. Lupines

I found a few of these very beautiful lupines growing on the banks of the Ashuelot but not as many as in years past, so I wonder if our harsh winter finished some of them off. These lupines are thought to be a cross between our native western lupine (Lupinus polyphyllos) and various European varieties, so they are not native to New Hampshire. Our native lupine is the sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis,) which is host to the endangered Karner blue butterfly. Next week our annual lupine festival kicks off in the northern part of the state and fields full of them will attract thousands of people to the Sugar Hill area.

 5. Toadflax

This tiny blue toadflax blossom (Nuttallanthus canadensis) had an even tinier tear in its petal. Last year I found a field of these plants along a roadside and this year they are all gone, and that’s probably because are biennials which flower and dies in their second year. Toadflax flowers have an upper lip that is divided into 2 rounded lobes, and a lower lip which is divided into 3 lobes that are rounded and spreading. Toadflax likes sandy soil and waste areas to grow in. It doesn’t last long but the cheery blue flowers are always a welcome sight.

6. Raspberry

Raspberries are blooming and it looks like it’s going to be a good year for them, so the bears won’t be going hungry. Thanks to plant breeders raspberries come in purple and yellow as well as red and black, but I don’t think the bears really care what color they are.

7. Swamp Dewberry aka Rubus hispidus

I think of swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) as a trailing raspberry because its fruit looks like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly, but it also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom because of its strawberry like leaves. Its fruit is said to be sour and is said to be the reason it isn’t cultivated. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

8. Clematis

I spotted this gorgeous clematis growing in a friend’s garden one recent evening.

9. Black Locust

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.

10. Black Locust

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.

11. Bristly Locust aka Robinia hispida

Bristly locust (Robinia hispida) is more shrub than tree, but it can reach 8 feet. The beautiful pinkish purple 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. 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.

12. Yarrow

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.

13. White Baneberry

The club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) have appeared but they have many fewer blossoms than they had last year. That of course means fewer of the white berries that have a single black dot and are called doll’s eyes. Fewer of those might not be a bad thing because I find these plants growing at a local park where many children play and the berries are very toxic. Luckily they are also very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

 14. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a native wildflower but only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but that explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. This photo shows a fine, 2 foot tall specimen that grows in a local park. Other names are Indian physic or American ipecac because Native Americans would dry the root and use it as an emetic and laxative. It would make a beautiful addition to a shaded perennial garden.

15. Bowman's Root Blossom

An unusual feature of bowman’s root is how the five petals on the white, star shaped flowers are never symmetrical. Another common name for this plant is fawn’s breath and it is appropriate, because these flowers dance and sway in the gentlest hint of a breeze. From a distance it looks like a swarm of beautiful white butterflies are paying it a visit.

16. Siberian Iris

When I think of June I think of irises and here’s a Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica.) I had to move fast this year to get a shot of one of these beauties. It was so hot when they bloomed they said “hey wait a minute; this isn’t Siberia,” and shriveled up into crinkly blue blobs after 2 days. Siberian iris has been known at least since before the 1500s. It was first collected by monks in Siberia in the Middle Ages and grown in monasteries, and later was distributed around Europe. It has been cultivated in England since 1596, so it’s an old, old favorite. This one was given to me by a friend many years ago and I’ve never done a thing to it except hack it to pieces with a hatchet when it gets too big. It’s just about the toughest plant I’ve ever met.

The creation of the world did not take place once and for all time, but takes place every day. ~Samuel Beckett

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

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

 1. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliate) is native to the U.S. but doesn’t grow in New England states. The one pictured grows in a local park, but it is a wildflower. I thought it was pretty enough to include here. This plant is also called Indian physic, because Native Americans used the powdered root as a laxative and emetic. I can’t seem to uncover how the plant got the name of bowman’s root or its other common name, which is fawn’s breath. It’s a beautiful plant that does well in gardens and is sold by nurseries.

 2. Bush Honeysuckle

Northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) is showing its tubular, pale yellow flowers right on schedule. 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.

 3. Dame's Rocket aka Hesperis matronalis

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is a common sight at the edges of woodlands and along riversides at this time of year. It always tries to fool those who just take a quick glance into thinking it is phlox, but a closer look at the 4 petaled flowers and long, mustard family seed pods give it away. This plant was introduced from Europe and Asia and, as the all too familiar story goes, escaped and is now considered an invasive weed.

