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Posts Tagged ‘Dwarf St. John’s Wort’

Like a tree full of orchids, that’s what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. These big trees are blooming all over the area right now, about a week later than usual.

At 1-2 inches across catalpa flowers are large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. Each one is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough to put your finger in, with room to spare. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

From huge flowers to small flowers. I can’t call cow wheat blossoms tiny, but they are small. Narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite.

Cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils) but this year I’m seeing more single blooms than pairs. I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The flowers bloom at about shoe top height. I thought I’d put one on a penny so you could see how small they really are.

Cow wheat blossoms seem big compared to the tiny blossoms of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.) This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in July. It 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.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade 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. They’re among the smallest flowers that I try to photograph for this blog.

Last year when I showed what I thought was bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) a helper wrote in and asked if it could be sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) instead. Since I found the plant growing in standing water and since the flower clusters were terminal, appearing at the ends of the branches, I didn’t think so. But now I’m not so sure because sheep laurel also has terminal flower clusters and the new leaves come out below the flower clusters and grow up around them, and that’s exactly what this plant does. But names of things are becoming less and less important to me as I get older and I can live with knowing it’s one or the other. I hope you can too.

One thing I know for sure is that it is a laurel and you can tell that by the ten pockets in each flower, where the anthers reside under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on the flower the spring loaded anthers release from their pockets and dust it with pollen.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. These flowers are about the same diameter as a pencil eraser and, since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

Beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) started blooming about a week ago. This is a plant that I’ve searched for many years for and could never find until I finally found some growing in an unmown lawn, and now I know of two places it grows in. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flowers are notorious for catching onto the legs of insects and not letting go so I thought that’s what had happened to this fly, especially since it let me take shot after shot without flying off, but I finally poked it with my finger and away it went. Apparently it was simply too involved with what it was doing to pay me any mind.

Cranberries are one of the native fruits that grow abundantly here in the northeast. I usually find them in wet, boggy areas but they will grow in drier areas near water. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries and that has evolved into what we call them today. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

Sometimes if you’re lucky you can catch a cranberry blossom before its petals have recurved, but on this day I only saw one or two out of many hundreds.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) has just started blooming in the tall grass along roadsides. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.

Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It grows in dry soil at the edge of forests.

It’s hard to believe that something as tiny as a river grape blossom (Vitis riparia) could be fragrant but in places right now you can follow your nose right to the vines, so strong is the fragrance. And this isn’t the end of the joy they bring; in the fall the fermented fruit on a warm day will make the woods smell just like grape jelly.

I don’t see tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) in meadows unless the meadow is wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. Meadow rue can grow 7-8 feet tall so getting above it can be next to impossible. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance.

It wouldn’t be the fourth of July without fireworks and every year, right on time, tall meadow rue blossoms with fireworks of its own.  At least the male flowers do, with starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens. Knowing when flowers bloom is a fun thing; they give you something beautiful to look forward to all summer long.

None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones. ~Forbes Watson

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We’ve had some hot weather lately and that always makes me want to be near water, and of course when I’m near water I can’t help noticing the plants that grow there. Cattails (Typha latifolia) are the easiest to see, sometimes towering to 6 or 8 feet tall. They can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. Of course, that doesn’t account for all the new plants that grow from seed.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing it’s best to just admire this one. This photo is of the last one I saw blooming this year.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly. I know of one small pond that started with 2 or 3 plants a few years ago and now nearly half the pond is being choked out by them.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were tiny flies crawling over most of the blossoms I saw on this day.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

Some of the aquatic plants that I like to see up close grow far enough out in the water to have to be photographed from a boat or by swimming out to them with a waterproof camera. If you really want to challenge your photographic skills, try photographing aspirin sized flowers from a kayak that you can’t keep still.

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and grew where I kayaked in great numbers. This rose, like many other plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. I saw a lot of swamp milkweed too, but I couldn’t get close enough for a photo.

One day I saw a couple of Canada goose families eating cherries from cherry trees that had bent low over the water. I didn’t know that they did this.

