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Posts Tagged ‘Early Azalea’

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

You can see where the name “gaywings” comes from in this photo. They look as if they’re ready to take off. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the little wings. The little fringe at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringe the third sepal drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. I usually find this one in shady, mossy places and I think it prefers moist ground. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual flower that I always look for in May.

I’ve never seen violets like we have this year!

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, like the last two years, both nodding and painted trilliums are blooming at the same time. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

The flowers of rhodora usually appear just when the irises start to bloom but for the past couple of years they’ve been a little early. I often have to search for them on the banks of ponds because they aren’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

The rhodora flower looks like an azalea blossom but it’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

Another native azalea that can be hard to find in this area is called the early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora often blooms earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet. Finding a seven foot tall one of these blooming in the woods is something you don’t forget right away, and I think I remember the exact location of every one I’ve ever found. Unfortunately there aren’t many.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers, which you can see here. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

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

This blossom didn’t live up to the 7 theory with 8 petals. It also has 8 anthers. I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at though, because many I’ve seen have more or fewer and 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms but its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. They’re a good indicator of where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mowed lawns with islands of unmowed, blossoming fleabanes. I’ve seen several already.

The club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) have appeared a little late this year and they seem smaller than usual. This plant is very easy to confuse with red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but that plant’s flower head is spherical rather than elongated. The flower head of white baneberry is always taller than it is wide and if pollinated the flowers will become white berries with a single black dot on one end. That’s where the common name doll’s eyes comes from. The berries are very toxic and can be appealing to children but luckily they are very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

I find purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) growing in a local park. It’s a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf.

The red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) From what I’ve read I think this one, which blooms in a local park, is an example of that same tree. I’ve also read that bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. I had to zoom in on the blossoms quite far up in the tree while the wind blew them around so I’m kind of amazed that I even have this photo to show you. It’s a beautiful flower and well worth the effort.

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel which grows to about 6-7 feet in this area. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They do very well in gardens but aren’t well known. I’m seeing more of them now than in the past though.

A flower that comes with plenty of memories for me is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) My grandmother’s name was Lily and I used to bring her wilting bouquets of them when I was a young boy. She would always smell them before putting them in a jelly jar full of water, all the while exclaiming how beautiful they were. The plant is extremely toxic but, though she didn’t tell me it was poisonous I never once thought of eating it or putting any part of the plant in my mouth. I do remember smelling their wondrous fragrance as I picked them though, and all those memories came back whenever I smell them. Amazing how memories can be so strongly attached to a fragrance.

It’s lilac time here in New Hampshire and you can find them blooming in almost every yard. Though I like white lilacs I think the favorite by far is the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s also the New Hampshire state flower, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower. As a boy I used to like sucking the sweet nectar out of lilac flowers.

The spicy fragrance of poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) reminds me of the paper white narcissus, which has a fragrance strong enough to make some people sick, but I love it. Poet’s daffodil is a plant that comes with a lot of baggage; it is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on, and it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and I find it in unmown fields after most other daffodils have finished blooming.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) blooms among the tall grasses. This plant is originally from Europe and is also called common or grass leaved stitchwort. It likes disturbed soil and does well on roadsides, old fields, and meadows. The Stellaria part of its scientific name means star like, and the common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

Here’s a sneak peak at the next flower post. One of our most beautiful native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) just started to show color on their flowers as I was finishing this post. The moccasin shaped flowers start life colored a yellowish off white and then turn pink. I’m seeing lots of them this year and you’ll see more in the next flower post.

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

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

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

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them. Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers, which you can just see on the bud over on the right. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When we move out of the forest to their edges we find sun loving plants like hawthorn, which was in full bloom on this day. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms aren’t much in the way of fragrance because of a compound called trimethylamine, which gives the plant a slightly fishy odor, but they’re big on beauty with their plum colored anthers. They are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today.  There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms but its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. They’re a good indicator of where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes.

