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Posts Tagged ‘Grape Flowers’

What I would have to call my favorite rail trail was calling to me and had been for a week or two, but I had resisted its pull until this day. Like getting a song out of your head by playing it, I had to walk this trail to stop it from calling, so here we are. Since I love jungles, I was happy to see that the area had almost become one. I hadn’t been here since last February and of course I didn’t see how overgrown it had become then.

The first thing I noticed was orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) flowering along the side of the trail. Orchard grass is a pretty little grass. In my opinion a kind of architectural grass, if there could be such a thing. It was introduced into this country over two hundred years ago as a forage crop and of course it immediately escaped and is now everywhere I go. That’s fine with me because it’s very pretty when it flowers, as can be seen in the photo.

I followed the railroad tracks that were here when I was a boy every chance I had and one of my favorite things to do as I walked along in summer was to eat the raspberries that grew here. Last summer when I came here I didn’t see any, but there were plenty on this day. Not ripe yet but they’re coming along.

Blackberries are also waiting in the wings.

My biggest surprise on this day was finding ragged robin flowers (Lychnis flos-cuculi) growing along the trail. I’ve never seen them in any other place than in Hancock where I used to work, and I searched for many years before I found them there.

It’s a very unusual flower that is hard to find and amazingly, here it was right where I first flowered. I hope to one day see many of them here. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields.

Multiflora roses (Rosa multiflora) have just started blooming and the pollen eaters aren’t wasting any time. Though this small flowered rose from China is very invasive it is also highly fragrant and I’ve always loved smelling it as I walk along. Birds plant it everywhere and I’ve met people who fertilized it, not knowing what it was or where it came from, but thankful for its wonderful scent. I’ve seen it climb 30 feet up into trees without any fertilizer, so personally I’d just let it be.

This is where as a boy I discovered that the best walks are unplanned. They are those with no purpose, when you have nothing to gain and no destination in mind. You just surrender yourself to the unknown and wander the countryside, and over and over again you stop, you see, you wonder, you learn. This is where I discovered the value of empty space and silence, and first found the solitude that was to become a life long friend. My grandmother worried about my being alone out here and thought I was “brooding,” as she put it. She thought I was deeply unhappy because I didn’t have a mother, but had I been older I would have asked her, how can you miss what you’ve never known? I was too young and didn’t have the words to explain to her that what I really felt out here was pure unencumbered bliss.

I tell these stories hoping that they will resonate with the parents and grandparents out there. Let your children and grandchildren run free in nature. Let them wander and wonder. Or, if you can’t bear to cut them loose, go with them. If you can’t bear that send them off to a nature camp. Nature will become their teacher, and they will be all the better for it. Just be prepared to find them books on botany, biology, entomology, nature study, etc., etc, because their heads will be full of questions. They’ll want to know everything; not about the latest video game but about life and their place in it.

I went down the embankment to see what was once a cornfield, but what is now forest. Nothing but silver and red maples, and sensitive ferns. All of it has sprung up over the last 50 years or so, which means that I’m older than everything in this photo. The way the flooding of the river and Ash Brook happens now I doubt this will ever be farmland again.

I was surprised to find bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) out here because I’ve never seen them here before. Next May I’ll have to come back and see their flowers.

I could tell that the plants had bloomed because they had seedpods on them. They also had poison ivy growing all around them and I knelt right in it. As of this writing my knees aren’t itching but since I end up with a poison ivy rash every year I won’t be surprised if they do.

Something seemed to be ravaging the new buds on American hazelnuts (Corylus americana), which will mean no nuts this year on this bush.

I can’t blame this tiny creature for the damaged hazelnut buds but it was the only insect I found on the plant. After a bit of searching I have been able to identify it as the larva of an Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) so it was not eating the hazelnut buds. It will actually eat the aphids that do harm to so many plants.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) were flowering in high numbers and I was happy to see them. I hope the grapes will draw the Baltimore orioles back to the area. There used to be lots of them when I was young but I never see them out here anymore. Grape flowers are among the smallest I see but when thousands of them bloom together their wonderful fragrance can be smelled from quite a distance. I’m sure many have smelled them and not known what they were smelling. The vines climb high into the treetops by using tendrils, and you can just see one over on the left, looking for something to cling to.

Other plants have different strategies when it comes to climbing. Native climbing false buckwheat (Fallopia scandens) does it by sending long shoots straight up, hoping to find something to twine itself around. This one missed the mark by a few feet but it will just fall over after a bit and grab on to whatever it can. Eventually it will get to where the most sunlight is. This plant is also called climbing bindweed and there are invasives that resemble it.

A bicycle built for two had ridden over the trestle just before I reached it. I saw lots of people on bikes out here on this day including an old friend I hadn’t seen in many years. I was glad to see so many people using the trail. That means it will stay open and will be cared for.