The adults seemed to be trying to teach the goslings how to get at the cherries but the little birds didn’t have the neck stretch it took to reach the fruit.

What I believe is creeping spike rush (Eleocharis macrostachya) isn’t a rush at all; it’s a sedge, so I’m not sure why it’s called a rush. As sedges go this one is very small; just a spiked stem with a brushy little flower head on top and a couple of basal leaves. It likes to grow in standing water at pond and lake edges, just off shore but I’ve read that it will also grow in ditches, vernal pools, and wet meadows.

The flower head of this sedge is called a spikelet and it is about a half inch long. The cream colored oval parts are the male flowers and the wispy white feathery bits are the female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look nearly identical so I could be wrong about its name. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, the only way to tell them apart is by their tiny fruits, and I doubt that I could even see them.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. Since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

One of the bonuses of looking for aquatics is that you see a lot of dragonflies, like this male common whitetail dragonfly. This dragonfly rests on twigs and grasses near the water, and sometimes on the ground. I haven’t seen one on the ground but I have seen them on stones. This isn’t a very good shot but he only perched long enough for one click of the shutter.

If only narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) would grow at the water’s edge. Instead it grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow and by the time I was finished taking its photo my feet were soaked. How odd it seems that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but we have had a lot of rain. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow whorled loosestrife that I spoke of in my last post. But whorled loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Though they are very hard to see in this example because of the bright light each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

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1. NE Aster

There are many flowers that bloom in September but most just whisper of the passing of seasons. New England asters shout that September has arrived, so they get top billing here. New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are the easiest of all the asters to identify because their flowers are larger than any of the others. You can’t identify them by color because they can be a pale, almost white purple, sometimes pink, or a deep, dark purple which is my favorite. This example was a pleasing shade of violet, which my color finding software calls thistle.

2. Blue Stemmed Goldenrod

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) appears early on in summer but waits until September to bloom. Its stems grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then fall over into a more horizontal position, as if to show off the yellow blooms that grow in tufts all along the stem. This plant isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

3. Blue Stemmed Goldenrod

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod get their blue color from the same natural wax coating that is found on grapes, plums, blueberries and other plants. The coating is called a bloom and plants use it as a form of protection against moisture loss. It’s made up of tiny powdery, whitish crystals which reflect and scatter light in ways that can make the surface that they cover appear very blue. I had quite a time finding a stem that was blue this year because the wax crystals can be washed off by rain or melted by the sun, and we’ve had some very hot weather this summer. Most stems were green this time.

4. Devil's Beggatick

If you wait for the flowers of devil’s beggarticks (Bidens frondosa) to open more than what is seen in this photo you’ll be waiting a very long time, because this is about the extent of it for them. The yellow orange flowers have disc flowers but no rays like asters and daisies, so they always seem to be unopened. The name beggarticks comes from its barbed seeds that stick to fur and clothing. I find these plants growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers. In the past I’ve mistaken them for purple stemmed beggarticks (Bidens connata.)

5. Devil's Beggartick Foliage

The foliage of devil’s beggarticks might take the beautiful people who lived through the 60s and 70s on a flashback through time. Its leaves are compound in groups of 3 or 5, unlike those of purple stemmed beggarticks, which grow singly. As far as I know they have no psychoactive properties.

6. Nodding Burr Marigold

Nodding bur marigold (Bidens tripartita) likes full sun and wet feet and can often be found growing right beside its cousin devil’s beggarticks that we saw in the previous photo. Its flower is much showier though. As they age the flowers nod towards the ground and that’s how the plant comes by its common name. Another common name is nodding beggarticks, because its seeds are also barbed and also stick to just about anything that happens by. In this part of New Hampshire this plant grows about knee high, sometimes in standing water.

7. Nodding Burr Marigold

Nodding bur marigold looks something like a miniature sunflower and is supposed to be good for honey production.

8. Sunflower

I put this photo of a sunflower in to compare the nodding bur marigold flower in the previous photo to.  Now that I see them together I see there is little comparison between the two, except for color and shape.

