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Posts Tagged ‘Forked Blue Curls’

I thought I’d start this post with a flower that I couldn’t show in my last flower post. This is the ornamental datura (Datura metel) finally fully opened and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a huge blossom; the end of the trumpet shaped bloom seen here is nearly as big as a tennis ball and the overall length must be close to 5 inches.

I’ve seen the first purple flowered aster of the year. I’m not sure which one it was but the flower size was too small to be a New England aster. It might be a purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum.) It grew in a very wet spot.

At a glance common 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 as they are here, with the Joe Pye weed the pinkish purple flowers in the background. I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

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. The common name comes from the way that the joined leaves looked like broken bones knitting themselves back together. Joe Pye weed leaves have leaf stems (petioles) and look very different. Boneset was a very valuable medicine to Native Americans and they showed early settlers how to use the plant to reduce fever and relieve coughs and congestion. It was also used to ease aches and pains of all kinds.

Two years ago with a lot of help from readers this beautiful little thing was identified as low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis.)  The flowers are tiny; about the same size as those of red sandspurry, and blossom on the ends of wiry stems. Its leaves are also small and sword shaped and very hard to see in this photo. This entire plant shown would fit in a tea cup with room to spare. It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath. I had never seen it before that but now I see it quite regularly. I’m guessing it re-seeds itself prolifically.

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a late summer blooming native clematis vine that drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees, but in this photo it has set its sights considerably lower and grew over nearby plants. As long as it finds the sunshine it needs, it doesn’t matter what it grows on.  An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten. Another name for virgin’s bower is traveler’s joy which it is, but its small white flowers are another reminder that fall is near.

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees like it’s doing in this photo. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. These plants are annuals and grow from seed each year.

The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of wild cucumber have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. They look prickly but the spines are soft until the fruits dry out and drop their seeds. By then they’re so light and desiccated that they can’t be thrown at anybody. The fruit is not edible and doesn’t really resemble a cucumber. I couldn’t find any on this vine so I’m showing this example from last year.

Native clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is also called summer sweet because of its sweet, spicy fragrance. If you have low spots in your yard that get wet occasionally, this is a good shrub to plant in them because it likes moist soil and grows naturally along stream banks and in swampy ground. Bees love it too, and these plants are covered with them every time I visit them in bloom. If you’re trying to attract pollinators this shrub should be in your yard.

Each long upright clethra flower head is packed with small white flowers. Small yes, but also very fragrant; it has the name summer sweet for a reason. I took a nice big sniff of these and the spicy sweet fragrance stayed with me almost all day. Some older nurserymen might also know it as sweet pepperbush. Whoever gave it that name thought its fruits resembled pepper corns. Clethra was named wildflower of the year by the Virginia Wildflower Society in 2015. An odd fact about this native shrub is that it doesn’t seem to have any medicinal or culinary uses. I can’t find a single reference regarding its use by Native Americans but I feel certain that they must have used it in some way.

I find spearmint (Mentha spicata) growing in the sunshine at the edge of the woods. Like wild mint (Mentha arvensis) spearmint has been used since before recorded time both medicinally and as a flavoring. Pliny wrote of it and the ancient Romans cultivated it to scent their bath water. Spearmint is originally from Europe but the Pilgrims brought it on their first trip to America, so valuable was the plant to them.

Instead of growing in the leaf axils as they do on wild mint, tiny spearmint flowers appear near the top of the stem. They are said to be pink or white but these were white, blue, pink and lavender. Their scent is very refreshing on a hot summer day and always reminds me of spearmint gum. Just imagine; right now you are seeing the same flowers that people admired 2000 years ago.

I wasn’t sure if I’d see chicory (Cichorium intybus) in bloom this year but there were several plants blooming along the roadside in Stoddard. I love the beautiful blue color of these flowers and if I could have a yard full of them I would. I’ve read that chicory flowers can also rarely be white or pink, but I’ve never seen them wearing those colors. These plants aren’t real common here but you can find small colonies dotted here and there throughout the countryside. The large, inch and a half diameter flowers on 4 foot tall plants means they’re easy to see. The roasted and ground root of chicory makes a passable coffee substitute.

