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Posts Tagged ‘Dandelion’

I saw hobblebushes blooming in the woods along the roadsides so I knew it was time to visit the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. It’s a place where I know I can get close to the hobblebushes and many other plants. I start off by following the old abandoned road that used to be the route to Concord, which is the state capitol, from Keene. The road was abandoned in the 1970s when the new Route 9 north was built, and nature has been doing its best to reclaim it ever since.

The old road is full of cracks, which are filled in immediately by green, growing life. This of course makes the cracks even wider so more plants can move in. Its a slow but inexorable process that will go on until the forest takes back what was carved out of it.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) unfurled by one of the vernal pools found along the old road.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew near another pool. These pretty white flowered plants like wet feet so when you kneel for a photo you usually get wet knees. They have hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and small, bright white flowers. Their leaves are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown.

The “Foam” part of the name comes from the many stamens on the flowers, which give large colonies a kind of frothy look. Each flower has 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. Foam flowers are popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their foliage as the flowers. Native Americans used the leaves and roots medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “cool wort” because the leaves were once used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

New maple leaves are still wearing their bright colors.

I’ve seen this spot when all the green you see to the right was underwater, but the brook was tame on this day. Maybe a little higher than average but not too bad.

I’m surprised flooding hadn’t washed all of this away, or maybe it was flooding that carried it here. This is just upstream from where I was in the previous shot.

There were an amazing number of trees in the brook so it will take quite a flood to wash them downstream. I’d cut them up if I was in charge because “downstream” from here means right through the heart of Keene. There must be a thousand places further on where a mess like this could get hung up. Waiting until high summer when the water was at its lowest and then having two men wade in with a battery-operated chainsaw would be the way to go.

But I was glad I wasn’t in charge because clearing that log jam will be worse than pulling apart a beaver dam by a longshot. How lucky I was; all I had to do was keep walking and enjoying a beautiful day.

I stopped to see the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that live here. It always looks like someone has spilled jewels on the stone.

Not too far up the old road from the smoky eye boulder lichens are the hobblebushes, and that’s the amazing thing about this place; just walk a few steps and there is another beautiful thing to stop and see. This is why, though it is less than a mile’s walk to Beaver Brook Falls, it often takes me two hours or more. I don’t come here for exercise, I come for the beauty of the place.

And there is little that is more beautiful than the flowers of our native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides). The large, sterile flowers around the perimeter are there just to attract insects to the smaller, fertile flowers. The outer flowers are delicate, and a strong wind or heavy rain can strip them from the flower head.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) were bright yellow among last year’s leaves. They like wet, sunny meadows and open woodlands and there are a lot of them here.

There were no flowers on them yet though, just buds. The plant is said to be important to a number of short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. Each flower will be only about an eighth of an inch long with five sepals, five petals, and five stamens.

There were lots of blue marsh violets (Viola cucullata) (I think) blooming along the roadsides on this day. The long flower stems held the flowers high above the leaves and I believe the blue marsh violet is the only one that does this.

Jack in the pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) still hadn’t unfurled their leaves but they had nice color on their spathes.

The old road goes uphill the entire way but it’s an easy climb and there are many interesting things to see along with all the plants and trees, like the old guard posts still guarding against accidents that will never happen. The electric lines seen here run through the area on their way to elsewhere. There are no houses along the road.

The disappearing stream that runs down the hillside had done just that. It was too bad because it can be beautiful in spring.

Here it was in March while there was still ice melting. The stream ran then.

There aren’t many places where you can get right down to the brook but there are two or three and this is one of them. All the stone along the embankment was put there to prevent washouts and it’s hard to walk on, so you have to be careful.

The stone didn’t prevent all washouts. This old culvert washed into the brook years ago. The brook slowly eats away at the road and in the end it will most likely win.

All the walking and hiking I’ve been doing has improved my legs and lungs so much I thought I could just skip down the embankment to see Beaver Brook Falls. It didn’t work out quite that way but I made it without breaking my neck. The amount of water going over the falls was perfect. There’s a huge stone that juts out right in the middle and when there is too little water it splits the falls in two, so the scene isn’t quite as photogenic in my opinion.

The only trouble was, I took the wrong trail down to the brook so I was even further away from the falls than this. I was glad I had a zoom lens. There used to be just one trail down to the brook but now somehow there are three, all looking equally worn. Since I took this one, I would have had to wade in the brook to get any closer. I wasn’t interested in getting wet but it could have been done. People used to swim here all the time, rocks and all.

This shot shows the climb back to the road, or half of it anyway. About half way up I leaned my back against a tree and took a photo to show what you’re up against if you decide to do this. The small trees kept me from getting too much forward momentum on the way down, and then they helped me climb back up. That big rock will slide right down the hill if you put too much weight on it but the others were pretty firm.

Just to the right, out of camera range in that previous photo, there was a colony of what must have been twenty trilliums or more. I saw them along the road all the way up and saw those I had missed on the way down. In fact I saw more trilliums here than I’ve ever seen in one place before, so if you live in the area and it is wildflowers you want to see, this is a great place to start looking. Those I’ve shown in this post are really just a small part of what can be found here.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

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We’ve had a string of very warm days here lately and that was all it took to kick spring into high gear. As you can see in this photo of the buds, red maples are responding to the warmth and buds are breaking. You can just see the male stamens all tucked inside the now open buds.

