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Posts Tagged ‘Fringed Loosestrife’

Last Saturday the heat and humidity were supposed to return so I set off for one of my favorite rail trails. Since it was morning and the trail is mostly shaded I thought I’d be fine, but by the time I got back I was hot enough to complain about it.  The heat has kept me indoors just once since I’ve been doing this blog and that was the weekend before this walk when the heat index reached 104 degrees F. The humidity level was so high it made it very close to unbearable, so I spent my time next to an air conditioner. At least on this day the humidity wasn’t bad.

Right off I started seeing flowers, including this aster. I decided long ago that life is too short to spend days or weeks trying to identify asters and goldenrods, so I don’t know its name.

Steeplebush I do know and I was happy to see it. It’s a cousin of meadowsweet and is in the spirea family (Spirea tomentose) like that shrub is. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin. I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge and this one grew by the drainage ditch alongside the trail.

Cattails also grew in the drainage ditch and I liked the way the sunlight played on this one’s leaves. Darkish green is their natural color and the light green / yellow parts are caused by sunlight. When a ray of sunshine falls on a single plant or other bit of nature I always pay attention, and I’ve seen some beautiful things by doing so.

To some people sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine) isn’t a very exciting plant and I have to say that I haven’t had much to say about it over the course of this blog, but it is interesting. Sweet ferns are usually found growing in gravel at the edge of roads or in waste areas. They are small; about 3 feet tall-and have a mounding growth habit. The leaves are very aromatic and the scent can travel quite a distance on a hot summer day. It is said that crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin will keep insects away, and you can also make sweet fern tea from the foliage like Native Americans did.

The leaves of sweet fern do look sort of fern like and that’s how it gets its common name. I often run my hands over the leaves to release the fragrance that is held in tiny resin dots. The fragrance is what it is named for; some compare it to soap, others to spices or fresh mown hay. It is a very unusual scent that smells clean and a bit spicy to me. Sweet fern comes from the same family (Myricaceae) as the bay laurel, which is where bay leaves come from.

Once the spiky bur like husk opens the seed of the sweet fern, called a nutlet, appears.  Though the nutlets usually appear in clusters this example had just one. They’re very small at less than a quarter inch. Scientists have documented germination in seeds which had been in the soil for over 70 years and it is thought that seeds could still grow after lying in the soil for 100 years or more.

Hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) can grow in shade or full sun, so it was right at home along the trail. This fern gets its name from the way that it smells like fresh mown hay when you brush against it. The Native American Cherokee tribe used this fern medicinally to treat chills.

Stone walls are common along rail trails. It was a land owners way of telling the railroad where their right of way ended. Most of the walls along rail trails are very old.

This stretch of rail trail like many others in this area follows the Ashuelot river and you can get a glimpse of it every now and then. The embankment down to it is very high and steep though so actually getting near the river is all but impossible for me.

Some lucky homeowner has built a bridge right from his back yard to the rail trail. It’s easy to forget that these trails run so close to people’s homes but we shouldn’t forget. Just think how you’d feel if you had an endless procession of hikers, joggers, and bicyclists passing your house all day every day. It has to be annoying, so I don’t get upset when I see the occasional no trespassing sign.

In places the water in the drainage ditches had dried up, leaving multicolored mineral deposits behind.

You might have seen an acorn in the previous photo. All along the trail I heard the pfffft of them falling through the tree foliage. If I go by all the nuts and berries I’ve seen I’d guess that the animals will eat well this year.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) slowly turn their heads to the sky. Once they’re looking straight up at the sky that is the sign that they’ve been pollinated. They are also called ghost or corpse plants. Fresh stems contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that the Natives smoked and the uniflora part of the scientific name means a single flower, which is all each plant has.