 4. Multiflora Rose

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is another invasive plant from Japan and Korea. This one blooms at about the same time as blackberries here and from a distance it is easy to confuse the two. A closer look at its leaves gives it away immediately though, because they look nothing like a blackberry or raspberry. Since this is a rose its thorns are quite sharp and the plant forms dense, impenetrable thickets that all but the smallest animals have a hard time getting through. It also grows over native shrubs and even into trees, trying to get as much of the available sunlight that it can.

5. Multiflora Rose in Tree

This shows what multiflora rose can do. It was about 25 or 30 feet up in this tree.

 6. Rugosa Rose

Rosa rugosa (Rosaceae) is another Asian native that has been here so long that people call it a “wild” rose. This rose was introduced to Europe from Japan in 1796 and then introduced to the United States in 1845. It is very resistant to salt spray and grows large red fruit, called hips. It is for those reasons that it is also called beach tomato. I found this one growing on the side of a road. Like multiflora rose, it forms dense thickets and is considered a noxious weed. It has beautiful, very fragrant blossoms.

 7. Stitchwort

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They grow at the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. This plant is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed.

 8. Stitchwort

The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals. This is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The flowers of greater stitchwort are also larger.

 9. Yellow Goat's Beard

Yellow goat’s beard flowers (Tragopogon dubius) usually have 13 green, sharply pointed bracts behind each flower but this one must have wanted to be different because it has only 12. These bracts grow longer than the petals and that is important when trying to identify it. The fun thing about this plant is its huge, spherical seed heads that look like giant dandelion seed heads.

 10. Yellow Sorrel

Yellow sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is often called a clover but it isn’t. Its three, clover like leaflets close up flat at night and in intense sunshine. The flowers also close at night. The petals have very faint, usually unnoticed lines that go toward the throat, and that is what I tried to show in this photo.

11. White Yarrow

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has to be the plant with the most common names-so many that I wonder if I should list them all. Oh, why not?  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. No matter what it’s called, there is no doubt that yarrow has been used medicinally for many centuries-it has even been found in Neanderthal graves. The scientific name Achillea comes from the legend of Achilles carrying the plant into battle so it could be used to staunch the flow of blood from his soldier’s wounds.

 12. Whorled Loosestrife

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. The flowers on this example are unusual because of the red stripes on the petals-I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.

13. Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is another plant with leaves that grow in a whorl, which can be easily seen in the photo. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. This plant makes an excellent old fashioned groundcover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. Dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years.  I found this plant in the yard of friends.

 14. Tulip Tree Blossom

 Tulip tree isn’t one that you think of when you think of New Hampshire, but I found one growing in a local park. I find that the leaves remind me of tulips more than the flowers do. I’ve heard these trees called tulip poplar but they are actually in the magnolia family. Another name for this tree is canoe wood because it is thought to be one of the trees that Native Americans used for dugout canoes.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

I think I could post something like this every day and still not be able to show all of the flowers that are blooming right now. Most of the flowers appearing in this post are old friends that I’ve known for years. White Clover (Trifolium repens) is blooming everywhere now and is very good for a lawn because it is a nitrogen fixing plant, meaning it converts atmospheric nitrogen into a soluble form that turf grasses and other plants can use. By doing this it acts as a free source of nitrogen. White clover also mows easily, stays quite short, and stays green throughout the season. It shouldn’t be used for high traffic areas though, because it can’t stand the abuse. I once gardened for some people whose lawn was about 90 percent white clover and it was beautiful. Red clover (Trifolium pretense) on the other hand, although it fixes nitrogen like white clover, grows too fast and too tall for a lawn. It also forms large, tough clumps that are hard to mow. It’s an excellent feed crop, so keep red clover in pastures and meadows. This is Vermont’s state flower. Nothing says June like the Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare.) The trouble is, it’s still May, so these are about 2 weeks early. Though we have come to think of this plant as a native, it was actually introduced from Europe or Asia. The Shasta daisy that is so well known in gardens was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank from introduced species like this one.