I went down beside the trestle, which is something I used to do regularly years ago, just to explore. The banks seem to have narrowed quite a lot between the stream and the abutments since those days but I suppose it’s in the nature of a stream to want to widen over the years. I wanted to go under the trestle but I didn’t trust the mud there. When conditions are right you can sink into it quickly. I saw animal tracks but no human ones, so I stayed away.

I tried to get a good shot of the entire trestle but low hanging silver maple limbs were in the way. Since when I was a boy I had to cross another trestle near my house to get to this one, this will always be the second trestle to me. Its sides are much lower than the first trestle for some reason, maybe only as high as the bottom of a rail car. For that reason I also think of it as the small trestle. When I was a boy, I could and often did sit out here all day long and not see another person. The brook meets the Ashuelot river just around that bend and there is a high sand bluff where bank swallows used to nest, and I would sit and watch them for hours, wondering how a bird could dig a hole.

Ash Brook was calm and shallow and behaving nicely on this day but I wasn’t fooled by its calm demeanor. I’ve seen it rage and swell up and pour over its banks too many times. This was a good place to learn about the true power of nature.  

As you get closer to the brook the trees get bigger because this land was never cleared like the land from a few photos ago was. It wasn’t cleared for planting because it has always flooded, but never like it has lately. You can see where the waterline shows on some of the tree trunks from the flooding last February. The water here would have been up to my chest in this spot, I’d guess, which is deeper than I’ve ever seen it. I remember standing on the embankment listening to the hissing, creaking and cracking ice. Of course deeper water means it spreads further over the land, and that’s why there is no corn grown anywhere near here now. It takes too long for the soil to dry out so planting can begin.  

The undergrowth in the photos of the forest is made up almost entirely of sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis). Many thousands of them grow here, for as far as the eye can see. They, like the trees, don’t mind wet ground and in fact they are a good wetland indicator. Their rhizomes branch and creep and as this photo shows, this fern can form large colonies. I know this fern is toxic to cattle and horses but I don’t know if it is toxic to wildlife. I do know that Deer and muskrats won’t eat it. The only animal I’ve ever seen have anything to do with it was a beaver that was swimming down the river with a huge bundle of fronds in its mouth one day. I supposed it would use them for soft bedding rather than food.

Though there were so many ferns you couldn’t see the ground, more were still coming. I’ve heard that you can eat the spring fiddleheads but I certainly wouldn’t.

Can you see the wind when you look at this nodding sedge (Carex gynandra)? See how the hanging seed spikes aren’t hanging perfectly vertical? The breeze came from the right and the camera had to stop the motion.

On the way back I saw lots of stitchwort blossoms (Stellaria graminea) that I hadn’t seen on the way out. They’re pretty little things and I’m always happy to see them, even if they are a weed.

I also saw plenty of fuzzy staghorn sumac buds (Rhus typhina). Soon they will be tiny green fuzzy flowers that will become first pink and then red, fuzzy berries. This was the first time I’ve noticed that the buds spiral up the stem. The spiral is nature’s way of packing the most flower buds into the least amount of space, but that’s only one example of how nature uses spirals. I see them everywhere all the time, in everything from trees to snail shells to coiled snakes. It’s just another one of those many things in nature that makes you wonder and seek answers.

Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.  ~David Polis

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Our beautiful fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have just started blooming but as this photo shows, the leaves are already being eaten. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds, but there are so many of them constantly coming into bloom it seems like the flowers last all summer. This is the most beautiful of all our aquatics, in my opinion. Some say the scent reminds them of honeydew melon. 

I don’t know if I could think of a more beautiful name for a plant than “fawn’s breath.” This plant (Gillenia trifoliata) gets that name from the way that its very pretty flowers dance at the ends of long stems at even the hint of a breeze. Even presumably, the breath of a fawn can set them dancing. It is also called bowman’s root but I’ve never been able to discover why. This is a native plant which grows in 21 of the lower 48 states but here I have to find it in gardens. The roots of the plant were used as a laxative by Native Americans so it is also called Indian physic.

My color finding software calls this color “plum,” “rose,” or “orchid” but many websites call it pink. Since the plant is named maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) that would make sense, but colorblindness means my opinion doesn’t really matter. Whatever color it is that these eyes see is beautiful.

And whatever color you choose to see them as will be beautiful as well. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but they aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows but they will also grow in abandoned lots and other waste areas in almost pure sand. I’ve read that the name “pinks” comes from the way the outer edges look as if they were cut with pinking shears but I don’t know how true that is. I’m sure the flowers have been here longer than pinking shears.

You might have noticed some small yellow flowers in that photo of maiden pinks. They were the flowers of silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea.) It is not silverweed (Potentilla anserina) and shouldn’t be confused with that plant. It comes from Europe and is considered invasive but it is quite pretty and it can often be found in the same areas that maiden pinks grow in. The leaves are silvery white on their undersides, and that’s where the common name comes from.

In this part of the state the only lupines that could be thought of as wild are the ones that grow along the sides of highways, but they are not truly wild because the seed was put down by the highway department when the roadsides were redone. I knew of two places where these highway lupines grew but this year there wasn’t a sign of them, so this one comes to you from a local park. Tame or wild doesn’t matter really. It’s their beauty that matters and these had lots of it.

