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Posts Tagged ‘Field Milkwort’

This is the time of year when our roadsides begin to look like Monet paintings. Purple loosestrife and goldenrod dominated this one, but the pink of Joe Pye weed and the white of asters and boneset often help brighten scenes like these.

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a strong wind that blew them over to one side of the stem. The heavy flower heads also bend the stem so the plant almost always leans at an angle like those shown.

I’ve included this shot of a field full of many kinds of goldenrod for those who haven’t ever seen one. Sights like this were common when I was a boy but are getting harder to find now, mostly because of invasion by purple loosestrife. The Native American Chippewa tribe called goldenrod “sun medicine” and used it to treat fevers, ulcers, and boils. Many other tribes also used it medicinally.

After years of trial and error Thomas Edison found goldenrod to be the best domestic source of natural rubber and bred a plant that grew to twelve feet tall and contained about twelve percent rubber in its leaves. Henry Ford and George Washington Carver developed a process to make rubber from goldenrod on an industrial scale during World War II and the USDA took over the project until synthetic rubber was discovered a short time later.

I’ve been surprised to find over the past couple of years how some of the flowers that I love to see, like the tiny little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) above, have somehow found their way into my yard. Since I haven’t done anything to encourage it how they get here is a mystery, but the list gets longer each summer. It’s such a pleasure to be able to see them each day without having to go and look for them, and I hope the trend continues.

Eastern forked blue curls have beautiful flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day and the entire plant barely reaches ankle high, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. This plant is an annual that grows new from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and sometimes roadsides, and now in my own yard.

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

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

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) can get very tall and often towers over my head. A cluster of small, pencil eraser sized, blue flowers sits at the tip of the long stem. This plant is very similar to the wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans but they should only be used by those who know them well, because it is said that they can cause death by cardiac paralysis.

The flowers of tall blue lettuce can be white, deep blue, or ice blue. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. I haven’t seen a single one this year though.

I have trouble seeing red against green due to colorblindness and that’s why you don’t see much red in these posts, but these bee balm blossoms stood high enough above the surrounding foliage to be clearly visible. The name bee balm comes from the way the juice from its crushed leaves will soothe a bee sting. Our native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) is also called Oswego tea, because the leaves were used to make tea by the Native American Oswego tribe of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for tea when they ran out of the real thing. It’s a beautiful flower that I’m always happy to see. Hummingbirds and butterflies love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

There are 2 or 3 small lobelias with small blue / purple flowers that grow here, but though the flowers look alike the plants themselves have very different growth habits, and that makes them easy to identify. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) and the small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

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.

Common burdock (Arctium minus) must have come to this country very early, probably tangled in a horse or cow’s tail, because it was noted as being widespread in 1663. In fact it was so common then that some who came later wrote that it was native. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.  Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. The examples in the above photo had just opened. When fully open long white styles grow from the dark purple anthers. In this flower head only the lower blossom shows the styles.

Arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible.

It’s easy to see how the plant came by the arrowleaf part of its common name.

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late in summer.

Steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) seems more herb than shrub to me but it’s in the spirea family of many shrubs. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge.

Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin.

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep water at pond edges with the lower stem submerged so it’s hard to see the entire plant, but last year’s drought let me see that each plant had a tiny tuft of sword shaped leaves at the base of the stem. The stem has a twist to it and has 7 ridges, and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort.

The plants grow 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. For the first time since I’ve been photographing the plant I was able to see what look like black stamens on this example. 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, aquaticum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which of course is exactly what pipewort looks like. Pipewort is wind pollinated. It is also called hat pins, for obvious reasons.

Last year swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) started blossoming at the end of June and this year it waited until the end of July, a full month’s difference. Of course I started checking the two plants I know of at the end of June and have been waiting impatiently ever since to see this, in my opinion the most beautiful of all the milkweeds. Certain flowers can absorb me, and this is one of them. It’s one that I can sit and look at without thinking or caring about much of anything else for a time.

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher

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1. Monkey Flower

Monkey see, monkey do, but I don’t see a monkey in you. Someone must have seen a smiling monkey’s face when they looked at this flower though, because that’s how the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) got its common name. 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. I know of only two places where it grows.

2. Monkey Flower

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

3. Bugle Weed

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify. In fact, I’m never 100% sure that I’ve gotten it right.

4. Bugle Weed

The tiny flowers of northern bugleweed are about 1/8 inch long and tubular with 4 lobes, a light green calyx with 5 teeth, 2 purple tipped stamens, and a pistil. They are also very difficult to photograph because they’re so small. The plant is usually about knee high when I find it along the edges of ponds and streams. They often fall over and grow at an angle if there aren’t any other plants nearby to support them. Several Native American tribes used the tuberous roots of bugleweed as food.

