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Posts Tagged ‘Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid’

I was very happy to find a new colony of narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) on my recent trip to Pitcher Mountain. I saw a flash of blue out of the corner of my eye as I drove by and thought it was probably vetch, but I turned around and was surprised by what you see here. These plants are on the rare side in this area so finding more is always a good thing.

These flowers appear identical to those of bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but the foliage is quite different. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them in this area very often. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. I saw several trying to get into the flowers while I was with them on this day. Its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas.

Pretty groundnut (Apias americana) flowers have just started blooming. They come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. The plant is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river.

Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small and beautiful, but it’s a plant that comes with a lot of baggage. As the story goes author and forager Samuel Thayer calls them ground beans rather than hog peanut because he claims that the name “hog peanut” was a racial slur against Native Americans. He says that the Europeans came to a point where they refused to eat them because even though the small legumes saved many of their lives they insisted they were only fit for hogs (implying that Native Americans were hogs.) Personally I find this story hard to believe because anyone who has ever raised pigs knows that they root around in the soil looking for just the kinds of legumes that grow on these vines, and it isn’t hard to imagine colonials, who raised pigs, saying “look, the hogs have found some nuts.” I call it hog peanut here not to slander anyone but because nine out of ten people will use a plant’s common name when they look for it in field guides, and field guides call the plant hog peanut. If Samuel Thayer can get them to change that, then I’ll be happy to call it a ground bean.

Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds. Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good at tripping up hikers.

I found a forest of downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens) all in bloom.

The tiny flowers look like miniature versions of our native pink lady’s slipper orchid flowers. Each one is so small it could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. This photo shows where the “downy” part of the common name comes from. Everything about the flower stalk is hairy.

I like the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid’s mottled silvery foliage as much as its blossoms.  The flowers grow on a relatively long stalk and though I’ve tried hundreds of times I’ve been able to show the flower stalk and basal leaves together clearly in a photo only once. This orchid grows in the woods usually in deep shade, but I find that most plants get at least an hour or two of sunshine no matter where they grow.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the slender, sword shaped leaves. The blossoms are very hairy and have a long curved protruding pistil and especially from the side look nothing like foxglove to me.

Slender gerardia is a shy little plant that grows in full sun. It has the unusual habit of dropping all of its opened flowers each afternoon. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

I’m seeing more slender gerardia flowers this year than I ever have before. You can see in this shot how the blossoms seem to float in the air because the leaves and stems are so small.  

I know of only one place to find field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) and it is always worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and that’s just what I usually do.

On field milkwort flowers what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant but on this day they were covered in bumblebees. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

I thought I’d show you a field milkwort flower head on a penny so you could get a better idea of their size. You can also see the small sword shaped leaves in this photo, and how the flower heads sit at the very top of the stem. Both field milkwort and the slender gerardia we saw previously grow in gravel in full sun.

Native Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) has deep red seed pods but its flowers come in the more traditional yellow. Though some very reputable websites will tell you that this plant likes wet soil I always find it in dry gravel. It has grown in full sunshine for months now without harm and I think most of the watering it has had has come from morning dew, so it’s a very tough little plant. I wonder if they might have it confused with dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) which likes the wet soil of pond edges, or if I have it confused with yet another variety of St. John’s wort that I don’t know about. Canada St. John’s wort is also called lessor Canada St. John’s wort, so I assume that there must be a greater Canada St. John’s wort. These blossoms are tiny; less than the diameter of a pencil eraser.

It’s almost time to say goodbye to blue vervain (Verbena hastata) and you can tell that because the remaining blossoms are at the tops of the stems. This is another plant that loves water and it grows near ponds and rivers, and even wet roadside ditches. The bitter roots of this plant were used by native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into flour by some tribes, and others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to treat nosebleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the Europeans and they used it in much the same ways.

I just love the color of blue vervain.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) must be one of the longest blooming wildflowers we have here. It usually starts blooming in May and I’m still seeing it in quite large numbers. I love the shade of blue that it wears.

I think I’ve seen more jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) this year than I ever have. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds. Jewelweed gets its name not from its orange flowers but from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

Jewelweed blossoms dangle at the ends of long filaments and sway in the slightest breath of a breeze, so it’s always tricky getting a shot of one. I like to do it for the practice, but it can make you crazy.

I’ve probably shown too many fragrant white waterlily photos already this year but this one was covered by what I thought might be tiny black water lily aphids (Rhopalosiphum nymphaea.) These insects feed by draining sap from the lily’s leaves, thereby weakening the plant so I wasn’t happy to see them. But when I got home and saw the photo I had taken I saw that even covered with insects, fragrant white waterlilies are very beautiful. It’s one of my favorite aquatic plants.

