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Posts Tagged ‘Feverfew’

It wouldn’t be summer without black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and here they are, right on schedule. I’ve noticed over the past few years though, that they have seemed to bloom earlier each year and what was once July has now become June. Since I’ve always thought of them as a fall flower, their early arrival always comes with mixed feelings. Cheery yes, but let’s not rush into fall, has been my main gripe. At least this year they waited a bit.

This plant was always believed to have been given its common name by English colonists, but that caused a real conundrum among botanists who all agreed that it was a prairie native. Though everyone still agrees that it is a prairie native, recent research has shown that it was growing in Maryland in the 1600s. In other words it was most likely growing in all parts of the country then, just as it does today.

One day probably 40 years ago a kind man who was the director of the MacDowell artist’s colony in Peterborough at the time told me if I could name the plants that made up his hedge, he’d hire me as his gardener. I got the job, and I think of him and that day we stood on his lawn every time I see a purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus.) It is in the rose family and at a glance you might think you were seeing a rose, until you saw the big maple shaped, light gathering leaves that allow it to grow in shade. The 2 inch diameter flowers always look like they need ironing, so that’s another hint that what you’re seeing isn’t a rose

Our native dogwoods are starting to bloom and I think this one is a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa). Gray dogwoods are large shrubs that can get 12-15 feet tall and at least as wide. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Shrub dogwoods can be difficult to identify at times but gray dogwood flowers clusters tend to mound up in the center enough to appear triangular, and other dogwoods have flower clusters that are much flatter. Both gray and red osier dogwoods (Cornus sericea) have white berries. Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) has berries that start white, have a period of blue and white, and then finally ripen to blue.

One of my favorite “weeds” is crown vetch (Securigera varia). It is in the pea family and was imported from Europe and Asia for soil erosion control. The long, wiry vines can be found along roadsides and in fields, and I’ve even found it in forest clearings. This plant is toxic and has killed horses, so you might want to watch along roadsides before you let your horse stop for a snack.

Crown vetch is very beautiful, in my opinion. Each flower head looks like a bouquet of orchids. All flowers make me glad I’ve found them but some go beyond that and absorb all that I am for a time, and this is one of those. It’s such a beautiful place to get lost in.

I found knapweed growing near the crown vetch, which seems right considering it was also imported to stop soil erosion on roadsides. That’s where it grew in great numbers, but the plants had just started blooming. I think this is brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) but I could be wrong. The plant is very invasive in some states but this particular colony of plants has been here for years and really hasn’t grown any larger.

Since they grew in a small weed patch in back of our house hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) have been with me my entire life, but not this one. The ones I grew up with were pure white, but now most of those I see are pink and white like this one. It doesn’t really matter what color it is though because these blooms are in my genes. They played a large part in my lifelong love of flowers. I’d watch them open, watch which insects visited them and how they twined around the other plants, and for a while it seemed that I knew them better than I knew myself. That’s why I often call a flower or plant an old friend; because they really are.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) on the other hand, is a plant that I can’t call an old friend because I never saw it until I became a gardener and started working over in Peterborough. Just 20 miles away they had it, but we here in Keene didn’t, or at least I never saw it. It seems to be one of those plants which, like pokeweed,  just kind of snuck in unnoticed but are now everywhere you go. I’m sure if they had been here when I was a boy I would have seen such a pretty flower. I got around, always in a ditch or pond or meadow somewhere, and I was always watching for new plants.

Tall thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) gets its common name from the way its seed head grows into a shape and size that resembles a thimble. It’s a pretty flower that isn’t real common here, but I do see it now and then. They are about and inch across and are easy to miss once the white sepals have fallen off. Eventually they’ll release white cottony seeds to the wind. I’ve read that Native Americans burned the seed heads to revive the unconscious, but I don’t know how true it is. Like all plants in the anemone family it is toxic and can burn the mouth and throat if eaten.

I saw more lupines blooming beautifully on a roadside, along with many other flowers.