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

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This is the time of year when some of our most beautiful flowers appear. Lupines are blooming about a week early this year, so they’re in a May post rather than a June one as usual. I’m not sure if this example a native plant or a garden escapee but I was happy to see it blooming along a roadside. It’s such a beautiful shade of blue.

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) flowers have big plum colored anthers and that helps tell them apart from some of our other white flowered trees and shrubs. It is more shrub than tree and is considered an important forage plant. Bear, birds, rabbits, mice, chipmunks, deer, elk, moose, bear, and bighorn sheep eat various parts of the plant and ants, butterflies, honeybees, flies, and hummingbirds drink its nectar. Native Americans used all parts of the plant medicinally. The fruit was used for canker sores and sore throats and the roots were dried, chewed, and placed in wounds to stop bleeding. The stems were boiled to make tea to treat fevers. The small drupes have an edible outer fleshy layer but the single seed contains high levels of hydrogen cyanide and children have died from eating handfuls of them without removing the seed.

The rhododendrons have started blooming and this pink one was the first one I saw one recent rainy day.

After a poor showing last year the sweet little bunchberries (Cornus canadensis) seem to be doing well this year, and that tells me that they must like a lot of rain. This colony grows right up into the V made by the two trunks of this oak tree near my house and it seems to be doing well. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be so others can enjoy it.

 Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The large (relatively) white bracts surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give the plant its common name.  Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

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

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive but it does form monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. It grows in the shade of the forest and, as the above photo shows, it does very well there. Its tiny white four petaled flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals, and of course they help its spread.

Though it is banned from being sold or planted here in New Hampshire invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is here to stay. Each tiny greenish flower will became a bright orange red berry that birds love, and they’ve helped spread this invasive shrub far and wide. Burning bush is also called winged euonymus.

Burning bush flowers are what a botanist would describe as insignificant, but the shrub has had a significant impact of the landscape, often growing in large colonies that choke out native plants.

There is a tree in a local park that I’ve wondered about for years. Each spring it is covered with beautiful red and yellow blossoms and I knew it was a horse chestnut but didn’t know anything else about it. Then recently I read on Mr. Tootlepedal’s blog of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) which is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) From what I’ve read I think this one is an example of that same tree. I also read that bees and hummingbirds love the flowers.

I find goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis) growing in a meadow in full sun. Luckily I was there in the morning because goat’s beard flowers close up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify. It is native to Europe but doesn’t seem to be at all invasive here. In fact I usually have trouble finding it.

At a glance it might be easy to confuse the large oval leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) with those of lady’s slippers, but they don’t have the deep pleats that lady’s slipper leaves have, and of course once the flowers appear there is no doubt. The two plants often grow side by side and bloom at the same time. It can take more than 12 years for blue bead lily plants to produce flowers from seed.

It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. Ants like them and they were crawling all over these plants. I like seeing both the pale yellow flowers and the blue berries that follow them. Their color has been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

Pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) have just come into bloom but I’m seeing far fewer of them than I did last year. I have a feeling that the drought last year must have affected them. But at least they’re here; there was a time when these plants were collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If the plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be.

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

Our native azaleas have also just started to bloom. I haven’t held out much hope for the plant pictured because a tree fell on it two summers ago. It seemed to be hanging on by a thread last year but this year its strong will to live has it blooming beautifully again. It grows in a shaded part of the forest and is called early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination. I don’t know about that but it always makes me smile.

Beautiful little fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers often grow in pairs like those shown in the photo. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings” that give them the name gay wings. The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen.

You can just see in this photo how any weight on the brushy part of the fringed polygala flower would cause it to drop down and create an opening that a bee could crawl into. That pollination happens at all in a fringed polygala seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are more unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

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1. Toadflax

We’ve had August heat in May and that has coaxed many of our wildflowers into bloom, and some earlier than usual. Our humble little native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) has just come into bloom. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers.

2. Blue Flag

Our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) have appeared, so it must be June. Actually, they were early this year and bloomed the last week of May. The name flag is from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the cattail like leaves. Though Native Americans used this plant 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. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic.