9. Dwarf St. Johnswort

I was surprised to see little dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) plants still blooming at the edge of a pond recently but there were several and some even had buds. I never knew that they bloomed for such a long time. Its flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version but otherwise there is no doubt that it is in the St. John’s wort family. This has been a good summer for St. John’s wort; I’ve seen the introduced European St. John’s wort, dwarf St. John’s wort, Canada St. John’s wort, and the unusual pink flowers of marsh St. John’s wort. Native Americans used several of our native species of Hypericum medicinally.

10. Pipewort

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area but I recently found another pond that it grows in. The plants grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of very tiny white, cottony flowers. Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticuum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which is exactly what pipewort looks like.

11. White Waterlily

Fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) are still blooming but not in the hundreds that I saw earlier this summer. Now I see an occasional blossom here or there. Someday I’m going to get close enough to smell one of these flowers. I’ve heard that they smell like cantaloupe. Native Americans made flour from the roots by drying and pounding them. I wonder if it tasted like cantaloupe.

12. Sand Joint Weed

Sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) is a curious little plant that gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. I know of only one place where it grows and last year I was worried when I saw just a few scattered plants, but this year it has made a strong comeback and there were many new plants there. It is an annual so last year’s plants must have produced plenty of seed. They grow to about knee high and this year they were loaded with tiny white blooms, so hopefully strong seed production will continue.

13. Sand Joint Weed

The flowers of sand jointweed are among the smallest that I’ve tried to get a photo of and can be very difficult to get a decent shot of. I had to go back three times and re-shoot these before I got it right but it was worth it. You can see the tiny purple tipped anthers in one of the flowers and the unusual look of the stem, and those are what I wanted to show you. It looks like the flowers are just a bit bigger than Abe Lincoln’s ear on that penny.

14. White Wood Aster aka Aster divaricatus

White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) carpeted the shaded roadside one day. This aster is known for its drought tolerance and I’m sure that it must be putting it to good use this summer, since I can’t even remember when it rained last. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this aster.

15. White Wood Aster aka Aster divaricatus

The small, one inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. I see both in this photo, but I don’t know if they’re on the same plant or different plants. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings as the natural grouping in the previous photo shows. Many nurseries sell the native plants, which reach about a foot tall here.

16. Red Clover

I remember when I made my living as a gardener digging out red clover plants whenever I saw them. The big, sprawling plants looked unsightly no matter where they grew and had to go. Then I started to look closely at the tiny orchid like flowers and I’ve never bothered one since.

Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music. They relax the tenseness of the mind. They dissolve its vigor. ~Henry Ward Beecher.

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1. Meadow Flowers

The beauty and abundance of high summer are upon us here in southwestern New Hampshire and the meadows once again look like they’ve been painted by Monet himself.

2. Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) has just started blooming and is a common late summer sight in the meadows. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area.

Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I just read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person name.

4. Monkey Flower

No matter how often I look at this flower I don’t see a smiling monkey face but whoever named the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) did. This plant has a square stem and that’s how it comes by another common name: square stemmed monkey flower. It gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and isn’t all that common.

5. Monkey Flower

I’m still not seeing a monkey. All I see is a beautiful little flower that is whispering summer’s passing.

6. Thimbleweed

Tall thimbleweed’s (Anemone virginiana) white flower sepals don’t seem to last very long. Every time I see them they have either turned green or are in the process of doing so, like these appear to be. There are usually plenty of yellowish stamens surrounding a center head full of pistils though. The seed head continues growing after the sepals have fallen off and it becomes thimble shaped, which is where the common name comes from. These flowers are close to the diameter of a quarter; about an inch.

7.Thimbleweed Seed Head

Thimbleweed’s thimble shaped seed head looks prickly but it isn’t. It will eventually turn into a mass of fluffy white seeds. There is another plant called thimble berry, but that is the purple flowering raspberry; a completely different plant.

8. Indian Tobacco

The last time I did a flower post I showed an example of pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) but here is another lobelia that blooms at the same time and is easy to confuse with it. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) There are several ways to tell the two plants apart but I just look for the inflated seedpods. This is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen.