Here is a rarely seen (on this blog) view into an Indian pipe flower. At the tips of the 10 stamens surrounding the center stigma are the anthers, colored yellow, which contain pollen. The anthers are open and shedding pollen at this stage.  In the center of the flower is the pollen-collecting stigma, which looks like a funnel between the yellowish stamens. Once pollinated each flower will eventually become a brown seed capsule. These capsules always look like beautiful little carved wooden flowers to me. Once they ripen they will split open into 5 separate parts to release tens of thousands of seeds to the wind. Each individual seed is only ten cells thick. Indian pipes are parasitic on certain fungi, which in turn are often parasitic on the roots of trees so in a roundabout way they get their food from trees.

Pretty little fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife blooms later. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed like they are on this example. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year.

The prize for the strangest thing I saw out here on this day goes to this golf ball.  I can’t imagine how anyone could play golf in a forest but maybe an animal stole it off someone’s lawn, I don’t know. It looked to be in new condition.

Before long I reached the trestle, where I stood for awhile thinking about how lucky I was to have a trail into the woods like this. It lets me see things that I’d never be able to see otherwise, like this stretch of river. If it wasn’t for the trail I’d have to bushwack my way through the woods or paddle upriver to get here. Thanks be to the snowmobilers who keep these trails open. They’re also the ones who add the wooden bits to the trestles so nobody drives their machines off them. That wouldn’t be good.

In this shot it doesn’t look like it would be much of a drop from the trestle to the river below.

But looks can be deceiving, and when I add some people in kayaks to the mix you can see that it would indeed be quite a drop. When I was a boy a friend of mine fell from the top of a trestle, which he had climbed, into the river. He lived to tell about it but I never saw him climb to the top of another one. The kayakers by the way were still,  pondering what to do about that big pine tree you can see up ahead that has fallen all the way across the river.

As the river bank showed, the water level is way down, but I’ve grown up on this river and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. If you want to walk across the Ashuelot River August is the time to do it in this area. I used to walk in the river when I was a boy, looking for old bottles. I found a lot of them too, and sold them to local bottle collecting clubs. That was when I learned what it was like to have money in my pocket and it was what led me to work at proper jobs, and that was how I lost my connection to nature for many years. Thankfully I was able to get it back.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.
~Edgar A. Guest

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Tall meadow rue flowers (Thalictrum pubescens) always bloom close to the 4th of July and always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” These are the plant’s male flowers; starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.

I don’t see tall meadow rue in meadows unless the meadow is very wet. I usually find it growing at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream. It was down an embankment, which was a good thing because it often grows 7-8 feet tall and towers over me. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance. In spring the plant’s young leaves fool many into thinking they’ve found wild columbine.

Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) also reminds me of fireworks. This one grows in my garden and also reminds me of the friend who gave it to me several years ago. Hers grew to towering heights but this one usually stays at about three feet.

This beautiful hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) blossomed after the rain we finally got last Thursday. It wasn’t enough but it helped. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds it has gotten to the point where all I see now are these bicolor ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves.

As I was admiring the hedge bindweed blossoms I happened to glance over to where one of our most beautiful wildflowers bloomed. Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are blooming about two weeks early this year. These plants are sometimes very tall and can tower over a person of average height but this one came only to my chin, and I’m not tall.

The flowers of Canada lilies are as big and as beautiful as the garden lilies I think we’re all familiar with and they come in red and orange as well as yellow. Their habit of nodding towards the ground can make getting a photo difficult, but I (very gently) tilt the stem back with one hand while I take the photos with the other. It’s not the ideal set up but it lets me show you the brownish purple spots on the inside throat of the trumpet and the huge red anthers. Speaking of anthers; many have found out the hard way that the pollen from those and other lily anthers will stain a white tablecloth permanently. The flower buds and roots were gathered and eaten by Native Americans. The scaly bulbs were cooked and eaten with other foods, such as venison and fish. They were also cooked and saved for winter use. They are said to have a very peppery flavor.

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is often called the ditch lily, because that’s where it grows. It is also found in cemeteries, often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. These days it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common.