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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Right now wildflowers, both native and non native, seem to bloom on every square foot of available space in some places. The view across this stream showed the yellows of several varieties of goldenrod and St’ John’s wort, purple loosestrife, the whites of asters and boneset, and the dusty rose of Joe Pye weed. Scenes like this are common at this time of year but that doesn’t diminish their beauty.

Native grass leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) grows in the calm water of streams and ponds. There are about 30 species of arrowheads out there and many of them are similar, so I hope you’ll take my identification with a grain of salt. Common to all arrowheads is how they grow in shallow, still waters at pond and stream edges, or in the wet ground of ditches and swamps. Grass leaved arrowhead has flower stalks shorter than the leaves. I took this photo early one morning and this example was very wet with dew.

If you know arrowheads at all then this photo probably surprises you, because this leaf looks nothing like the usually seen common arrowhead leaf. The plant is also called slender arrowhead, and I’m assuming it’s due to the leaf shape.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. Flowers are about an inch across. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a late summer blooming native clematis vine that drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees, but in this photo it has set its sights considerably lower and grew over a stand of yarrow. As long as it finds the sunshine it needs, it doesn’t matter what it grows on.  An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

Another name for this vine is traveler’s joy, which it is, but its small white flowers are another reminder that fall is near.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) is a shy little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of meadows and I usually find it growing in full sun. It has the unusual habit of dropping all of its opened flowers each afternoon. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day, which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

Slender Gerardia is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the slender, sword shaped leaves. The blossoms are very hairy and have a long curved protruding pistil and especially from the side look nothing like foxglove to me.

Another reason I doubt that slender gerardia could ever be confused with foxglove is its size. You could fit a few gerardia blossoms in a single foxglove blossom.

I’m seeing a lot of flowers this summer that I’ve never seen before and I thought this was one of them, but my blog tells me that I have seen it once before. There are about 15 different species of agrimony but I think this one is woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata.) The small, bright yellow flowers grow in long spikes (racemes) on a small, knee high plant. Research shows that the plant is threatened in New York and Maryland and I wonder if it is rare here. I’m surprised that I’ve only seen it twice.  It is also called roadside agrimony, though I’ve never seen it there. Agrimony has been used medicinally for many thousands of years, dating back to at least ancient Egypt but though woodland agrimony is native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans.

I usually stay away from goldenrod identification because there are so many of them that even botanists get confused, but slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is easy because of its long, slender leaves and its fragrance. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf.  Still, I always smell them just to be sure.

I wrote about boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) in the last post but since it’s so common at this time of year I thought I’d show it again. At a glance it looks like white Joe Pye weed, but a close look at the foliage shows that it’s a very different plant. This example had a visitor, up there on the right.

The perfoliatum part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the foliage” and that’s how its stem appears to grow; as if the leaves have been perorated by it. The common name comes from the way that the joined leaves looked like broken bones knitting themselves back together. Joe Pye weed leaves have leaf stems (petioles) and look very different. Boneset was a very valuable medicine to Native Americans and they showed early settlers how to use the plant to reduce fever and relieve coughs and congestion. It was also used to ease aches and pains of all kinds.

Here was a nice stand of Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) growing at the edge of the forest. Even from a distance it is easy to see how different the foliage is from boneset. If you’re trying to identify the two plants when they aren’t blooming it helps to know how their foliage is arranged.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is considered an invasive species in some areas but I don’t see it that often and when I do it’s in fairly small colonies of up to maybe a hundred plants. These few examples grew next to a cornfield. The plant is from Europe and Asia and has been in this country since it was introduced from Wales as a garden flower by Ranstead, a Welsh Quaker who came to Delaware with William Penn in the late 1600s. It has been used medicinally for centuries, since at least the 1400s, and modern science has shown it to have diuretic and fever-reducing qualities.

Because the flower is nearly closed by its lower lip it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to pry open and pollinate yellow toadflax. When it is grown under cultivation its flowers are often used as cut flowers and are said to be long lasting in a vase. It always reminds me of snapdragons and goes by many common names. “Butter and eggs” is probably one of the best known and “Dead men’s bones” is probably one of the least known.

Big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) need big, light gathering leaves because they grow in the forest under trees. The leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify. As is common on many asters the flowers look like they were glued together by a chubby fisted toddler.

The leaves on big leaf aster are heart shaped and about as big as your hand. They are especially impressive when they grow in large colonies. I’ve seen whole hillsides with nothing but these big leaves growing on them, so they must shade out other plants or have something toxic in their makeup that doesn’t allow other plants to grow.

