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Posts Tagged ‘Fringed Polygala’

1. Pink lady's Slippers

As I said in the last post, rail trails are excellent places to find rare and hard to find plants, including pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule.) I know of one trail where they grow all along one side of it. How can you witness something so beautiful and not feel grateful to simply be alive?

2. Ashuelot Depot

This old depot in Ashuelot, New Hampshire, just south of Keene, isn’t as elaborately adorned as some that still stand in this area but it has been taken care of and seems to be fairly complete, except for the wooden platform it surely must have had. The train would have stopped just a few feet out from that red door. This was on the Ashuelot branch of the Cheshire Railroad, which was part of the Boston and Maine Railroad system. The Cheshire Railroad ran from Keene to Brattleboro, Vermont, and from there north into central Vermont or south to Massachusetts.

3. Flying_Yankee 1935

A sister train to the Flying Yankee pictured here would have carried passengers on the Cheshire Railroad from 1935 until its retirement in 1957. The gleaming stainless steel streamliner with “Cheshire” on its nameplate ran over 3 million miles in its history as a state of the art diesel passenger train. Its second car was a combination baggage / mail / buffet dining car and the third car was coach seating and had a rounded end with 270 degrees of glass for observation. It carried 88 passengers. Thanks go to the Troy Cheshire Railroad Depot Commission for providing this information, and to Wikipedia for the photo.

4. Boxcars

I know that a lot of freight was hauled over these rails but I was surprised to find these old boxcars slowly sinking into the earth outside an old abandoned paper mill. There was a lumber yard and warehouses across the tracks from my grandmother’s house and when I was a boy I used to play in and on boxcars just like these. That was back when the trains were running so I also used to get chased out of them frequently.

5. Boxcar Side

These cars were from the Green Mountain Railroad, which still runs as a scenic railway through parts of Vermont.

6. Boxcar Couplings

The old boxcars weren’t coupled correctly, so if you moved one the other wouldn’t follow. Can you see what the problem is?

7. Train Coupling

This is how knuckle couplers should look when coupled to move the cars in tandem. The parts with the holes through them should always front to back as they are in this photo from Wikipedia. Or side to side, depending on how you choose to look at them.

8. Fringed Polygala Colony

I recently found the largest colony of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) that I’ve ever seen growing out in the middle of nowhere, alongside a rail trail.

9. Fringed Polygala

It’s always a pleasure to see these little winged beauties. It took quite a bike ride to get to them but it was worth the achy knees.

10. Abandoned Paper Mill

New Hampshire used to have a lot of paper mills but many have gone out of business. This one seems to be slowly crumbling. I’ve watched buildings like this crumble before and it always seems to start with an unrepaired leak in the roof. The water coming through the roof rots the roof rafters, floor joists and sills, and finally the rotting building is too weak to handle the snow load and, usually after a heavy snowfall, down it comes.

11. Railroad Artifact

You can find many old rusting railroad artifacts along these rail trails. I took a photo of this object because I didn’t know what it was, and I still don’t. It was about a foot long and quite heavy.

13. Rock Slime

In my 50+ years of being in these woods I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite so strange as this-whatever it is. I call it rock slime because it looked slimy but I was surprised when I poked my finger into it, to find that it felt like cool water and wasn’t slimy or sticky at all. It hung down for about a foot under a rock overhang that constantly dripped water, so that it couldn’t dry out. If you’re reading this and know what it is, or if you’ve seen something like it, I’d love to hear from you.

12. Rock Slime Closeup

This is a close up of the rock slime. The back looked the same as the front. Are those eyes I see in there?

14. Dead End

Sometimes, rarely but sometimes, you run into a dead end on a rail trail. This fallen tree marked the end of the maintained part of this trail and it reminded me that this is what they would all look like if it wasn’t for the dedicated, hardworking volunteers that keep these trails open for the rest of us. Here in New Hampshire it is mostly snowmobile clubs that do this work all summer and they accept donations. If you use the rail trails in your area, why not find out who maintains them and consider making a small donation or volunteering some time? I’m sure it will be greatly appreciated. Just think of what strange, interesting, and beautiful things we’d all be missing if they weren’t kept open.

Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to take in and record new surroundings.  Enjoy the best-kept secret around – the ordinary, everyday landscape that touches any explorer with magic. ~John R. Stilgoe

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1. Foamflowers

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. These cheery plants usually form large colonies and are quite common in this area. There are also many hybrids available and they are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

 2. Poet's Daffodil

The poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) is such an ancient plant that many believe that it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on. It can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and can be found in unmown fields. It is very fragrant and it is quite remarkable to realize, as you sit admiring its spicy fragrance, that the Roman poet Virgil once did the same thing.