5. Yellow Sorrel

Native common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is unusual because it grows in woods or meadows and I see it in both. It’s considered a weed by many and is largely ignored by most, but it’s a very interesting plant. Its raw leaves can be chewed as a thirst quencher if you forgot to bring water on your hike. The native American Kiowa tribe called it “salt weed” and used it that way for long walks. Its seed capsules can also be chewed but they can also explode when mature and can fling seeds up to 13 feet away. They are said to be tart with a flavor similar to rhubarb. The plant is high in vitamin C and it can be pressed to make a passable vinegar substitute.

6. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is a goldenrod that’s easy to identify because of its long slender, willow like leaves and its pleasant, vanilla like fragrance that is impossible to describe. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf. It is also called flat topped goldenrod.

7. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod

Insects of all kinds swarm over slender fragrant goldenrod and you have to be careful that you aren’t going to inhale one when you smell it.

8. Teaberry

My grandmother taught me a lot about plants and the one she started with was one of our native wintergreens that she called checkerberry. I call it teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens) and if you’ve ever chewed Clark’s Teaberry Gum you know exactly what the plant’s small red berries taste like. The fragrance of the oil is unmistakable and can be recognized immediately in toothpaste, mouthwash, pain relievers, etc. Another name for it is American wintergreen. Its evergreen leaves were once chewed to relieve pain because they contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin, and anyone allergic to aspirin should leave it alone. As the photo shows teaberry’s blossoms look a lot like tiny blueberry blossoms. The plants are having a good year; I’ve never seen so many blossoms on teaberry plants.

9. Tansy

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. Tansy is a natural insect repellent and was used as such in colonial times. Dried tansy added to the straw in mattresses was said to keep bedbugs away. Most tansy plants are seen in gardens but it had naturalized itself in New England by 1785 and can still be occasionally found growing along roadsides. It’s a good plant to use in vegetable gardens for pest control. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

10. Field Milkwort

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

11. Field Milkwort

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

12. Indian Tobacco

I’ve shown 2 or 3 small lobelias with blue / purple flowers over the past few flower posts and here is another one. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) and the small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

13. Indian Tobacco

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.

14. Coneflower

This purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seems to have dressed in the dark and thrown on any old thing. Its petals were all different sizes and one or two seemed to be missing, but at least they were all the same color. If the butterflies and bees don’t mind then I don’t suppose I should either. Purple cone flower is known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

15. Helborine

Broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant 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 and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore.

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 tend to stagger 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. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be 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 intoxicating orchid for the buzz.

16. Steeplebush

Steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) seems more herb than shrub to me but it’s in the spirea family of many shrubs. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge.

17. Steeplebush

Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin.

18. Red Sandspurry

The beautiful little flowers of red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) are hard for me to see because they’re so small, so I take photos of them so I can see them better. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s and it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.  I’m not sure where the red in the common name comes from. I wonder if the person who named it was colorblind.

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.  ~Vincent Van Gogh

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1. Quiet Stream

There are many flowers still blooming in this corner of New Hampshire but it has been very dry so those that bloom don’t last long. The oddest thing about this photo is the cloudy sky. We’ve had blue sky, full sun weather for what seems like months, with only an occasional rainy day. It might seem odd to hear someone complain about that, but it has also led to drought and many seeps and small streams have dried up. Full sunshine doesn’t make photographing flowers any easier either, so I keep hoping for clouds.

2.Turtlehead

Turtleheads tell me that late summer is here.  I found this pink lipped beauty on wet ground up in Nelson New Hampshire recently. Usually the native turtleheads I see are the white flowered variety (Chelone glabra linifolia,) but I have a pink flowered one (Chelone obliqua speciosa) in my garden that a friend gave me many years ago. I wonder if the white and pink varieties have naturally cross bred to create this bicolored example. It could also be a simple garden escapee, because there is a plant that breeders developed called Hot Lips (Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips‘). The plant gets the first part of it scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble.

3. Coneflower

Purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea) is known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of this plant were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar and birds like the seeds.

4. Slender Fragrant Golden Rod

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is another goldenrod that easy to identify because of its long slender, willow like leaves and its pleasant fragrance that is impossible to describe. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf. It is also called flat topped goldenrod.

5. Wild Mint

Wild mint (Mentha arvensis) has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. It is unusual because it seems to be native in virtually all parts of the world. Native Americans made tea from its leaves and used it to spice up pemmican and soups. When we see wild mint we see the beginnings of man’s interaction with plants, since before history was even recorded.

