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Posts Tagged ‘Floating Hearts’

Beautiful blue ribbons of pickerel weed flow in the shallows of ponds, rivers and streams in July. Thousands of flowers draw bees and other pollinators in such numbers it sometimes seems like the plants themselves are humming. And of course they really are humming; vibrating with life force. Pickerel weed is easily one of our most beautiful aquatics and they appear in far larger numbers than any other.

Pickerel weed has small blue / purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

One advantage of the drought has been the ability to walk up to plants that grow offshore and study them up close. This is a pickerel weed flowerhead in bud; something I doubted I’d ever get this close to. It’s amazingly fuzzy for a water plant. See how it spirals? Spirals are found everywhere; in the human ear, in entire galaxies billions of light years across, and in plants of many various species. Why? What is it about the spiral that makes it so special?

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow fringed loosestrife that I spoke of in a recent post. But fringed loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. Their name comes from the way their bright color lights up a swamp, just as they did here.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are less than half the size as those of fringed loosestrife.

Floating heart plants (Nyphoides cordata) growing close enough to shore to get photos are very hard to come by but I got lucky this year because the water is low. In fact I found hundreds of examples of this tiny native waterlily very close to shore. They have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from.  

This is the tiniest waterlily that I’ve ever seen; about the size of a common aspirin, but are still every bit as beautiful as the much larger fragrant white water lily blooms they resemble. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers.

Cattails (Typha latifolia) can form an impenetrable wall and can soar overhead in some places along the shoreline. I’ve seen them 8 feet tall or more. Cattails (Typha latifolia) were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread. Cattails are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the swamps, ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long white styles sticking out of the tubular flowers the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

Pipewort  grows in the mud just offshore. As the photo shows the stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum.) The quarter inch flower heads are made up of tiny white, cottony flowers. Another common name for them is “hat pins.” 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, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I’ve found that its flowers are close to impossible to get a good photo of.

When you see its leaves pipewort looks just like many other plants but its basal leaves normally grow underwater so you rarely see them. On this day the drought had left them high and dry. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize.

I bent a pipewort down to a penny so you could get an idea of size. It’s one of the smallest flowers you’ll find on pond edges. It is said that the water quality is good wherever this plant grows. 

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down. The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance. The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. Flowers are about an inch across. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

When I saw this plant growing at the edge of a beaver swamp I thought I knew what it was; swamp saxifrage, but something about it wasn’t right so I decided to wait and go back later to see what it did.

When I its flowers I knew it wasn’t swamp saxifrage. That plant has bigger and fewer flowers. After some searching I found that it was water plantain (Alisma subcordatum,) which is a plant I’ve never seen. I’ve read that it is also called mud plantain and its seeds are eaten by waterfowl. Native Americans cooked and ate its roots. Though it is a native plant I think it must be on the rare side in this area.

Water plantain’s tiny flowers have 3 green sepals, 3 white or pink-tinged petals, and several stamens and pistils, all packed into something half the size of a pencil eraser. Somehow nature can surprise, delight and amaze all at the same time.

Water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is on the rare side here; I only know of one pond it grows in. It is said to be a more northern species, so that could be why. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands.

The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water but these plants grew just offshore with flowers above the water. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl.

A small St. John’s wort grows that grows right at the water’s edge is I believe pale St. John’s wort (Hypericum ellipticum,) according to what I’ve read. Oddly, the flowers of pale St. John’s wort aren’t pale yellow, they’re bright lemon yellow, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. To anyone. Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) also grows at the water’s edge but its flowers are about the size of a pencil eraser. Canada St. John’s wort comes next but it grows in dry meadows and it’s flowers are less than half the size of a pencil eraser. It has taken me years to sort it all out.

But in the end what does it matter? The flowers are beautiful and, as Amit Ray once said: “Beauty is the moment when time vanishes. Beauty is the space where eternity arises.”

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) has the ability to make time vanish for me, because it takes me out of myself. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful of all the milkweeds and is one of those flowers that I most look forward to seeing each summer. I recognize a truly beautiful flower as something that makes me quiet because I’m so dumbstruck all I’m able do is stand and admire it.