And then on another branch of the same tree the male flowers had fully opened and were producing pollen. I looked at several different red maples on this day, but this was the only one I saw flowering. Tree blossoming periods are staggered over several weeks, so if frost damages some flowers it won’t damage them all. That’s a good thing because this tree has misjudged the weather and jumped the gun. The night time forecasts include below freezing temperatures this week, so there is a good chance that any open flowers on this tree will die. However, thanks to the staggered bloom times that nature has seen to, I might still find red maples flowering a month from now.

I checked hundreds of hazelnut buds but hadn’t seen any of the tiny scarlet, female thread like flowers. They would appear at the top of a bud much like this one, which is so small I don’t really know how to describe it.

But then I saw this bush, loaded with golden colored male catkins, so I decided to check it for female flowers. Hazelnut catkins are just a string of tiny male flowers that usually spiral around a central stalk, and though these weren’t open and producing pollen yet the fact that they have readied themselves to do so is enough to awaken the female flowers.

And there they were, just barely opened on the first day of spring. If the wind blows just right and they are pollinated these almost microscopic scarlet threads will become hazelnuts, which will hopefully ripen by next fall.

There was a time, when I was gardening professionally, that I dreaded seeing dandelions starting to bloom, but I can’t tell you how happy I was to see this, the first dandelion I’ve seen this year.

I suppose my outlook must have changed. All the prejudices that I had toward them began to slip away and I started seeing dandelions for what they really are, which is a beautiful yellow flower that shouts spring is here! When I stopped fighting them and just let them be, I saw the beauty that had always been there. It was only my thoughts about them that had kept their beauty hidden. As Marcus Aurelius said “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgement of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgement now.” Though I didn’t consciously “wipe out my judgement” of dandelions I have certainly softened my attitude toward them over the years. My dislike (that was mostly learned from others who didn’t like them) has completely fallen away, and maybe that is as it should be. All of my life they have been here. I have eaten their leaves and drank the coffee I made from their roots and dusted the tip of my nose with their pollen, and they are old friends.

I’ve spent a few years trying to figure out what the name of this plant is. I know it is in the mustard family and I know it’s a cress, but I’m not sure which one so I’ll just call it a spring cress. I think it might actually be hairy bittercress but by most accounts it’s a hated weed that is almost impossible to eradicate because of the huge numbers of seeds it produces. You can pull plants until the cows come home but you’ll always miss one or two. It’s like sea turtles; most will get eaten by birds or fish but there will always be some that survive to carry on the Prime Directive, which is continuation of the species. Nature has taken care of it.

Can you see the beauty in this “horrible weed?” Its leaves were just unfolding when I got there, which I thought made it even prettier.

If I go all the way back as far as my memory will go, I find the flowers of ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) living there. Both houses I spent my time at when I was young, my father’s and grandmother’s, had plenty of ground ivy in the lawns and I used to love seeing them bloom so early in spring. Ground ivy is in the mint family and is related to henbit. It has a powerful and unusual odor when it is mowed, with the kind of smell that gets in the back of your throat and stays there for a while.

I brushed some leaves aside where I know Solomon’s seal plants grow and there were the spring shoots. After I took this photo, I covered them up again and let them be. They’re beautiful just as their first leaves start to unfurl, so I’ll try to be there at the end of April to see it happening.

Even after temperatures in the 60s and 70s F. willows still aren’t showing any signs of their yellow flowers. They know what they’re doing and they bloom when they’re ready but I have seen bees and other insects flying already, and they would love to forage on some willow pollen, I’m sure.

I looked at the buds of a native pink azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) and though the bud scales looked like they had relaxed I’m not sure any actual swelling had begun. They bloom in June so there is time. As can be seen in this photo this is a very hairy plant, and it is the hairs on the outside of the flowers that exude the wonderful scent.  

Looking for the seedpods of a wild azalea is a good way to find them. They’re quite large and showy.

Snowdrops bloomed while there was still a bit of snow left near them. Maybe that’s how they came by their name.

Johnny jump ups have lifted their heads up and are blooming far better now than they were just a week ago. The warm weather and rapidly melting snow have given everything a boost and plants now seem anxious to get going.

I saw a crocus, then two, and then just a day or two later they were everywhere. It’s remarkable what a couple of warm days will do for flowers in springtime. It was all very sudden; it seemed like most of the flowers in this post had appeared overnight.

I saw some of my old favorites. There were lots of bees buzzing around all the open flowers but they were too skittish for me to get a shot of them.

This one was very dark. Better to show off the yellow stamens and pistil in the center to the bees, maybe. I certainly enjoyed the contrasting colors.

This white one was quite small for a crocus. I’d guess barely an inch across.

All of these crocuses were small. I don’t know if they’re a new kind of hybrid or if they’re just getting smaller with age.

A new witch hazel has come out, or at least it’s new to me, and it’s very pink. I don’t remember ever seeing one with pink petals but I must have because I visit these bushes every spring.

