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Posts Tagged ‘Globe Thistle’

Here we are in high summer and the roadsides are starting to show some beautiful color. So many different flowers are blooming now it’s hard to keep up with them but the standouts in this scene are white boneset and Queen Anne’s lace, yellow goldenrods, and purple loosestrife. For me this is easily the most beautiful time of year. It’s like living inside a Monet painting.

The big bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) have just started to show some color as well. This plant 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. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant as this one did, and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love these flowers and it is not uncommon to have them flying all around me as I take photos of it.

Globe thistle (Echinops) is a garden thistle that isn’t very prickly at all compared to a bull thistle. This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers, but that’s not going to happen this summer. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony.  On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. I think a reader wrote in last year and said they do.

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

Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person name. I think the flowers have the most intense color when in bud like they are in this photo.

Here are the flowers of Joe Pye weed; in my opinion not as colorful as the buds. Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is a common late summer sight in wet meadows and on river banks. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area. There are also cultivated varieties sold in nurseries.

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 usually blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here. 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.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. You can just see the tiny skullcaps at the very top of this stem. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

Groundnut (Apias americana) flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years.  Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

Ground nut is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. The roots became such an important food source for the settlers they forbade Natives from digging the tubers on “colonial lands”. And we wonder why Natives were upset with the settlers.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is often thought of as a warmth loving southern plant but I’ve seen it blooming and making berries here in October. Pokeweed flower clusters (Racemes) are unusual because you can often see ripe fruits at the bottom and new flowers at the top.

Pokeweed flowers are about a quarter inch across and have no petals but do have 5 white or pink sepals surrounding green carpels that fold and meet in the center. These green carpels will become a shiny, 8-10 chambered, purple-black berry. The carpels are surrounded by 10 white stamens. Though they were once used to color cheap wines the berries are poisonous and have killed children. People eat the leaves and spring shoots but adults have also been poisoned by eating plants that weren’t prepared properly. There are some powerful toxins in parts of the plant and scientists are testing it for its anti-cancer potential.

Steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) seems more herb than shrub to me but it’s in the spirea family of many shrubs. 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.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is having a good year and I see the big flower heads everywhere, but despite their abundance I’m not finding more flower heads with the tiny purple / reddish floret at their center like this example has. Though another name for this plant is “wild carrot” you had better know exactly what you’re doing if you dig and eat the root because there are very similar plants like water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) that are among the most dangerously toxic plants known.

Legend says the tiny purplish / reddish flower at the center of the flower head is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators, but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. These flowers are tiny and very hard to see, much less get a photo of. This is the first time I’ve seen several in a cluster like this.

The first time I saw this plant a couple of years ago I thought it was some type of vining honeysuckle but the tiny flowers and its white latex sap pointed me in the direction of milkweeds.

But the tiny flowers weren’t right for a milkweed so I tried dogbane, which is in the milkweed family. I finally found that it is called Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum,) which is also called dogbane hemp. It is a poisonous plant which can cause cardiac arrest if ingested but it’s also a great source of strong fibers and was used by Native Americans to make nets, bow strings, fishing lines, clothing, and twine. Some tribes also used it medicinally despite its toxicity to treat rheumatism, coughs, whooping cough, and asthma.

One of the chief identifiers for Indian hemp are the pretty plum colored stems.

What would a garden be without a phlox or two? They’re so beautiful; it’s hard not to love them. And many are fragrant as well.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) has been in this country for a very long time, having been brought over as a garden flower by a Welsh Quaker in the late 1600s. It was used medicinally at least since the 1400s and modern science has shown the plant to have diuretic and fever reducing qualities. As if that weren’t enough it’s also used as a cut flower by florists because they are so long lasting when cut. I found these examples blooming in a waste area by a music store and I enjoyed seeing them.

I’ve been wondering what these flowers were for at least two years and I think I’ve finally found their name: Lizard tails! (Saururus cernuus.) They look like little hedgehogs to me but somebody saw a lizard tail so that’s their name.