After seeing broad leaved helleborine orchids blooming I knew that it was nearly time for downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens) to bloom, so I visited a small colony I know of. This native orchid has tiny white flowers but I like its mottled silvery foliage as much as its blossoms.  The flowers grow on a relatively long stalk and though I’ve tried hundreds of times I’ve been able to show the flower stalk and basal leaves together clearly in a photo only once. This orchid grows in the woods usually in deep shade, but I find that most plants get at least an hour or two of sunshine no matter where they grow, and I just happened to be there when this one had its moment in the sun.

I’ve learned from many frustrating attempts at photographing this plant to carry a small 8 X 10 inch piece of black foam core board with me because its narrow racemes and tiny flowers are easily lost in the background vegetation.

I’ve taken hundreds of photos of downy rattlesnake plantain orchid flowers but this is the only time I’ve seen any color except white in one. I suppose the yellow color must be nectar, but I don’t know for sure. The tiny flowers look like miniature versions of our native pink lady’s slipper orchid flowers. Each one is so small it could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. This photo also shows where the “downy” part of the common name comes from. Everything about the flower stalk is hairy.

I was driving along the highway north of Keene when I saw a flash of beautiful blue, so of course I had to go back and see what it was. I was happy to see a large stand of chicory (Cichorium intybus) still blooming while all the other chicory plants I know of finished blooming weeks ago. I love the beautiful blue color of these flowers and if I could have a yard full of them I would.

Narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) blossoms are also a beautiful shade of blue. These flowers appear identical to those of bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but the foliage is quite different. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them in this area very often. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas. These examples grow in a roadside ditch in Nelson, which is north of Keene.

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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1. Summer Flowers

It’s the time of year when our roadsides and meadows turn into Monet paintings and I love to see arrangements like this one even if the purple loosestrife is invasive. Goldenrod, boneset and yarrow are also in this little slice of what we see.

2. Boneset

At a glance common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) looks like white Joe Pye weed. That’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side, but boneset blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here. I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

3. Boneset

The perfoliatum part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the foliage” and that’s how its stem appears to grow; as if the leaves have been perorated by it. Joe Pye weed leaves have leaf stems (petioles) and look very different.

4. Fringed Loosestrife Plants

Pretty little fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife blooms later. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

5. Fringed Loosestrife Flower

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed like they are on this example. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year.

6. Jewelweed

Usually the lower lip on a spotted jewelweed blossom (Impatiens capensis) is all one piece but for some reason this one was split in two. That lessens the chances of pollination for this flower because the larger lower petal is used as a landing pad for insects, and the spots help guide them into the interior of the flower.

7. Jewelweed

Each 1 inch long jewelweed blossom dangles at the end of a long filament and can dance in even in the slightest breath of breeze, and this makes getting a good photo always a challenge. I think it took 8 tries for this shot alone, and that meant leaving and returning that many times. Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies pollinate these little flowers. You need a long tongue to reach all the way into that curved nectar spur. It is said that jewelweed is an important source of food for ruby throated hummingbirds.

8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchids

Each little basal rosette of leaves on the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) is about the diameter of a tennis ball and the gray green leaves can blend in so perfectly with the leaf litter that they sometimes disappear altogether. I’ve had to crawl on my hands and knees to find plants that I knew were there but luckily the large group in the above photo is always easy to find because it grows right behind a road sign. I was happy to see that they had sent up a few foot tall flower spikes in spite of our extreme dryness. The leaves are evergreen and each will last about four seasons. The oak leaf to the right gives a good idea of how small these plants are.

9. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

Each small white flower on the downy rattlesnake plantain is no bigger than a pea. The pubescens part of the scientific name means downy or hairy, and all parts of the plant above the leaves fit that description. Even the flowers are hairy. It is thought that a small bee called Augochlorella striata might pollinate them. Though it might not win any prizes at flower shows this little orchid is always a real pleasure to find in the woods. In some ways it reminds me of a tiny lady’s slipper.

10. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

My favorite part of the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid is its leaves. They’re very unusual and I can’t think of any other plants besides the rattlesnake plantain family that have foliage like it.

11. Broadleaf Plantain

Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) was cultivated Europe for centuries because of its medicinal value. It is very nutritious and high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K and it was for these reasons that it crossed the Atlantic with European settlers. It grew well here and went everywhere they did, and Native Americans called it “the white man’s footprint.” The young, tender leaves are loaded with calcium and other minerals and can be eaten raw in salads, and the older, stringier leaves can be boiled in stews. Despite its health benefits many people these days know the plant only as a despised weed.

12. Plantain Flowers

Broad leaved plantain sends up long, narrow flower spikes toward the end of July but the flowers are so tiny many people don’t even see them. Each plant can produce as many as 20,000 seeds.