A close-up of an oxeye daisy. Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is considered an invasive species and can be seen in fields and along roadsides in abundance.  It was so highly valued that it was brought over from England by the colonists in the 1600s. This plant forms clumps much like phlox and can get 5 feet tall under the right conditions. The flowers range from purple to white and are very fragrant, especially in the evening. The easiest ways to tell that this plant isn’t phlox is by the narrower, slightly toothed leaves and the fact that phlox has 5 petals and dame’s rocket has 4. This plant is in the mustard family. Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is a common plant seen on roadsides and parking lot edges, which is where I found this one. It is in the pea family and grows about a foot tall. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover. This plant was introduced from Europe as livestock feed but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives. There are many different species of forget me nots (Myosotis.) Some are native and some were introduced and all have cross bred so there are many hybrids. There is a lot of confusion surrounding these plants, with some insisting they are native and some insisting they came from Europe. I try to stay out of all that and just enjoy their beautiful blue color. Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is blooming. I haven’t seen many of these this year, which is strange because they used to be very common. The Cornus part of the scientific name tells us that this plant is in the dogwood family, though just looking at it gives that away because it looks much like a dogwood blossom. Like a dogwood the flowers are the tiny greenish white clusters that make up the center disc. The large white “petals” are actually bracts. The common name “bunchberry” comes from its tight cluster of red berries. After trying to photograph speedwell flowers that were one step above microscopic I found the germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys,)  seemed gigantic in comparison because of its 3/16 to 1/4 inch flowers. It also called bird’s eye speedwell. This 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. I was lucky enough to stumble onto a colony of 50 or 60 painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) that were spread out along a roadside. These blossoms were fresh-not like the ones that had just about gone by that I posted before. This is, in my opinion, one of our most beautiful wildflowers. This native plant fools a lot of people because it looks so much like Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum.) It is actually false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum,) and the best way to tell that is by the flower cluster at the end of the stem. True Solomon’s seal flowers dangle under the leaves all along the stem. If the plant isn’t flowering you can still tell the difference by the stem itself; on false Solomon’s seal it zig zags like what is seen in the photo and on true Solomon’s seal it grows very straight. Here is a photo of true Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum ) for comparison. Note the very different flowering habit between this plant and the false Solomon’s seal shown previously.  There are about 50 species of true Solomon’s seal so identification can be tricky at times. Yet another plant that mimics Solomon’s seal is Star Flowered Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum,) so called because of the tiny star shaped blossoms that appear at the end of the stem. When compared to the true Solomon’s seal in the previous photo it is easy to see that the flowering habit is completely different. Again, the stem on this plant also zig zags, while the stem on true Solomon’s seal is straight. I haven’t been able to identify the insect that was working so hard on this blue bead lily (Clintonia borealis) flower, but I think it was a false blister beetle, which is a pollen eater.  This native plant is in the lily family. Its leaves resemble those of the lady’s slipper and it is sometimes mistaken for that plant or wild leeks. I found large colonies of it growing in a shady part of the forest where trillium and lady’s slippers grew. The yellowish green flowers will be followed by a shiny bright blue berry which is supposed to taste horrible. I’ve never seen a lupine (Lupinus) bloom in May but here they were, blooming happily on a river bank.  This plant is in the pea family and like white and red clover fixes 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. Sweet Viburnum (Viburnum lentago) is also known as nannyberry. These native bushes are dotting the woods with their white, mounded flower clusters right now. Red twig dogwoods are also beginning to bloom, but they have four petals and the viburnum have five. Dogwood flower clusters also tend to be much flatter on top and seem to hover just above the branch. Sweet viburnum has a much more rounded flowering habit. These shrubs are also called wild raisin and nanny plum for their fruit, which is a small black drupe with one flat seed. Northern Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor) has suddenly popped up around the local pond. These native plants love water and near water is where I always find them. There is also a southern blue flag (Iris virginica.) The “flag” part of the name comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed. The roots of this plant are extremely toxic, so if you forage for cattail roots be sure the roots of blue flag aren’t mixed in with them.

Suddenly I realize

That if I stepped out of my body I would break

 Into blossom.~James Wright 

I hope you enjoyed this one. Thank you for stopping by.

Read Full Post »