The flowers are pretty and there are many of them on each flower head. Though I’ve never seen it in the wild it turns out that the plant is native to eastern North America, where it grows in shallow water. Its leaves look like the smartweed family to me but I’m not sure if it is related. It is said to have medicinal properties and was once used to treat inflammation, but science has found that it is toxic. The crushed leaves are thought to smell like sassafras.

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

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I think, in the seven years that I’ve been doing this blog, that this is only the second time I’ve been able to do two full flower posts in October. Though we’ve had a couple of morning frosts it is still very warm here, and some days could even be called hot. Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) aren’t just blooming right now; they’re thriving, and I’m seeing them everywhere.  Is there any wonder I always think of them as fall flowers?  When they appear in June it always seems to me that they’re trying to rush things along a bit, but life would be a little less cheery without them so I don’t begrudge their early arrival too much. I think they must hold the record for our longest blooming flower; almost a full 5 months this year.

This purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) looked like it had been through the wash. Its color had faded to a kind of pinky brown and its dry petals felt like paper, but the camera saw what it wanted to see and voila; a new flower was born! Now if only I could learn how to make the camera do those kinds of things when I wanted it to.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I found a small colony of plants blooming away under some trees at the edge of the woods. Apparently they didn’t get the message that their time was up because they looked as fresh as they do in July. There are still plenty of pollinators about too, and I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Most knapweed plants (Centaurea jacea) in this colony dried up from the heat and then were mowed down, but they’ve come back with renewed vigor and several were blooming, much to the delight of all the bees and butterflies that were swarming around them. Brown knapweed is very invasive in some states but we don’t seem to have much of a problem with them here. This is an established colony that has been here for years but it doesn’t seem to get any bigger. When I need to visit with knapweed this is where I come.

Perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea) is in the same family as knapweed, so it’s no wonder they look so much alike. I found this one growing in a local park. This plant self-seeds readily and can take over a garden corner if its seedlings aren’t pulled.

There are a few things about the Stella D’ Oro daylily (Hemerocallis) that don’t appeal to me. Though it’s supposed to be a “re-blooming daylily” after its initial flush of bloom in late spring it blooms only sporadically throughout the rest of summer. It is also very short, which isn’t a problem in a bed full of daylilies but it always seems to look out of place in the front of a bed of mixed perennials. The third thing that doesn’t appeal to me is its over use. I see it everywhere I go; banks, gas stations, malls, and anywhere else that someone wants flowers but doesn’t want to have to fuss with them. But I can easily forgive all of that at this time of year because quite often they are the only flower still blooming. It’s a tough plant; I’ll say that for it.

Native wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) are still blooming but instead of in the woods this one bloomed in a local park. Native Americans used these plants medicinally in a tea to treat toothaches and as a nerve tonic. The seed pods have long beaks and for that reason the plant is also called crane’s bill. It has quite a long blooming period and is very hardy.

When I first saw this plant blooming while snow was falling a few years ago I thought it was a Shasta daisy on steroids, but it turned out to be the Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) which is a Japanese creation also called the Nippon daisy. It is extremely hardy; I’ve seen it bloom after a 28 degree F. night and it is also a very late bloomer. It would be an excellent choice for a fall garden.

The bumblebees were certainly happy to see the Montauk daisies blooming. The warmth has kept the bees going but it hasn’t kept many flowers blooming so now when I see a plant in bloom it is almost always covered with bees.

Polyantha roses still bloomed in another park. This small flowered rose usually blooms from spring through fall, often covered in flowers. It is usually disease resistant but this example’s leaves were covered in black spot, which is a fungus, and were tired looking. In general they’re good low maintenance roses that are small enough to be used in just about any size garden. A good fungicide would take care of the black spot on this one, but the leaves should also be raked up in the fall and destroyed.

We do love our asters here in New Hampshire, enough to grow them in our gardens even though the meadows are full of them. This hybrid version of a dark purple New England aster grew in a local park.