13. Plantain Flowers

Each wind pollinated broadleaf plantain flower is only 1/8 inch long, and has 4 green sepals, a pistil with a single white style, 4 stamens with pale purple anthers, and a papery corolla with 4 spreading lobes. At the base of each flower there is an oval green bract. They are a real challenge to photograph.

14. Virgin's Bower

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a late summer blooming native clematis vine that drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

15. Virgin's Bower

On this day there were tiny black or brown insects chewing on just the tips of the virgin bower’s petals.

16. Tall Lettuce Flower Head

If a plant with pointy leaves and a club shaped flower head towers over your head chances are it’s one of the wild lettuces that can sometimes reach 8-10 feet tall. I’ve wondered for years why a plant with such tiny flowers would have to grow so tall and this year it finally hit me. The seeds are much like dandelion seeds and are dispersed by the wind, so the taller the plant the more likely its windblown seeds will be blown further than they would if they grew down among all the other plants and grasses.

17. Tall Lettuce

The pale yellow flowers of tall or Canada lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted red or pink on their edges like the above example. This is a native lettuce that can occasionally reach 10 feet tall with clusters of small, 1/4 inch flowers at the top of the stalks. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even leaves on the same plant looking different from each other. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium and has been used for centuries in medicines for its antispasmodic, diuretic, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative properties.

18. Blue Lettuce

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) can also get very tall in some cases, with a cluster of small, pencil eraser sized, blue flowers at the tip of the long stem. The flowers can be white, deep blue, or ice blue as this example was. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. This plant is very similar to the wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans but they should only be used by those who know them well, because it is said that they can cause death by cardiac paralysis.

19. Rattlesnake Root

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) is sometimes called white lettuce but it isn’t a lettuce, though they are in the same aster family that the lettuces are in. It’s probably thought to be another lettuce because it blooms at the same time and in the same locations as the wild lettuces do, but instead of the daisy like petals of lettuce flowers these look more bell shaped and lily like. The Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of the plant in tea that they used to relieve pain.

It is said that the common name comes from the way that some Native American tribes used the plant to treat snakebite. William Byrd of Virginia wrote in 1728 that “the rattlesnake has an utter antipathy to this plant, in-so-much that if you smear your hand with the juice of it, you may handle the viper safely. Thus much can I say of my own experience, that once in July, when these snakes are in their greatest vigor, I besmear’ed a dog’s nose with the powder of this root and made him trample on a large snake several times, which however, was so far from biting him that it perfectly sicken’d at the dog’s approach and turn’d its head from him with the utmost aversion.”

20. Culver's Root

This is the first time that native Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) has appeared on this blog because I rarely see it.  I found these examples on a moist, wooded roadside recently. It’s a tall, pretty plant with leaves that grow in whorls up the stem and long, pointed white flower heads. It can be found at many nurseries and is said to do well in gardens growing alongside other moisture loving natives like Joe Pye weed and turtlehead. It is useful for attracting bees and butterflies. It’s common name comes from a mister or doctor Culver (nobody seems to know for sure) who used it as a purgative to cure various ailments in the early 1800s. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat backaches, colic, typhus, and as an antiseptic and it is still used by herbalists today in much the same way. Because it is foolishly collected from the wild it is listed in several northeastern states as endangered or threatened and the United States Department of Agriculture lists it as absent and / or unreported in New Hampshire.

We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting. ~Kahlil Gibran

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1. Ashuelot Wave

Last week we had about two inches of rain fall in one day so I went to the Ashuelot River to see how it was coping. It had taken on a lot of water and was rolling itself into some beautiful waves, but thankfully there was no flooding that I saw. It was also roaring loudly and you could hear the strange booming sounds that the stones tumbling along its bottom make. It’s one of those sounds that can be felt as well as heard, and it goes through you.

2. Ashuelot Ice

The stones on the river’s shoreline were covered in clear ice that caught the sunlight like prisms.

3. Ashuelot Ice

Splashing water formed beads on the rocks that the sun turned into beautiful polished jewels. These spherical beads form when drops of water splash onto the rock and freeze over and over again in the same spot, building up each sphere with successive hair thin layers of ice. And it can all happen in one cold night.

4. Ashuelot Ice

Ice baubles hung from every twig. This teardrop shaped one was as big as a baseball, or about 2.5 inches across. I watched this for a while and saw that it had formed from the bottom up. The river waves washed over the twig again and again where the lower larger part of the teardrop is and hardly at all where the upper smaller diameter is.

5. Icy Trail

Most ice is beautiful but some is not. Our trails have been plagued with a thick coating of ice for a while now. It makes getting through the woods difficult even with Yaktrax on but since it formed after we walked on the snow and packed it down, we have only ourselves to blame. I haven’t climbed any hills fora while now because of it, but I think I’ll try soon.