3. Iris

Here’s an that iris has been in my family longer than I have. Before I was born my mother planted a few in the yard so I’ve known it quite literally my entire life, and now it grows in my own yard. Its name is Loreley, and it’s an old fashioned variety introduced in 1909. It’s one of the toughest irises I know of; truly a “plant it and forget it” perennial. It was bred in Germany, and the name Loreley (Lorelei) refers to the sirens who would perch on cliffs along the Rhine and entice sailors to their doom with their enchanting song, much like the sirens who lured Ulysses and his crew in the Odyssey.

4. Iris petal

Is it any wonder that Loreley is still grown 107 years after her introduction?

5. Bunchberry

Bunchberry plants (Cornus canadensis) grow right up into the V made by the two trunks of this oak tree near my house but the heat made them bloom early this year and I missed seeing all but two or three. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

6. Bunchberry

Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The large (relatively) white bracts surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries which give it its common name.  Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

7. Dogwood

Here’s a dogwood blossom to compare to the bunchberry we saw previously. It has the same 4 larger white bracts with small greenish flowers in the center. Though you can’t see them in this photo even the leaves show the same veining.

8. Azalea

Our native azaleas continue to bloom. The beautiful example in this photo grows in a shaded part of the forest and is called early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I usually find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet.

9. Azalea

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. Another common name, wooly azalea, comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

10. Lupines

Last year the highway department replaced a bridge over the Ashuelot River and widened the road leading to and from it. They put what I thought was grass seed down on the roadsides once the bridge was finished, but this year there are cornflower blue lupines (Lupinus) growing all along the sides of the road. Were there lupine seeds mixed into the grass seed or have the lupines been there all along? These are questions I can’t answer but it doesn’t matter; I’m happy to see them no matter how they got there.

11. Ox Eye Daisy

To me the ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) says that June has come but this year the warmth of May has brought them on a little early. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. I like its spiraled center.

12. Sarsaparilla

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen.

13. Sarsaparilla

Each sarsaparilla flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard. Every now and then you’ll find a plant with flowers but no leaves over them. I don’t know if these leafless plants are a natural hybrid or how the plant benefits from having fewer leaves. Fewer leaves mean less photosynthesizing and that means less food for the plant.

14. Red Clover

Seeing the light of creation shining from a red clover blossom (Trifolium pretense) is something you don’t ever forget, and I look forward to seeing them every spring. But light isn’t all that flowers radiate; scientists have found that they also generate weak electrical fields which insects like bumblebees can sense through the hairs on their bodies. The electric field bends their tiny hairs and that generates nerve signals which the bees use to tell the difference between flowers.

15. Blue Bead Lily

It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. I like seeing both the flowers and the blue berries that follow them. It’s been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

16. Blue Bead Lily

At a glance it might be easy to confuse the large oval leaves of blue bead lilies with those of lady’s slippers, but they don’t have the pleats that lady’s slippers have, and of course once the flowers appear there is no doubt. The two plants often grow side by side and bloom at the same time. It can take more than 12 years for blue bead lily plants to produce flowers from seed.

17. Lady's Slippers

Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have come into bloom quickly and I think I’m seeing more of them than I ever have. I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be.

18. Lady's Slipper

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

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. Rail Trail

I’ve decided that what I like most about rail trails is the same thing I liked about them when the trains were running. Back when I was a boy everything was a mystery and new discoveries waited around every bend. I find that little has changed in that regard on these old paths through the forest. I’ve been walking and biking the rail trails in the area over the past few weeks and this year I decided to look for a little history as well as interesting plants. I found plenty of both.

2. Box Culvert

If you’re on a rail trail and see a stream flowing under it, there’s a good chance that it is flowing through a culvert-possibly a very old culvert. The one in the photo is a box culvert, made up of two side walls, top or lintel stones, and a stone floor. In the mid-1800s railroad stone masons cut these stones from ledges or boulders found in the woods near the rail line. There were certain rules that they had to follow. One regarded the thickness of the lintel stones and by how many inches they had to overlap the side walls, and even how much soil would be packed on top of them. These lintel stones were at least a foot thick and supported the weight of locomotives twice a day for over a century.