I found this New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) blooming even though it was only about 3 inches tall. It was on a roadside that had been mowed earlier, but even after being cut it still bloomed. I’ve seen other plants do the same.

I had never seen an azalea blooming in October until I saw this yellow evergreen azalea doing just that. It had about a dozen flowers on it, and I wonder if it will have a dozen fewer in the spring.

The cultivated speedwell I found in a garden last summer was still blooming. This is an attractive plant, about two feet across with hundreds of the small blue flowers shown all blooming at once. I haven’t had much luck identifying it yet. I think it must be a hybrid of germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys.)

I wonder what Native Americans would have thought of seeing wild strawberry blossoms (Fragaria virginiana) in October. I think they would have been happy to see them, though probably a bit confused. Strawberries were an important food and were eaten raw or mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. They were also dried and preserved for winter, often added to pemmican and soups. Natives also made a tea from the mashed berries, water and sassafras tea.  It was called Moon tea in honor of the strawberry moon in June. A tea made from strawberry leaves was used to clean teeth and stimulate the appetite.

A spaghetti squash grew in the compost pile where I work.  It’s late for squash plants to be blossoming but stranger than that is how nobody can remember a spaghetti squash ever having been cooked or eaten there. How the seeds got into the compost pile is a mystery. We picked one good squash but the one in the photo looks like it has slug or some other kind of damage, so it’ll probably stay in the compost pile.

This bumblebee’s pollen bags were full of yellow pollen but I don’t know if it came from this globe thistle flower head (Echinops) or not. It was working the long tubular blossoms over furiously. Even though globe thistle is originally from Europe and Asia our native bees love it. It should be done blooming by now but this plant had this blossom and three more buds on it.

If you were found growing monkshood (Aconitum napellus) in ancient Rome there was a good chance that you’d be put to death, because the extremely toxic plant was added to the water of one’s enemies to eliminate them. It was used on spear and arrow tips in wars and in hunting parties. It is also called winter aconite and is so poisonous its aconitine toxins can be absorbed through the skin of some people. I’ve touched it many times with no ill effects but I wouldn’t pick it or rub the sap on my skin. People who have mistaken its roots for horseradish have died within 4-6 hours after eating them. Knowing all of this I shudder each time I see this plant, because it grows in a local children’s butterfly garden.

When the blossoms are seen from the side it’s easy to see why this plant is called monkshood. It is also called friar’s cap, leopard’s bane, wolf’s bane, devil’s helmet, and queen of poisons. In 2015 an experienced gardener in the U.K. died of multiple organ failure after weeding and hoeing near aconite plants.

Though I’ve seen dandelions blooming in January witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is considered our last flower of the season and they’ve just started blooming. The flowers are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths. The moths raise their body temperature by shivering, and can raise it by as much as 50 degrees F. This allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.

 

There’s nothing more cheering on a cold fall day than coming upon a thicket of witch hazel in bloom. They might not look very showy but their fragrance makes up for that lack. Tea made from witch hazel tightens muscles and stops bleeding, and it was used for that purpose by Native Americans. You can still buy witch hazel lotion. My father always had a bottle of it and used it on his hands.

Chances are there will be flowers popping up here and there in future posts, but this will most likely be the last post devoted entirely to flowers this year. Now, though it is supposed to be sunny and 70 degrees today, we wait for spring.

Beauty is something that changes your life, not something you understand. ~Marty Rubin

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Now is the high point of the year for the flower lovers among us in this area. You don’t have to look very hard to find them. They’re in lawns, meadows, river banks and waste areas; really just about everywhere. Now is the time to see Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) which don’t have the jagged red ring around their center like a maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) and bloom later than maiden pinks; usually in July. The flowers are also smaller and the plant, rather than growing in large clumps of 40-50 flowers out in the open like the maiden pink, blooms shyly in threes and fours at the edges of meadows. It’s a pretty little thing that I wish I’d see more of. Though it originally came from Europe it can hardly be called invasive.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) has just started blooming and is a common late summer sight in the meadows. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name.

