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Posts Tagged ‘Ditch Lily’

If there was ever a plant so beautiful that it made me want to kneel before it it is the greater purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora.) Like a two foot tall bush full of beautiful butterflies it hides away in a swamp, burning with the light of creation, seen by only a very few lucky souls.

What can I say about something so beautiful? Orchids are the most highly evolved of all the flowering plants and they are also among the most beautiful. This one leaves me speechless, because I know I’m in the presense of something very special. That’s why I feel that I should do nothing to disturb it. I take a few photos and leave it until next year when hopefully, it will reappear. I’m very happy that I can show you such a rare and beautiful thing.

Some flowers seem to just refuse to cooperate when a camera is pointed at them and enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis) is one of those. I usually have to try again and again to get a good photo of it and this year was no different. Luckily this shade lover grows in my own yard so I have plenty of opportunities to take its photo. This isn’t one of the best I’ve taken but it shows what I’d like you to see. Each tiny 1/8 inch wide flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Here is a tiny enchanter’s nightshade blossom on a penny that I took previously. They’re among the smallest flowers that I try to photograph for this blog. Enchanter’s nightshade gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

A bee had filled its little pollen sacs quickly in a patch of brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea,) which had just started blooming. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. The flowers seem to be very darkly colored this year, or maybe that’s because they had just opened.

At a glance motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed but I don’t see it that often and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 2 or 3 plants growing together.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. The ancient Greeks and Romans used motherwort medicinally and it is still used today to decrease nervous irritability and quiet the nervous system. There is supposed to be no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and it is sold in powdered and liquid form. The tiny flowers of motherwort are very hairy and look like a microscopic orchid. They’re also very hard to get a good shot of because of both their size and color.

Another wort is black swallow wort (Cynanchum louiseae.)  The word wort by the way, was generally used to indicate that a plant had some medicinal value and it was often attached to the word for the body part that it was believed to help. That doesn’t seem to fit in the case of swallow wort however, unless it was used to help one swallow. The plant is in the milkweed family and like other milkweeds its flowers become small green pods that will eventually turn brown and split open to release their seeds to the wind. This plant also has a sharp, hard to describe odor that is noticed when any part of it is bruised. It originally came from Europe and in 1867 Gray’s Manual of Botany reported it as “a weed escaping from gardens in the Cambridge Massachusetts area.” In Canada it’s called the dog strangler vine, because its twinning stems are like wire.

Many plants that can take a lot of shade have large, light gathering leaves and the shade tolerant purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) shows that very well. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at a glance. It has no thorns like roses or raspberries however. The fruit looks like a large raspberry but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

This view shows the newer darker flowers of flowering raspberry as well as the older, lighter colored flowers. Flowering raspberry once got me a job as a gardener, so it holds a special place in my heart. A man called me to his house and asked me a few plant related questions and finally said that if I could tell him what the plants in his hedge were, he’d hire me.  I told him they were flowering raspberry and he hired me right there on the spot, and I worked for him for many years afterwards. This native shrub makes a great landscape specimen, especially in shade gardens, and it’s too bad that more people don’t use it. It attracts both birds and butterflies and can take anything that a New England winter can throw at it.

I thought I’d show you a rose so you could see how different it looks from the flowering raspberry. We have three native wild roses here in the U.S., the Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana,) the prairie rose (Rosa arkansana) and the wild rose (Rosa acicularis.) We also have roses that appear to be wild but which have escaped cultivation. None are truly invasive here and I think it’s safe to say that all are welcome. I found this beautifully scented example on the edge of a forest.

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

I was surprised to see how darkly colored the tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) flowers are this year. These flowers are usually a lighter ice blue but sometimes they can be quite dark. They grow in a cluster at the very top of the sometimes six foot tall plant. Tall blue lettuce is easily confused with tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) when it isn’t blossoming, but tall blue lettuce has hairy leaves and tall lettuce doesn’t. Native Americans had medicinal uses for both of the plants.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here and I’ve already seen a few monarch butterflies in the area. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. Several times I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is also found in cemeteries, often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. These days it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common. It was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes and all of which have the potential to spread just like the original has. If you find yourself doing battle with a particularly weedy daylily, no matter the color, there’s a very good chance that the common orange is one of its parents. I know people who mow it after it flowers and it comes right back the following year.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.) Pokeweed was called pocon by Native Americans. The Delaware tribe used the plant as a heart stimulant and other tribes made a salve from it and used it as a cure for rheumatism. If it isn’t used correctly pokeweed can be toxic.

Native Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina ) has just started flowering. Before long these flower clusters will be bright red berries from which a good substitute for lemonade can be made. This plant is much more common in this area than smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) Smooth sumac has very shiny, smooth leaves and does not have hairy stems. 

Staghorn sumac is another flower that most of us, myself included, pass by without a glance. It’s another of those flowers that won’t win any prizes but insects must love them, judging by how each flower head becomes a cluster of bright red, fuzzy berries. Each greenish yellow flower is about 1/4 inch across and has 5 curved petals, a 5 lobed calyx, 5 stamens, and a central pistil, all of which are so tiny I can’t even see them by eye alone.

I know of only one spot to find Carolina horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) and it’s worth going to see it. From what I’ve read it is not a true nettle, but instead is a member of the nightshade family. The flowers have five petals and are usually white or purple with yellow centers. There is a blue variant that resembles the tomato flower, which makes sense since tomatoes are also in the nightshade family. The flowers have no scent but the foliage has a certain odor that I find disagreeable. The fruits resemble tomatoes and are sometimes called devil’s tomatoes. Unripe fruit is dark green with light green stripes, turning yellow and wrinkled as it ripens. Each fruit contains around 60 seeds but the plant spreads successfully by underground stems (rhizomes.)  

Horse nettle’s stem and undersides of larger leaf veins are covered with spines and I can attest to their sharpness. It’s hard to grab it anywhere, even for a photo. This plant is native to our southern states, so why it is growing here is a mystery. It seems to like where it grows and I find more plants growing there each year. I can see its spreading becoming a real problem. Native Americans used the plant as an antispasmodic and sedative, and I’ve also read that it is used to treat epilepsy but all parts of the plant are poisonous and eating it, especially the fruit, can cause death. Pheasant, Bobwhite, Turkeys and Skunks are said to eat the fruit.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster like this one on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa.) 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. This silky Dogwood  will have berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this huge patch of goldenrod blooming at the end of June. I like goldenrod enough to actually grow it but I think these plants were pushing it a bit. It’s a late summer, early fall flower after all. Still, it’s hard not to love it. Just look at that color.

Beauty is something that changes your life, not something you understand. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for coming by.

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