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Posts Tagged ‘Greater Celandine’

I saw this view along one of our roads recently. Lupines and Ox eye daisies seemed to go on forever. There were a few white lupines but most were blue / purple. It’s a hint of what will come; soon our meadows will explode with color.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

When I was growing up we had a hedge of rugosa roses and I’ll never forget their wonderful scent. This rose reminded me of them because it too had that same scent. I think it was in the rugosa rose family but it wasn’t the exact one we had. The Latin word “rugosa” means “wrinkled,” as in the wrinkled petals  this one had.  They are a shrub rose that come along just after lilacs so if you’re looking for an extended period of fragrance in the garden I can’t think of anything better to extend it with. Rosa rugosa has been cultivated in Japan and China for about a thousand years but it has only been in this country since 1845. After its introduction it immediately escaped cultivation and can now be found just about anywhere on the coast of New England.

Pliny the Elder said chewing the root of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) would relieve a toothache, but modern science has found that every part of it contains a range of isoquinoline alkaloids that makes it toxic if used in large amounts. When used in the correct dosage the plant’s yellow sap can be used against warts and moles.  If used at all, all of the latex sap should be washed from the hands because it can cause irritation if rubbed into the eyes. Greater celandine is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S.

All the books will tell you that the flowers of greater celandine have four yellow petals but nature doesn’t know the words always and never, so you have to use a little common sense when identifying plants. Things like leaf shape, where it grows, flower size and color, and the yellow sap all have to be considered when identifying this one.

I love the beautiful colors and shapes found in the perennial bachelor’s button blossom(Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a friend’s garden.

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower and each forms its own seed. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval, overlapping leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk. It is an introduced invasive and names like “yellow devil” and “devil’s paintbrush” show what ranchers think of it.

This beautiful clematis was spotted in the garden of friends of mine. Its blossoms are large, probably 6 inches across. I think its name is “Nelly Moser.” Though we do have native clematis most clematis cultivars have a Chinese or Japanese lineage. According to Wikipedia the wild clematis species native to China made their way into Japanese gardens by the 17th century, and in the 18th century Japanese garden selections were the first exotic clematises to reach European gardens. From there came our first “exotic” clematis, an old favorite called Jackmanii, which is still grown today.

Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) might look like another exotic import from China or Japan but they’re native to the east coast of the U.S. It’s a beautiful and fragrant tree that you rarely see anywhere, and I wonder why it’s so under used. It is said to be tougher than dogwood, more dependable than saucer magnolia, longer-lived than cherry, and smells better than Bradford pears. So why don’t more of us use it?

When seen alone the fringe tree’s blossoms don’t seem like much to get excited about but when they get together in lacy, drooping clusters at the ends of the branches they are quite beautiful. Fringe trees are one of the last to show new leaves in spring and they can look dead until the leaves and flowers appear.

I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some south eastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today, but most don’t see these small flowers. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and other insects. The plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally.

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen. Each sarsaparilla flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very 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. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

Our locust trees are blooming. The one shown here is a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) loaded with white, very fragrant blooms. One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains. Its hanging flower heads remind me of wisteria.

Locusts are in the same family as peas and beans and the flowers show the connection. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well. They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

Bristly locust (Robinia hispida) is more shrub than tree, but it can reach 8 feet. The beautiful pinkish purple flowers are very fragrant and bees really love them. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge. What sets this locust apart from others are the bristly purple-brown hairs that cover its stems. Even its seedpods are covered by hairs. Bristly locust is native to the southeastern United States but has spread to all but 7 of the lower 48 states, with a lot of help from nurseries selling it for ornamental use.

The beautiful little flowers of red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) are hard for me to see because they’re so small, so I take photos of them so I can see them better. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s and it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.  I find them growing in dry, sandy waste areas. I’m not sure what the web or plant fibers surrounding this flower were all about.

I was bending down the stem of a sandspurry with one hand and taking its photo with the other so the penny is out of focus, but at least you can see how tiny this beautiful little flower really is, and that’s what’s important. I think you could fit about 8-10 of them on a penny.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

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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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Last Saturday (for those of you who may have missed it) Punxsutawney Phil, King of the Groundhogs, didn’t see his shadow when he was removed from his burrow. Some might think that this simply meant that Phil woke under a cloudy sky, but it meant far more than that to The King; he immediately declared that we would see an early spring.  So, bolstered by Phil’s decree, I went off in search of spring.

1. Ashuelot River on 2-2-13

My first stop was at the Ashuelot River, which certainly had a spring like look. I was amazed that two days of above freezing temperatures and two inches of rain had removed almost all traces of ice.

 2. River Rapids

Downstream the river was on full boil and the white water was frothing. It’s a scene that always reminds me of spring. When the river gets like this you can hear the deep and slightly eerie sounds of boulders being rolled along the bottom. Large, heavy objects that roll along the bottom are called the bed load of a river. The amount of solid load that a river carries is measured in metric tons per day, passing any given point.

 3. Riverside Ice

This scene certainly didn’t speak of an early spring. I decided to leave the river and look for spring elsewhere.

 4. Greater Celandine

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) was nice and green and looking spring like, but it has been this way all winter.

5. Brachythecium moss

Brachythecium moss (Brachythecium rivulare) is often bright green, golden or yellow-green. I found it growing on a rotting log. The color reminded me of spring perennial growth, which is often a light shade of green or even yellow, in some cases.

6. White Ice

This white ice also reminded me of spring and when I used to ride my bike through puddles full of it as a boy. I used to love the sound it made when I broke it. It’s amazing how such simple things often come with such powerful memories. I can’t think of anything else that sounds quite like this kind of ice breaking, so it’s impossible for me to come up with comparisons for those of you who have never heard it.

 7. Mud

Yes, that’s mud and mud always reminds me of spring. People who don’t live in New England may not have heard about our fifth season, known as mud season. It’s when our dirt roads suddenly liquefy and turn into vehicle swallowing quagmires. Cars and trucks buried up to their axles are a common sight. Mud season happens in spring when the water from the thawed upper layers of soil can’t seep down through the still frozen lower layers. What you end up with is a giant, dirt filled mud puddle that looks like a solid road. Until you try to drive over it.

 8. Red Maple Buds

These red maple (Acer rubrum ) flower buds didn’t fail to bring thoughts of spring either, but it will be a while yet before they break fully.

9. Magnolia Bud

Magnolias set their furry buds in the summer, so these buds have nothing to do with spring until they open. Some magnolias bloom early enough to be true heralds of spring.

10. Poplar Buds

Poplar trees (Populus) are in the willow family and their buds remind me of spring pussy willows. North American poplars are divided into three main groups: the cottonwoods, the aspens, and the balsam poplars. If the buds aren’t sticky then the tree belongs in the aspen group. These weren’t. Aspen buds begin to swell during the first warm period in spring, when minimum temperatures are still below freezing. Air temperature rather than day length determines when their buds will break, so it can vary from year to year.

 11. Daffodil Buds

Daffodil buds are much like aspens in the way that they will simply refuse to grow until it is warm enough, even though they can break ground very early if we have a warm day or two. Seeing them certainly reminded me of spring.

In the end I didn’t find spring and I didn’t see a groundhog either, but I found many signs that told me that nature is stirring, and that spring isn’t too far off. I’d be willing to bet that it’ll be here by the last week of March. By the way, Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring just happens to agree with the National Climatic Data Center and the National Weather Service.

Spring is when you feel like whistling, even with a shoe full of slush.  ~Doug Larson

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