I went to see the skunk cabbages and wow; I saw a lot of them. So many in fact, that I couldn’t move without stepping on the ones still under leaves that I couldn’t see. When you step on a skunk cabbage spathe they squeak, much like a head of cabbage does sometimes when you cut into it, and that’s how I knew I had stepped on them.

Luckily, I only stepped on one or two and didn’t damage them too badly. In any event the spathe isn’t quite as critical as the spadix, which is the pinkish thing that carries the tiny flowers seen here. The spadix is what, through a process called thermogenesis, can raise the temperature of the plant to as much as 70 degrees F. inside the spathe, thereby attracting insects to the tiny flowers, which on this day were already producing pollen. To a cold, hungry insect it is a nice warm cave that serves food. Though this plant’s roots are poisonous and the leaves can cause burning in the mouth Native Americans new how to prepare it, and used skunk cabbage medicinally. I’ve read that they also used the roots as an underarm deodorant, though I’m not sure just how that might have worked. In the 1800s medicine made from the plant was sold as a cure all, most likely by traveling salesman.

Spring in the world! And all things are made new! ~Richard Hovey

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Temperatures are cooling quickly now, with overnight lows sometimes in the 40s F and daytime highs in the 60s and 70s. If you go out in the morning before the sun does its work at this time of year you find that bees are very sluggish. Sometimes you can even find them sleeping in flowers. That makes bee photography much easier and it was simple to capture this bee on a knapweed blossom.

The sun was coming up behind these New England asters early one morning, but the light reflected off the clouds and lit them up so the center of each one was lighter than the surrounding rays. They were very beautiful and I stayed with them until the light changed.

I saw a three-foot-tall alfalfa plant (Medicago sativa) growing by itself on the side of a road, so I had to stop and see its beautiful flowers. Alfalfa is an important crop used around the world for hay and silage. I’ve read that it needs a well-prepared seedbed so I’m not sure how it got there by the side of the road.

Alfalfa is a legume in the pea /bean family and you can see that as soon as you look closely at the flowers. They’re quite pretty.

Yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum) has seen the writing on the wall and knows its days are numbered, but I still see them here and there gently swaying in the breeze. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval leaves at the base of the stem often turns deep purple in winter.

Beech drops (Epifagus americana) are strange plants which grow near beech trees. They are parasitic plants that fasten onto the roots of the beech tree using root like structures. They take all of their nutrients from the tree so they don’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. Beech drops are annuals that die off in cold weather, but they can often be found growing in the same place each year.

This year the plants had odd shaped flowers that looked to be fully open. Normally they look to be about half opened and point to the side, but this year they were cup like and pointed straight at the sky as if trying to catch the rain.

Some of the flowers were full of I don’t know what. Were they insect larva, crawling up the stem or were they parts of the plant, splashed out of the flower by the rain? I haven’t been able to find the answer online so if you know I’d love to hear from you.

NOTE: A helpful reader with a good library believes that the tiny white object seen here are indeed seeds, being splashed out of the splash cups by raindrops. Something rarely seen!

This is what beech drop flowers have always looked like every time I’ve seen them. Until now.

You might be thinking Oh no-not more jewelweed, but this photo of a jewelweed blossom from last August is just here to illustrate another fascinating fact about this plant.

This is a jewelweed seedpod, for those who have never seen one. When ripe at the slightest touch they will curl up and shoot the seeds in all directions with considerable force. This is where the name “touch me not” comes from. If however, you hold one in your closed hand and let it curl and explode, you’ll be able to catch the seeds. Why would you want to do that? Just read on.

Because this is what the seeds look like. A helpful reader wrote in to say that I should have a look because they were a beautiful robin’s egg blue. After 4 or 5 tries and finding immature seeds, there it was, and it was indeed a beautiful robin’s egg blue. You just have to rub the outer coating from the seed to find it. Nature is just awesome, and so are all of you who visit this blog. Thank you for enlightening us, Ann!

It’s time to say goodbye to crown vetch (Securigera varia) I think. I found a few plants blooming on a roadside and though this one will never win a prize in a flower show, it was the best of the lot. This is another member of the legume family and its bicolor flowers are very pretty, I’ve always thought.

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) is still blooming strongly. This native plant can sometimes reach 5 feet, and is decorated with pretty yellow, daisy like flowers. I often find it growing along the river as this one was. It also does well in gardens.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is a funny little plant with maple syrup scented flowers that never seem to fully open. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. It is said to be useful in treating asthma.

Here is a sweet everlasting flower that has opened but when they do this, they’re very dry and it seems as if they have gone or are going to seed. This stage is the end of the changes in appearance for them from what I’ve seen, and if you cut them and put them dry in a vase they’ll stay this way for a very long time.

I still see an occasional black eyed Susan blossom (Rudbeckia hirta) and I’m never surprised, because they’ll go right up until a freeze. Our first frost date is now about two weeks later than average so it could happen any time.

Bees are still happy that they’re open for business.