6. Forest

There were no hills here to climb. This forest is unusual for its lack of undergrowth. It is so shaded in places only mosses and fungi will grow on its floor.

7. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

In places that get a little more sun orchids also grow on the forest floor. This evergreen downy rattlesnake plantain came through winter slightly flattened but otherwise fine. I love it for its netted silvery leaves and if I could grow it in my garden I’d choose it more for its unusual foliage than its spike of tiny white flowers. Native Americans used the plant to treat snakebites, burns and many other ailments.

8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Seedpods

The downy rattlesnake plantain’s seed pods hadn’t released their dust like seeds and looked to be filled to bursting.

9. Striped Wintergreen

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like our native orchids. It also explains their rarity. I read recently that the plant is considered rare in both New England and Canada. I keep finding more places where it grows but there are usually only a very few plants in any location.

10. Pipsissewa

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is another of our native wintergreens and is a plant that never seems to change. It looks the same in winter or summer and the only time it really changes is when it is blooming. It is said that the plant’s common name comes from the Native American word pipsiskeweu which means “it breaks into small pieces.” This refers to the belief that pipsissewa would break up kidney stones. The Cherokee people would nibble on leaves for food and they also made an infusion of the leaves for fevers, and a poultice of the roots for pain. It is said to make a marvelous spring tonic, even for horses. I’ve read that when a horse became listless and didn’t want to work farmers would add pipsissewa plants to their hay and before long the horse would be kicking up its heels and ready for work again. Pipsissewa was also once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer.

11. Hazel Catkins

I thought I’d see if our native American hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) were showing any signs of opening and releasing pollen. They weren’t but they were still beautiful to see. The catkins are the shrub’s male flowers and are a winter food for turkey and ruffed grouse.

12. Hazel Stem

If you aren’t sure if what you’re looking at is a hazelnut just look at the young twigs; they’re covered with reddish brown hairs which you can feel when you run your fingers over a twig. This photo also shows a female bud which will bloom in April. Female flowers appear on two year old branches and are tiny, with only their crimson stigmata showing. They are fertilized when the wind blows the pollen from the male catkins to them. From then on they will grow into hazelnuts, which are also called filberts.

13. Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts were used by Native Americans to flavor soups and were also ground into flour. The sweet meat can also be eaten raw and has a higher nutritional value than that of acorns or beechnuts. They are high in protein and many animals and birds eat them, including squirrels, foxes, deer, northern bobwhite, ruffed grouse, turkey, woodpeckers, and pheasants. Finding these examples still on the bush in February was a real surprise.

14. Skunk Cabbage

Not only do skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) raise their own temperature through a process called thermogenesis, but the dark color of their blotchy spathes attracts sunlight and that means they are also heated by the sun. This makes a nice cozy warming room inside the spathe where early insects can come and hang out and warm up. While they’re inside if they happen to bump into the spadix full of flowers and get pollen all over themselves, so much the better. There’s always a tradeoff and in this case both sides win.

15. Turkey Tails

I’ve seen more blue and purple turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) this year than I ever have, but these examples were shades of brown as they most often are. Wood decayed by the turkey tail fungus often has black zone lines or borders between where different variants of the species meet. These zone lines produce beautiful patterns in the wood, which is known as spalted wood. It is highly prized by woodworkers and a log full of spalted wood can be worth many times what one without any figuring is worth.

16 Thick-Maze Oak Polypore

If you’re a mushroom it’s all about spore production, and you increase spore production by growing as much spore bearing surface as you can. Some do this with gills and others like turkey tails and boletes do it with pores, which are long round tubes. Others like the thick-maze oak polypore (Daedalea quercina) pictured do it by creating a labyrinth. It was a beautiful little thing about an inch across growing on an oak log. The beauty in and of nature is always present no matter what time of year, and if we don’t see it it’s because we just don’t take the time to look.

17. Leaves Under Ice

Except for where it has been piled our snow is gone, even in the deep woods, but the ice remains. With all the sunshine and warmth it’s easy to lull yourself into thinking that spring is here, but we average about a foot of snow in March in this part of the state, so we could still see some. Since I work outside a lot I’m hoping not. I’m ready for spring.

When you reach the heart of life you shall find beauty in all things, even in the eyes that are blind to beauty. ~Kahlil Gibran

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1. Spruce

I’d be willing to bet that when most of us here in New England (and maybe the whole country)  hear the word evergreen we think of a pyramidal tree with needles that stays green all winter, but as I hope this post shows there is much more to the evergreen story than that.

2. Striped Wintergreen

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) loses its chlorophyll and turns deep purple in winter. This plant is relatively rare here and though I’m finding small numbers more and more most of them flower but don’t set seed.  I was happy to see this one had a seed pod on it. The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love,) so it loves winter and does not die from the cold.