This plant was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes and all of which have the potential to spread just like the original has. If you find yourself doing battle with a particularly weedy daylily, no matter the color, there’s a very good chance that the common orange is one of its parents.

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape, especially near brooks and streams. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

Common elderberry flower clusters look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. Each flower is tiny at only 1/4 inch across, and has 5 white petals or lobes, 5 yellow tipped stamens and 3 very small styles that fall off early after blooming. Each flower will be replaced by a single black (dark purple) drupe. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a single seed like a peach or cherry. Native Americans dried the fruit for winter use and soaked the berry stems in water to make a black dye for basketry.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and they can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area yet. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years but last year they seemed a little more plentiful.

Several times over the years I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are another yellow loosestrife that blooms at about the same time as the whorled loosestrife. Not surprisingly, they like to have their feet wet most of the time and are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. These plants stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife. The red dots on these petals seem to have run a bit and blended together. This is the first time I’ve seen this.

Pretty fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. It’s also the tallest and biggest flowered of the three yellow loosestrifes we have. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife usually blooms later. Like the lilies, this year it’s about two weeks early. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. Trout lily is another plant with elaiosomes.

Many years ago a friend gave me a piece of her Japanese iris. I don’t know its name but it’s a beautiful thing that is blooming now. It has very big flowers; they must be 2 or 3 times as big as a bearded iris blossom.

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that; it’s a very sharp, almost acrid odor and on a hot summer day your nose will tell you that you’re near this plant long before you see it.

Black swallowwort is a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. It is believed to have come to North America from Ukraine in the 1800s.  Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level. In Canada it is called the dog strangling vine and Canadians are testing the use of Hypena opulenta moth caterpillars as a means of biological control. So far they say, the results look promising. The caterpillars come from Ukraine and are a natural enemy of the plant. This plant illustrates the biggest danger of importing plants; the animals and insects that control them are left behind in their native lands, and once they arrive in their new home they are able to grow unchecked.

Two years ago I followed a trail through a swamp and was astonished to see a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) growing right there beside the trail. This year once again I’ve been following its progress off and on for months, watching it grow and produce buds, hoping all the while that nobody would pick it or a deer wouldn’t eat it. Finally it bloomed at exactly the same time it had last year and the year before.

This is easily one of the most beautiful flowers that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of flowers.  It is something I’d happily walk many miles to see because such a sight is so very rare; truly a once in a lifetime find in these parts. It grows in black, very wet swamp mud where for part of the spring there is standing water, so it obviously likes wet feet. I’ve read that the flowers are pollinated by large butterflies and moths, but I’ve never seen an insect near them. I do hope they get pollinated and produce plenty of seeds. The Native American Iroquois tribe actually dug this orchid up for its roots and  made tea from them to protect them from ghosts. Ghosts or not, I’d have a very hard time digging up something so beautiful.

My relationship to plants becomes closer and closer. They make me quiet; I like to be in their company. ~Peter Zumthor

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We’ve reached that point where you can’t walk through a field, drive down a road, or visit a forest without seeing flowers, because at this time of year they are everywhere. It is high summer and though I love spring I don’t see how any other season could be called more beautiful than this one.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) blooms in the tall grass of unmown meadows. It isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) that most of us have tangled with, but it does have small spines along the leaf margins and stem. Despite its common name the plant is actually a native of Europe but has spread to virtually every country in the northern hemisphere. It has a deep and extensive creeping root system and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold. For that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states.

Noxious weed or not I like the flowers of Canada thistle. In a way they remind me of knapweed, which is another noxious weed. The plant isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire but it is on the watch list. Where I find them growing they haven’t spread at all, and in fact this year there were fewer plants than last year.

Pretty little fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife blooms later. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed like they are on this example. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. Trout lily is another plant with elaiosomes.