I found this hollyhock growing in a local garden. At least I think it’s a hollyhock. I’m sure that it’s in the mallow family but I’ve never seen it so I had to try to find it in books and online. I think it might be the mountain hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis,) which is a small flowered native with maple shaped leaves. According to the U.S. Forest Service it likes to grow along woodland streams, but I’ve never seen it in the wild. Mountain hollyhock is also known as “checker mallow.” Mallow means “soft” and describes the soft leaves. Native Americans chewed the stems like gum.

This pretty daylily that grows in the garden of friends has a strange story. My friends were pretty sure I gave it to them years ago but none of us could remember for sure, and since I didn’t have one like it in my yard I doubted it had come from me. But then part of an old oak tree fell a couple of years ago and like magic, I had this daylily blooming in my yard this year. The oak tree had shaded it out so badly years ago that it had lived for years but didn’t bloom. Now, I can enjoy it once again. Amazing what a little sunshine will bring about.

Here is a sampling of what our meadows look like now, with goldenrods and purple loosestrife predominating.  The loosestrife is highly invasive but it is very pretty when it blooms with goldenrods.

Here is a wider roadside view of just a small sampling of the flowers we have blooming now. For sheer numbers and variety August is the month of flowers.

You would never see one of our prettiest wildflowers blooming in that previous photo, because beautiful little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) are also one of the smallest. These little beauties get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. 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. 

Forked blue curls are annual plants that grow from seed each year. They are very small and you have to get down on your hands and knees for a view like this but it’s worth it because they are beautiful. This native plant grows as far west as Texas.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

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1. Crooked Stem Aster

This crooked stem aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) is one of the first blue asters I’ve seen this year. I found a small colony growing in a sunny spot in the woods, surrounded by many other white asters.  I don’t usually try to identify asters but the one inch diameter light blue flowers and zigzagging stems made this one easier than most. The Native American Iroquois tribe used this plant medicinally to treat fevers and other ailments.

2. Bigleaf Aster

Native large leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla) is another aster that is relatively easy to identify because of its big heart shaped leaves. The plant spreads by rhizomatous roots and can form very large colonies, especially on hillsides as these examples were. Its leaves are often as big as my hand and they can take a lot of shade. The plant seems to be blooming well this year in spite of drought so I’m assuming that they don’t mind dry soil. They don’t like being disturbed by human activity so I don’t see them close to roadsides often. These were separated from the road by a wide drainage ditch.

3. Bigleaf Aster

Most of the flowers that I find on large leaved asters are white but they can also be light blue or lavender. As in many asters the ray florets are irregularly spaced around the central disc florets. The tubular disc florets turn from yellow to orange-red as they age and then change to dark red before finally turning brown.

4. Mint

If the square stems and tufts of tiny pink / purple flowers in the leaf axils don’t ring a bell, then one sniff of a crushed leaf will tell you immediately that this plant is wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) Mint has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. Each time we see it we are seeing one of mankind’s earliest memories. I find it growing in the tall grass at the edge of the forest and I always have to smell it.

5. Narrow Leaved Speedwell aka (Veronica scutellata)

I never thought of speedwell as an aquatic plant until I met the narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata.) It is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense, because it grew in standing water in full sun at the edge of a field last year. This year there was no standing water but the soil was still saturated. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

6. Narrow Leaved Speedwell aka (Veronica scutellata)

Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there are many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice.

7. Forked Blue Curls

Tiny eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) has flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day, 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. It’s a beautiful little thing that’s worth looking for, but getting a good photo of it is tricky. It took 8 tries to get this one.

8. Forked Blue Curls

Forked blue curl plants barely reach your ankle. The entire plant pictured could have easily fit inside a coffee mug.

9. Pilewort

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is a strange plant with inch long flower buds that never seem to open beyond what you see in the above photo. Even after they open they still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely.  This plant gets its common name from the belief that it was useful in the treatment of piles (hemorrhoids,) because the buds are the size and shape of suppositories. The Native American Algonquin people used the plant to treat poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) rashes. It has also been used as a source of a blue dye for cotton and wool.

10. Pilewort

This is all we see of a pilewort flower when it opens. It is made up of many disc florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. Once they go to seed they will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds. In some areas it is called burn weed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

11. Pipewort

The drought we find ourselves in is presenting many problems but also a few opportunities. Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep standing water but the water of this pond had receded enough so that I could walk right up to the plants shown without taking my shoes off. Since they grow with their lower stems submerged I’ve never been able to see the entire plant, but now I could.