6. Wild Mint

The white or lavender tubular flowers of wild mint appear in a whorl in the leaf axils at the uppermost parts of the plant. Each usually has 4 long stamens but sometimes they don’t develop. Identification couldn’t be easier; I just crush a leaf and smell it. The fragrance seems cooling on a hot summer day.

7. Boneset

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

8. Boneset Foliage

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

9. Burdock

Burdock (Arctium minus) has very pretty flowers made up of disk florets that are usually pink or purple. The bur’s floral bracts have narrow hooked tips that are soft at this stage but stiffen as they age. Birds love the seeds but small songbirds have been known to get their feathers stuck to the burs and die.  Early Europeans brought burdock to North America to use as a medicine. The Arctium part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word arktos, which means bear, and refers to the round brown burs which someone apparently thought resembled a bear.

10. Queen Anne's Lace

A glance at this Queen Anne’s lace flower head might convince you that there was an insect feeding on it, but the purple thing in the center is actually a tiny, infertile flower that’s less than half the size of a pea. Not all plants have these central florets that can be purple, pink, or sometimes blood red. From what I’ve seen in this area it seems that as many plants have it as those that do not.

11. Queen Anne's Lace

The ant gives a good idea of the size of the tiny purple floret. I’ve heard many theories of why this flower grows the way it does but the bottom line is that botanists don’t really know why.  It seems to serve no useful purpose, but it might have at one time. The ant certainly seemed interested in it.

12. Pokeweed Flower

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the berry. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.)

13. Pokeweed Berry

My favorite part of the pokeweed plant comes when the sepals turn pink on the back of the berry. The color will seem even more intense when the berries ripen and turn deep purple-black.

The common name pokeweed comes from the Native American word for blood, and refers to the red dye that can be made from the berry. The juice was used as a dye by the early colonists and they also used it to improve the color of cheap wine. All parts of the plant are considered toxic and should never be eaten unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

14. Yellow Toadflax

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) was imported from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental and, as the all too familiar story goes, escaped cultivation to become a noxious weed. It’s a pretty weed though, and reminds me of snapdragons. It really isn’t that invasive here; I have a hard time finding it each year.

15. Canada St. John'swort

There are many little yellow flowers that look much alike so I admire their beauty but leave their identification to someone else, as I do with little brown mushrooms. It can sometimes take weeks to identify a flower you’ve never seen before properly and life is just too short for all the little yellow ones, in my opinion. I’ve walked by this one for years until recently when I read about it on the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog and the post made me curious enough to want to learn about it. It’s called Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) and its flowers are some of the smallest I’ve tried to photograph. You could pick three or four of them and hide the bouquet behind a penny, so small are the blooms. I think they might even be smaller than those of dwarf St. John’s wort. The bright crimson buds are a bonus, and surprising for a plant with yellow flowers.

16. Purple Milkwort

On field milkwort plants (Polygala sanguinea) what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green. I know of only one place where it grows and its beautiful flowers always make it worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and that’s just what I did.

What is divine escapes men’s notice because of their incredulity. Heraclitus

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1. Summer Flowers

This is the time of year that our roadside landscapes begin to look like a Monet painting. Right now purple loosestrife dominates with sprinkles of goldenrod here and there. Soon we’ll see the pink of Joe Pye weed and the white of asters and boneset.

2. Groundnut aka Apios americana

The chocolaty brown flowers of the groundnut (Apias Americana) are among the most unusual flowers seen at this time of year. They are borne on a vine that twines its way among other sunny meadow plants. This plant is also called potato bean because of the walnut sized, edible tubers that grow along its underground stem. They are said to taste like turnips and were a favorite of Native Americans.

3. Spotted Touch Me Not

I tried to get a bee’s eye view looking into a spotted touch me not blossom (Impatiens capensis.) When I saw the photo I could see that I had failed that but I was surprised when I saw so much red on the lip of the blossom. It looked like candle wax had dripped on it. This plant gets its common name from the way its seed pods snap and release the seeds when touched. Other names include orange Jewelweed, common jewelweed, spotted jewelweed, and orange balsam.  The name “jewelweed” comes from the way that raindrops sparkle on its wax coated leaves.

4. Showy Tick Trefoil

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is a legume in the bean family. This plant gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals.

5. Gray Goldenrod

Gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) always looks like it has been in a strong wind with all of its flowers blown over to one side of the stem, but this is the way it grows naturally. It is one of the earliest blooming goldenrods, coming along right after early goldenrod (Solidago juncea.) It can be seen leaning out of the growth at the edge of forests, reaching for the sun.