And then there is this; a “man-made” rudbeckia called Rudbeckia Henry Eilers (Rudbeckia subtomentosa.) It is said to “look like an asterisk” and to be a “standout among black eyed Susans” in nursery catalogs, and I would guess that both of those statements are true. It’s not really my cup of tea but I’m sure a lot of people must grow it. I find it in a tiny local garden along with many other unusual plants that I haven’t ever seen before.

I got there just a bit too late to see the Japanese anemones at their most beautiful but this one was still pretty, just the same. These have been planted in the gardens of a local park so I’ll have to remember to visit them next summer.

I’ve seen dandelions blooming in every month of the year, and I’m hoping to see them in December, January and February of this year.

This roadside view looks quite different now but when it was at its peak like it is here, I took so many photos I hate to let them go without showing them. Being there and walking among such beautiful flowers was like walking into an impressionist painting.

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

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The last time I visited the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland I mentioned in the resulting blog post the violets that grow here in spring, and several people’s ears pricked up. They said they’d like to see them so that’s what this visit is all about. I had been seeing lots of violets blooming in Keene so I felt confident that I’d see some here, but not in the part of the deep cut that you see above. I think of this as the “sterile” part of the canyon because few plants besides mosses grow there. The walls are close to 50 feet high in places I’ve been told by people who climb them, and though it is sunny in the photo it’s in deep shade for most of the day.

Instead we go south to where all the growth is.

And there is a lot of growth. Every surface, whether it is vertical or horizontal has something growing on it. When I was a boy I dreamed of being a plant explorer, travelling all over the world to find beautiful plants for botanic gardens, and one of the books I read back then was James Hilton’s Lost Horizons. I never became a plant hunter but I did find my own Shangri-La, right here in Westmoreland New Hampshire. The beauty and lushness found here are like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else.

By the way, for those new to this blog; this is what the canyon looks like in winter. All of the dripping groundwater you hear at other times of the year becomes ice, and in February you wonder how anything could ever grow here.

But things do grow here, and if anything it seems like it must be the ice helping them do so well. Foamflowers for instance, grow as well or better here than I’ve ever seen them grow anywhere else.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) are always beautiful no matter where they grow but the ones that grow here seem healthier and more robust.

The Jack in the pulpit flowers (Arisaema triphyllum) I’ve seen here get bigger than they are anywhere else I go, so I’d guess that they like all the extra water as well. I usually lift the hood of the striped spathe so I can see the spadix inside but this time I didn’t have to; a side view shows how Jack lives in his pulpit.

I’ve seen Jack in the pulpit plants reach waist high here while in other places they barely reach knee high. The leaves on this plant were huge and I wanted you to see them because they are sometimes mistaken for trillium leaves.

Here were two red trillium plants, also with huge leaves. If you compare them with the Jack in the pulpit leaves in the previous photo you’ll see that there are differences. The overall shape of the trillium plant from above is round while with Jack in the pulpit it is more triangular. The trillium leaves are more rounded as well, but the main difference is in how the trillium flower stalk rises out of the center where the three leaves meet. In a Jack in the pulpit the flower is on its own stalk that rises directly from the ground.

And here were the violets; thousands of them, doing better this year than I think I’ve ever seen. In years past I decided that they were marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) because the long flower stem (peduncle) gets the flowers high above the leaves. These violets aren’t shy; they shout here we are!

They’re very beautiful, even when they peek out of grasses and sedges. Though my color finding software sees lavender highlights here and there it tells me that most of these violets are cornflower blue.

Small waterfalls occasionally pour from the walls as they were on this day, and I think that’s why all of these plants can do so well here. The ice that forms here in winter is almost always colored in various colors and I think that is because this ground water is mineral rich. Those same minerals that color the ice are most likely taken up and used by all of these plants.

The tinkling, dripping sounds of water are constant no matter where in the canyon you may be.

All of that dripping, splashing water means that plants like violets can grow right on the stone. This shot shows how the flower stem on the marsh blue violet gets the flowers high above the leaves. If I understand what I’ve read correctly it is the only violet that does this. (And this is probably the only violet that can handle all of this water.)

Even dandelions, which have a tap root like a carrot, can grow on stone here. Note how wet the surrounding stone is. Even trees grow on stone here, but they usually fall before they get very old.

Kidney leaved buttercups (Ranunculus abortivus) grew here and there along the trail. They’re always a challenge to photograph because their wiry stems sprawl and move in the wind.

Each tiny flower is only about a quarter inch in diameter with five yellow petals and ten or more yellow stamens surrounding a shiny green center that resembles a raspberry in shape. This plant is also called little leaf buttercup or small flowered buttercup. Like other plants in the buttercup family it is toxic.

I saw a few groups of ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) here and I’ve got to try to remember they’re here because their spring fiddleheads look like no other that I know of and I’d like to come back next spring to get photos of them. Another name for this fern is the shuttlecock fern and that’s a good description, because that’s exactly the shape they have. Though I’ve read that they can reach seven feet tall under optimum conditions the examples I saw were about three and a half feet tall.

The leaf stalk of an ostrich fern is deeply grooved as seen here, and if you are going to forage for fern fiddleheads to eat you would do well to remember this. Other ferns like the interrupted fern and cinnamon fern have grooved leaf stalks but their grooves are much more shallow than these.