Though many people think the flowers are where the name fringed loosestrife comes from it is actually from the fine hairs that line the leaf stalks (petioles.) The ciliata part of the scientific name means “fringed with hairs,” and so they are. Native Americans used all of our yellow loosestrifes medicinally for various ailments, usually in the form of tea.

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

Allegheny monkey flowers have square stems and are also called square stemmed monkey flowers. I didn’t know at the time I saw this flower that it had so much moisture on it. That’s odd because it was a warm sunny day and I wonder if it was sweating. The throat of this flower is partially closed and bumblebees are one of the few insects strong enough to pry it open to get at the nectar. Native Americans and early settlers sometimes used the leaves as an edible green.

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see a beautiful blue color. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The plant likes wet places but even though we’ve had many inches of rainfall this year, I had a hard time finding it.

Vervain flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

I used to see quite a lot of floating bladderwort (Utricularia gibba,) but I haven’t seen any in the last two years. Instead I’m now finding common bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza.) This plant also floats but when it’s ready for dormancy its bladders fill with water and it sinks, and I find it in the mud at the edge of a pond. Its flowers are much larger than those of floating bladderwort and though this shot isn’t very good they’re easier to get a photo of when they aren’t floating.

Common bladderwort can be distinguished from other bladderworts by the spur on the flower. The name bladderwort comes from the small inflated sacs on the plant’s roots that open to trap aquatic organisms. There are tiny hairs on the bladder’s trap door which are very sensitive. When an aquatic organism touches these hairs the door opens, the organism is sucked inside and the door closes, trapping it. This all happens in about 5 milliseconds and is one of the fastest plant movements ever recorded.

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its name is fun to say. It’s a Native American Cree word meaning “It-breaks-into-small-pieces.” This is because it was used as a treatment for kidney stones and was thought to break them into pieces.

Pipsissewa flowers often show a blush of pink. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of our other native wintergreens. Pipsissewa and some other native wintergreens form a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and are partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids.

Shasta daisies are blooming in gardens everywhere now. The Shasta daisy was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank over 100 years ago and was named for the white snow of Mount Shasta. These plants are a hybrid cross of the common roadside ox-eye daisy and an English field daisy called Leucanthemum maximum. They are one of the easiest perennials to grow and, other than an occasional weeding, need virtually no care. Dwarf varieties are less apt to have their stems bent over by heavy rains.

My favorite part of the Shasta daisy flower is the spiral at its center, because it makes me wonder. Nature uses the spiral over and over; it’s in a snail’s shell, our galaxy is a spiral and spirals are even in our DNA. Horns, teeth, claws, and plants form spirals. Pine cones and pineapples have spiral scales and if you make a fist and look at it from above, it forms a spiral. Mathematically, the spiral in a nautilus shell is the same as that found in a spiral galaxy. The spiral also represents infinity, starting at a single point and revolving outwardly until the end of the universe. Because of this, the spiral is said by some to be a pathway to the afterlife. All of that is right here in a daisy, and that’s probably why Deepak Chopra said “If you really see a daisy, you see from here to infinity.”

Non-native 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 plant 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. The plant is originally from Europe and Asia.

One of the things I like most about native pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is the way a child’s face will light up and break into a smile when they crush it and smell it. Usually when I tell them that it smells like pineapple they don’t believe it, so it’s a surprise. The conical flower heads are easiest to describe by saying they’re like daisies without petals, or ray florets. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and the leaves are also scented and have been used to make tea. The plant was used by Native Americans in a tonic to relieve gastrointestinal upset and fevers. The Flathead tribe used the dried, powdered plants to preserve meats and berries. It is said to make a nice pineapple flavored tea.

Last year I showed the flower of a plant I had never seen before and couldn’t identify in the hope that someone would recognize it. Apparently nobody could recognize it by the flower so this year I’m showing the entire plant. The flowers are tiny; about the same size as those on 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.