6. Joe Pye Weed

I think our native Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is at its most colorful when it is in bud, just before it blooms. There are many varieties of Joe Pye weed and some are sold in garden centers. They can get up to 7 feet tall and often tower over other plants. They are named after Joe Pye, who the latest research says was a Mohegan sachem (chief) that lived in western Massachusetts and saved early European settlers from typhus by brewing a tea made from this plant. Joseph Pye was educated by Samson Occam, himself a Mohegan herbalist and Christian convert who kept an extensive diary.

7. Yellow Toadflax

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) was imported from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental and, as the all too familiar story goes, escaped cultivation to become a noxious weed. It’s a pretty weed though, and in this area isn’t as prevalent as our native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis.) Blue toadflax seems to be having a banner year. I’ve never seen so much of it, or seen it bloom for so long. Yellow toadflax is very similar to Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica,) another import, but Dalmatian toadflax has broad, heart-shaped leaves and yellow toadflax has long, narrow leaves.

8. Tall Blue lettuce

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) is an odd plant that can reach 10 feet tall in some cases, with a cluster of small, pencil eraser sized, light blue flowers at the tip of the long stem. I always wonder why the plant needs such a tall stem and such large leaves if it is only going to produce tiny flowers, but that’s nature-it always leaves me guessing. This plant is very similar to wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans.

9. Hedge Bindweed

When I was a young boy the only hedge bindweed flowers (Calystegia sepium) that I saw had simple white flowers, but over the last few years I’m seeing more with pink and white bi-colored flowers. Each flower usually only lasts for a day, so you’ve got to be quick with the camera if you see one that you like. Hedge bindweed is another plant that was introduced from Europe. As invasive as it is, it isn’t as bad as field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis,) which is close to impossible to eradicate. Bind weeds are so hard to get rid of because they are perennials, while true morning glories (Ipomoea) are annuals.

 10. Steeple Bush

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) gets its common name from the shape of its flower clusters. The only other shrub that blooms at the same time and has similar shaped flower clusters is meadowsweet (Spiraea alba,) but it has white flowers. It’s easy to see that steeplebush is related to the Japanese spireas that are used in gardens; the flowers look much the same. Steeplebush likes to be near water and can be found at pond and stream edges. Native Americans used tea made from the plant’s leaves as a medicine.

11. Red Clover 2

There were red clover plants (Trifolium pretense) growing in the shade all along the edge of a field, but this single flower head had a ray of sun pointing right at it, so of course I had to see what made it so special. As I knelt before it to take its photo I could see that it was such a beautiful thing that it was no wonder the sun had chosen to illuminate it.

12. Field Milkwort

On field milkwort plants (Polygala sanguinea) what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green.

13. Club Spur Orchid

Long time readers of this blog know that part of the reason I spend so much time walking through the woods is because I’m hoping to find orchids. They don’t just grow along the sides of the road here like they do in England and Scotland; here you have to search long and hard to find them, and if I’m lucky I find one new one each year. This year’s find is the northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) pictured above.

14. Club Spur Orchid

The northern club spur orchid will most likely never win a blue ribbon at any flower shows but it is a native orchid and I was very happy to find it. This plant has a single leaf and a single flower stalk that grows to about 4 inches tall. The flowers are tiny-no bigger than a pencil eraser-and have long, curved nectar spurs. If the nectar doesn’t work and insects don’t pollinate the flowers the plant can self-pollinate. Its seeds are like dust and are carried by the wind. One unusual thing about the flowers is the slight twist they have in relation to the stem. It is one of the smallest Platanthera species in the northeastern U.S. and likes to grow in wet woods and bogs.

15. Where The Orchids Grow

I’ve tried off and on for years to show you an accurate depiction of what the deep woods of New Hampshire look like but have rejected every attempt. Finally, this photo that I took to lead me back to the northern club spur orchids is the one that shows them best. An old tree fell and opened a gap in the canopy that let in a little sunlight, and that’s probably why the orchids chose to grow here. The forest is a quiet, peaceful place where you can hear the true music of life played as it has been for millions of years.

I did find Calypso [orchids] — but only once, far in the depths of the very wildest of Canadian dark woods, near those high, cold, moss-covered swamps. I felt as if I were in the presence of superior beings who loved me and beckoned me to come. I sat down beside them and wept for joy. ~John Muir

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We had a light frost here yesterday morning, so there probably won’t be too many more wildflower posts for this year. I’m going to miss them!