3. Quince Blossoms

It’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves. If you don’t like the color of the flowers in the photo there are also red, pink and white flowered cultivars. The plant is in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. It is also the toughest shrub I know of. If you have a sunny spot where nothing will grow just plant a quince there and your problem will be solved. It is indestructible and 100% maintenance free, unless you feel the need to trim it. In the 1800s this plant was often called simply Japonica.

4. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) have also just started blooming. It’s hard to beat the sweet fragrance from these tiny white bells and it’s hard to imagine a New Hampshire garden that doesn’t have at least a few of these plants in it. The majalis part of its scientific name means “belonging to May,” and that is when it blooms.

All parts of lily of the valley are very toxic even in small amounts, so small children should be watched closely when near their bright red berries. Every child should have a chance to express their love by thrusting a fistful of wilting lily of the valley blossoms out to mom or grandma, though. I can remember doing so as a boy and I was never harmed by them.

5. Striped Maple Flowers

Flowers that I rarely see are those of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), which is a smallish understory tree that might reach 30 feet every once in a blue moon. Most are 10-15 feet or less, probably because they grow in shade, but I’ve read that they are opportunists that will suddenly shoot upward when a gap opens in the canopy. The tree gets its name from the way the green bark is striped with white when it is young. I like the long and pendulous flower heads. They sway gently in the slightest breeze, especially when a camera is pointed at them.

6. Striped Maple Flowers

The yellowish striped maple flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers. I wonder which insects the tree hopes to attract with flowers this color.

7. Wild Sarsaparilla

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) sets flower buds just as its leaves have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from deep bronze to green. At this stage people sometimes confuse the plant for poison ivy because the young leaves can appear to be very similar. One easy to remember difference is the woody stem seen on poison ivy is not seen on this plant.

8. Wild Sarsaparilla Flower Head

A closeup of a wild sarsaparilla’s flower head. Each flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard.

9. Painted Trillium

Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) comes along just as purple trillium (Trillium erectum) finishes blooming. Its flowers are much smaller but also showier than those of purple trillium. Each white petal has a pink V at its base. These plants like cool shaded slopes and often grow under conifers like eastern hemlock. The undulatum part of the scientific name comes from the wavy margins of the petals.

10. Mayapple Flower

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) are up and blooming but are difficult to get a good photo of. This one happens to grow in a local park and the color in the background is from fallen PJM rhododendron petals. The ones that I see in the woods don’t seem to bloom very often. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten.

 11. Starflower

I like to keep an eye out for starflower plants (Trientalis borealis) with multiple blooms when I walk through the woods at this time of year. Even though books will tell you that two is their limit I think my record is four flowers on one plant. These plants are very common and can be seen in any forest in this part of the state. They get their common name from how their 5-9 pointed petals form the shape of a star. The Trientalis part of the scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin and describes the plant’s four inch height perfectly.

 12. Hobblebushes

Some of our most beautiful native shrubs are in the viburnum family and hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is queen among them in my opinion. This is the first of the native viburnums to bloom here. High bush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), and maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) will soon follow. Hobblebush flower heads are flat and bright white and can be seen from quite a distance. They like to grow along roadsides so the blooms can be easily seen at this time of year.

13. Hobblebush Blossoms

Hobblebush flower heads are large-often 6 or more inches across. They are made up of small, fertile flowers in the center and larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge. All have 5 petals. The large sterile flowers do the work of attracting insects and that’s why many viburnums have this kind of arrangement. If the great variety of fruit I see each summer is any indication, it works well.

 14. Fringed polygala

I start looking for the ground hugging, orchid like fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) as soon as I see violets bloom. No other flower in the northeast looks like this one, so identification is easy. They are also called gaywings and are among the most beautiful and interesting flowers in our forests. Each spring when I first see them I feel like I could sit and look at them for hours, absorbed by their beauty.

 15. Fringed polygala

Fringed polygala flowers are made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen. That pollination happens at all seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance. There are unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand. ~Jose Ortega Y Gasset

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Here are a few more spring wildflowers that I’ve seen recently. It’s hard to believe that summer is just around the corner.

1. Autumn Olive aka Elaeagnus umbellataAutumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellate) is a terribly invasive shrub from eastern Asia that has a heavenly scent. It is blooming now along with Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) which is so invasive that it is banned in New Hampshire. But it also has a heavenly scent, and when you combine the two invasive shrubs with our native lilacs, also blooming now and also extremely fragrant, I think you might have an idea of what heaven must smell like. Autumn olive is often confused with Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia.)