Here is the pretty little flower of the unknown plant. I find them growing in the sand on roadsides in full sun, much like a sandspurry would. They don’t seem to mind dry soil but they must also like water because I’m seeing more of them in this rainy summer than I ever have. I’ve searched all my wildflower books and online off and on for over a year with no luck, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

NOTE: With a little help from some friends Al Stoops has identified this plant as low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis.) It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath. Thanks Al!

Beauty soaks reality as water fills a rag. ~Chet Raymo

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1. Summer Flowers

It’s the time of year when our roadsides and meadows turn into Monet paintings and I love to see arrangements like this one even if the purple loosestrife is invasive. Goldenrod, boneset and yarrow are also in this little slice of what we see.

2. Boneset

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, but boneset blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here. I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

3. Boneset

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

4. Fringed Loosestrife Plants

Pretty little fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife blooms later. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

5. Fringed Loosestrife Flower

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed like they are on this example. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year.

6. Jewelweed

Usually the lower lip on a spotted jewelweed blossom (Impatiens capensis) is all one piece but for some reason this one was split in two. That lessens the chances of pollination for this flower because the larger lower petal is used as a landing pad for insects, and the spots help guide them into the interior of the flower.

7. Jewelweed

Each 1 inch long jewelweed blossom dangles at the end of a long filament and can dance in even in the slightest breath of breeze, and this makes getting a good photo always a challenge. I think it took 8 tries for this shot alone, and that meant leaving and returning that many times. Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies pollinate these little flowers. You need a long tongue to reach all the way into that curved nectar spur. It is said that jewelweed is an important source of food for ruby throated hummingbirds.

8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchids

Each little basal rosette of leaves on the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) is about the diameter of a tennis ball and the gray green leaves can blend in so perfectly with the leaf litter that they sometimes disappear altogether. I’ve had to crawl on my hands and knees to find plants that I knew were there but luckily the large group in the above photo is always easy to find because it grows right behind a road sign. I was happy to see that they had sent up a few foot tall flower spikes in spite of our extreme dryness. The leaves are evergreen and each will last about four seasons. The oak leaf to the right gives a good idea of how small these plants are.

9. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

Each small white flower on the downy rattlesnake plantain is no bigger than a pea. The pubescens part of the scientific name means downy or hairy, and all parts of the plant above the leaves fit that description. Even the flowers are hairy. It is thought that a small bee called Augochlorella striata might pollinate them. Though it might not win any prizes at flower shows this little orchid is always a real pleasure to find in the woods. In some ways it reminds me of a tiny lady’s slipper.

10. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

My favorite part of the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid is its leaves. They’re very unusual and I can’t think of any other plants besides the rattlesnake plantain family that have foliage like it.

11. Broadleaf Plantain

Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) was cultivated Europe for centuries because of its medicinal value. It is very nutritious and high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K and it was for these reasons that it crossed the Atlantic with European settlers. It grew well here and went everywhere they did, and Native Americans called it “the white man’s footprint.” The young, tender leaves are loaded with calcium and other minerals and can be eaten raw in salads, and the older, stringier leaves can be boiled in stews. Despite its health benefits many people these days know the plant only as a despised weed.

12. Plantain Flowers

Broad leaved plantain sends up long, narrow flower spikes toward the end of July but the flowers are so tiny many people don’t even see them. Each plant can produce as many as 20,000 seeds.

13. Plantain Flowers

Each wind pollinated broadleaf plantain flower is only 1/8 inch long, and has 4 green sepals, a pistil with a single white style, 4 stamens with pale purple anthers, and a papery corolla with 4 spreading lobes. At the base of each flower there is an oval green bract. They are a real challenge to photograph.

14. 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. 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.

15. Virgin's Bower

On this day there were tiny black or brown insects chewing on just the tips of the virgin bower’s petals.