1. Field Milkwort

I found a few of these native field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) flowers in an old pasture, growing in very sandy soil. One way to identify this plant is by its taproot, which smells like wintergreen. Another way is by its leaves, which should be alternate as the photo shows, and not whorled. The sepals on this flower shade from purple at the top to white at the base in this case, but its flowers can also be white or green. The “poly” part of the scientific name means much in Greek and “gala” means milk. It was once thought that cows eating this plant would produce more milk, and that’s how the plant got its common name.

2. Beech Drop Plant

Beech drops (Epifagus virginiana) are parasitic plants that insert a root-like structure called a haustorium into a beech tree’s root, taking what they need from the tree to stay alive. Since they are parasitic they don’t need chlorophyll and aren’t green. Instead the leafless stems are pale, yellowish green and the flowers can be wine red to pink to yellowish in color, sometimes with brownish purple stripes. This plant is also called cancer root because of the false belief that it cured cancer. It is related to Indian pipes and pinesap plants. Native Americans made a bitter tea from it.

3. Beech Drop Flowers

A closer look at the small flowers of beech drops. The plant is self-fertilizing but is also visited by insects.

4. Dodder

Dodder (Cuscuta) is another parasitic plant, but it isn’t limited to one kind of host like the beech drops. It can live off many different kinds of plants. Dodder is an annual and grows from seed in the spring. It wraps itself around the stem of another plant and pushes growths called haustoria into the stem of the host plant. If you look just to the upper left of the white flower in the photo you can see how the orange dodder stem has burrowed into the goldenrod stem. Once it is feeding on its host it loses all connection to the soil. This plant has no chlorophyll and its stems are bright orange. The round growths are seed pods.

 5. Flowering Raspberry

I was surprised to see this purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) in September-it usually starts blooming in June and might bloom into July in a good year. This shrub is in the rose family and might be mistaken for a rose if it wasn’t for its large, maple-like leaves. Its stems are hairy but not prickly like a rose. The native shrub will reach 3-6 feet tall and twice as wide under the right conditions.

6. Silverrod Flowers

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast and is a native. Seeing these flowers always reminds me that the growing season is nearly over. I usually find it in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods. As the flowers age they fade and change color slightly, and that’s where the bicolor part of the scientific name comes from.

 7. Obedient Plant Flowers

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) is native to central and southern U.S. but in my experience, will grow just about anywhere.  I planted some in my yard several years ago to try to attract hummingbirds and it has been trying to take over ever since. Each year I weed it out, thinking that I’ve finally gotten rid of it only to find it growing in a different spot the following year. Its small snapdragon like flowers can be white or pink and are quite beautiful.

8. Slender Gerardia

The small, hairy flowers of slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia ) are small and grow close to the ground, so they are easily missed. This plant is also called slender foxglove because its tube shaped flowers are similar in appearance to those of foxglove. The narrow leaves and wiry stems remind me of toadflax. An odd fact about this plant is that it turns black when it is dried, so it is not a good plant to press for herbarium specimens. It grows in fields and gravelly waste areas-often next to forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum).

9. Slender Gerardia

Slender gerardia flowers last only for a single day, opening in the morning and closing at night. By midafternoon they begin to take on a wilted look, so photographing them is best done at mid-day. Bees pollinate these flowers, and I see plenty of them when I visit these plants.

10. Sand Jointweed

I find sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) growing in sand, just as its common name suggests. These plants grow to about a foot tall with thin, wiry stems and small white or pink flowers. The leaves are very small and lie against the stem so the plant appears leafless. The plant gets its name from the curious way the stems are jointed. I’m not sure why, but this is one of the hardest plants to photograph that I’ve ever met.

 11. Large Leaved Aster

Big leaved asters (Eurybia macrophylla) grow quite deep in the woods, so they have large leaves with enough surface area to collect what dim light is available. There is no hard and fast rule, but plants with larger leaves can often take more shade. It seems odd to see aster flowers topping a plant with such large, 8 inch long by 6 inch wide leaves. These plants grow in large colonies and I’ve seen entire hillsides covered with them. The flowers can be white, pale violet, or purple. Some Native American tribes used the plant’s roots in soup and its young spring leaves as food or medicine.

12. White Snakeroot

White snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum ) is very toxic and in the early 19th century killed thousands of people-especially settlers in places like Indiana and Kentucky. In just one Indiana County half the deaths were said to be caused by this plant. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it, and their milk becomes toxic. When humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness” and in a week or less would be dead from heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant.

Can we conceive what humanity would be if it did not know the flowers? ~ Maurice Maeterlinck

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