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Posts Tagged ‘Forget Me Not’

1. Trail Start

Last Saturday I decided to see if the hobblebushes were in bloom, so I followed one of my favorite rail trails out into the forest to see them. It’s a six mile round trip along the Ashuelot River and there’s usually plenty to see, so I’ve been looking forward to it.

2. Coltsfoot

Before I had walked half a mile I saw coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) growing in a ditch by the side of the trail and I was surprised that they were still blooming now, on this last day of April. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot leaves appear just as the flowers finish their brief display and there were plenty of leaves to be seen, so this is probably the last photo of a coltsfoot blossom to appear on this blog until next spring. It’s hard to say that; it seems like spring has barely gotten started.

4. Dandelion

We won’t have to go without yellow flowers though, even when the coltsfoot flowers fade. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) as we have this year. We should really grow (and eat) even more dandelions; I was just reading a paper by the University of Maryland Medical Center that said dandelions are “chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc.” When I was a boy I ate the young spring leaves cooked just as spinach would have been. Like lettuce the leaves turn bitter with age, so you want to pick them young.  I’ve also roasted and ground the roots to use as a coffee substitute, and it wasn’t bad.

5. Trestle

Before long the rail trail crosses the Ashuelot River in Winchester. The old steel trestles still seem as strong as when they were built and are used by hikers, snowmobilers and bike riders. Other than snowmobiles in winter no motorized vehicles are allowed on rail trails, so it’s always a very peaceful hike.

6. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot was calm here on this day, but it isn’t always so. Lack of runoff from snow melt has kept it at summer levels and it will be interesting to see how it looks in August, which is usually when it reaches its lowest levels in this area. In some places you can walk across it and barely get your ankles wet in high summer, but it would be wise know the place well before you try it.

7. Maple Leaves

Spring was busting out all over along the trail.

8. Depot

Ashuelot is a town named after the river, (I think) and this is their old railroad depot. There was once an upper Ashuelot (Keene) and lower Ashuelot (Swanzey) and Ashuelot streets and roads are still found today. The word Ashuelot is pronounced ash-wee-lot by out of towners or ash-wil-ot by locals. The pronunciation is most likely a corruption of the original Native American word, which meant “place between” in the Native Pennacook or Natick languages. Between what remains a mystery. Hills maybe; we have plenty of those and the river does run between them before finally joining the Connecticut River.

9. Ashuelot Covered Bridge

The town of Ashuelot also has a beautiful covered bridge built in 1864, which is a strange time because the Civil War was still raging. I’ve read that it was originally built so wood could be carried across the river to wood burning locomotives, but I have no way to verify that. Anyhow, in spite of the fighting it was built in two spans and is 160 feet long. It’s a Town lattice truss style bridge, patented by architect Ithiel Town in 1820. The open lattice work sides were a big step away from the solid walled bridges that came before it. Now, instead of being dark like a cave covered bridges were filled with light and had better air circulation. They also often had covered walkways for pedestrian traffic, as can be seen on this bridge. I’ve crossed both styles and the difference is amazing. The change must have been a very welcome one to people of the 1800s.  At one time there were about 400 covered bridges in New Hampshire, and 70 of them were left at the end of the 20th century. The Ashuelot Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

10. Violets

Violets blossomed in great profusion along the trail and made me wonder about all the beautiful things the railroad workers must have seen along these rail beds when the trains ran through here.

11. Violets

I didn’t bother trying to identify which violets they were. I just enjoyed them.

12. Garlic Mustard

I didn’t have to try to identify the invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) that grew in several places; I know it well.  Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It’s really too bad that more restaurants don’t use this potherb, because people foraging for it might be a good way to control it.

13. Canada Mayflower

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe the Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive, but it does form monocultures much like garlic mustard and I’ve seen large swaths of forest floor with nothing but Canada mayflowers, as the above photo shows.  Woe befalls the gardener who finds it in their garden, because its fibrous root system is almost impossible to eradicate once it has become established. If you try to pull the plant the leaf stem just beaks away from the root system and it lives on. The speckled red berries are eaten by ruffed grouse, white footed mice, and chipmunks, all of which help spread it throughout the forest.

14. Trail

I stopped here and took this photo because this is where a hawk circled over me, just above the treetops as I walked along. It didn’t make a sound but its shadow crossing in front of me gave it away and I didn’t even have to look up to know that it was escorting me down the trail. But of course I did look up and knew it was a hawk by the beautiful stripes on the underside of its tail feathers.  Unfortunately many hawks seem to have like stripes, so I don’t know its name. I’ve had vultures circle me but never a hawk; for it to do so for a few minutes seemed like odd behavior and I wondered if I had stumbled into its nesting site.