16. Tall Lettuce Flower Head

If a plant with pointy leaves and a club shaped flower head towers over your head chances are it’s one of the wild lettuces that can sometimes reach 8-10 feet tall. I’ve wondered for years why a plant with such tiny flowers would have to grow so tall and this year it finally hit me. The seeds are much like dandelion seeds and are dispersed by the wind, so the taller the plant the more likely its windblown seeds will be blown further than they would if they grew down among all the other plants and grasses.

17. Tall Lettuce

The pale yellow flowers of tall or Canada lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted red or pink on their edges like the above example. This is a native lettuce that can occasionally 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. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium and has been used for centuries in medicines for its antispasmodic, diuretic, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative properties.

18. Blue Lettuce

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) can also get very tall in some cases, with a cluster of small, pencil eraser sized, blue flowers at the tip of the long stem. The flowers can be white, deep blue, or ice blue as this example was. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. This plant is very similar to the wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans but they should only be used by those who know them well, because it is said that they can cause death by cardiac paralysis.

19. Rattlesnake Root

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) is sometimes called white lettuce but it isn’t a lettuce, though they are in the same aster family that the lettuces are in. It’s probably thought to be another lettuce because it blooms at the same time and in the same locations as the wild lettuces do, but instead of the daisy like petals of lettuce flowers these look more bell shaped and lily like. The Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of the plant in tea that they used to relieve pain.

It is said that the common name comes from the way that some Native American tribes used the plant to treat snakebite. William Byrd of Virginia wrote in 1728 that “the rattlesnake has an utter antipathy to this plant, in-so-much that if you smear your hand with the juice of it, you may handle the viper safely. Thus much can I say of my own experience, that once in July, when these snakes are in their greatest vigor, I besmear’ed a dog’s nose with the powder of this root and made him trample on a large snake several times, which however, was so far from biting him that it perfectly sicken’d at the dog’s approach and turn’d its head from him with the utmost aversion.”

20. Culver's Root

This is the first time that native Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) has appeared on this blog because I rarely see it.  I found these examples on a moist, wooded roadside recently. It’s a tall, pretty plant with leaves that grow in whorls up the stem and long, pointed white flower heads. It can be found at many nurseries and is said to do well in gardens growing alongside other moisture loving natives like Joe Pye weed and turtlehead. It is useful for attracting bees and butterflies. It’s common name comes from a mister or doctor Culver (nobody seems to know for sure) who used it as a purgative to cure various ailments in the early 1800s. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat backaches, colic, typhus, and as an antiseptic and it is still used by herbalists today in much the same way. Because it is foolishly collected from the wild it is listed in several northeastern states as endangered or threatened and the United States Department of Agriculture lists it as absent and / or unreported in New Hampshire.

We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting. ~Kahlil Gibran

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Last Saturday a good breeze out of the northwest blew away the heat and humidity and, since there was a fall feel to the air, I decided to climb Gap Mountain in Troy, New Hampshire.  Gap Mountain has 3 peaks; north, middle and south, and gets its name from the gap between the middle and southern summits. My GPS said that it was 1.9 miles from the south parking lot to the 1,840 foot high middle summit, but there seems to be a lot of conflicting information online about this distance. The elevation gain is about 640 feet over 1.9 miles for an average 6% grade, again according to my GPS.

1. GM Trail

In the late 1800s there was pasture and farm land all the way to the summit, but now it is heavily forested with second growth forest. This forest is dense enough and has few enough trails to make getting lost a real possibility, but the trail that I used was clearly blazed. It started out easy enough and even went downhill in places, but before too long it became a steady and steep uphill climb.

 2. Indian Tobacco

Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) grows all along the trail in sunny spots. This plant’s common name refers to the inflated calyx that is supposed to resemble tobacco pouches carried by Native Americans. Despite its common name it should never be smoked because it is very toxic.

 3. GM Plank Bridge

The trail crosses a stream but this plank bridge keeps your feet dry. This mountain and the 1,160 acre preserve that it sits on are owned and maintained by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and open to the public year round, even though there is no winter maintenance.