3. Trestle

Though I grew up hearing everyone call this type of span a trestle, according to Wikipedia this is a Warren-type through-truss bridge. This type of bridge was made of wood, wrought iron, cast iron, or steel. We have several that cross and re-cross the Ashuelot River but trees and shrubs along the river banks are making them harder to see each year. Last year I could see the river from this spot, but not now.

4. Signal Box

This appears to be an old switch box of the kind that would alert the engineer that the through track had been switched to a side spur. Whatever it was, it was powered by electricity. The rectangular base was bolted to a concrete pad and the warning indicators would have been at the top of the pole, but that part had been broken off.

 5. Forget Me Not Colony

One of the largest stands of forget me nots (Myosotis scorpioides) I’ve ever seen is beside a rail trail. You never know what plants you might find along these trails, and I’ve seen some amazing things.

6. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots are such pretty little things and here they grow happily, way out in the middle of nowhere.

7. Box Culvert

This is another, bigger box culvert. According to a website I found called Historic Stone Highway Culverts in New Hampshire the difference between a bridge and a culvert is the length of the span. (Width of the opening) Anything less than 10 feet is a culvert, and more than that is a bridge. Most culverts are covered by earth fill but the one in the photo surprisingly had very little fill over it. The amount of fill over a culvert plays a huge role in how much weight it can carry.

8. New Culvert

This is an example of a new culvert, recently installed. Will it last for centuries like the box culverts have?

9. Rattlesnake Weed

Rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum), one of the rarest plants that I’ve ever found, grows beside a rail trail. I was very happy to see that it is going to bloom this year. Its flowers look like those of yellow hawkweed and, though they aren’t very spectacular, flowers mean seeds and seeds mean more plants.

 10. Arch Street

Sometimes these old rail trails still cross over roads.

11. Tunnel

Way up at the top of that embankment through a break in the trees is where I was when I took the previous photo. Many of these old granite tunnels have been taken down, but this one still stands. My question is, how did the railroad build it? Did they dig a hole through the hillside and then line it with granite block, or did they build the tunnel and then fill in with soil over the top of it? I’m guessing the latter, but can anyone imagine the amount of soil they had to move? It’s staggering to think of it.

The plants growing in the gaps in the face stones are pushing them away from the arch stones (voussoirs) and they really should be removed.

 12. Early Azalea

In my last post I wrote about finding a native early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) out in the woods, and just as I was taking photos for this post I found another growing beside a rail trail.

13. Early Azalea 2

The fragrance of this azalea is really magnificent and it was my nose as much as my eyes that led me to it.

 14. Arched Culvert

What most impresses me about the railroad is how, even out in the woods, the stone masons displayed their extraordinary craftsmanship. They knew when they built this arched culvert that few if any people would ever see it, but they created a thing of beauty anyway. Each one of those stones was split, faced and fitted by hand, using little more than hammers and chisels. That they have stood and stood well since the mid-1800s is a testament to their mastery of the art of stone masonry. Having built with stone myself I am left in awe of their skill and knowledge. Stone arch culverts are rare in comparison to the box culvert, representing only ten percent of the total culverts in New Hampshire.

In part two of this post we’ll see abandoned mills, old railroad depots, rock slime, rusting boxcars and of course, more flowers.

Sometimes you don’t choose the path, it chooses you. ~Anonymous

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1. Lilac Bush

Most states have a native as their state flower but in New Hampshire non-native purple lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are the chosen state flower. They were first imported from England to the garden of then Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919, because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) was finally chosen as the state’s wild flower in 1991.

2. Lilac Blossom

Honeysuckles and autumn olives blossom at the same time as lilacs here in this part of New Hampshire, so the air is filled with their mingled fragrances right now. I remembered how as a child I would pick single lilac blossoms and suck the sweet nectar from them, so I tried to get a photo of a single flower.