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals it is said, the older the flower.

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. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant as this one did, and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love thistle blossoms; I had a bumblebee swoop right over my shoulder and almost push me out of the way to get at this flower.

Globe thistle (Echinops) is a garden thistle that isn’t very prickly at all compared to a bull thistle.  This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony.  On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. Finches might.

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susan and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of some of the more than 43 varieties of Liatris. They are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

There are a few orchids blooming now and one is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) These orchids are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore, though the pleated leaves are close to those of false hellebore.

Scientists have discovered that the flowers of the broad leaved helleborine orchids have a secret; their nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for its intoxicating nectar.

I’ve been watching the only northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) I know of for weeks now, waiting for it to bloom. Finally it did and I felt lucky to be able to be there to see it. I found this plant by accident two years ago when it bloomed in this same spot. Last year there was no sign of it so I assumed that I’d never see it again, but here it is.

Though the flowers of the northern club spur orchid aren’t at all showy in my experience the plant is rare, so showy or not I’m happy to see it. It is small at about eight inches tall and grows in very wet soil in the dark of the woods, and that gives it another common name: the small green wood orchid.

Each flower on this orchid has a long, curving spur that extends from the base, and that is where its common name comes from.

Brittle stem hemp nettle is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but is hard to find here. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

Common quickweed (Galinsoga quadriradiata) comes from Mexico originally and how it happens to be in New Hampshire is a mystery. It is also called hairy galinsoga and is considered a weed even in its native range. It is said to be able to reduce crop yields by as much as half if left unchecked. The small flowers are about 3/8 of an inch wide and have five white ray florets widely spaced around the tiny yellow center disk florets. Another common name for the plant is shaggy soldier because of the very hairy stems.

We have many different varieties of St. John’s wort but this is a first appearance on this blog for pale St. John’s Wort (Hypericum ellipticum.) That’s because for years I thought it was dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) until I took a closer look. Both plants grow in the wet mud at pond edges, often side by side, but dwarf St. John’s wort flowers are smaller and the plant is very branched, while pale St. John’s wort is not. The color of the flowers is a bit paler than other varieties but unless I saw them side by side I doubt I could tell.

Bright red seed pods help identify pale St. John’s wort. Oddly, Canada St. John’s wort has flower buds that are the same color, but that plant is much smaller and doesn’t usually grow near water.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.) Pokeweed was called pocon by Native Americans. The Delaware tribe used the plant as a heart stimulant and other tribes made a salve from it and used it as a cure for rheumatism. If it isn’t used correctly pokeweed can be toxic.

Though as a boy all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) it has gotten to the point where I see these bicolor ones as often as the plain white 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. This flower was full of tiny insects, which are the black spots at the base of its throat.

I found some beautiful purple phlox growing on the unmowed side of a road. The flower heads were quite large and anyone with a garden would have been happy to have had them in it. I’m guessing that’s just where it escaped from; I doubt that it’s native but it certainly is beautiful. We do have a native phlox called Phlox paniculata but its flowers are blue. Native Americans used phlox medicinally and they were among the first wildflowers in the United States to be collected and exported back to Europe, where they became very popular. Wherever you happen to be in this world I hope that you are able to see beauty like you’ve seen here each day.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

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1. Marsh St. Johnswort

I first met the beautiful little marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) last year when I was in a kayak and I remember what a time I had getting a photo of them. This year though I found them growing in the wet soil at the edge of a pond. I still got wet knees but taking a photo was much easier. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our others St John’s worts are yellow. It likes saturated soil and will even grow in water at the shoreline. The flowers are small, about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

2. Marsh St. Johnswort Foliage

Most marsh St. John’s worts have green leaves but occasionally they will be colored like those pictured. This plant closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine, so you’ll never find them blooming on a cloudy day. The flower buds are a beautiful deep red.