9. Indian Tobacco Seed Pods

Indian tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering. Though Native Americans used this and other lobelias to treat asthma and other breathing difficulties they knew how to use what we don’t, and today the plants are considered toxic. They can make you very sick and too much can kill.

10. Helleborine Orchid

I recently found the largest clump of broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) that I’ve seen. This orchid is originally from Europe and Asia and was first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. It has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year. Its leaves are deeply pleated like those of false hellebore and I wonder if that is how it comes by its common name.

11. Helleborine Orchid

Scientists have discovered that the nectar of broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they get so stoned they want to stay around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. After the insect has staggered around for a while it will clumsily fly off, most likely oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for giving it a good buzz.

12. Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain Foliage

I didn’t know what kind of trouble I was getting myself into when I started finding Goodyeara orchids. There are about 800 different species and telling them apart can be tricky because they cross pollinate and create natural hybrids. I think the example in the above photo is a checkered rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara tesselata) because of its small size, dull blue gray leaf surface, faint leaf markings, and the way its flowers appear randomly arranged on the stalk. These leaves look fragile but they’ll remain green throughout winter.

13. Chechered Rattlesnake Plantain Flower Spike

If nothing else these tiny orchid flowers are teaching me a thing or two about flower photography. After trying and failing three or four times to get a useable shot of the flower spike I took a tip from my orchid books and tried propping a piece of black artist’s foam core board behind it. Much to my surprise it worked fairly well. But that’s another thing to carry into the woods and I don’t have any empty hands left, so I won’t be making a habit of it. This flower spike was about 6 inches tall.

14. Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain Flowers

The lip of a checkered rattlesnake plantain orchid flower is wider than that of other rattlesnake orchids and has a shorter tip that makes it look like the spout of a teapot according to orchid books, but they remind me more of short, fat turtlehead flowers (Chelone glabra.) Each flower is very hairy and small enough to hide behind a pea, and their petals and sepals spread outward. Checkered rattlesnake plantain is said to be a hybrid of giant rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara oblongifolia,) and dwarf rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara repens.)

I’ve noticed that there is a lot of erroneous information online regarding these orchids so if you find one and would like to identify it I’d advise using a good, reliable orchid identification guide. I list two that I use in the “Books I use” section of this blog.

15. Dwarf St. Johnswort

Tiny little dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is still blooming. I tucked a quarter down into it to give some idea of just how small it is. I usually find this plant growing in the muddy soil at the edge of ponds but I just saw a few growing quite high and dry on the riverbank. Its flowers aren’t much bigger than a pencil eraser but there are usually a lot of them so it’s an easy plant to find.

16. Liatris

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susans and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden.

17. Tall Lettuce

The pale yellow flowers of tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted by red or pink on their edges. This native lettuce can reach 10 feet tall and has 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 the leaves on the same plant looking different from each other. The milky white sap of this plant contains lactucarium and is still used in medicines today.

18. Blue Lettuce-2

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) doesn’t get quite as tall as tall lettuce in this area but it has the same size flowers, which are ice blue instead of greenish yellow. Sometimes they can be quite dark and other times almost white and grow in a cluster at the very top of the 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 these plants.

19. Tall Rattlesnake Root

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) is also called white lettuce but, though it blossoms at the same time as wild lettuces and often right beside them, it really isn’t a lettuce. It’s in the aster family and is unusual because of its bell shaped, lily like flowers; most asters have ray and disc florets like the dandelion. The Prenanthes part of the scientific name comes from the Greek words “prenes,” meaning drooping and “anthos,” meaning blossom. Alba means white, and white drooping blossoms are exactly what we see.  The plant was thought to be an antidote for rattlesnake bite to Native American Cherokee and Iroquois tribes and that’s how it comes by its common name.

There is so much beauty in the world, but you must allow yourself to see it. ~Tom Giaquinto

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1. Black Eyed Susan

Few flowers say summer to me like the black eyed Susan, but they always whisper of summer’s passing too, and tell me that summer is fleeting, and I’d better get out there and enjoy it before the crisp winds of fall start to blow. Though it’s actually an early summer flower, I always think of it as a fall flower because of its very long blooming season. These flowers will often still be blooming when we see the first hard frost, several months after they’ve started.