 4. GM Stream

As you look out at this landscape it’s hard to imagine what it looked like a century ago when it was cleared for farming. Cows or sheep probably regularly drank from this stream.

 5. Hemlock Varnish Bracket Fungus aka Ganoderma tsugae

I saw a large hemlock varnished bracket fungus (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on a huge old hemlock stump. It was about as big as a dinner plate and really did look like someone had varnished it.

 6. GM Boulder

Rocks and tree roots mark the upper part of the trail so you’ve got to watch where you step. The boulders that the farmers left in place were left for a good reason-some are as big as cars.

 7. GM Stairs

Some hiking books and websites (and people) will tell you how easy this trail is. If I was still 30 I’d agree with them but, as an ex-smoker on the downhill slide into 60 years, I looked at these stairs after climbing for close to an hour and thought you have got to be kidding me. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were easy compared to what was to follow.

8. GM Trail 2

It gets a little rocky after the stairs. Easy compared to what, I wondered, Mount Everest?

 9. GM Trail 3

Before long the rocks become boulders and bedrock ledges.  In places you have to use both your hands and feet to crawl up and over them, so if you make this climb you’ll want to make sure your hands are free. I wish I’d known this before I climbed-I was carrying a monopod.

 10. Fringed Loosestrife

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) has tucked itself in among the boulders and grows profusely near the summit.  This plant gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks. Sometimes the flower petals are also fringed, but not on this example. I was glad to see it because photographing it gave me a good excuse to stop and rest until I was done huffing and puffing.

 11. Apple Tree

Very near the summit is an abandoned apple orchard with quite a few trees that are still producing.  Nearly the entire summit is covered with native high bush blueberries and people climb up here regularly to pick them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many blueberry bushes growing naturally in one place before. A couple of people were filling plastic containers with them.

 12. Monadnock From GM Summit

When you reach the summit this is the view that greets you. Straight ahead to the north Mount Monadnock rises up out of the forest. At only 3 miles away it seems almost close enough to touch. Mount Monadnock is famous throughout New England and is the second most climbed mountain on earth after Mount Fuji in Japan.  At 3,166 feet it’s high enough to see from just about anywhere in the county.

13. Monadnock From GM Summit

In 1800, fires were intentionally set on Mount Monadnock’s lower slopes to clear them for use as pasture land. Unfortunately the fires burned all the way to the summit, destroying the natural spruce forest that was there. Then in 1820 farmers set fire to the upper slopes to burn out the wolves they thought were living there. That fire burned long enough and hot enough to destroy even the topsoil on the summit and the roots that kept it in place. Before too long rain had washed it all away, leaving the bare granite seen today.

14. View From Gap Mountain

There are great views of the distant hills for nearly 360 degrees from Gap Mountain’s summit.

 15. Gap Mountain Southern Peak

Off to the right (east) as you gaze at Mount Monadnock from the middle peak you see the southern peak looming up above the blueberries and interrupting the 360 degree view. The south peak is completely covered by dense forest and it is said that there are no good views from its summit. It’s a great example of what happens to land in New England that is left alone for a hundred years. This view also looks out over the gap that the mountain is named for.

 16. Gap Mountain from Monadnock

This view of Gap Mountain was taken from a trail on Mount Monadnock. The name of the photographer is unknown.

It wasn’t until I reached the parking lot after the climb down that I saw the notice warning that this was a very strenuous hike over steep terrain. I was glad to know that I hadn’t imagined it.