3. Blue Bead Lily Colony

If you saw the leaves before the flowers appeared you might think that you had found lady’s slippers, but a closer look shows that the leaves of blue bead lily (Clintonia borealis) are really very different. I stumbled onto this large colony of plants last year by accident when I was out scouting for new plants. It’s a very healthy, thriving colony and, since it takes more than 12 years for new plants to produce flowers, is one that has been in this spot for a while.

4. Blue Bead Lily

A close look at the flower shows why blue bead lily is in the lily family. Each one looks like a miniature garden lily. The flowers give way to a single, electric blue berry, which is toxic. One Native American legend says that, when a grass snake eats a poisonous toad, it slithers in rapid circles around a shoot of blue-bead lily to transfer the poison to the plant. Blue bead lily seeds take 2 years or more to germinate, so growing this plant from seed would be a very slow process.

5. Four Flowered Star Flower

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) bloom among the blue bead lilies and that’s where I saw my first four flowered one of this season. Now I’ll try to find one with five, if there is such a thing. Since books say that a plant will have no more than two blossoms I have nothing but faith to go on.

6. Pink Lady's Slippers

Our native state wildflower pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have just turned pink from their off whitish / yellowish stage. I’m lucky enough to have a few plants growing in my woods so I don’t have to go too far to study or admire these beautiful orchids. Note that the leaves look very different than the smooth blue bead lily leaves seen earlier.

7. Perennial Bachelor's Button

I don’t think I could imagine more beautiful colors and shapes in a flower than those found on the perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a local park.

8. Blue Eyed Grass

Native blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) with its small blue flowers is an old favorite of mine. Although it is a perennial each plant doesn’t live much more than a couple of years, but if it likes the spot it’s in it will re-seed itself year after year. In spite of its common name it is in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all. Its flowers close at night and at even the hint of a cloudy day, so getting a photo of an open one was a challenge this year.

9. Robin's Plantain aka Erigeron pulchellus

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms and its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. They’re a good indicator of where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes.

10. Dogwood Blossom

Dogwood bracts have gone from green to white, but the tiny florets at their center haven’t opened yet.

12. White Baneberry Plants

Last fall I found quite a large stand of white baneberry in a forest near a local park and luckily I remembered to revisit it this year when the plants were blooming. The small white flowers form racemes, which in this case seem to be too heavy for the 2-3 foot stems to hold upright.

11. White Baneberry Blossoms

Each white baneberry flower will become a white berry with a black stigma scar on one end. In size, color, and shape these berries look like porcelain doll’s eyes, and that’s how this plant got its common name of doll’s eyes. The entire plant is very toxic but the berries are the most toxic part. Eating them can cause cardiac arrest and death, but fortunately their extremely bitter taste keeps all but birds from eating them.

 13. Kerria Blossom

Kerria japonica is blooming in my yard. This six foot shrub is called Japanese rose because it is in the rose family. In its natural form the plant has single, fragrant, 5 petal flowers like that in the photo. There is also a cultivar called Pleniflora with double flowers and one called Albaflora, which is pale yellow. This is a good shrub for people who want a low maintenance garden because it needs very little care. It thrives in shade and if it gets a little scraggly it can be cut right back to the ground, and it has no real insect or disease problems. You can’t ask for more than that from any shrub.

14. Native Azalea

Coming upon an eight foot tall azalea covered with blossoms is enough to take one’s breath away, so beautiful and rare is the sight. I found this native shrub in the forest last year but I was too late to see all but one wilting blossom. I made a point of visiting it early this year so I could watch it and, after visiting it probably a half dozen times, I finally saw its first blossom open just as its leaves began to appear. Now it has too many to count and is just too beautiful for words.

 15. Native Azalea Blossoms

All the signs plus the intense fragrance lead me to believe that this is the roseshell or early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum), but azaleas can be hard to identify.  Whichever one it is, its most outstanding feature is its pleasant fragrance. Books describe it as “clove like” but it seems a little sweeter than that to me. It’s hard to describe a fragrance but it’s not hard to imagine that this must be what heaven smells like.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man. ~Luther Burbank

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