2. Black Eyed Susan

A spider had built a web on this black eyed Susan. Nothing unusual about that but I wondered why it was yellow. Can the color somehow come off the petals, I wonder?

3. Campion

Red campion (Silene dioica) likes alkaline soil with a lot of lime and that’s why we rarely see it here. That’s also why I’m fairly sure that this plant is a white campion (Silene latifolia,) which can also be pink. Just to confuse the issue red campion flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa. It was pretty, whatever it was.

4. Tradescantia

I used to see spiderwort plants (Tradescantia) growing wild everywhere when I was a boy. I thought they were beautiful and used to dig them up from along the railroad tracks to plant at home. My father also saw them growing along the tracks and he called them weeds, so he couldn’t understand why I kept “dragging those damned old weeds home” and planting them in the yard. Now every single time I see the plant I think of him. I also understand how one man’s flower can be another man’s weed.

Apparently our early settlers thought tradescantia was beautiful too, because it was introduced into Europe as an ornamental in the 1600s. Since it can be a bit weedy I wonder if it has become an invasive there.

5. Purple Tradescantia

I didn’t realize until a couple of years ago that plant breeders had been working on tradescantia and had created a purple variety. Personally I prefer the blue that I grew up with, but the purple flowers seem do to attract more insects. At least they did on this day when I was watching the blue and purple flowers in a local park.

6. Elderberry

American elder (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis) was highly valued by Native Americans for its medicinal qualities and it has been found that their uses of the plant closely parallel the ways that Europeans used their elder (Sambucus nigra.) Both old and new world people used the plant for everything from an emetic to a treatment for headache. Hippocrates is said to have referred to the elderberry bush as his “medicine chest,” and it appears that modern medicine is finally catching up with him; the National Institutes of Health has given five universities a total of $37.5 million for a five-year study exploring possible medical benefits of elderberries, including its use in fighting prostate cancer. I don’t have much taste for alcohol these days but if I can find a bottle of good elderberry wine I might drink a small glassful each night before bed. It can’t hurt, as long as it was made from the berries and not the plant’s poisonous roots.

7. Vervain

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is also called swamp vervain because it likes water, and I find it either in wet meadows or along river and pond banks. It is also called simpler’s joy after the herb gatherers of the middle ages. They were called simplers because they gathered medicinal or “simple” herbs for mankind’s benefit and since vervain was one of the 9 sacred herbs, finding it brought great joy. It was thought to cure just about any ailment and Roman soldiers carried the dried plants into battle. Since blue is my favorite color finding it always brings me great joy as well.

8. Rattlesnake Weed

I can’t think of many plants that are rarer in this area than the native rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum.) I know of one plant and this is it. As you might suspect from its flowers it is in the hawkweed family, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Its flowers stand at the end of long wiry stems so it’s usually impossible to get both the flowers and leaves in one photo but this time I was able to do it. Its purple veined leaves don’t show that well but they are very unusual, as the following photo will show.

9. Rattlesnake Weed Foliage

One story says that because people thought its foliage resembled a snake’s skin, rattlesnake weed was a cure for snakebite. I’ve also heard other stories that say the name comes from the plant’s habit of growing in places where snakes were seen. It’s hard for me to believe that such a rare plant is considered an invasive weed in some places, but it is.

10. Bristly Sarsaparilla

Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) isn’t common but I know of two places where it grows in dry, sandy soil. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Every time I see its flowers they’re covered in ants but curiously this time they were absent. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter. Each small flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job. The USDA lists this native plant as endangered in Indiana, Ohio and Maryland.

11. St. Johnswort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known and used medicinally since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The brown / black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. The perforatum part of its scientific name refers to the many clear dots on its leaves that look like pin holes when its leaf is held up to the light. Originally from Europe, it was introduced in 1696 to Pennsylvania by a religious group who believed that it held magical properties. Today it can be found in all but 4 of the lower 48 states; Utah, Arizona, Alabama, and Florida. In all of the others it can be found in meadows and along roadsides growing in full sun.