It’s always further than it looks, it’s always taller than it looks, and it’s always harder than it looks.
 ~The 3 rules of mountaineering

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So far I’ve spent the summer months searching for orchids with little to show for my efforts. Since it is their rarity that makes them so exciting to find I don’t expect to see an orchid everywhere I go, but I would like to see one every now and then. Bogs and ponds are good places to look for orchids but, though I’ve found many other interesting plants, I haven’t seen an orchid at a place like this yet.I’ve seen plenty of water lilies though. These are the fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) These common native water lilies can be easily identified by their fragrance, their round leaves, and the sharp V shaped notches in the leaves. Arrowheads (Sagittaria latifolia) are another common plant that I’ve seen a lot of. These native plants are called duck potatoes because the starchy roots look like potatoes and are eaten by ducks and muskrats. These are usually found at the edges of ponds, growing in the mud. Male flowers appear at the top of the stalk and female flowers are lower down.  In the lower left a pickerel weed (Pontedaria cordata) flower was just opening.Our native Button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) isn’t common in this area but it can be found along stream and river banks occasionally. This shrub can get quite big, sometimes reaching 10 feet or more tall. The one pictured was about half that height. Butterflies and bees love these plants. Native Americans used the roots and bark of these shrubs medicinally. The little white dots hovering a few inches above the surface of the water are Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) plants. These plants are also called water button because of the small, round, white flower heads. It is said that the water quality is good wherever this plant grows. Bladderwort (Utricularia) is a floater and can often be found just off shore in shallow water. We have about 10 different species of bladderwort in New Hampshire and the colors range from pink to yellow and white or green. The leaves of this plant have small air filled bladders on them. When an insect touches fine hairs on a bladder a trapdoor quickly opens and sucks the insect in. Once inside, enzymes digest it. Other names for bladderwort are hooded water milfoil and pop-weed. The flowers on this one were about as big as a nickel. Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) likes damp places and I often see it near ponds and streams. The flower petals aren’t all that is fringed on this plant; each leafstalk also has a fringe of hairs where it joins the stem.  This plant is very common and I see it everywhere. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife blooms later. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod and face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. Skullcaps can be quite difficult to identify, as fellow New Hampshire blogger Jomegat and I recently discovered. I found the one pictured growing almost in water at the edge of a pond. I didn’t have a wildflower guide with me or any paper to write on, so I tried to rely on the photos I took to identify it. Bad plan.  There are many species of skullcaps and their differences are often subtle enough to not show in a photo. Often a positive I.D. can depend on how the leaf or flower attaches to the stem or whether or not a leaf has notched margins and is hairy.  In any event, after visiting these plants for a second time I’m fairly certain that they are marsh skullcaps (Scutellaria galericulata.) This plant is also called hooded or common skullcap. I think the flowers are quite beautiful.Flowers appearing in pairs in the leaf axils and leaves without stems (petioles) are helpful identifiers for the marsh skullcap.Spiked Lobelia (Lobelia spicata) is also called pale lobelia. This plant can grow in either moist or dry areas, but I found this one on the pond edge. The flowers are very small and look like they have two petals over three, but the upper petals are actually one deeply cleft petal and the lower petal is lobed so it looks like three. Flowers can be pale blue to white. Though it doesn’t show in the picture, these flowers had a light hint of blue. This is a native plant that is somewhat toxic.Spiked lobelia is related to the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and the great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) but its flowers are much smaller than either of those. There was just a touch of very light blue in these flowers, but they can also be a deep blue.Swamp smartweed  (Polygonum hydropiperoides) was also growing at the water’s edge. The flowers on this plant are tiny and can be pink, white, or greenish white. These had a slight blush of pink. This plant had ants crawling over almost every flower when I was taking its picture. Something helpful in identification is how its leaves are swollen at their base and form a ring around the stem. Swamp smartweed can form large colonies in shallow water along the edges of rivers, stream and ponds. The seeds are an important food source for ducks and small birds.

 Joe Pye weed (Eutochium) is still blooming nearly everywhere you care to look. This is another plant that likes wet places. There were several plants in this spot and I think every one of them had at least one bumblebee visiting.  Butterflies also love this plant, but we seem to have a shortage of them this year. I’ve tried drying these flowers several times and they don’t hold their color for very long.

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit ~ Edward Abbey

Thanks for visiting. There are plenty more wildflowers coming up in the next post.

 

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