While trying to find the identity of the hawk I read that some Native American tribes believed that a hawk showed itself to a person when the person needed to pay attention to the subtle messages found in the natural world around them. The hawk was also a messenger and was said to bring gifts that included clear sightedness, courage, wisdom, and illumination, the ability to see the bigger picture, creativity, truth, magic, and focus.

15. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot gets very rocky in this area, mostly because of the low water level, and picking your way through in a canoe or kayak seems like it would be very tiring. If the rafts I built as a boy had done their job I would have had to face getting through it.

16. Pine Tree in River

There are other obstacles to river travel as well. That’s a full grown white pine (Pinus strobus) that was stuck on the rocks. White pines are the largest trees in eastern North America, and often grow to 150 feet tall. In Colonial times they were said to grow to over 200 feet but later verifiable accounts measured them ae about 180 feet. It’s a tall tree in any event and seeing one lying in the river like that reminds you just how big this river can be.

17. Bliss

There are places of bliss and torment in this world and we can usually tell which is which by the way we feel attracted to or repelled by them. This spot always calls to me when I hike here but when I took this photo I was about 30-40 feet above the river, and there is no good way down to it. It reminds me of an island in the river that I used to visit when I was a boy, and if I was 12 years old again I’d be spending a lot of my time down there in that little piece of Eden because if I couldn’t have found a path I’d have made one. Sometimes you have to put up with a little torment before you reach your place of bliss.

18. Hobblebushes

If you’ve ever lost yourself inside a painting, a poem, or a piece of music then you know why I’ll happily walk 6 miles to see a hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in bloom. To see an entire riverbank full of them is beauty rare enough to see me walk twice as far. There really isn’t anything else quite like it in these spring woods, so you have to just stop and look.

19. Hobblebush

I had to get a fallen tree off this example before I could take a photo because it had squashed most of the blossoming branches down to ground level, and as a thank you for freeing it the bush didn’t trip me up. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker. The name is a good one; I’ve found myself sprawled on the forest floor beside it a few times. I was a little early in visiting them this time so some of the small fertile central flowers hadn’t fully opened, but the large outer sterile ones more than made up for it. If it wasn’t for the rail trail through here no one would ever see these beautiful shrubs or the wild azaleas and mountain laurels that will follow, and that would really be too bad.

Note: A viburnum with similar flowers called cranberry bush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) can be found at nurseries.

20. Bent Railroad Tie

Someone made a bench out of an old railroad tie. Normally there wouldn’t be anything noteworthy about that but this one is bent, and that’s very strange. It must be natural, maybe because of the weather; I don’t think mankind could find a way to bend one of these in that way unless steam was used. Surely it wasn’t done out here in the middle of the woods with only hand tools.

21. Box Culvert

Man can do some remarkable things out in the woods with only hand tools though, and I wonder how many of these box culverts were built along these Boston and Maine Railroad tracks back in the mid-1800s. There must be thousands of them. This one caught my interest because every other one I’ve seen was put up dry with no mortar, but this one had all its joints mortared. I’m guessing it was a repair that came later. You can see how the bottom left corner of the opening is kicked in towards the center a bit and instead of repairing it correctly someone must have tried to cement it back together. How the damage could have happened in the first place I don’t know, but since I usually have a pocket full of mysteries when I leave places like this, adding one more was no real burden.

22. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots asked that I remember all I had seen here today. I’m fairly certain that it’ll stay with me for quite a while.

Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams. ~Ashley Smith

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Sign

I have helpers that readers of this blog don’t ever hear from and who I don’t thank enough. They send me corrections when I’ve misidentified plants, reveal the names of plants that I don’t know, and pass along tips about places that might be worth a visit. One of the places mentioned recently was Dickinson Memorial Forest in Swanzey, which was once owned by a prominent local family. Since I’d heard of it but had never been I decided to visit.

2. Gate Posts

When you’ve reached this point you have a choice to make; you can turn right and follow the trail into the forest or you can follow this old road into Muster Field, so named because volunteer firemen used to muster and train here. I followed both but my first choice was through these old gate posts.