Looking at the pond all I could think was that it is an incredible thing how a whole world can rise from what seems like nothing at all. ~Sarah Dressen

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Burdock (Arctium lappa) is blooming and it hopes you’ll come by later and give it a ride. The plant a good example of a biennial plant. In the first year of life it grows leaves and in the second year it flowers, sets seeds, and dies. This is what biennials do, so we know that its tubular flowers with purple stamens and white styles signal that it is close to finishing its journey. There is no reason to grieve though, because the germination rate of its seeds is high and there will surely be burdocks for many years to come, especially if you (or your dog) help spread them around.

Burdock is said to have been introduced from Europe because it was noted in 1672 by self-styled naturalist John Josselyn, who wrote that it had “sprung up since the English Planted and kept Cattle in New-England.” He said the same thing about the dandelion, but fossil evidence proved him wrong. Native American tribes across the country had many uses for burdock, both as a medicine and food, so some form of the plant had to have been here long before European settlers arrived. 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. As the above photo shows, when fully open long white styles grow from the dark purple flowers.

No matter how many times I see the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) I don’t see a monkey, but whoever named it obviously did. This plant gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and it isn’t all that common. I usually have a hard time finding it. This year though, for the first time, I found several plants growing beside the river in Keene.

Allegheny monkey flowers have square stems and are also called square stemmed monkey flowers. The throat is partially closed and bumblebees are one of the few insects strong enough to pry it open to get at the nectar. Native Americans and early settlers sometimes used the leaves as an edible green.

I’ve searched for years for floating heart plants (Nyphoides cordata) growing close enough to shore to get photos of and this year I finally found them. In fact I found hundreds of examples of this tiny native waterlily very close to shore. They have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from.  

The tiny but very pretty flowers of floating heart are about the size of a common aspirin, but are still every bit as beautiful as the much larger fragrant white water lily blooms they resemble. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers. I was very happy to finally see them up close.

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, much like enchanter’s nightshade. 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. I saw these examples in an unmown meadow.

Showy tick trefoil has pretty flowers that are obviously in the pea / bean family. It is also called Canada trefoil. One odd fact about this plant is that there are no known uses of it by Native Americans or colonials. From my experience that’s rare among native plants in this area. Maybe they just picked the beautiful flowers and used them to decorate their homes.

I saw these striking daylilies in a local children’s park. The plant breeders are obviously still trying to breed a black daylily but they haven’t quite got it yet.

They grow an ornamental datura (Datura metel) at the local college.  I’ve seen Datura many times, but never as beautiful as these. I think this one is a black Datura hybrid called Datura metel Fastuosa “Double Purple Blackberry.” A native Datura found here is called Jimson weed, which is a corruption of the original Jamestown weed, signaling where it was first found. Each blossom opens in the evening and lasts until about noon the following day.

I’ve gone to see them several times this year but I can’t find a blossom fully opened, so this will have to do. these datura blossoms are doubled with many ruffles and they never really seem to be fully open. Bees in the know crawl in from the side and then down into the trumpet but I didn’t see any on this day. Datura contains several powerful toxic compounds and even the honey made from its flowers can sometimes lead to poisoning.

The seeds and flowers are the most toxic parts of the datura plant, but they were used in sacred rituals for many thousands of years by Native American shamans and the plant is still called “Sacred Datura” by many. Native Americans knew the plant well though, and knew what dosages would and wouldn’t kill. Many with less experience have died trying to test the hallucinogenic effects of the plant. This is the strange, spiky seed pod of this datura.

Zinnias grow in the same garden as the datura and this one caught my attention. These flowers are usually swarming with painted lady butterflies but I haven’t seen a one yet this year.

But I have seen plenty of garden phlox! It’s another of those flowers that whisper of autumn’s approach. I pretend I’m deaf for as long as I can though, and just admire their beauty.

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. 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.

Whorled white wood aster (Oclemena acuminata) gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaves of this aster really don’t fit the definition. Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall. It’s one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) can get very tall indeed and often towers over my head. A cluster of small, pencil eraser size, 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.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) almost always blooms in pairs on grassy hummocks near rivers and ponds and that’s where I always find them. The skullcap part of the common name comes from the calyx at the base of the flower, which is said to look like a medieval skull cap. The plant was once thought to cure rabies, and that is where the “mad dog” part of the common name comes from.

There is powerful medicine in both mad dog and marsh skullcap and when Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. The small blue and white flowers always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Those of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller.

You don’t need to be on a vision quest to see the beautiful light that shines from this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow. I’m not surprised; how could anyone pull up something so beautiful?

Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air. ~George Bernanos

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