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Posts Tagged ‘Early Summer Wildflowers’

Last Sunday, the first full day of summer, was another hazy, hot and humid day. By the time I had finished this walk on a rail trail in Swanzey my car thermometer said 98 degrees F. That, coupled with no beneficial rain for several weeks, means that many plants are blooming quickly, with their flowers lasting only a day or two in some cases. I thought I’d see what was blooming in the shady areas along the trail.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is one of the plants that is having a hard time. I saw many of them wilted enough so their flowers and leaves were drooping badly. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem and that’s where its name comes from. 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. 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 normally grows in dry soil at the edge of forests but as I’ve seen, that soil can be too dry.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) came and went so fast this year I barely had time to see them. All I see now are its tiny seed pods, like the one seen here.

I was surprised to see that there was still a trickle of water running through this old box culvert. Many small streams and ponds have dried up.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is blossoming. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge and I usually find it on the shores of ponds or in wet ditches. The flowers of porcupine sedge are so small they are almost microscopic, but you can see them here. They are the whitish wisps that appear at the ends of the spiky protrusions, which are called perigynia. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds. These were found in the now dry drainage channels along the trail.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have now released their spores and all that remains of that process are the bright red fertile fronds that give the fern its name. Someone once thought it looked like a cinnamon stick.

The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which are tiny spheres where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head and you can see their open halves here. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) looked like it had just finished blooming. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf. I saw many yellow leaves on this day but that isn’t normal for June.

This grass couldn’t have held another flower. I’m not sure what its name is.

I found these hawkweed flowers (Hieracium caespitosum) blooming in the shade, which is odd for a sun lover. Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head is actually a single, complete flower. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Oak apple galls are caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. In May, the female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage.

This apple gall still had a small leaf attached.

A man walking his dog walked by and saw me kneeling at the edge of the trail to get a photo of a flower. “Be careful” he said, “there’s poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) all along here.” He was right and I thanked him for the warning but I know poison ivy well enough not to kneel in it. Usually when I kneel on it it’s early spring before the leaves come out and then I get a rash on my knees from the naked stems, because all parts of the plant are poisonous. Even inhaling the smoke from a fire where it is being burned can cause severe throat issues.

Sweet ferns (Comptonia peregrine) grew here and there and I saw this one was producing nuts. The part that looks like a burr at the top of the plant is actually a cluster of bracts.

Inside these bracts are 4-6 small brown nuts (seeds) that are about 1/4 inch long and oval in shape. They can be just seen here. These seeds form in place of the female flower, which is red, small, and easily missed. Sweet fern foliage is very fragrant but it isn’t a fern; it’s actually in the bayberry family. Native Americans used the fragrant foliage as incense, putting bundles of them on smudge fires. They also made a tea from the leaves and some people still make tea from them today. I’ve heard that a handful of leaves put in a Mason jar full of cool water and left in the sun will make very good tea. “Sun tea,” it’s called.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail, but it’s a long climb down to it. As I walked along I could see large sandbars in the river, and they told the story of how low the water really was.

Before you know it you’re at the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle, which has been refitted for snowmobile travel. We’re lucky enough to find these old trestles still crossing the river on many of our rail trails. It would be costly to replace them but they’re well-built and should last for many years to come.

The great thing about having the rail trails and the trestles is that you can easily get to parts of the river that you would normally never see. I hate to think of how long I’d spend and how much bushwhacking I’d have to do to get to this part of the river without the trail, because the surrounding countryside is about as close to wilderness that you can get.

The water was very low in the river. Only once before have I seen it low enough to expose the fallen trees along the bank like it was this day. It’s hard to get any sense of scale from this photo but some of those trees are mature white pines, which routinely grow to 100 feet or more.

There are lots of silver maples (Acer saccharinum) along the river and some are so close to the trestle you can reach out and touch them, so I plucked a leaf so I could show you the silvery underside, which is what gives the tree its name. A story I’ve heard my whole life is how, when the wind blows and you see the silvery undersides of maple leaves, it means it’s going to rain.