As this shot from 2015 shows. ostrich fern spring fiddleheads are smooth and bright, pea green. Even at this stage they have that deep groove in the stalks, and no wooly coating. They like to grow in shady places where the soil is consistently damp. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are considered a great delicacy by many and many restaurants are happy to pay premium prices for them in spring. I’ve always heard that ostrich fern is the only one of our native ferns that is safe to eat.

Unfortunately there was a lot of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolate) here. This plant is very invasive and can form large monocultures of nothing but garlic mustard. The plant was originally brought from Europe in the 1800s as an herb, and to be used for erosion control. Of course it immediately escaped and is now trying to take over the world. By the time native plants come up in spring garlic mustard has already grown enough to shade them out and that’s how it outcompetes our native species. It is edible in spring when young but increases in toxicity (Cyanide) as it ages. It has a taproot but it can be pulled, preferably before it sets seed. In the U.K. it is called Jack-by-the-hedge and we kind of wish it had stayed there. By the hedge, I mean.

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along the drainage channels here. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. It isn’t the same as the cultivated chervil used to flavor soups and it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley and resembles many plants that are very poisonous, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

I realized when I was here that I’ve never shown you what happens when you exit the canyon, so here you are. You can just see the roofline of the old lineman’s shack behind those trees to the left.

And here is what’s left of the lineman’s shack. The front wall is leaning back quite severely now and that most likely means the ridgepole has snapped, so the old place can’t be long for this world. The ridgepole is what the rafters attach to and without it, it all comes tumbling down. I’ll be sorry to see that. I’ve been coming here for so many years it seems like an old friend.

I hope all of you violet lovers out there enjoyed seeing how they grow in nature, and the beauty of this place. This violet was my favorite. My color finding software tells me it’s steel blue.

The superstition still survives in widely scattered countries that to dream of the violet is good luck. ~Cora Linn Daniels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s that time of year when we don’t know whether we’ll need summer clothes or winter clothes. The temperatures have soared and fallen and then done it again, and some plants seem to be holding back a bit. But not the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus). I saw a few with leaves like this one. When that first leaf just unfurls is the only time that it actually looks like a cabbage leaf.

While I was in the skunk cabbage swamp I checked on the native early azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum). The bud scales are pulling back so that’s a good sign. I look forward to seeing these very fragrant pink flowers in early June when the pink lady’s slippers bloom.

I went to see if there was any sign of spring beauties or trout lilies and didn’t see any, but I did see lots of green shoots in the pond that they grow near. This scene is so simple, so every day, but also so very beautiful and pleasurable, in my opinion. Sitting alone in the spring forest where the world is hushed you can almost hear the new life springing from the earth. If you care to look closely you find that what looks like dead leaves and stems and dried blades of last year’s grass is alive with new green shoots much like these.

There was also green on the Japanese honeysuckles. That’s one reason invasive plants are so successful; they start photosynthesizing weeks before our native plants and so get a leg up.

I went to see the willows and found them full of flowers. This isn’t a flower, by the way. This is a flower head, which is made up of many flowers. The flowers shown are the male (staminate) flowers. Female flowers appear on separate bushes slightly later than the male flowers and aren’t quite as showy. Willows are pollinated by insects, not wind.

There is quite a lot of tension in a willow flower head and you often see them bent nearly double. I think this is caused by the flowers on one side of the catkin opening first and growing faster than those on the opposite side. It’s the same way a beech bud opens.

I thought I’d see if I could find any coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). I did but all I saw was the tiny yellow speck of a barely open flower.

Since I’d never seen a coltsfoot so close to blooming I went back the next day. They were in full bloom, so apparently once they start showing a little color it doesn’t take long. The flowers on coltsfoot plants come up before the leaves show so there is no hint of when it will appear. You have to remember where you’ve seen it last year and revisit the places the following spring. Coltsfoot is native to Europe and Asia and was brought here by early settlers. It has been used medicinally for centuries and another name for it is coughwort.

Dandelions are coming in twos now, and even threes, fours and fives.

The female red maple flowers are growing slowly due to the cool weather we had last week. I often describe red maple flowers are “petal-less” but that isn’t strictly true. They do have petals but at the stage I photograph them in early spring the petals are very hard to see, so even though they are indeed petal-less in the photo the petals will come along later. You can just see the tops of them coming out of the buds in this shot.  

I took this shot of male red maple flowers that were showing petals. You can see how the anther tipped filaments grow right up out of what almost looks like a tiny tulip.

I like this shot of male red maple flowers because it shows them in all of their stages. In the center you can see some that haven’t yet grown out of the bud and on the left the anthers have grown up out of the bud but they aren’t yet carrying any pollen. On the right the anthers are releasing pollen, which will hopefully find some female flowers. This is the first photo I’ve ever gotten of the male flowers in all stages of growth and I think it happened because of the up down, warm cold weather. Usually you find them all at about the same stage of growth.