12. Pipewort

I’m not sure what I expected to see but the leaves surprised me. With leaves the pipewort looked just like many other plants but its basal leaves normally grow underwater, which seems a little strange. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize. The stem has a twist to it with 7 ridges and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort.

13. Pipewort

Most pipeworts grow just offshore 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. 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.

14. Wild Cucumber

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees and hangs on using tendrils like a grape. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers partial shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. These plants are annuals and grow from seed each year.

15. Wild Cucumber

The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

16. Wild Cucumber fruit

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of the wild cucumber have a watermelon shape. Though the spines look menacing they are quite soft and children have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. The fruit is not edible. The example shown here hadn’t grown to full size yet.

17. Toadflax

Little native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) has been blooming since May and is one of our longest blooming wildflowers. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers. They sparkle like sugar candy in the sunlight.

18. Chicory

Last year the Town of Swanzey cut down all the plants and shrubs along a short stretch of the Ashuelot River and one of those plants was the chicory (Cichorium intybus) in the above photo. It gets mowed regularly now, so I was surprised to see a normal size flower on a plant no more than three inches tall. It looks a little stressed, whether from drought or being mowed I don’t know but it’s a beautiful flower, and stronger than I ever knew.

Beauty does not linger; it only visits. Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm; it calls us to feel, think and act beautifully in the world: to create and live a life that awakens the beautiful. ~ John O’Donohue

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1. Mount Caesar

History says that Mount Caesar in Swanzey was named after Caesar Freeman, a freed black slave and one of the original settlers in the area. It is said that he lived with the Carpenter family, which is still a well-known name in the town today. I haven’t climbed here since last year, so I thought I’d give it a go over Labor Day weekend.

2. Reindeer Lichens

Mount Caesar seems to be a huge granite monolith. Here and there on the trail you can see where the soil has washed away from the bedrock. At the bottom where the trail starts large areas of reindeer lichens grow on a thin film of soil that covers the granite.

3. Clearcut Forest

Last year, on the other side of a stone wall from the reindeer lichens in the previous photo, large areas of forest were clear cut. This means that the reindeer lichens, pink lady’s slippers, mosses, ferns, and many other shade loving plants now get full afternoon sun. I wonder how long they’ll be able to stand it.

4. Forked Blue Curls

On the other hand, many sun loving annual plants like forked blue curls, slender gerardia, and different lobelia varieties have moved in to colonize the now sunny clear cut area. The forked blue curl blossom (Trichostema dichotomum) pictured had its anthers completely curled up and tucked under, which is something I’ve never seen them do. There are hundreds of these little plants here now.

5. Blowdown

More sunlight isn’t the only change; the loss of such large areas of forest also means that there is now nothing to slow the wind, and several trees in the remaining forest next to the clear cut have been blown down.

 6. Trail

Large log skidders dragging trees down the trail have turned it into road full of rocks and roots. This might not seem like a big deal unless you understand that this trail was probably made by Native Americans and was most likely almost invisible to settlers. Compared to what it once might have been it is now a super highway.

7. Club Coral

Yellow spindle coral mushrooms (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) seem to like growing in soil that has been well packed down, and there is plenty of that along this trail. This group was less than an inch tall. They looked like tiny yellow flames coming out of the earth.

 8. Mushroom with Yellowish Stem

I haven’t been able to identify these pretty mushrooms that I found lying beside the trail and I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen them before. Someone must have picked them to get a closer look.

9. Trail

If you compare the natural lay of the land to the trail surface you can see how much the trail has been eroded-as much as two feet of depth in some places. Parts of it are always wet and muddy but when it rains there is little to stop the entire trail from becoming a stream, so it erodes even more.

 10. View from the Top

In spite of all the obstacles you finally make it to the summit and as always, find that it was worth the effort. This was a beautiful blue sky, white puffy cloud kind of day and I wondered as I sat here, why wouldn’t Native Americans have climbed to this spot to enjoy the view just as we do? It is said that they used Mount Caesar as a lookout but I think that they came here just to sit and gaze too, just like I do.

This mountain and the surrounding lands were extremely valuable to the Native American tribe called Squakheag who lived here and they were willing to fight to the death for them. In April of 1747 they burned the town of Swanzey to the ground. The settlers, fearing the rapidly expanding numbers of natives in the area had all left for Massachusetts, but of course they eventually returned and defeated the natives. Sadly, that seems to have marked the end of any real native presence here. It’s hard not to wonder how much richer our lives would be if we had learned to coexist. The loss of thousands of years of first-hand knowledge of plants, animals, and all of nature is such a shame.