But the clouds obviously haven’t heard the old story of the maple leaves because they haven’t hardly let go a drop of rain in weeks. They say that today and tomorrow we might finally see some rain and everyone seems willing to even give up their weekend outdoors to get it. I know I’ll be happy to see it.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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As I said in my last post we’re out of the woods and into the fields! The sun loving meadow flowers are blooming in such abundance that it’s hard to record them all, but here are a few more that I’ve seen recently.The thistles have started blooming and the bees seem happy about that. This is a bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) which is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered a noxious weed. This is one plant that you don’t want to fall on because it is prickly from the tip of its head all the way to its toes. Even the leaf tips are armed with sharp spines. This plant has clearly evolved plenty of protection so it isn’t eaten.  Thistles are troublesome in pastures and hay fields but for all its armor this one is relatively easy to control just by digging deep enough to break the root off 2 or 3 inches below the soil line. While wearing good thick gloves, of course. I’ve always liked purple and yellow together so here’s a buttercup to go with the thistle. This one is the common meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris,) also called tall buttercup. This is another introduced species from Europe and Asia, but it is thought that it might be native to Alaska. This is another plant that farmers don’t like to see in pastures because livestock avoid it due to its foul tasting sap. The “acris” part of the plant’s scientific name means bitter. This plant is toxic if eaten and crushed leaves can blister skin. In fact, one of its common names is blister plant.I found quite a few ground cherry plants growing on a sunny embankment next to a road recently. I think this one is a clammy ground cherry (Physalis heterophylla.) I haven’t seen the edible berries yet, but if this is the clammy ground cherry they will be yellow. Smooth ground cherry (Physalis subglabrata) fruits are orange, red, or purple and that plant doesn’t have hairs on its stem, leaves, and flowers like this one does. The fruit of ground cherries is enclosed in a papery husk that looks like a Chinese lantern. This native plant is in the nightshade family along with its relatives; tomatoes and potatoes. I don’t see as many wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) as I’d like to and I’m not sure why they aren’t more numerous here. This is also called spotted or wood geranium, though I usually find it at the edge of the woods. Some call it cranesbill as well, but other plants also have that name. The fine light colored lines on the petals are nectar guides that guide pollinators to the flower’s center. After about a month of flowering the plants produce seed and go dormant. The butter yellow blooms of Sulphur Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) can be seen along the roadsides now. These flowers are sometimes white with a yellow center and can also be a deeper, buttercup yellow, but the easiest ones to spot have the buttery color shown in the photo. Quite often the petals will have a bit of deeper yellow at the base. The 5 petals are notched and heart shaped. This is another plant that was introduced from Europe and Asia and can now be found in nearly every state in the country. It is considered a noxious weed in many areas. Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia ) is a low growing, vining plant. It is also called wandering Jenny, creeping Jenny, running Jenny, wandering sailor, wandering tailor, creeping Charlie, creeping Joan, herb two pence, and two penny grass . This plant was imported from Europe for use as a groundcover in gardens but has escaped and is now often found in wet areas. The common name moneywort comes from the round leaves resembling coins. Moneywort is quite noticeable because its yellow flowers are quite large for such a ground hugging plant. One story about moneywort says that when snakes get bruised or wounded they turn to moneywort for healing. This gave the plant yet another common name: Serpentaria.Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) isn’t rare or uncommon but neither is it well known because it often grows in among tall grasses, which makes it hard to spot. Books say that this plant will reach 3 feet in height but I’ve never seen it over 18 inches tall. The flowers are unusual but pretty, with a splash of red in the center of 5 yellow petals. They hang from long, weak pedicels (stems) and rest on the leaves or sometimes under them. The quadrifolia part of the scientific name means 4 leaves but the plant is known to sometimes have more than 4 in each whorl.  Whorled loosestrife is a native. The star shaped, 4 petaled flowers of smooth bedstraw (Galium mollugo) are tiny, but there are so many of them that the plant is easy to find. This one was growing in a vacant lot, which seems to be one of their favorite places. I’ve also found them mixed in with tall grass at forest edges and on hillsides. This plant is also called false baby’s breath, and that is the plant it reminds me of when it is blooming. When it isn’t in flower the small whorled leaves remind me of sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum,) which is a sweet scented, much shorter relative of smooth bedstraw. Another name for this plant is wild madder. Smooth bedstraw was introduced from Europe. It wouldn’t feel like summer to me without Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) blooming in the fields. This plant is also called bird’s nest because of the way the flowers curl up into a concave “nest” when they start to go to seed. Queen Anne’s lace is also called wild carrot but I would never eat the root or any other part of any plant that looked like this one because the deadly Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum ) looks a lot like it. I know their differences and can tell the two apart but I’d rather not risk being wrong that one day when I’m half asleep and not paying attention, because when you lose that game, you really lose. Queen Anne’s lace is originally from Europe. The strange fuzzy, joined flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens ) are lighting up the darker parts of the forest right now. I’ve never seen them bloom like they are this year, so they must like mild winters.  This native vine makes one bright red berry from two flowers that are joined at their bases. Each berry will have two indentations in its skin to show where the flowers were. Birds eat the berries through the winter and this winter they will have a bountiful harvest. Partridgeberry is a native plant. Wild Maiden pinks (Dianthus deltiodes) can be seen in meadows everywhere right now. Dianthus are in the carnation family and this plant is also called wild carnation. The name “pinks” comes from the petals looking like they have been edged with pinking shears. These plants are native to Europe and Asia and are tougher than they look-not only can these plants stand being mowed but doing so makes them bushier. A very similar plant is the Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) but its flowers have much narrower petals. Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) is still blooming.  There are several species of this plant that grow from coast to coast and they are all beautiful. This is an old time favorite of mine because it was one of the first plants I learned to identify. Blue eyed grass isn’t really a grass at all but is a plant in the Iris family. The flower has 3 petals and 3 sepals, all of which are the same color. The small flowers close in late afternoon so this one needs to be found early in the day.

Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life ~ Author unknown

Next time I might have some more garden flowers to show you. Thanks for stopping in.

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