3. Canada St. Johnswort

Native Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) also has deep red buds but its flowers come in the more traditional yellow. Though some very reputable websites will tell you that this plant likes wet soil I always find it in dry gravel. It has grown in full, 90 degree sunshine for months now without harm and I think most of the watering it has had has come from morning dew, so it’s a very tough little plant. I wonder if they might have it confused with dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) which likes the wet soil of pond edges, or if I have it confused with yet another variety of St. John’s wort that I don’t know about. Canada St. John’s wort is also called lessor Canada St. John’s wort, so I assume that there must be a greater Canada St. John’s wort.

4. Canada St. Johnswort

Canada St. John’s wort flowers are smaller than even dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) flowers are. They’re said to be 1/4 inch across but I think they’re half that. The Hypericum part of the scientific name comes from the words hyper, meaning ‘above’ and eikon meaning ‘picture’ in the Greek language. The flowers were once hung above pictures to prevent evil befalling the pagan midsummer festival. The popular festival eventually became the Feast of St. John, and that’s how the large family of St. John’s worts came by their common name.

5. Bluet

I was surprised to see a little group of bluets (Houstonia caerulea) growing beside the Canada St. John’s wort. I usually find them in mown lawns and I didn’t know they could stand such harsh conditions, but there they were. They seem delicate but are obviously quite hardy.

6. Slender Gerardia

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) is a shy little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of meadows and I usually find it growing by the Canada St. John’s wort. It has the unusual habit of dropping all of its opened flowers each afternoon. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day, which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

7. Slender Gerardia

Slender Gerardia is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the slender, sword shaped leaves. The blossoms are very hairy and have a long curved protruding pistil and especially from the side look nothing like foxglove to me.

8. Globe Thistle

Growing globe thistle (Echinops) is a good way to get more blue into the garden.  This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony.  On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. Finches might.

9. Knapweed

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  Even though I know all of that its flowers win me over every time. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

10. Burdock

Common burdock (Arctium minus) must have come to this country very early, probably tangled in a horse or cow’s tail, because it was noted as being widespread in 1663. In fact it was so common then that some who came later wrote that it was native. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.  Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. The examples in the above photo had just opened. When fully open long white styles will grow from the dark purple anthers. In this flower head they were just beginning to show.

11. Bee on Burdock

Pollination isn’t a problem for the common burdock because bees and insects of all kinds seem to love it. In fact I had a harder time finding a flower without an insect on it than I did getting a shot of this honeybee. A single plant produces 15,000 seeds on average, but some have been known to produce as many as 400,000.

12. Ground Nut

Groundnut (Apias americana) flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years.  Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

13. Ground Nut

Ground nut is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. The roots became an important food source and they forbade Natives from digging the tubers on colonial lands. And we wonder why they were upset with the settlers.

14. Soapwort

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

15. Soapwort

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals, the older the flower.

16. Morning Glory

Many flowers have a visible inner light but few shine it out as brightly as this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow.

17. Morning Glory Close-2

Maybe the postal workers stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just as I do.

Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery, man ceases to be man. Henry Beston

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I think it is time once more for a walk through some local gardens to see what’s blooming. It is still very dry here so I’ve seen a lot of wilting, but most plants seem to be holding on. I liked the pattern on this cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum ) bud that I saw in a local park. It looked almost reptilian, I thought. Cup plants are tall native perennials that can reach 8 feet. It’s called cup plant because its leaf pairs-one on each side of the square stem-are fused together and form a cup around the stem. This cup usually has water in it. Fused leaves of the cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum. ) These leaves join around a perfectly square, hollow stem.