11. View from the Top

You couldn’t have asked for a better day to be sitting on top of a mountain contemplating the view and pondering a little colonial history, so I was surprised to find that I had the whole place to myself. The hardest part of climbing for me is leaving such beauty behind and going back down. There really isn’t any other experience I can think of that can compare to sitting on a mountain top.

12. Mount Monadnock From Mount Caesar

It is said that on Mount Caesar and on the summits of several other hills in the area, there are arrows carved into the granite that all point to Mount Monadnock, which is pictured here. Unfortunately every time I climb up here I forget to look for it but anyhow, there’s no missing Monadnock. At 3, 165 feet it is taller than any other feature in the region.

 13. Lowbush Blueberry

Lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) were already showing their fall colors on the summit.

14. Cliff Edge

If you’re reading this and think you might like to climb Mount Caesar I would bring a flashlight if it’s going to be a late afternoon trip. There are sheer cliffs here, so this isn’t the place to be wandering around in the dark.

15. Toadskin Lichen

Besides the view one of the things that draws me up here are the toad skin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) that live on the summit, because this is the only place I know of to find them.  They grow on stone and are very warty, and they really do look like toad skin. The black dots are their fruiting bodies (apothecia.)

To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits.   ~Sir Francis Younghusband.

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1. Forked Blue Curls

One of my favorite wildflowers is the tiny eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) and it has just started blooming. The plant barely reaches 6 inches tall and the flowers might make a half inch across on a good day, 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 from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks.

 2. Rosebay Willowherb

Nature must have been in a secret revealing mood as I drove down an old dirt road recently. This very beautiful rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) grew just off the side of the road at the edge of a swamp. At least, I think it is rosebay willowherb; I’ve never seen it before and there seems to be some confusion among sources about the regions it grows in. According to the USDA it doesn’t grow in New England, but the University of Maine lists it in its database. Another name for the plant is fireweed and Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it in 1857, so I’m wondering if the USDA map is be incorrect. If you live in New Hampshire and have seen this plant I’d love to hear from you.

 3. Bull Thistle

Just look at those thorns. They felt the need to remind me how sharp they were when I was trying to take this photo. Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. I wonder if it was imported intentionally or accidentally.

 4. Broad Leaved Helleborine aka Epipactis helleborine

Another European import is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) Imported as an ornamental in the 1800s, it escaped cultivation and found a new home. It could hardly be called invasive in this area though; I know of only two places where it grows and in one of those places there is just a single plant. It grows to about knee high in deep shade, making it a challenge to photograph.

5. Broad Leaved Helleborine aka Epipactis helleborine

The pencil eraser size flowers of broad leaved helleborine resemble our pink ladies slipper in shape but are mostly green with hints of purple. Some plants have flowers that are much more purple than others. Its leaves closely resemble those of false hellebore (Veratrum viride) but are much smaller.

 6. Burdock Flower

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is 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.

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.

7. Flowering Raspberry

Many plants have had an extended bloom period this year and purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is no exception. I’m still seeing its flowers here and there, even though the plant usually stops blooming a month after it starts in mid-June. I’ve always liked its two inch, rose like blossoms. If you’re looking for a shade tolerant flowering shrub this one is a good choice.

8. Flowering Raspberry Fruit

Purple flowering raspberry is closely related to thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) and gets its common name from its large, raspberry like fruit. I’ve never eaten one but some say that they’re close to tasteless and others say they taste like dried raspberries. The plant is unreliable as a source of berries though; I’ve seen many clusters with no fruit at all and others that had 5 or 6 flowers bearing only a single berry.

 9. Purple Loosestrife

Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace line the shores of a sea of purple loosestrife. This is a good example of how invasive purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and creates a monoculture. Not that long ago this area was full of native wildflowers but soon purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is all that will be seen here.

10. Purple Coneflower

Though eastern purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a native wildflower I don’t often find it growing outside of gardens. Native American plains tribes used this plant to treat toothaches, coughs, colds, sore throats, and snake bite. Something interesting that I read recently said that Native Americans got the idea that coneflower could be used medicinally by watching sick and injured elk eat the plants. I’ve always wondered how natives came to know if a plant was poisonous or not and thought that they must have simply used trial and error. Pity the one who had to try an unknown plant for the first time.

11. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod

I usually stay away from goldenrod identification because there are so many of them that even botanists get confused, but slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is easy because of its long, slender leaves and its fragrance. 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.  Still, I always smell them just to be sure.

12. Rabbit's Foot Clover

Invasive rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) is short enough to be forced to grow right at the edge of the road if it wants to get any sunshine, so the roads look like they have been festooned with fuzzy pink ribbons for a while each summer. It’s an annual that grows new from seed each year and the seedlings must be tough, because they don’t seem to mind being occasionally run over, or the poor dry soil found along the road side. In fact they seem to thrive in it. I see more plants each year.

13. Virgin's Bower

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) has draped itself over the shrubs alongside our roads and its small white flowers are another reminder that fall is near. Another name for this vine is traveler’s joy, which it is. Native American used it medicinally but it is toxic and can cause severe mouth pain if any parts of it are eaten.

 14. Bottle Gentians

Twenty five years ago or so I was hiking along an old forgotten dirt road through a Massachusetts forest and came upon a single fringed gentian plant (Gentianopsis crinita.) That was the only gentian I had ever seen in my lifetime until just the other day, when I saw these bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) growing alongside the same road that the rosebay willowherbs were on. It’s a good thing there was no traffic because I jammed on my brakes and jumped out to admire them. They are extremely rare in these parts and I was as excited to see them as I would have been to have seen a field full of orchids.

NOTE: I’ve just discovered that these are narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis.) I’m sorry about the confusion.

 

15. Bottle Gentian

Bottle gentians are often called closed bottle gentians because the flowers stay closed just as they are in the photo, even when they are ready to be pollinated. Few insects are strong enough to pry the flower parts open to get at the nectar and pollen, but bumblebees are usually successful. Their selective method of pollination and the fact that most of their seedlings die off before flowering might account for this plant’s rarity. Since its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores, it is said that bottle gentians have very little ecological value. It’s almost as if they’re here simply to be admired by humans.

He who is born with a silver spoon in his mouth is generally considered a fortunate person, but his good fortune is small compared to that of the happy mortal who enters this world with a passion for flowers in his soul.  ~Celia Thaxter

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Here are a few more examples of what’s blooming in southwestern New Hampshire right now.

 1. Buttonbush

Native button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is blooming along rivers and ponds now, but it isn’t real common. This plant is a shrub that can reach 12 feet tall. The flowers are unusual-the spiky pistils stick out quite far above the petals, giving the round flower head the look of a pincushion. Native Americans used the roots and bark of these shrubs medicinally but modern science has found that the plant contains a compound called cephalanthin, which destroys red blood cells.

 2. American Burr Reed aka Sparganium americanum

American bur reed (Sparganium americanum) looks almost like a miniature version of the button bush in the previous photo. Since they both like water they are often found growing together on the same stretch of shoreline. The round, spiky female flowers of burr reed grow at the bottom of the stem and the male flowers with yellow stamens above them. Ducks and other waterfowl love the seeds.

 3. Partridge Pea

In New Hampshire native partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate) is a quiet little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of the woods and you really don’t hear much about it. In other areas it is often grown for honey production.  This annual plant is a legume in the pea family and is a great addition to a wildflower garden because it attracts a large variety of insects and wild life.

 4. Showy Tick Trefoil

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is another legume in the bean family but it is a perennial. I like it because it blooms in late summer along with goldenrod and I think that the colors go well together. This plant gets its name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and stick to clothing like ticks. Deer, rabbits, woodchucks and even cows love to eat this plant. Books and websites say its flower is pink but my color finding software sees purple in this photo, and so do I.

5. Hedge Bindweed

I see a lot of white hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) but not many bi-color flowers like this one. It’s a beauty.

6. Yellow Toadflax aka Linaria vulgaris

Yellow toadflax was introduced from Europe and Asia as an ornamental but as the old, familiar story goes; it escaped cultivation and is now found on roadsides and in pastures of every state in the country except Hawaii. Called butter and eggs, this plant is hated by cattlemen because it can take over large areas of pasture. Cattle know it is toxic and don’t touch it.

 7. Virgin's Bower

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a late summer blooming native clematis vine that drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees.