12. Dwarf St. Johnswort

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that might get ankle high on a good day and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference apart from their smaller size is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. I find them growing at the edge of a local pond and soak my knees every time I try to take a photo of them. It’s worth it though because they’re beautiful little things.

13. Milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies visiting them yet. I was going to write about how complicated these flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated that I got lazy and instead will just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll just enjoy their beauty and their scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

14. Rose

Roses are adding their perfume to the sweet smell of summer and I smelled this bush full of tender pink blossoms before I saw it. I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

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

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I spend a lot of my plant hunting time near ponds, streams and rivers because that’s where the wildflowers like to grow. This post is about the flowers I found on 2 or 3 recent visits to the Ashuelot (pronounced Ash-will-lot or Ash-wee-lot) river in both Keene and further south in Swanzey, New Hampshire. Because of a long stretch of dry weather the river is about as low as I’ve ever seen it.You can see by the dark areas on the stones how much lower the river is than is normal. You can also see that it isn’t taking long for plants to start colonizing those parts of the bank that are normally under water. False pimpernel (Lindernia dubia) was growing in the wet mud nearly at the water’s edge in a spot that would have normally been under water.  These flowers are quite small and I had to re-shoot them three or four times before I had pictures I could live with. This plant sheds all its flowers each evening so all you see is blue / purple flowers all over the ground around it, then the following morning more flower buds open with that day’s flowers. What is strange is that I can’t find any reference to this habit either in books or online, even though I witnessed it on several evenings.  False pimpernel is listed as endangered in New Hampshire. A side view of false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia.) Looking down the throat of a false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia.)  This flower has 4 stamens, 2 fertile and 2 infertile. Under its hood, 2 of its stamens curve down like cobra fangs, but no matter how many pictures I took from any angle in any light, I couldn’t really capture the curved stamens. I sure was covered with river mud from trying though! I wasn’t the only one who got muddy. The mud was so soft that even the raccoons were sinking into it. You have to be careful where you step because there are some spots on this river-mostly in still backwaters- that contain quicksand. I don’t know if there are any areas of quicksand near this backwater, but there sure was plenty of algae. It’s clear that the river hasn’t stirred here for a while. Dwarf St. John’s Wort (Hypericum mutilum) is another tiny flowered native plant that likes to grow at the water’s edge in sandy soil. Dwarf St. John’s Wort’s foliage usually looks untouched by insects or animals because it is slightly toxic. Each flower has 5 petals and 5 light green sepals and is maybe half the size of a pencil eraser. Be careful when identifying those bedstraws! Most have 4 petals but two of them, three petaled bedstraw (Galium trifidum) and stiff marsh bedstraw (Galium tinctorium) pictured here, have three petals. The flowers are very small-even smaller than those of the dwarf St. John’s wort described previously. Its whorled leaves usually appear in groups of 5 or 6. The odd fruits are pairs of tiny black spheres that each contains 1 tiny seed. This native stiff marsh bedstraw plant grew in moist sand very close to the water’s edge. Another common name for the plant is Clayton’s bedstraw.You don’t have to get much closer than this to our native nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) to know what it is. This is also called curly top smartweed-obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. Each flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. These plants are big-the picture shows just a small part of a colony that must have been 7-8 feet across and 3-4 feet tall and there were several colonies just like it dotting the river bank a foot or two from the water. There are other smartweeds that droop but their flower spikes aren’t as densely packed as these. Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum ) thickets grow along the top of the river bank and the weight of the berry clusters pulls the long branches down to hang out over the water. These bushes are big-most are 10 feet across-and are loaded with fruit. This plant has blue berries that start out white and because of that it might be confused with red osier dogwood, which has white berries that sometimes have a bluish blush. The easiest way to identify them is to remember that silky dogwood is named for the soft, downy hairs that cover the branches and red osier dogwoods have red branches. In fact, red osier dogwood is also called red twigged dogwood. Native Americans used dogwood branches to make fish traps and twisted the bark into rope. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum ) weren’t growing at the water’s edge but grew close enough so the spot will be under water in the spring. There was quite a large colony of 15-20 plants growing here. It’s interesting that Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide says that this is a “plant of dry soil, often found along railroad tracks.” I’ve never seen them along railroad tracks but they seem real happy here in this damp river sand. No matter where they grow I’m always happy to see them-I love the blue color and the crazily bent stamens. Fellow New Hampshire blogger jomegat took the best picture of this flower that I’ve seen. It can be seen by clicking hereNative panicled tick trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) also grows midway up the river bank. As wildflowers go, this one is quite easy to identify with its pinkish, pea like blossoms, hairy stems, flattish flower buds and flat, segmented seed pods. I chose this picture more for the flower buds than the flowers because tick trefoil buds don’t look quite like any other wildflower that I can think of, and the flattish buds are a help with identification. One day I walked through a colony of these plants without realizing it and got absolutely covered with its sticky seed pods. No amount of brushing will get them off-they have to be picked off, one by one.  Panicled tick trefoil starts blooming quite late in summer when other tick trefoils have just about finished. Another trefoil, bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) grows on the side of the river that gets the most sun. Lupines and chicory also grow here-it seems to be quite a fertile patch of ground, for legumes especially. This plant was imported from Europe for use as a forage plant, but it has escaped cultivation and is now found just about everywhere. Its common name came about because someone thought its seedpods looked like a bird’s foot.Partridge pea (Chamaechrista fasciculate) grows further up the river bank, above the normal water line where it is drier. The nickel size golden yellow flowers come right off the stem in the leaf axils. Every time I see one of these flowers it seems like it’s only three quarters of the way open-apparently that is just one of its habits. The many small leaflets that make up each leaf are a good way to identify this plant. Partridge pea is an annual and grows new from seeds each year. They are native plants that stand about a foot tall. Downy willow herb (Epilobium strictum) has at least 3 cousins that look much like it, so it can be hard to identify. I think downy willow herb is the only one that doesn’t have a stigma (sticky tip of the center pistil) that is 4 lobed. The hairy stems and knob shaped pistil also help identify this one. This plant is a native and can be found on river banks and other moist areas. It is related to fireweed and has lavender petals and anther filaments that are slightly darker than the petals. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) grows away from the water, but still on the river bank. This is one of my favorite wildflowers and I’m glad that it grows here where it is so easy to get to. I love it mostly because of its sky blue color. One thing I didn’t know about this plant is that the large, half dollar sized flowers shrink up to a small, dried out looking bud in the evening. In fact, the first time I looked at these recently I thought they were done blooming for this year, but then the following morning they were covered with flowers. This plant hails from Europe. It’s easy to see why it was brought to the U.S. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) goldenrod, evening primrose, pilewort and wild lettuce grow at the tree line, just before the bottomland becomes forest. This land farthest from the river might get to taste of its water once in a century, when the river floods badly. It is home to plants that can take the driest soil and it supports some of the largest, showiest wildflowers.  New England asters have large flowers that are bigger than a quarter and are densely packed with purple ray florets surrounding the central yellow disc. At this time of year they are everywhere you look. I like asters but I don’t like that they signal the end of summer.Common dodder (Cuscuta gronovii ) is a parasitic vine that starts life growing from a seed but then, once it attaches itself to a host plant loses all contact with the soil and gets everything it needs from its host. I found quite a large tangle of dodder growing on a stand of goldenrod at the forest edge and the dodder had killed nearly every goldenrod plant. Since it has no leaves and couldn’t photosynthesize, the dodder literally sucked the life out of them. When its host plant dies the dodder simply twines its way around another host. It is considered a noxious weed, and you don’t want this one in your garden. The vine pictured is growing on oriental bittersweet, which is also a noxious weed. The easiest way to identify the plant is by the bright orange-yellow, twining stems and the tiny white flowers.

I choose to listen to the river for a while, thinking river thoughts, before joining the night and the stars ~ Edward Abbey

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