The buds on box elder (Acer negundo), which is another member of the maple family, have also opened. The red brown bits are the male anthers, which will dangle at the ends of long filaments before long. I didn’t see any of the fuzzy, lime green female flowers yet but they don’t appear until the leaves just start to show.

Here is a preview of what those stamens of male box elder flowers will look like. Box elder is in the maple family but its wood is soft when compared to other maples. Several Native American tribes made syrup from its sap and the earliest example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Johnny jump ups have been blooming for weeks now. I love seeing them. They’re pretty, they self-seed readily and will bloom for years, and they ask for nothing.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has come along all of the sudden and I’m seeing flowers by the hundreds in some places. It’s a pretty little thing which can also be invasive, but nobody really seems to care. It’s in the mint family and is related to henbit.

Promises were made by Forsythia…

…and the magnolias.

Bicolor daffodils have arrived.

And lots of hyacinths. They’re beautiful things.

Grape hyacinths are not hyacinths (they’re in the asparagus family) but they do look like upside down bunches of grapes.

These early tulips are very early this year. They looked orange when I was kneeling beside them but now they look red in the photo.

I was surprised that I didn’t see a single bee on this day but it wasn’t because the crocuses weren’t trying. A crocus blossom has three pollen bearing male anthers surrounding the central female stigma, which can be lobed and frilly like this example. I would have enjoyed seeing a pollen covered bee rolling in ecstasy in there.

Google lens tells me these are vernal crocuses (Crocus vernus). I can’t confirm that but I can tell you that they were extremely beautiful and I stood there for a while admiring them without caring what their name was. They, as Georgia O’Keefe once said, became my world for a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh to be a bee, just for a day.

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

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

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

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

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

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I didn’t think I saw Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) until April but I checked back on previous blog posts and found that I did see them in bloom on March 28 once. Because of that I can say that this is the earliest one I’ve seen since doing this blog. The hardy little plants were introduced from Europe so long ago that they are thought to be native by many. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant. The flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. The word pansy comes from the French pensée, which means thought or reflection. I’m not sure what thought has to do with it but folklore tells us that, if the juice from the plant is squeezed onto the eyelids of a sleeping person, they will fall in love with the next person that they see. Another name for it is love in idleness, and it can be found in its love potion form in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Not too many people have heard of this non-native, early blooming shrub called Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) but it hails from the Mediterranean regions and was well known to Ancient Greeks and Romans. Archeological digs show that it’s small, tart, cherry red fruits have been eaten by man for thousands of years. It has quite small bright yellow, four petaled flowers that bees absolutely love. The flowers aren’t spectacular but they are a sure sign of spring and I always check to see how they’re coming along. The bright yellow flower buds are just showing between the opening bud scales but it might still be 2 weeks before they’re in full bloom.

I thought I’d go and see how the red maple buds (Acer rubrum) were coming along and you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found flowers instead of buds. These are the female (pistillate) flowers of the red maple, just emerging. They are tiny little things; each bud is hardly bigger than a pea. Once the female flowers have been dusted by wind carried pollen from the male flowers they will begin the process of becoming the beautiful red seeds (samaras) that this tree is so well known for. If you’re lucky you can often find male and female flowers on the same tree. I didn’t see a single male bud open though, and I wasn’t surprised because maple flowers usually appear in April.

I thought I’d show you some ice baubles I saw at the river just before I saw the red maple flowers in the previous photo. It was about 36 degrees, which is why I was so surprised to find them in bloom.

Ice baubles usually display great symmetry but these were asymmetrical for some reason. Maybe they were melting.

It still snows occasionally, though the snow decorating this sugar maple was little more than a nuisance inch or so. I searched for the latest price of maple syrup and found a gallon of pure Vermont maple syrup for $68.95. I’m guessing it’s going to go up with an early spring.

And spring is indeed early.

Hairy bittercress plants (Cardamine hirsuta) are blooming. Cress is in the huge family of plants known as Brassicaceae. With over 150 species it’s hard to know what you’re looking at sometimes, but hairy bittercress is a common lawn weed that stays green under the snow and blooms almost as soon as it melts.

Hairy bittercress flowers can be white, pink or lavender and are very small; no bigger than Lincoln’s head on a penny. The plant is self-fertilizing and seed pods appear quickly. The seed pods will explode if touched or walked on and can fling the tiny seeds up to 3 feet away. Plants can form up to 1000 seeds, so if you have this plant in your lawn chances are good that you always will. Enjoy the flowers when there are few others blooming.

Over just the past few days alder catkins have taken on more color. They swell up and lengthen as the season progresses and the colors change to maroon and yellow-green. They sparkle in the sunlight and make the bushes look like someone has hung jewels from the branches. When they are fully opened and the tiny male blossoms start to release pollen I’ll look for the even smaller female flowers, which look like tiny threads of scarlet red.

The brown and purple scales on the alder catkins are on short stalks and there are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are covered in yellow pollen. These hadn’t quite opened yet but you can see how they spiral down their central flower stalk.

One of the smallest flowers that I know of is the female blossom of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana,) and they’ve just started blossoming.  The crimson thread-like bits are the stigmas of the female flowers, waiting for the wind to bring them some pollen from the golden male catkins. To give you a sense of just how small they are, the bud that the flowers grow from is about the size of a single strand of cooked spaghetti. They’re so small all I can see is their color, so the camera has to do the rest.