 8. Virgin's Bower

The flowers of virgin’s bower resemble those of sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata), which is a nonnative garden climber that has escaped. The plant is also called old man’s beard and devils’ darning needles. An extract made from it is hallucinogenic and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth, so it no part of it should ever be eaten.

 9. Wild Cucumber

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is another late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. These plants are annuals and grow from seed each year. The spiny, 2 inch long fruits have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. The fruit is not edible.

 10. Wild Cucumber

The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

11. Black Swallowort aka Cynanchum louiseae

Plant breeders have been trying for centuries to breed a plant with black flowers but nature beat them to it with black swallow-wort (Cynanchum louiseae). The flowers can be black to dark purple and look like tiny stars. This plant is native to Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain and in 1854 it escaped from a botanical garden here in the U.S. and has been trying to take over since. It grows long, wire-like vines that are strong enough to trip you up without breaking. It is for that reason its other common name, dog strangler, came about.

 12. Mad Dog Skullcap

The seed pods of native mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) might look like an old fashioned skullcap, but the only thing the plant has to do with mad dogs is the erroneous belief that the it cured rabies. Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. These plants are quite small to begin with but many plants that grow on river banks where the river floods regularly can be stunted and quite smaller than usual, and I think that is what happened to these plants. These flowers were very small-no more than 1/8 of an inch long.

13. Dwarf St. Johnswort aka Hypericum mutilum

Dwarf St. Johnswort  (Hypericum mutilum) grows on the riverbank with the mad dog skullcap but it grows small naturally instead of being stunted. These flowers were about the same diameter as a pencil eraser. Like its bigger cousins the leaves of this plant contain a compound called hypericin, which can make light skinned people more susceptible to sunburn by way of a photosensitive reaction.

14. Forked Blue Curls

Another small flower I find on the upper gravel part of the riverbank is the forked blue curl (Trichostema dichotomum.) These are annual plants that grow from seed each year and I was afraid that all the seeds would have washed away in last spring’s flooding, but here they are. They are very small and you have to get down on your hands and knees for a view like this but it’s worth it because they are beautiful. This native plant grows as far west as Texas.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

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This post is another of those that contain those interesting things I see that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

Forked blue curl (Trichostema dichotomum) seed pods show four round, dimpled seeds. These are so small that it’s hard to see them without magnification. This plant in the mint family is an annual and depends on its seeds growing into new plants the following season. The beautiful blue flowers appear quite late in the season. 

It had to have been the light, but these Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) looked just as blue in the woods as they do in this photo. I can’t find any reference to blue Indian pipes, either in books or online. Even my color finder software sees blue. I wonder if anyone else has ever seen this. We don’t pay much attention to this plant once the flowers go by, but Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) has quite showy fruit. The plant’s common name comes from the flavor of its small root. The spiky seed pod on this jimsonweed plant (Datura stramonium) might be trying to tell us that its seeds can be very dangerous if eaten. It’s no wonder the plant is also called thorn apple.

I love the colors found on a sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis.) If you walk around to the backside of this tree where it never gets any sun, it looks totally different-nowhere near as colorful. Whenever I start to think that I understand nature I run into something like this tree, which reminds me that I really know very little. Is this tree’s bark a light color so it reflects, rather than absorbs heat from the sun? That’s just one of the questions I have about sycamores.

I’m glad I didn’t accidentally grab the branch this tussock moth caterpillar (Lymantriidae) was on. Many caterpillars in this family have hairs called urticating hairs that are very similar to those found on stinging nettles. It is said that their sting can be quite painful and last for several days. These caterpillars are supposed to be voracious eaters and can cause quite a lot of damage to crops. 

This turtle was really craning his neck to see what I was up to, so I took a couple of shots and left him alone. Turtles spend winter buried in the mud of the pond they live in. They also sleep there, and can breathe as well as absorb oxygen through their skin. I think it might be a painted turtle.

This great Blue Heron had his back to me and didn’t seem to care what I was doing. He flew off shortly after I took this photo though. I’ve seen this bird here many times and he always seems to be waiting for the sun to come up because when it does he flies off.

This great black Cormorant fishes at a local pond and another one-or maybe it’s the same one-fishes in a river near here. The sun was dropping fast and I had to almost shoot into it, so I really didn’t think I’d get a picture of this bird. It’s not the sharpest picture I’ve ever taken, but it is the only one of a great cormorant that I have. The feathers on this bird’s belly and leading wing edge look more like scales than feathers, and it has big webbed feet so it can really move quickly when chasing fish under water. They can also hold their breath for quite a while under water.