A smooth rose (Rosa blanda) grew by a road that ran through a cemetery. It is a native rose with almost thornless stems. It’s very pretty and has a nice fragrance, and I would have liked it in my yard.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a plant I haven’t seen for probably 40 years or more but I found this one in a public garden recently. It’s a very pretty flower that reminds me of an ox-eye daisy but it is much smaller. According to Mount Sanai hospital “This member of the daisy family has been used for centuries to treat headaches, arthritis, and problems with labor and childbirth. Ancient Greek physicians used it to reduce inflammation and treat menstrual cramps. Although it was once used to treat fevers, as its name suggests, it was not very effective. It is now used to prevent migraine headaches, and several scientific studies suggest that it works well for that purpose.” I’m always fascinated by the uses plants have but I’m even more fascinated by how the use was discovered. How do you reach the point where you say well, this plant has a nasty odor and tastes bitter and might kill me, but I have the worst headache I’ve ever had so I’m going to make tea out of it? There are very many plants (and fungi) which could make that cup of tea the last one a person ever had. Did they draw straws? Short straw gets to drink?

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is another plant that can cure or kill. Or at least, the compounds in it can. I’ve had the plant in my gardens forever and it has never hurt a fly. It’s all in how you use them, and if you happen to have cardiac arrhythmia, the digoxin made from the plant could save your life. Digitalis  means finger-like and speaks of the shape of the flowers. I’ve read that herbalists used to, back in the 1700s, pick and dry the leaves and then rub them down into a fine green powder, which could then be used in an infusion to treat many ailments. But I wouldn’t play around with doing that, because it is a very toxic plant that has been known to kill. I just watch the colony that I have in the back yard grow each year and enjoy seeing them. Sometimes I even stick my finger in one, just to see if it fits.

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is our second native yellow loosestrife to bloom, coming right on the heels of swamp candles. At about a foot tall it isn’t much taller than swamp candles but it is bushier. This plant doesn’t have as much of a need for water as swamp candles but I’ve seen it near water occasionally. Its common name comes from the way its leaves are whorled about the stem, meaning each group of four leaves all radiate about the stem in the same plane. If you picture looking at the edge of a plate while holding it parallel to the floor, that is what you see with whorled leaves. Four small yellow flowers grow out of the four leaf axils. It’s a pretty plant, especially when massed as they often are.

The old orange “ditch lilies” (Hemerocallis fulva) have come into bloom. This daylily is so common I see it everywhere I go, including in roadside ditches, and that’s where the common name comes from. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. Today it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s for use as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes.

Just after I said that I never saw mock orange (Philadelphus) anymore I saw one on the roadside. This is a very old-fashioned shrub that gets its common name from its wonderful fragrance, which smells like citrus. No yard should be without one in my opinion, but it seems to have fallen out of favor. I have a huge old example that bloomed beautifully but I had to move it and all it has done since is sulked. Normally they are a care free, plant it and forget it kind of shrub that can give many years of pleasure without asking for anything in return.

I’ve wondered for years now whether this campion is a true rose campion or if it is a white campion (Silene latifolia) with a pink blush. I’m fairly certain it is a blushing white campion but I’ve never really known for sure. In either case it’s a pretty flower.

I saw a scabiosa blooming in a local garden, trying to entice insects. It’s a busy but beautiful thing.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is also called creeping thistle, but it is also called cursed thistle, mainly because of its deep and extensive creeping root system. The plant is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold and for that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states. It isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire but it is on the watch list. Wherever I’ve found them growing, they haven’t spread at all. I think the flowers are pretty, but I’m not the one trying to dig them out of my pasture.

I saw one of the smallest violas I’ve ever seen. It couldn’t have been any bigger than an aspirin, and it had just a blush of blue on it.

These are some roadside flowers that caught my eye. They are all lowly weeds and none is native but if you can put all that aside and just love them for what they are you’ll enjoy the outdoors a lot more.

Finally, because I won’t get another flower post in before the 4th of July, I thought I’d show you some of nature’s fireworks in the form of flowers. The male blossoms of tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” I hope everyone will have a safe and happy 4th.

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness. ~Michelangelo

Thanks for coming by.