This photo shows two things; how windy it was and how the ice on our smaller ponds is melting back away from shore. Pond and lake ice melts at the shore first, while river and stream ice starts in the center of the flow and melts at the shore last. Wind helps melt ice.

The skunk cabbages seemed happy; I saw many of their mottled spathes. They come in maroon with yellow splotches or yellow with maroon splotches.

Inside the skunk cabbage’s spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. I could just see it in this open spathe.

The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. In 1749 in what was once the township of Raccoon, New Jersey they called the plant bear’s leaf because bears ate it when they came out of hibernation. Since skunk cabbage was the only thing green so early in the spring the bears had to eat it or go hungry.

This year it seems that everything is blooming at once, with wild flowers blooming early and garden flowers pretty much on time, so for a flower lover it’s a dream come true. I don’t think it’s unprecedented but it isn’t common either.

Some crocuses were just dipping their toes in, not sure if they should go all the way or not.

Others were somewhere in between. I like this one’s light pastel blush but you’d need hundreds of them to make any impact because they’re tiny at not even an inch across. There were only these two in this bed.

Snowdrop buds looked like tiny white Christmas bulbs. The old fashioned kind that I grew up with.

Vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) started blooming very early and it seems like they’ll go on for quite a while yet. I wish I could let you smell their fragrance. It’s one of the lightest, freshest, cleanest scents I’ve experienced in nature. Someone once said the flowers smelled like clean laundry just taken in from the line, but I can’t verify that. I have a dryer.

It won’t be long before we’re seeing daffodil blossoms.

Since I started with a Johnny jump up I might as well end with one. This one bloomed in Hancock while that first one bloomed in Keene. That illustrates the oddness of this spring, because flowers usually bloom in Keene before blooming in Hancock. That’s because Keene has a lot of pavement and is slightly warmer. In any case it’s always nice to see their beauty no matter where I am.

Listen, can you hear it?  Spring’s sweet cantata. The strains of grass pushing through the snow. The song of buds swelling on the vine. The tender timpani of a baby robin’s heart. Spring! ~Diane Frolov

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As I write this we haven’t seen any real cold temperatures yet but by the time this is posted they say daytime highs will be in the 50s F., and widespread frosts are likely for several nights running. Of course that will most likely end the growing season for all but the hardiest of plants. if it happens, so we won’t see scenes like this again until next year.

This aster bloomed in a garden…

…and this aster bloomed by a cornfield. This is a New England aster and though the color is the same the garden variety is shorter and more compact and has many more flowers.

I’m always surprised by this yellow azalea I find blooming in a local park. Most azaleas bloom in spring and early summer, not in October, but I guess nobody told this one that.

As they age purple coneflowers lose a lot of their color and their rays become pale and more pastel and paper like. I suspect that these will probably be the last of their kind that I see this year.

I found this goldenrod growing in the wild but its compact habit makes me think it would be a hit in the garden, possibly surrounded by deep purple garden asters. Most goldenrods are quite tall but this one barely reached a foot and a half.

I’ve never seen turtleheads bloom as well as they have this year. This is a pink variety but the white ones have also bloomed well. A problem I’ve seen with the white native plants aside from their flowers is their leaves turning black and crisp. I don’t know what’s causing it.

Can you stand seeing more roadside flowers? I never get tired of seeing them but I probably took too many photos.

They’re very beautiful, and this week might see their end.

I was surprised to see herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) still blooming along the Ashuelot River. I usually see them at the end of June. Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

I’ve learned a lot about dandelions by having to pay closer attention to them for this blog, and one of the things I’ve learned is that they don’t like hot weather. In fact in this part of the state they disappear in summer and return only when it cools off in the fall. I’ve seen them bloom as late as January in a warm winter. I saw two or three blooms on this day.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is still blooming as it has since June, I think. Easily one of our longest blooming flowers. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers. 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. Blue toadflax was introduced in Europe and has naturalized in some areas, including Russia. It is in the snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison but I’ve never tried it.

Phlox is still going strong in places. I found this one in a friend’s garden.

Most bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) look like the one on the left, but the one on the right was just opening. I’m guessing that it will be the last one I see this year. This plant originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love these flowers and it is not uncommon to have them flying all around me as I take photos of it.

Here in the Northeastern U.S. we are big on garden chrysanthemums in the fall and I wonder if people in other countries love them as much as we do. Thought of as a late summer / fall plant, many thousands of them are sold each year and you see them everywhere. Though they are native to Asia and northeastern Europe I never hear much about them being grown in other countries.

Though they are sold as “hardy mums” they are not truly hardy and most of them die in winter, but purple and white ones will often make it through until the following year. Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China as early as the 15th century, where its boiled roots were used to treat headaches and its sprouts and petals were eaten in salads. 

When I was young I worked at a nursery where we grew ten thousand mums each year. The number one priority was watering. It didn’t matter what else needed to be done; you didn’t let plants wilt, ever. Standing out in the hot sun watering ten thousand mums was unpleasant, but the plants came first and your needs second, and we all understood that. Many people try to grow their mums in pots without realizing how much water they need, and the plants usually die of thirst. In the ground is the best place for this one.