It’s clematis time and I like this one very much. It comes from the bud dark as you see here and over the course of time it lightens to a paler blue with a darker stripe down the center of each petal.

I believe its name is Ramona.

And here is Loreley. (Lorelei) The name refers to the sirens that would perch on cliffs along the Rhine and entice sailors to their doom with their enchanting song, much like the sirens who lured Ulysses and his crew in the Odyssey. It was introduced in Germany in 1909 and its beauty has been pleasing people ever since. Indeed this iris has pleased me my entire life. My mother planted it before she died and if I were to search my memory for a flower as far back as I could reach, this is the one I would find there. I’ve carried both the memory and the actual plant with me throughout my entire life.

This iris lives in the water at the edge of ponds and rivers and though it might have enticed a sailor or two it has pleased few people in this country, because it is very aggressively invasive. I once saw a small pond that was so full of them nothing else could grow there so that’s why, even though it is exceedingly beautiful, it is hated by many. It is the yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) and it is originally from Europe. It was introduced here in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire. As you can see though it distributes itself, and how do you ban that?

Orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) is also from Europe and is also considered invasive but the difference between it and the yellow flag iris is that it isn’t aggressive. I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed and I’m not sure why that is. The color orange is virtually invisible to bees so that might account for its relative scarcity here. In fact orange wildflowers as a group are hard to find. The only other orange wildflower I can think of is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis.)

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) is blooming and I love its dime size purple flowers with their ten anthers all tucked into their own pockets. It is thought that by having the pollen bearing anthers in  pockets like they do laurels keep the pollen from being washed away by rain, but I don’t think that is a scientific fact. What is a fact is the anthers reside in the pockets under tension, so when a heavy enough insect lands on the flower the spring loaded anthers release from their pockets and dust it with pollen.

For years I’ve gone back and forth on whether these were sheep laurel or bog laurel. Since I kept finding them growing in standing water I thought they were bog laurels, but sheep laurels are the only ones that have flower clusters with new growth coming out below to grow up around them, and the photo above matches more than a handful of examples I have seen online. It took a while to see this clearly but luckily I have helpers who often gently prod me in the correct direction. I’m very lucky to have them and grateful that I do.  

I once gardened for a lady who absolutely despised anemones and forbade me to plant any in her yard. She never told me why she didn’t like them but she had spent considerable time in Europe and the Middle East so I assumed she must have foreign anemones (maybe windflowers?) in mind. When I pointed out that the white flowers that grew in one corner of her recently purchased yard were anemones she was surprised but she also thought they were pretty, and said they could stay. Of course they were native meadow anemones (Anemone canadensis.)

Meadow anemone is an old fashioned garden favorite that has much larger flowers than our other native wood anemone. Though it seems to spread out in a garden it’s easy to control. It’s also called crowfoot because of the foliage and it is also known as Canada anemone. Native Americans used this plant medicinally and its root and leaves were one of the most highly regarded medicines of the Omaha and Ponca tribes. It was used as an eye wash, an antiseptic, and to treat headaches and dizziness. The root was chewed to clear the throat so a person could sing better, but I’d want to find out what toxins it might contain before I tried it.

Pretty little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) has come into bloom. It is in the legume family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods, which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives.

The flowers on our native viburnums like the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals, and the leaves though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) has beautiful small white (rarely pink) flowers that are about an inch across but unfortunately it is very invasive and forms prickly thickets that nobody I know would dare to try and get through. It is from Japan and Korea and grows to huge proportions, arching up over shrubs and sometimes growing 20-30 feet up into trees. A large plant bearing hundreds of blossoms is a truly beautiful thing but its thorny thickets prevent all but the smallest animals from getting where they want to go. Its sale is banned in New Hampshire but since each plant can easily produce half a million seeds I think it’s here to stay.

I love to look deep into a multiflora rose blossom, and I love to smell their heavenly fragrance. It’s very easy to understand why it was originally brought here.

I am always reminded each spring that one of the great delights of wandering in the New Hampshire woods is the amazing fragrance of wild grape flowers that wafts on the breeze. Their perfume can be detected from quite a distance so I usually let my nose lead me to them.

I’m always surprised that such a big scent comes from such tiny flowers, each no bigger than the head of a match. Each will become a grape when pollinated. We have a few varieties of wild grape here in New Hampshire including fox grapes (Vitis  fruitlabrusca), and frost or river grapes (Vitis riparia.) The fruit is an important food source for everything from birds to bears.

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has been used medicinally for nobody knows how long; it has even been found in Neanderthal graves. The scientific name Achillea comes from the legend of Achilles carrying the plant into battle so it could be used to staunch the flow of blood from his soldier’s wounds. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They grow at the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. It is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed. The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals and this is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch. It is also called starwort and I love seeing its pretty flowers twinkling in the tall grasses that they grow among.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. ~Rumi

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