3. Teaberry

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) is also called teaberry or checkerberry and it is the first wild plant that I learned to identify, with the help of my grandmother. We used to love to eat the bright red minty tasting berries. It’s probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong, minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin so it’s not good to eat a lot of it, but a taste of the berries shouldn’t hurt. Its leaves often turn purple as the nights get colder, as the plant in the rear shows.

4. Foam Flower

Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) has hairy leaves that look delicate, but they’re fairly tough and stay green under the leaves and snow all winter. The purple veins in each leaf become more pronounced as the nights cool and sometimes the leaves will have purplish bronze splotches. This plant makes an excellent flowering groundcover for a damp, shady spot in the garden. Plant breeders have developed many interesting hybrids but I like the native best, I think.

5. Partridge Berry

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is another native that makes a good garden groundcover. Small, heart shaped leaves on creeping stems grow at ground level and you can mow right over it. In spring it has white trumpet shaped flowers that grow in pairs and in the fall it has bright red berries which are edible but close to tasteless. I leave them for the turkeys, which seem to love them. My favorite parts of this plant are the greenish yellow leaf veins on leaves that look as if they were cut from hammered metal. I have several large patches of it growing in my yard.

6. Trailing Arbutus

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite plants and she would walk in the woods to find and smell it rather than dig it up to plant in her yard.  It’s too bad everybody didn’t do the same because this plant was once collected into near oblivion. These days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. That’s true of most of these plants, in fact.

7. Gold Thread

New goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its also being nearly collected into oblivion like trailing arbutus and others. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, probably by its other common name: canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

8. Dewberry

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which stay green under the snow all winter. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow.

9. Intermediate Wood Fern

Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) is also called evergreen wood fern. It is said to be the only fully evergreen fern with a lacy appearance but it cross breeds with so many other ferns in the Dryopteris  genus that I’m not sure how an amateur botanist like myself would ever know for certain what he was looking at.  But it isn’t always the name that’s so important. Just the fact that you can walk through the forest in January and see some green is often enough.

10. Intermediate Wood Fern

Unlike the spore producing sori on the marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) which appear on the leaf margins the sori on evergreen woods ferns appear between the midrib and the margins. In this photo this frond looks very much like the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana,) which it cross breeds with. It also crosses with marginal wood fern.

11. Christmas Fern

Evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) has deep green, tough leathery leaves that usually lie flat on the ground after a hard frost. They stay that way under the snow until spring when they will finally turn yellow and then brown to make way for new fronds. Christmas fern is so common that it’s hard to walk in these woods without seeing it. It’s also very easy to identify.

12. Christmas Fern

What makes an evergreen Christmas fern so easy to identify are its leaflets (Pinna) which some say look like little Christmas stockings. You can see why if you look at the part of leaflets near the stem in the photo. Each leaflet has a little bump or “ear.” This is the toe of the Christmas stocking and this is the only fern in the New Hampshire woods with this feature. One story says that the name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations.

13. Fan Club Moss

Fan shaped clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum.) was also once used as a Christmas decoration (and still is in some places.)  These forest floor evergreens were collected by the many thousands to make Christmas wreaths and they are still rarely seen here because of it. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all but do produce spores and are called “fern allies,” which are vascular plants that don’t produce seeds. I think fan shaped clubmoss is the most elegant of any of the clubmosses and I’m always happy to see it, especially in winter.

14. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Not all evergreens look alike and some, like the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) pictured, don’t look evergreen at all. Orchids are often thought of as tender, fragile things but not our native orchids. It’s hard to tell from the photo but this plant is covered almost entirely by short, fine hairs. I watched it get covered by feet of snow last year and in the spring it looked just as good as it does in the photo. I think its leaves are every bit as beautiful as its small white flowers are.

It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring and that gives them a head start over the competition. This post has just scratched the surface; there are many other evergreens out there and I hope now you’ll see more than conifers wearing green this winter.

The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools. ~Henry Beston

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1. Riendeer Lichen

I haven’t had time to do much climbing over the last few months so I thought I’d make up for the lapse by climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. It’s one of my favorite climbs because there is so much to see there, like this drift of reindeer lichen that looks like a snowy path through the woods even in August.

2. Trail

The uphill climb isn’t steep but it’s steady. Recent logging operations here haven’t helped the trail any, but at least it wasn’t muddy.

3. Bedrock

In some places the granite bedrock is exposed. I like the patterns of minerals in it.

4. Starflower

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have gone to seed but the tiny white seed pods haven’t opened yet.

5. Starflower Seed Pod

Starflower seed pods look like tiny soccer balls and can be tough to get a good photo of. Putting a penny on a stump to use as a background helped.