I’ve seen quite a few roses still blooming, including this one that shined its light out at me.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, but I was surprised to see these blossoms in September, which seems early. Some Native American tribes steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in their sweat lodges to soothe aching muscles and others made tea from it to treat coughs. As is often the case Natives had a use for virtually every part of the plant and witch hazel is still in use today. It can be found as a lotion in almost any drugstore. Witch hazel blossoms are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths, but this year the moths may have help from several other insects I’ve seen still flying. The “hama” part of witch hazel’s scientific name means “at the same time” and is used because you can see leaves, flowers, and the prior year’s fruit all at once on the same plant, as this photo shows.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here
.

~ Zenkei Shibayama

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It got to be sunny and hot for a change last Saturday so I sought out the natural cooling of the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s usually about ten degrees cooler in there with almost always a bit of a breeze. After I spent some time in the man made canyon in the above photo I was wishing I had worn something a little warmer, so the natural air conditioner was working. Out there it was 80 degrees F. but in here it felt more like 60.

But that was in the deepest, darkest part of the trail. Once I found some sunlight it warmed to a more pleasant temperature.

I come here quite often at all times of year and each season has much beauty to offer. In spring there is an explosion of growth on the stone walls of the man made canyon, and it always reminds me of the Shangri-La described in the book Lost Horizons by James Hilton. When I was a boy I dreamed of being a world traveling plant hunter who brought back exotic plants from far away places, and in my imagination many of those places looked a lot like this.

Groundwater drips constantly down the stone walls of the canyon and many hundreds of species of plants, mosses, ferns, grasses, liverworts and even trees grow on the stone walls, among them the marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) seen here.

The violets also grow thickly all along the sides of the trail.

For every thousand blue violets there is a white one. Actually I can’t guess the numbers but white violets are scarce here.

Heart leaf foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) also grow here by the thousands. They’re one of our prettiest late spring flowers and I always find them near water or growing in wet ground along rail trails. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and a colony as big as the ones found here are 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 strangest thing I saw on this trip was this dandelion stem, which had split in half and curled tightly on either side of the split. I can’t even guess how it might have happened.

I saw a very pretty white moth on a leaf. It had fringe on its wings and that fringe made it easy to identify as the white spring moth (Lomographa vestaliata,) which has a range from Newfoundland west to south-eastern British Columbia and south to Florida and Texas. It likes forest edges.

I saw an unusual flat, antler like fungus growing on a log. The log was down in one of the drainage ditches so I couldn’t get close to it. I haven’t been able to identify it and I wonder if it isn’t a badly degraded bracket fungus from last year. It looked relatively fresh but without touching it, it’s hard to tell.

One of the most unusual things growing here are these green algae, called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the algal cells called hematochrome or beta-carotene color the algae orange by hiding their green chlorophyll. It is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color.

Something else unusual is a dandelion growing on stone. I think everyone knows that dandelions have taproots, so how does that work on stone? Maybe there is an unseen crack in the stone that the 4-6 inch long root grew into, I don’t know. Maybe the constant watering means the dandelion doesn’t need a taproot.

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along the trail. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been shown to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. It isn’t the same plant as cultivated chervil used to flavor soups though, so it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) also grows along the trail and there are lots of them here, now gone to seed. Coltsfoot is native to Europe and Asia and was brought here by early settlers. It has been used medicinally for centuries and another name for it is coughwort.

So many plants, so little time. The lushness of this place is really quite amazing. Except for the narrow trail nearly every square inch, be it horizontal or vertical, is covered with some type of growth.

One of the plants that grow here are the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) that grow on the stones by the thousands. This is the only place I’ve ever seen them and I think that’s because the conditions here are perfect for them. They like to grow in places where they never dry out and the constant drip of the groundwater makes that possible. They like to be wet but they can’t stand being submerged for any length of time so growing on the vertical walls above the drainage channels is ideal.

Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and there was lots of it.

This is one of the most beautiful liverworts in my opinion because of its reptilian appearance, which is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

One of the plants growing here that I wasn’t happy to see was garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata.) It’s an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to an article I read in the New York Times a few years ago, it’s delicious.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) like wet, sunny meadows and open woodlands so it was no surprise to see them growing in drifts as I left the canyon and moved into open meadows. It is said to be an important plant to a number of short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. Each flower is only about an eighth of an inch long and has five sepals, five petals, and five stamens. They’re also very difficult to get a good photo of, for some reason.

If I could walk through the canyon with my eyes closed it wouldn’t take too long to reach the old lineman’s shack but since I dilly dally and stop to look at anything that seems interesting and / or beautiful it usually takes a good two hours, so I’ve made what’s left of the shack my turn around point. Picked apart board by board over the years by those wanting to bridge the drainage ditches, it has become a symbol of strength and longevity for me, still standing and bearing heavy snow loads with only two walls left. It was certainly built to last; the the railroad came through here in the mid 1800s.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
~Lao Tzu

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