 Cup plant flower. This plant produces resins that smell like turpentine. It was used medicinally by Native Americans.Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a native plant that I grow in my garden. When found in the wild it is often called blazing star or marsh blazing star. In my garden it is in a spot that gets hot afternoon sun and is quite dry, so I’m not sure how well it would function in a marsh. In any case, no matter what it is called, it’s a beauty.The deep magenta color of this rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) was amazing, and seemed much darker in person than it does in this photo. This plant was recorded in English gardens in the 1500s and when the English crossed the sea, so did this flower. Other common names for this old fashioned favorite include Bloody Mary, Bloody William, Dusty Miller, and Mullein Pinks. I saw this plant growing at a local farm supply store as I was driving by. Its silvery foliage really makes it stand out from other plants.Outside of the garden Centaurea (Centaurea) is known as knapweed and is detested for its invasive habit. Inside the garden it is prized for its unusual flowers and is often called perennial bachelor’s button, cornflower or star thistle. It comes in a large variety of colors including deep blues, lemon yellows, pinks, maroons, and purples.  Some are native but most originated in Europe. This is a large family of plants that contains over 300 species. This plant gets the name Centaurea from Chiron of Greek mythology, who was a half man- half horse centaur. Chiron is credited with teaching Achilles about the healing properties of herbs.It is hard to match the blue of the Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) in the garden. Since it is in the same family as bluebells and lobelia its beautiful color shouldn’t come as any surprise. This plant gets its common name from the way the flower buds resemble a hot air balloon before they open. Nobody seems to be able to explain exactly why the plant’s buds swell like they do, but children are fascinated by the process. This plant is all about the number 5; 5 petals, 5 stamens, and 5 stigma lobes-5 of everything. Until, that is, plant breeders got ahold of it and created a double flower, which has 10 petals and which appears in the above photo. I believe the variety is “Astra Double Blue.”All of the petals are fused together in a Balloon flower bud until they open. Balloon flower is another easy to grow perennial. I planted one many years ago and haven’t touched it since. Balloon flowers also come in purple, pink, and white.This peach colored daylily (Hemerocallis) is a welcome sight in my garden each summer. I grow several varieties of early, midseason and late daylilies so there seems to always be at least one daylily in bloom no matter what month it is. Growing globe thistle (Echinops) is another excellent way to introduce blue into the garden.  This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers. Globe thistle will readily self-seed so the spent blossoms should be cut off if more than one plant isn’t wanted.  I think their shape as well as their color adds interest to a garden. What would a perennial garden be without tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata)? This pink one is one of several that I grow.  I have it planted under windows so its fragrance can drift into the house. Phlox is another flower of fives and has 5 fused petals, 5 sepals and 5 stamens.  It is native to the Americas and in Peru one species is known as the sacred flower of the Incas. The word “phlox” comes from the ancient Greeks and means flame. So far this season I’ve shown white, pink and yellow yarrow (Achillea millefolium,) so here is a purple one to go with them. At least, I think it is purple-it could be a deep pink. Now if only I could find a red one to show you. In Greek mythology Achilles was taught the medicinal properties of Yarrow by the centaur Chiron. (See centaurea plant above) Once he had this knowledge Achilles was able to heal his wounded soldiers, but why this plant was named for him and not Chiron is anyone’s guess.  Yarrow is a very pungent herb and if cows eat it their milk and anything made from it, such as butter or cheese, will taste like the plant. 

Black and brown eyed Susans are rudbeckias. Here is another rudbeckia, and it’s called “Autumn sun.” There is a new, cherry red rudbeckia with a brown center that I’m kind of anxious to see. It’s called “cherry brandy” and I keep hoping I’ll see it in one of the various parks that I visit but so far, I haven’t seen it. Rudbeckias are an excellent choice for the garden because they bloom in hot, dry weather when many other plants aren’t blooming.Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)  is also called yellow buttons, because that’s just what these flowers look like. Knowledge of this plant goes back a very long time; the ancient Greeks cultivated it and it has a long history of being used as an insect repellant. Recent research shows that tansy repels ticks, moths, and other insects.  This plant has also been used in the past for embalming -probably due to its strong, pungent odor more than for any other reason. Tansy was introduced from Europe and though it has escaped gardens it isn’t often seen in the wild.0 This is one view of a local park I often visit. Though there are mostly balloon flowers blooming right now you can see some yellow helianthus and white Queen Anne’s lace.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts ~ Rachel Carson

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