6. Cicada

I found a dead cicada on the trail and put him on a stump for a better photo too. I never knew they were so blue.

7. Downy Rattlesnake Plantains

As if to illustrate how you can hike the same trail a hundred times and still not see all there is to see, I found downy rattlesnake plantain orchids growing right beside the trail. I can’t believe that I’ve walked right by them all these years without seeing them.

8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Flowers

This orchid’s flowers are very small and hard to photograph, so I went back with a piece of black artists foam core board and got this shot so you could see what they look like. They look a lot like the flowers of the checkered rattlesnake plantain that I showed in another recent post and indeed the two plants are thought to cross pollinate naturally. I don’t know what made them appear so sparkly in this photo.

9. Acorns

Acorns were falling all around me but the real surprise was hearing a large tree fall off in the woods. I couldn’t see it and was glad I wasn’t anywhere near it because it made a tremendous crashing sound when it fell. That’s a rare experience for me.

10. Fairy Stool

Cinnamon fairy stools (Coltricia cinnamomea) grew here and there all along the trail. They get their common name from the concentric bands of cinnamon brown coloring on their inch diameter caps. They are a tough, leathery polypore which, if picked when fresh, will hold their color and shape for a long time.

11. Coral fungus

My Mushroom books don’t say much about club shaped fungi but I think this might be Clavaria ornatipes. This fungus is described as spatula or club shaped and greyish to pinkish gray. It grew directly out of the ground.

12. Coral fungus

The reason club and coral fungi grow the way they do is to get their spores, which grow on their tips, up above the soil surface so the wind can disperse them. This example is another of the Clavaria club fungi I think, but I haven’t been able to identify it.

13. View

There are good views to the south from the top of Mount Caesar though on this day it seemed just a bit hazy.

14. Swanzey LakeIt was a very hot and humid day with temperatures approaching 90 degrees and I found myself wishing I was swimming at Swanzey Lake rather than sitting up here in full sun.

15. Monadnock

I couldn’t leave without looking across the hills to Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It’s the highest mountain in these parts and is also the second most climbed mountain in the world, and on a day like this there were probably hundreds of people on it.

16. Toadskin Lichen

My friends the toad skin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) were very dry and ashy gray for the most part, but I did find a moist green one here and there. I’ve only seen these lichens growing on the very tops of hills so visiting them comes with a price. They’re beautiful and rarely seen though, so it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

18. Looper Moth

I never would have seen this moth if it hadn’t flown in front of me to land on a tree trunk. Even though I knew where it had landed I had a hard time finding it, so perfect was its camouflage.  I think it might be a looper moth in the family Noctuidae. There are many, including some familiar ones like the cabbage looper and the golden looper. They all seem to be experts in camouflage, just as this one was.

19. Violet Coral Fungus aka Clavaria zollingeri

Easily the most beautiful thing I saw on this day was this violet coral fungus (Clavaria zollingeri.) My daughter had climbed here the day before and told me that she had seen it but this is a big mountain and I had little hope of finding it. Her directions were perfect though and there it was; the most beautiful coral fungus that I’ve ever seen. I knelt before it to admire its beauty and forgot the heat, the mosquitoes, and even myself for a while.

The events of the past day have proven to me that I am wholly alive, and that no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. ~Anonymous mountain climber

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1. Sign

I was lucky enough to be able to visit Distant Hill Gardens in Walpole, New Hampshire a few times this year. The gardens started out simply enough; in 1979 Michael Nerrie and his wife Kathy bought 21 acres of land in the hills of Walpole that had been farmed since as early as 1773. As landowners always do they started exploring their acreage and what they discovered is, if I had to describe it as simply as possible, mind blowing.

2. Stone Wall

One of the first things seen as you enter the property is the stone wall that marks the edge of the woodland. There are many different types of stone walls and fine examples of nearly all of them can be found on the property. What many people don’t realize about New England stone walls is that their original purpose, more often than not, was simply a way to get rid of the tons of stone that littered the landscape. In the 1600s instead of walls the stones were often just piled, usually in an unused corner of the property. These oldest examples of stone removal are very hard to find but they can be seen here at Distant Hill. I would call the wall in the above photo a “tossed wall,” which was built just as its name suggests. Stones were tossed out of the way to clear the field and over time became a sort of wall that usually marked the property line or was used to keep the cows out of the corn.

3. Stone Wall

Laid walls are another type of stone wall but considerably more effort was used to make them beautiful as well as functional. These walls were usually built in the front yard or other places that were seen by the public. This excellent example was built by Michael. I’ve built many dry stone walls and I can say that he did a fine job, especially since he had little experience in wall building when he built it.