3. Road

I chose the old road because it follows the Ashuelot River which is off to the right, and because this is just the kind of place that I spent large parts of my boyhood exploring. Before I left this place my spirits had soared and I was feeling like a kid again and smiling from ear to ear. I’ve returned several times since because for me being out here is like walking into a time machine.

4. Striped Wintergreen

Old friends like striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) told me that this land has been this way without being disturbed for a very long time. I’ve read that this plant won’t grow on land that has been disturbed within the last century. It grows either in the woods or just at their edges; places where the plow wouldn’t have gone. I rarely see it and I think this is only the third or fourth place that I’ve found it. It’s very happy here and is going to bloom soon.

5. Shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, grew in a large colony here. This plant’s common name comes from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. It contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. The nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and very hard to get a good photo of.

6. River Bank

The river is doing what rivers do, which is eat away at their banks. Large sections of the silty embankment in this area have fallen into the river several times recently by the looks. In one spot it has fallen away right to the edge of the road. I drove out here one day not realizing just how close to the road the undercut embankment was, and I’m very lucky that my truck and I didn’t end up in the Ashuelot. Since then I haven’t driven past the gate posts in the second photo, but someone really should put signs warning people not to drive out here.

7. Canada Liliy

The reason I drove out here that day was because I was short on time and I wanted to see if the Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) that I saw on a previous visit were blooming. They weren’t then but they eventually did. I think that these plants succeed so well because they get tall enough to rise up above the surrounding vegetation to where the sunshine is. They soar to 7 feet tall sometimes and remind me of chandeliers at this stage.

In 1857 Henry David Thoreau was told by a Native American guide how the bulbs of this plant were cooked with meat in soups and stews to thicken them, much like flour does. Henry dug some and ate them raw, finding that they tasted somewhat like “raw green corn on the ear.” I’ve always been told that lilies were toxic when eaten so I’d say Henry was a lucky man. Cooking must remove the toxicity, which would explain how natives ate them regularly.

8. Canada Liliy

It’s nearly impossible to confuse the beautiful flowers of Canada lily with any other. Its large size, spotted throat, large red anthers and bright yellow petals and sepals make it unique among wildflowers in this area. We do have another native lily called the wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum,) but its blossoms are orange and point to the sky rather than nod like these do.

9. Canada Geese

A family of Canada geese relaxed on the far bank of the Ashuelot. This photo shows how low the water level is.

10. Turtle

A turtle was out for a stroll on the old road. She didn’t say where she was going but I’m assuming that she was looking for a suitable place to lay her eggs. She must have had quite a struggle to get up here from the river.

11. Spangled Fritillary

A spangled fritillary hid in the tall grass at the edge of the road. They and many other large butterflies love Canada lilies and like me were probably waiting impatiently for them to blossom.

12. Fallen Tree

In the Dickinson forest a dead tree had fallen across the trail and was hung up on some hemlock branches. This is a dangerous situation and I hope whoever maintains these trails will remove it. It wouldn’t take much of a breeze to blow it down and I hope there isn’t someone under it when it falls.

13. Bridge

A boardwalk and footbridge crossed a seasonal stream, which just a muddy ditch at this time of year.

14. Deer Print

I didn’t see any deer but I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw me. This hoof print looked very fresh.

15. Whorled Loosestrife

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) grew all along the river. This pretty little flower has quite a long blooming season and it and its cousin the swamp candle (Lysimachia terrestris) can be seen in moist areas throughout the hottest months. Its common name comes from the way its flowers and leaves grow in a whorl about the stem. Native Americans brewed a medicinal tea from the stem and leaves of whorled loosestrife to alleviate kidney ailments.

The plant also played an important part in the American Revolution. According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffee “With the Revolution came the refusal to drink the tea of commerce and our four leaved loosestrife, being dried and steeped, was used in its stead.” And that’s why another common name for the plant is “liberty tea.

16. False Hellebore

The biggest surprise here was finding false hellebore. It grew quite a distance from the river, which I thought was odd because it usually grows as close to water as it can. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in our forests. Eating just a small amount can be lethal and people have even gotten sick from drinking water that it grew in.

17. False Hellebore

Even more surprising than finding the false hellebore was finding that it was flowering. That told me that these plants had grown here undisturbed for quite a while. Only mature plants will blossom and can take 10 years or more to do so. The bright yellow anthers were missing so I knew these flowers had nearly gone by. I never realized that the flower’s green petals and sepals are as pleated as the leaves are. There are pairs of nectar glands at their bases and ants visit the flowers to feed on their sweet treats.

18. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots lined the river bank. There were thousands of them, far more than I’ve ever seen in one spot. Forget me nots or no, I won’t forget this place. In fact I’m having a hard time staying away.

A ditch somewhere – or a creek, meadow, woodlot or marsh…. These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.… Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches and the field, the woods, the ravines – can teach us to care enough for all the land. ~ Robert Michael Pyle

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1. Rail Trail

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

2. Box Culvert

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

3. Trestle

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

4. Signal Box

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

 5. Forget Me Not Colony

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

6. Forget Me Nots

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

7. Box Culvert

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

8. New Culvert

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

9. Rattlesnake Weed

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

 10. Arch Street

Sometimes these old rail trails still cross over roads.

11. Tunnel

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

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

 12. Early Azalea

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

13. Early Azalea 2

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

 14. Arched Culvert

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

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

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

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Here’s a small sample of what is blooming here now.

1. Bifid Hemp Nettle

Bifid hemp nettle (Galeopsis bifida) has a small but beautiful flower that always reminds me of heal all (Prunella vulgaris). This entire plant, including the flowers, is covered with hairs and the sepals end in points that can be sharp. These sharp points catch on animal fur or clothing and spread the seeds far and wide. Hemp nettle looks a lot like a tall mint plant because it is in the mint family.

 2. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots (Myosotis) are still blooming on the river banks.  It’s a beautiful little weed that gets its scientific name Myosotis from the way the leaves resemble mouse ears.

 3. Enchanter's Nightshade

Though it looks like the flowers of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) have four petals there are really only two. There are also two sepals and two stamens, with a single style. The ovaries that form at the base of the flowers have tiny barbed hairs, and that means they stick to just about anything. This plant gets its scientific name Circaea from Circa, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. It’s a good story but unfortunately the plant is a native of North America, so Homer most likely never saw it.

4. Liatrus Blossoms

I’ve always know native liatris, often called blazing star, as a garden plant even though it is a native wildflower common to our prairies. I found this one growing on the side of a road and it’s the first one I’ve ever seen growing naturally. There are 37 different species of liatris, and I’m not sure which one this is.

5. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod aka Euthamia tenuifolia

Our native slender fragrant goldenrod (Euthamia tenuifolia) is my favorite goldenrod because of its scent. This plant can be confused with lance leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia), but it has a single vein in the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has 3 to 5 veins. It’s that time of year when goldenrod takes the blame for causing hay fever, when in fact ragweed is the culprit. Goldenrod pollen is much too sticky and heavy to ever become airborne, so it is impossible for it to get in noses that way.

6. Spotted jewel Weed aka Impatiens capensis

I keep hoping to find yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) but all I find is spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). It isn’t that I don’t like the spotted variety; it’s just that it is one of the first plants I learned to identify so I’ve had a long time to get to know it. The yellow variety I’ve seen maybe 3 times. This native plant is also called orange balsam and touch me not. Hummingbirds love these flowers.

7. Spotted jewel Weed

It’s easier to see why it’s called spotted jewel weed from the side. These spots are what attract pollinators. The curved nectar spur at the back of the flower can also be seen. It can only be reached by pollinators with long tongues, like butterflies and hummingbirds.

 8. Raindrops on Jewelweed

Jewel weed leaves have a waxy coating that makes rain bead up into drops. When these drops sparkle in the sun they look like jewels, and that’s where the name jewel weed comes from.

9. Pink Steeple Bush

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) is easy to recognize because of the way its erect stems are unbranched, with steeple shaped flower clusters at their ends. They are usually found near water.  This native plant is available commercially and is an excellent choice for butterfly gardens. Native Americans used a tea made from steeplebush leaves for easing childbirth.

 10. Dwarf Dandelion aka Krigia virginica

 In my opinion it is the leaves more than the flowers that make native dwarf dandelions (Krigia virginica) resemble regular dandelions. Spring leaves look quite different, but as the season progresses they look like hairy, miniature version of the dandelion leaves that we’re all familiar with. It also has seed heads that are similar to common dandelion but they’re much smaller and more brown than gray. This native likes full sun and dry, sandy soil.

11. Whorled Wood Aster aka Oclemena acuminata 2

Native whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminate) is also called sharp leaved aster because of the way the leaves come to a sharp point. The common name whorled aster comes by way of the leaves appearing to grow in a whorl but it isn’t a true whorl. This is one of those plants that like to grow at the edge of woodland. Pearly crescent butterflies love this plant, so it is a good addition to a butterfly garden.