2. Bird's Foot Trefoil aka Lotus corniculatus 2

Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) has just started blooming. This is another invasive plant that forms dense mats that choke out native plants. This plant was originally imported from Eurasia for use as a forage plant. The plant gets its common name from the way the clusters of seed pods are often shaped like a bird’s foot. Many butterflies, Canada geese and deer love this plant.

 3. Golden Ragwort aka Senecio smallii

Native golden ragwort (Packera aurea) likes wet places in full sunlight, but it will tolerate some shade. It’s not a common plant in this part of the state, but it can be found here and there. Golden ragwort is in the aster family and is considered our earliest blooming aster. The plant is toxic enough so most animals (including deer) will not eat it, but Native Americans used it medicinally to treat a wide variety of ailments.

4. Greater CelandineGreater celandine (Chelidonium majus) is another introduced invasive plant that is seen everywhere. It is a member of the poppy family that was originally introduced from Europe and Asia. Another celandine, lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria,) belongs to the buttercup family. Greater celandine has a yellow- orange latex sap that stains hands, as every schoolchild in the country quickly finds out. Another common plant used in gardens, celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum,) isn’t related to greater celandine.

5. Pheasant Eye Daffodil aka Narcissus poeticus

Another invasive that has naturalized here is the pheasant eye narcissus (Narcissus poeticus,) also called the poet’s daffodil. This plant is very old-ancient in fact-and is said to be the flower that is the basis of the Greek legend of Narcissus. It can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. The flower is very fragrant and easily recognized by the white petals and red edge on its yellow cup. It is said that its fragrance is so powerful that a few cut flowers in a closed room can cause headaches. I often see it in un- mown fields and pastures.

 6. Solomon's Seal Flowers 3

Native Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum canaliculatum) is blossoming throughout our forests now.  There are several plants that look very similar, but I believe the plant in the photo is Great Solomon’s seal.  Hairy Solomon’s seal has small hairs on the underside of the leaves and the flowers are smaller. Rose twisted stalk has similar leaves but a twisted, zig zag stem like the name implies. The rose / purple/ pink flowers are bell shaped.

7. False Solomon's Seal 2

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) has small white, star shaped  flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. The way to tell this plant from true Solomon’s seal when there are no flowers is by the zig zagging stem. The stem on Solomon’s seal is straight.

8. Start Flowered False Solomon's Seal aka Smilacina stellata

Star flowered Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum  or Smilacina stellata) also blossoms in a cluster at the end of its stalk, but the flower cluster isn’t branched like that of false Solomon’s seal. The white flowers are larger and usually fewer than those of false Solomon’s seal. This plant likes to grow in the same habitat as true and false Solomon’s seals and can often be found growing right beside them.

 9. Fleabane

Native common fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) always surprises me by seeming to appear over night, but in reality I just don’t see them until they bloom. That’s because most that I see grow in lawns or fields where I don’t hike. This is a much loved flower, and you can tell that by the way people mow around it when they mow their lawns and fields. There is always a large patch of tall grass full of lavender flowers left standing. The flower pictured had just a hint of lavender on the ray petals, but some of them can be quite darkly colored.

 10. Comfrey Blossoms

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is in the same family as borage and is considered an herb, but I love the bell shaped blue flowers so I would rather use it as an ornamental. This is a strange plant that can be used as a fertilizer. Comfrey plants root very deeply and take up many nutrients from the soil, and that makes them as valuable to organic gardeners as manure. Quite often large plots of it will be grown to be cut and used as a fertilizer or in compost heaps. Comfrey is native to Europe.

 11. Gaywings

Fringed Polygala, also called gaywings (Polygala paucifolia,) are still blooming. I’m suddenly finding these plants everywhere. They seem to like to grow in the same places that lady’s slippers do. I love their color but it’s easy for me to mistake them for violets, so every time I see what I think are violets I stop to see if they are really gaywings. The blossom on the left seems to have lost its wings.

 12. Forget Me Nots

I see forget me nots (Myosotis) on riverbanks and along trails-almost everywhere I go.  There are many species of forget me nots and in some cases the differences are nearly microscopic, so I leave all the sorting to botanists and just enjoy the flowers.

 13. Painted Trillium

Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum ) have much smaller flowers than those of red trillium (Trillium erectum.) This plant likes very acid soil and doesn’t seem to be as easy to find here as the red trillium. The undulatum part of the scientific name comes from the wavy (undulating) petals. The painted part of its common name comes from the purple splotches on the petals. Painted trillium is native to the east coast.

14. Pink Lady's Slippers

I went for a short hike on a recent drizzly day and saw lots of pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule.) This native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of pictures, and let them be.

15. Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink lady’s slipper’s color can go from white, which are very rare, to deep pink. Those that are lighter pink often show interesting darker pink veins like the example in the above photo.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.  ~Albert Einstein

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Here are just a few of the wildflowers I’ve seen recently.

1. Bulbous Buttercup aka Ranunculus bulbosus

I try hard to not misidentify the plants that appear here and all of the little yellow, 5 petaled flowers growing in lawns increase the chances of that happening, so I usually leave them alone. This bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) was relatively easy to identify though, so here it is. This plant gets its common name from its bulbous root, which is a corm.

2. Red Trillium

Most of the red trillium (Trillium erectum) blossoms have faded or have been eaten, but I still see them here and there. They lighten from deep red to a pale purple color before finally turning brown.  The fading of red trilliums means it’s time to start looking for pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) and painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum.)

 3. Hawthorn Blossoms

I love the plum colored anthers on these hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms. They are very beautiful, in my opinion.

 4. Mayapple Blossom

I’ve decided that mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum ) are hard to photograph, and that’s because I’ve never been happy with a single one that I’ve taken.  The flowers are very close to the ground but even if I lie out flat they never seem to be fully in focus.

 5. Sessile Leaved Bellwort

Our native sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) have put on a good show this year. I’ve seen more than I ever have. Botanically speaking the word sessile means sitting, as in the leaves are sitting on the main stem, which means that the leaves themselves don’t have a stem (petiole.)

 6. Red Baneberry Blossoms

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra) is blooming early this year-probably because of the early warmth we had. Soon each tiny blossom will become a poisonous red berry. Native Americans dipped their arrowheads in concentrated baneberry juice to use as a poison.

7. Dwarf Ginseng Blossoms

Dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) will set a cluster of yellowish fruit if the tiny white flowers are pollinated.  If it doesn’t set berries this plant often disappears without a trace shortly after flowering. The trifolius part of the scientific name refers to the three compound leaves that always appear in a whorl around the stem. Each leave has three to five leaflets that are nearly sessile on the stem.

 8. Jack in the Pulpit

I wasn’t sure if I’d see a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) this year. I visited all of their growing places that I know of and found only two plants. That could be because last year was a banner year and I saw them everywhere. Many plants-even oak trees-“rest” after a bountiful year. This plant is in the arum family, along with skunk cabbage and many others.

 9. Jack in the Pulpit

I always pop the hood on jack in the pulpits to see what ‘Jack” is up to. I also like to see the purple stripes on the inside of the spathe, which is the hood that overhangs Jack. Jack is a club shaped spadix which in this photo appears black, but is actually purple. At the bottom of the cup shaped spathe male or female flowers will form at the base of this spadix. The spadix smells like mushrooms and if its female flowers are pollinated by tiny fungus flies, they will become bright red berries that deer love to eat.

 10. Blue Bead Lily

I found quite a large patch of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) recently. If you gave this plant a quick, passing glance you might mistake its leaves for those of pink lady’s slipper, but blue bead lily leaves don’t have deep pleats like lady’s slipper leaves do.

 11. Blue Bead Lily

Blue bead lily is in the lily (Liliaceae) family and it’s not hard to see why when you take a good look at one of the small flowers-they look just like a Canada lily. If pollinated each flower will become a single berry that will turn from green to white and finally to an almost fluorescent, bright blue. I had a hard time finding any berries last year so I’m hoping there will be many to see this year.

 12. Bluets

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are still blooming in great drifts across mowed places.  This plant is considered an ephemeral, but given enough moisture it will bloom well into summer. Their range of color goes from almost white to dark blue and I always try to find those with the darkest color. These ones looked fairly dark.

 13. Cypress Spurge aka Cemetary Weed aka Euphorbia cyparissias

Cypress Spurge ( Euphorbia cyparissias) is also called cemetery weed because it’s often found there.This plant was introduced from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. Of course, it immediately escaped the gardens of the day and is now seen in just about any vacant lot or other area with poor, dry soil. This plant forms explosive seed pods that can fling its seeds several feet.

14. Gaywings

One of my very favorite woodland flowers is fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia,) also called gaywings. This plant is a low growing creeper which at a glance is easily mistaken for a violet. I know that from experience because last year was the first time I ever really paid any attention to it. I think that I have passed it off as just another violet for most of my life, which is too bad. The flowers are made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal which is mostly hidden. When an insect lands on the fringed part, the third petal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube. There are 3 or 4 flowers in this photo, and they all seem to be growing on top of each other.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~ Beverley Nichols

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