4. Bird's Nest Fungus

Bird’s nest fungi are so small you could easily step on them without seeing them and that would be a shame because they’re beautiful and unusual little things. I think these examples are fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus.) They were growing on a bit of twig right in the lawn.

5. Bird's Nest Fungus

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores. These were the first examples of this type of fungus that I’ve seen.

6. Bronze Fern aka Botrychium dissectum obliquum

Something else I’ve never seen is the bronze fern (Botrychium dissectum obliquum.) Its common name comes from the way its sterile evergreen leaf turns from green to bronze in winter. It is also called the cut-leaved moonwort.  No matter what we might call it, it is a grape fern, so called because the fertile frond develops a cluster of tiny spherical spore cases (sporangia) that resembles a bunch of grapes. These ferns usually only have two leaves; one sterile and one fertile.  The fertile frond appears in late summer.

7. Cutleaved Grape Fern aka Botrychium dissectum

Michael is lucky enough to have discovered two grape ferns on his property. This one is the cut-leaved grape fern (Botrychium dissectum dissectum.) Its lacy, evergreen sterile leaf also turns from green to bronze in the winter but they look very different than those of the bronze fern. The sterile leaf withers away in spring when a new one appears. Both of these ferns are very rare in this area so seeing them was quite a thrill.

8. Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

There are also orchids here, and plenty of them. I’m very familiar with the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyeara pubescens) but I had never seen this one, which is in the same family. I’m not sure but I think it might be the dwarf rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara repens,) also called creeping lady’s-tresses, but it’s hard to be sure because there are several different Goodyeara species here and they could be producing natural hybrids. Something that surprised me about these little orchids was how they lacked the light or dark stripe down the center of each leaf that most plants in this family have.

9. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

This photo I took earlier of a downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyeara pubescens) shows the different colored line down the center of the leaf that is so characteristic of these orchids. Sometimes light and sometimes dark, seeing an example without it was surprising.

10. White Hepatica

Longtime readers of this blog most likely know that I’ve been looking for hepatica plants for a long time. I finally found them here and that’s because the soil is rich in limestone. Hepatica and many other plants prefer soil that is on the sweet side rather than the acidic soil found in most parts of our county. Walpole lies on the Connecticut River just across from Vermont and Michael and I were marveling at how, by just crossing the river, a completely different world of plants can be found. That’s because much of Vermont was once part of a sea floor and its sedimentary bedrock is made up of calcium materials extracted from tiny marine organisms that floated in the water. Much of New Hampshire is made up of mostly igneous granite but some areas like Walpole and Westmoreland are really more like Vermont, at least in their underpinnings and flora.

11. Purple Hepatica

I’ve waited a long time to see these little beauties. You really can’t tell much in the way of size from a photo and I was surprised by how small hepaticas were. That’s why visiting a place like this is so important if you want to go out and find plants growing in their natural habitat. There’s really no substitute for seeing where they grow, what time of year they blossom, how much sunlight they get, what other plants and trees they grow near, and whether or not they grow near water. Usually once you’ve seen a plant growing naturally it will become much easier to find more of them.  The fern guide that I use says that the same thing is true for the rare grape ferns we saw previously, and I hope to see many more examples of them as well.

12. Hepatica Stems

I had to laugh at the hairy stems and buds of the hepatica. It seems that something like this would be hard to miss but again, how are you supposed to know what time of year to look for them if you’ve never seen an actual plant? Now I have the exact date stamped on these photos, so next spring I’ll know when to start looking.

13. Perennial Beds

If you’re not one to go crawling through the woods in search of plants that you’ve never seen before there are plenty of other things to see at Distant Hill Gardens. For instance you’ll see some of the most well-tended flower gardens that you’ve ever seen. Michael has surrounded his house with flowering perennials and it is really something to see. I should mention that though the flower beds are full of mostly cultivated plants, the plants found in the wooded areas are natural and have had no human intervention. That’s one of the great things about the place; the native plants remain just as they were found.

14. Vegetable Garden

There are vegetable gardens too, and much of the produce grown here gets donated to local food pantries. This is something all of us with more vegetables than we can eat should consider doing.

15. Sculpture

I don’t know how Michael finds any free time but when he does he welds found objects into sculptures, and they can be seen throughout the property. There really is something for everybody here, especially in the way of plants. I saw more previously unseen plants and fungi in two hours than I have in the last two years, and there is much more to come in part two of this post.

There are many more things I’d like to show you but even with a two part post there is more to see here than space and time will permit, so I hope you’ll take the time to visit Distant Hill Gardens if you are able to. I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. I’ve put a permanent link to their website over in the “Favorite Links” section, but you can also find it here: http://www.distanthillgardens.org/

Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals. ~Aldo Leopold

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