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I thought it was time to visit some flower gardens again before they got too far ahead of me. There are some beautiful things happening in them.A few years ago a woman I worked for gave me a piece of this Japanese iris (Iris ensata.) I think it’s one of the most beautiful flowers in my yard and this year has 7 or 8 buds on it for the first time since I planted it. The only problem (if there is one) with Japanese iris is they like constantly moist soil, so I’ve planted other shorter perennials in front of it to keep the soil shaded so it doesn’t dry out so fast. In its native Japan it is a wetland plant much like our native blue flag iris, so it needs plenty of water. I had trouble deciding if this red bee balm (Monarda) should go into a garden flower post or a wildflower post, because it is a native plant that is seen more in gardens than in the wild. This one I planted years ago and it is one of the oldest plants in my gardens.  Bee Balm is also called horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot. Many Native American tribes used this plant medicinally and a tea made from it can still be found in many stores. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew.  I saw this garden lily at a local school and was surprised that it looked so untouched. We have an infestation of Asian lily beetles here and unless we spray they eat first the leaves and then the flowers. Some people have stopped growing lilies because of this plague. Lilies are among the most beautiful garden flowers and like full sun and sandy, well-drained soil. They will absolutely not survive in heavy soil that stays wet.I’d guess that most people grow hosta for the variegated leaves but I like the flowers too. Hostas are in the lily family and come from mountain slopes in Korea, China and Japan. The more water they have, the better they will grow. Their flowers are white or lavender. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium ) is a plant that has been used medicinally for centuries. The “parthenium” part of the scientific name comes from the ancient Greeks who, as legend has it, used the plant to heal someone who had fallen from the Parthenon. Feverfew is a plant that has appeared in herbals from the earliest texts up to the present. It has been used to relieve everything from migraine headaches to fevers. In fact, the name Feverfew comes from the Old English pronunciation of the Latin “febrifugia,” or fever-flee.  Feverfew flowers look like small ox-eye daisies and its leaves smell of citrus when crushed. Each flower is about the size of a nickel but might sometimes be as large as a quarter on robust plants. It is originally from Europe and Asia and spreads quickly. It would probably be called an invasive weed if it wasn’t loved by so many. Evening primrose (Oenothera ) is another native plant that can be found in both gardens and the wild. The 4 petals and X or cross shaped stigma are excellent identifiers for plants in this family. In the evening the flowers close so that by nightfall the plant looks like it is filled with flower buds that haven’t opened yet. The flowers take about a minute to re-open the next day. In the wild evening primroses can be found in waste areas, riverbanks and roadsides. Our native northern Catalpa (Catalpa) trees are large, growing up to 90 feet tall with a crown that can be 50 feet wide, so it isn’t usually seen in small yards.  In the south the southern catalpa is sometimes called “cigar tree” but as a boy in second grade I called it the string bean tree because of its long seed pods that look like string beans. Catalpas are fast growing, somewhat messy trees; in summer their falling orchid like blossoms make it look like it is snowing and later their curled seed pods and large, heart shaped leaves make fall cleanup a chore. The tree that the flower pictured was on stands near a local river.Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is another native plant that can be found in gardens or in the wild. They are useful in gardens because the strong stems don’t need staking to withstand rain and wind.  Ancient Greeks thought the center of the flower looked like a sea urchin, so they called it echino.  Echinacea was used medicinally for hundreds of years by Native Americans, who used it to treat coughs, sore throats, and many other ailments. It is still used medicinally today by some. I planted one about 15 years ago and now have them in flower beds throughout the yard.Pliny the Elder thought the hairy purple stamens on these flowers looked like the antennae found on moths, so he called them “blattaria,” which means moth-like. Forever more the plant would be known as Verbascum blattaria; what we now call moth mullein. This plant is originally from Europe and has become naturalized, but it isn’t what I would call invasive because it isn’t seen that often. I see it in gardens more than I do in the wild. The plant pictured was in a representation of an 18th century herb garden. The plant’s only resemblance to the common wooly mullein is the tall flower spike; both leaves and flowers look quite different. Each flower lasts only one day and can be white or yellow. I found this purple Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis ) growing in a local park. I like the feathery plumes of astilbe but I’ve never seen this color before. There is a purple cultivar called “Tanquetii,”but I’m not sure if it is the one pictured. Astilbes are good plants for shady areas that do well even with virtually no care. I might have to get this one to go with the red, white and pink ones that I already have. In previous posts I’ve shown common white yarrow ( Achillea millefolium) and yellow garden yarrow. Here is a pink-lavender garden yarrow. I haven’t seen any red or gold ones yet. Yarrow is one of the easiest plants there are to grow in hot, sunny places with soil on the poor side. Soil that is too rich will make the flower stems weak so they fall over rather than stand straight. This is the second earliest daylily (Hemerocallis) to bloom in my garden. The earliest is a yellow fragrant variety that blooms in very early spring. I’ve had the plant pictured for so long that its name has long since been forgotten, but red daylilies with yellow throats are common and easy to find. I have another with yellow flowers and a red throat that blooms right after this one. Daylilies are easy to grow and will grow virtually anywhere there is sunshine.

Almost any garden, if you see it at just the right moment, can be confused with paradise ~ Henry Mitchell

I hope you enjoyed seeing what is blooming on the cultivated side of things. Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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