The partridge berries (Mitchella repens) are ripe. This one shows the two dimples left by the twin flowers whose ovaries fuse to form one berry. This small trailing vine can form colonies that are several feet across under the right conditions.

This mushroom had released its spores, making it look as if someone had spray painted the pine needles. Mushroom spores should never be inhaled. There are documented instances of spores actually growing in human lungs. 

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is also called arrow wood. Its beautiful white flowers turn into blue-black berries, which aren’t often seen. This plant’s fall foliage is some of the most colorful in the forest and I always look for it. The shrub is called arrow wood because its branches grow very straight and some believe that Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. 

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) really lights up dark spaces in the fall.

If you have ever tried to get one of these spiky seed pods out of your dog’s fur you have a good idea of one reason rough cockleburr (Xanthium strumarium) is considered a noxious weed. The hooked spines on the seed pods get caught on just about anything and are why this plant has spread far and wide. I found this one growing on a riverbank, but they will grow just about anywhere.

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper ~Eden Phillpotts

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I spend a lot of my plant hunting time near ponds, streams and rivers because that’s where the wildflowers like to grow. This post is about the flowers I found on 2 or 3 recent visits to the Ashuelot (pronounced Ash-will-lot or Ash-wee-lot) river in both Keene and further south in Swanzey, New Hampshire. Because of a long stretch of dry weather the river is about as low as I’ve ever seen it.You can see by the dark areas on the stones how much lower the river is than is normal. You can also see that it isn’t taking long for plants to start colonizing those parts of the bank that are normally under water. False pimpernel (Lindernia dubia) was growing in the wet mud nearly at the water’s edge in a spot that would have normally been under water.  These flowers are quite small and I had to re-shoot them three or four times before I had pictures I could live with. This plant sheds all its flowers each evening so all you see is blue / purple flowers all over the ground around it, then the following morning more flower buds open with that day’s flowers. What is strange is that I can’t find any reference to this habit either in books or online, even though I witnessed it on several evenings.  False pimpernel is listed as endangered in New Hampshire. A side view of false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia.) Looking down the throat of a false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia.)  This flower has 4 stamens, 2 fertile and 2 infertile. Under its hood, 2 of its stamens curve down like cobra fangs, but no matter how many pictures I took from any angle in any light, I couldn’t really capture the curved stamens. I sure was covered with river mud from trying though! I wasn’t the only one who got muddy. The mud was so soft that even the raccoons were sinking into it. You have to be careful where you step because there are some spots on this river-mostly in still backwaters- that contain quicksand. I don’t know if there are any areas of quicksand near this backwater, but there sure was plenty of algae. It’s clear that the river hasn’t stirred here for a while. Dwarf St. John’s Wort (Hypericum mutilum) is another tiny flowered native plant that likes to grow at the water’s edge in sandy soil. Dwarf St. John’s Wort’s foliage usually looks untouched by insects or animals because it is slightly toxic. Each flower has 5 petals and 5 light green sepals and is maybe half the size of a pencil eraser. Be careful when identifying those bedstraws! Most have 4 petals but two of them, three petaled bedstraw (Galium trifidum) and stiff marsh bedstraw (Galium tinctorium) pictured here, have three petals. The flowers are very small-even smaller than those of the dwarf St. John’s wort described previously. Its whorled leaves usually appear in groups of 5 or 6. The odd fruits are pairs of tiny black spheres that each contains 1 tiny seed. This native stiff marsh bedstraw plant grew in moist sand very close to the water’s edge. Another common name for the plant is Clayton’s bedstraw.You don’t have to get much closer than this to our native nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) to know what it is. This is also called curly top smartweed-obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. Each flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. These plants are big-the picture shows just a small part of a colony that must have been 7-8 feet across and 3-4 feet tall and there were several colonies just like it dotting the river bank a foot or two from the water. There are other smartweeds that droop but their flower spikes aren’t as densely packed as these. Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum ) thickets grow along the top of the river bank and the weight of the berry clusters pulls the long branches down to hang out over the water. These bushes are big-most are 10 feet across-and are loaded with fruit. This plant has blue berries that start out white and because of that it might be confused with red osier dogwood, which has white berries that sometimes have a bluish blush. The easiest way to identify them is to remember that silky dogwood is named for the soft, downy hairs that cover the branches and red osier dogwoods have red branches. In fact, red osier dogwood is also called red twigged dogwood. Native Americans used dogwood branches to make fish traps and twisted the bark into rope. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum ) weren’t growing at the water’s edge but grew close enough so the spot will be under water in the spring. There was quite a large colony of 15-20 plants growing here. It’s interesting that Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide says that this is a “plant of dry soil, often found along railroad tracks.” I’ve never seen them along railroad tracks but they seem real happy here in this damp river sand. No matter where they grow I’m always happy to see them-I love the blue color and the crazily bent stamens. Fellow New Hampshire blogger jomegat took the best picture of this flower that I’ve seen. It can be seen by clicking hereNative panicled tick trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) also grows midway up the river bank. As wildflowers go, this one is quite easy to identify with its pinkish, pea like blossoms, hairy stems, flattish flower buds and flat, segmented seed pods. I chose this picture more for the flower buds than the flowers because tick trefoil buds don’t look quite like any other wildflower that I can think of, and the flattish buds are a help with identification. One day I walked through a colony of these plants without realizing it and got absolutely covered with its sticky seed pods. No amount of brushing will get them off-they have to be picked off, one by one.  Panicled tick trefoil starts blooming quite late in summer when other tick trefoils have just about finished. Another trefoil, bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) grows on the side of the river that gets the most sun. Lupines and chicory also grow here-it seems to be quite a fertile patch of ground, for legumes especially. This plant was imported from Europe for use as a forage plant, but it has escaped cultivation and is now found just about everywhere. Its common name came about because someone thought its seedpods looked like a bird’s foot.Partridge pea (Chamaechrista fasciculate) grows further up the river bank, above the normal water line where it is drier. The nickel size golden yellow flowers come right off the stem in the leaf axils. Every time I see one of these flowers it seems like it’s only three quarters of the way open-apparently that is just one of its habits. The many small leaflets that make up each leaf are a good way to identify this plant. Partridge pea is an annual and grows new from seeds each year. They are native plants that stand about a foot tall. Downy willow herb (Epilobium strictum) has at least 3 cousins that look much like it, so it can be hard to identify. I think downy willow herb is the only one that doesn’t have a stigma (sticky tip of the center pistil) that is 4 lobed. The hairy stems and knob shaped pistil also help identify this one. This plant is a native and can be found on river banks and other moist areas. It is related to fireweed and has lavender petals and anther filaments that are slightly darker than the petals. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) grows away from the water, but still on the river bank. This is one of my favorite wildflowers and I’m glad that it grows here where it is so easy to get to. I love it mostly because of its sky blue color. One thing I didn’t know about this plant is that the large, half dollar sized flowers shrink up to a small, dried out looking bud in the evening. In fact, the first time I looked at these recently I thought they were done blooming for this year, but then the following morning they were covered with flowers. This plant hails from Europe. It’s easy to see why it was brought to the U.S. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) goldenrod, evening primrose, pilewort and wild lettuce grow at the tree line, just before the bottomland becomes forest. This land farthest from the river might get to taste of its water once in a century, when the river floods badly. It is home to plants that can take the driest soil and it supports some of the largest, showiest wildflowers.  New England asters have large flowers that are bigger than a quarter and are densely packed with purple ray florets surrounding the central yellow disc. At this time of year they are everywhere you look. I like asters but I don’t like that they signal the end of summer.Common dodder (Cuscuta gronovii ) is a parasitic vine that starts life growing from a seed but then, once it attaches itself to a host plant loses all contact with the soil and gets everything it needs from its host. I found quite a large tangle of dodder growing on a stand of goldenrod at the forest edge and the dodder had killed nearly every goldenrod plant. Since it has no leaves and couldn’t photosynthesize, the dodder literally sucked the life out of them. When its host plant dies the dodder simply twines its way around another host. It is considered a noxious weed, and you don’t want this one in your garden. The vine pictured is growing on oriental bittersweet, which is also a noxious weed. The easiest way to identify the plant is by the bright orange-yellow, twining stems and the tiny white flowers.

I choose to listen to the river for a while, thinking river thoughts, before joining the night and the stars ~ Edward Abbey

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