12. Tall Blue Lettuce

The flowers of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) are usually very pale blue so I was surprised by the deep color of these. The flowers grow in a cluster at the top of a plant that can reach 10 feet tall under the right conditions. This plant is easily confused with wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) when it isn’t blossoming but its leaves are hairy while wild lettuce leaves are not. I’m not sure what the red eyed insect trying to hide behind the upper flower is.

13. Lettuce

The pale yellow flowers of tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted by red or pink on their edges. This is another native lettuce that can reach 10 feet tall with clusters of small, 1/4 inch flowers at the top of the stalks. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even leaves on the same plant looking different from each other.  Native Americans used this plant medicinally. The milky white sap contains lactucarium and is still used in medicines today.

14. Tall Rattlesnake Root aka Prenanthes trifoliata

The flowers of tall rattlesnake root (Prenanthes trifoliate) which are shown in the photo resemble those of tall white lettuce (Prenanthes altissima) but the leaves of the rattlesnake root are deeply divided into 3 parts while the lettuce leaves aren’t. It also has a waxy, reddish stem which helps in identification. Its flowers can be white or pinkish. This plant is also called gall of the earth because of how bitter the root tastes. These roots were once made into a very bitter tonic that was used to (allegedly) cure snake bites and that’s where its other common name comes from.

Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet. ~Jeremy Bentham

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The plants in this post were all found growing in or near water. Almost everywhere else has been too dry to support many blooming plants.  Lately though, passing thunderstorms have helped. Every few days the storm clouds gather. Sometimes they drop rain and sometimes just make a lot of noise.   Blue vervain (Verbena hastate) has appeared here before, but it has been blooming all summer and it’s hard to beat such a beautiful color. The only thing this plant is missing is a scent. Blue vervain provides a virtual nectar bar for many species of bees including the verbena bee (Calliopsis verbenae.) Butterflies also love it. This plant likes wet soil and full sun and can reach 5 feet when it has both. I’ve also seen it growing out of sidewalk cracks, but it was barely a foot tall.Blue Vervain, Yellow goldenrod and pink clover. Could any of us plan anything more beautiful for our gardens?Native boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is another plant that likes its feet wet and its head in the sun. It is usually seen with Joe Pye weed and some call it white Joe Pye weed. There is another boneset called late boneset (Eupatorium serotinum.) Bonest is sometimes used medicinally in teas and tonics even though it has toxic qualities. The greatest danger in using this plant medicinally is that it can be easily confused with our native, extremely toxic white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima,) which has similar flower clusters. All parts of white snakeroot are so poisonous that thousands died in the 19th century by using beef and milk from cattle that had eaten the plant. Its poison can even enter the body through cuts. White snakeroot is also sometimes called tall boneset.The “perfoliatum” part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the leaf,” and that’s what boneset leaves look like-as if they had been perforated by the stem. The leaves look crinkly and have saw- toothed margins and the stem is very hairy. If these four identification points aren’t present then the plant isn’t boneset. The leaves joining around the stem as they do looked like bones knitting together as they healed to ancient herbalists, and that’s how the plant got its common name.As flowers go Canada horseweed (Conyza canadensis) isn’t much to look at. In fact, if it wasn’t for the many small, dandelion-like seed heads I would have passed it right by. The flowers are tiny and seem to stay closed more than they do open. This plant can be easily seen from a distance because it starts branching at about a foot down from the tip of the tall, 3 foot stem and always looks top heavy. This plant is a North American native but is considered a noxious weed over much of the world. Legend has it that dried horseweed stem is one of the best materials for a drill when making fire with friction. Its stems are weak, so rubbing it between your hands rather than using a bow is recommended. It is said to produce a glowing coal with very little effort.There are 12 to 15 species of Gerardia in New England and unless you look closely at the plant while you have a field guide in your hands, you can easily mix them up. This one, I’m fairly certain, is Slender Gerardia (Gerardia tenuifolia.) The wiry stems, long flower stalks, sharply pointed calyx, long, narrow leaves, branching habit and dark spots with yellow pollinator guide lines inside the flower all go a long way towards identifying it. Gerardia is related to both foxgloves and snap dragons, and some call this slender leaved foxglove, even though the flowers are much smaller than those of foxglove. This plant is said to prefer dry areas but we had a thunderstorm the night before I found it and it was growing in very wet sand.  It is native to the eastern U.S. and doesn’t grow west of Missouri.I ran into this native dwarf St. John’s Wort (Hypericum mutilum) on a morning after we had thunder storms the night before. There was quite a large colony of it growing very close to the water near a pond and the plants were so tangled together that you couldn’t tell one from another. The flowers are quite small but they covered the short, bushy plants, making them easy to see. This plant looks like a lot like a small version of common St. John’s Wort, but is more sprawling than tall. I’ve had a hard time getting close to this floating bladderwort (Utricularia radiate) but finally, after 2 months, I got close enough to get a decent photo and its flower was closed! Oh well-you’ll have to trust me when I say that the small yellow, snapdragon-like flower is unusual and beautiful. What I really wanted to point out about the plant are the unusual leaf stalks (petioles) that have evolved into floats. In the fall the plant forms what are called winter buds on its underwater stems. These buds and bits of stem are all that survive the winter on the pond bottom. In spring when the water warms they inflate and float to the surface where they start to grow into new plants. These plants float in ponds and slow moving streams and trap insects in underwater bladders.I found this forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides) growing on a river bank. Books tell me that the plant grows naturally on the banks of streams and rivers, but this is the only time I’ve ever seen one there in spite of spending over 50 years exploring such places. There are over 50 species of forget-me-nots; some are native to North America and some are European natives.Heal all (Prunella vulgaris ) just goes on and on. It’s been blossoming all summer and it seems that whenever I find a plant I’d like a photograph of there is heal all, waiting patiently to have its picture taken, too. This time I decided to oblige and snapped a few shots of the shy but very beautiful little thing. Like the forget-me-not that we just saw, heal all can be both a native or European plant, depending on which species you happen to see.As the story goes, once upon a time a lady (with a dirty thumb?) made an impression on this plant  and it has been called lady’s thumb (Polygonum persicaria) ever since. Though it doesn’t show very well in this photo, the base of each leaf forms a clasping sheath where it joins the central stem. Clasping leaves and the spots on each leaf are helpful identifiers. The small whitish-pink flowers are hard to find fully open and most often appear as they do in the photo. This is a small, unobtrusive plant that might reach 2 feet tall on a good day. Lady’s thumb is very similar to other knotweeds and smartweeds, but is the only one with the brownish black “thumb print.” I found the plant pictured growing in the rocky, sandy soil of a river bank, very close to the water line.When you get up close and personal pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) turns out to be quite hairy. This is one feature which, at even a short distance, usually isn’t seen. Pickerelweed, unless it hasn’t rained for a month, is an aquatic plant always found growing in shallow water just off shore of ponds and rivers. This year though, with the lack of rain, this one grew in mud at the edge of a pond and I was able to walk right up to it.  Pickerelweed will bloom right up to a good frost. While the tops die back in the fall, the starchy, fleshy roots will live on under water until the following spring. Deer, muskrat and geese think this plant is a delicacy. At first I thought this plant was northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) but I can’t find any reference to reddish leaves and dark purple stems for that plant. Instead, it must be the very similar looking taper leaf water horehound (Lycopus rubellus.) Its description includes both reddish leaves and stems which can be more purple than green, especially when it grows in bright light. Both plants love wet soil and are good wetland indicators. I found this one growing in full sun on a riverbank in a place that is often covered by water. I’ve seen it countless times but have really never paid it any attention.Spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a wet soil loving native plant and I see it on river and stream banks regularly. One story says that water droplets sparkle on the dull green leaves after a rain, and that’s why the plant is called jewelweed. Another says it’s because the flowers sparkle in the sun. Several species of bees and ruby throated hummingbirds visit jewelweeds regularly. The forward bending nectar spur on each flower plus their orange color makes this plant easy to identify.  Another name for the plant is spotted touch me not because of the way the seed pods explode at the slightest touch. I’m sure most of us experienced that surprising event as children. This plant is extremely useful for soothing skin that has come into contact with poison ivy. Just pick a few stems and squeeze the sap onto the itch and rub it in. The itch will be gone in no time.  A similar but less common plant is yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida,) which has pale yellow flowers.This wet meadow has been seen here before. It is a fine place to find all kinds of sun loving wildflowers and some of those in this post live there. It also reminds me of an impressionist’s painting. Monet, maybe?

Be like the sun and meadow, which are not in the least concerned about the coming winter ~George Bernard Shaw

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