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Posts Tagged ‘Hancock New Hampshire’

We’ve had so much rain that now, for the first time since I started this blog, I’m able to do a third summer mushroom post. Usually I might be able to do two in summer and one in the fall, so rain does indeed encourage fungal growth. The coral mushrooms have come along now, as this white coral shows. I think it is one called the crested coral fungus (Clavulina cristata.) Many coral fungi seem to appear more towards the end of summer, I’ve noticed.

Crown coral fungi are common and often get quite big. They also often grow in large groups. I think this pale orangey one might be crown tipped coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) I’ve seen these get as big as grapefruits, with several of them growing in a large circle.

Yellow spindle or finger coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor) can also grow in large groups. The taller ones might reach an inch and a half high and their diameter is often close to a piece of cooked spaghetti, but I’ve seen a few with larger diameters. 

Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. This fungus changes color as it ages and becomes a beautiful deep maroon / reddish color. If found when young like this one it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older example will dye wool brown, and that’s where its common name comes from.

This is a dyer’s polypore in midlife. It looks a bit like a raspberry filled pastry to me at this stage. Or maybe I’m just hungry.

And this is what an older dyer’s polypore looks like. As you can see the color difference between young and old examples is dramatic. Some of these mushrooms can get quite large but this one was only about 4 inches across. It was also wet from rain; it’s usually fuzzy like velvet. Though they sometimes look as if they’re growing on the ground, they’re really growing on conifer roots or buried logs. This sequence of photos probably covers about two weeks in the life of this mushroom. Eventually they just disappear, but woe will befall the pine tree they grow on.

Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) are one of the most colorful fungi in the forest. They are also one of the easiest to find, because they grow in nearly every state in the country and throughout Europe, Asia. and Russia. I especially like turkey tails because they can be found all year long. And they grow exclusively on wood; though it looks like they were growing in grass here there was a buried root that we can’t see. Next time you walk in the forest if you pay attention to any stumps and logs you might see, you’re liable to find some turkey tails on them.

This large clump of turkey tails showed off their beautiful color range perfectly, I thought. Finding something like this in the middle of winter is like finding flowers in a desert.

Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like the turkey tail fungus and I’m fairly certain that I have misidentified it as such here on this blog. Once you get to know the two though, it’s obvious that the purple edges on these are not found on turkey tails.

When young the undersides of violet toothed polypores are a beautiful lilac purple color but then it fades to brown, as is seen here. It’s easy to see where the “toothed” part of the common name comes from. The teeth on toothed fungi are usually simply folds of tissue that hang like teeth. With mushrooms it’s all about increasing the spore bearing surface, be it by gill, pore or folded tissue because more spores mean a better likelihood of the continuation of the species. This fungus and others like it are decomposers of wood. They are part of the reason the floors of our forests aren’t buried under fallen branches and logs, so we should be happy to have them with us.

I like to look at dead mushrooms because I often find that some are as beautiful in death as they were in life. I loved the colors and wave like contours I saw in this one. It had a lot of movement and I’d love to paint it, if I was still painting.

The shingled hedgehog (Sarcodon imbricatus.) How’s that for a name? It’s easy to see where the shingled part comes from but I’m not sure about the hedgehog part. The cap is brownish, with darker scales. It is also a toothed fungus, with grayish teeth rather than pores or gills on the spore bearing underside of the cap. It is said to like growing near spruce but I found it near hemlocks.

Here is an older example of the shingled hedgehog. Their caps curl as they age. Other names are scaly hedgehog, hawk’s wing and scaly urchin. I’ve read that no other mushroom looks quite like it and I can believe that.

I found the old man of the woods (Strobilomyces strobilaceus) growing between the fork of a fallen branch. This shaggy looking mushroom is a bolete, with pores instead of gills. The soft, dark gray or black overlapping scales on the cap give it a kind of hairy look, and that’s where the common name comes from. The stem is also quite hairy. I always see this mushroom growing alone, never in groups. They grow on the ground and I’ve read that they like to grow near oaks, though I’ve never paid close enough attention to notice. I think this is the first time I’ve shown it here.

There are various species of bird’s nest fungi but the only ones I ever find are the fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus.) They like to grow on wood and I found many hundreds of them growing in wood chips recently. I’ve also seen them in mulch and on old stumps. They’re beautiful and unusual little things, hairy brown on the outside and kind of silvery gray on the inside.

Bird’s nest fungi also very small; a pea wouldn’t fit in any of these examples. They’re called bird’s nests because of the “eggs” you find inside. The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

Black chanterelles (Craterellus cornucopioides) are also called deep purple horn of plenty or purple trumpet mushrooms and don’t seem common, but there are certain spots where hundreds of them grow. They are considered a great delicacy by mushroom hunters and I was told that they can sell for $50.00 per pound to restaurants. Because of their color mushroom hunters complain that they’re very hard to see but for a change I think colorblindness serves me well, because I can see them without any difficulty. I’ve read that colorblind people can “see through” camouflage. Maybe it’s true.

The spore bearing surface of this mushroom is a very beautiful color but it isn’t easy to see while they’re standing.

This shot shows the color range you can expect to see on black chanterelles. It also shows why some might find them hard to find. They do blend into the leaf litter quite well.

A friend at work told me about some mushrooms growing near a tree and when I went to look, I was stunned! I’ve seen Jack O’ lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) before but never this many. They were growing on this tree, which was an old maple, and its roots. They were big and beautiful. Pumpkin orange and some as big as my hand.

I’ve read that people mistake Jack O’ lanterns for chanterelles but to me the two look very different. For one thing chanterelles grow on the ground, never on wood, and they usually grow singly or two or three, not in huge colonies like these. Also, Jack O’ lantern gills are very thin and straight, and don’t fork. If you happen to forage for mushrooms this would be a good one to get to know well, because though it won’t kill you, I’ve read that it can make you very sick for a couple of days. In North America, there are over 40 species of chanterelle and chanterelle-like mushrooms.

The Jack O’ lanterns grew completely around the tree and also grew from its roots. There must have been many hundreds, and it was an amazing sight. An interesting fact about Jack O’ lanterns is how their gills are bioluminescent and glow an eerie green color in the dark. Anyone walking here at night would have been in for a big surprise. I’ve read that when the mycelium threads through the wood they grow on it is sometimes also bioluminescent, and in the Middle Ages people were very suspicious and frightened of the logs they saw glowing at night. They called the eerie light foxfire.

I scratched around in the leaves near where some Jack O lanterns were growing on the tree’s roots and found white mycelium but I haven’t been able to confirm that it is actually from the Jack O’ lanterns because the internet and my books are staying very quiet about what color Jack O’ lantern mycelium is.  

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper. ~W. B. Yeats

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I’ve seen a lot of deer over the course of this blog but every time I’ve seen them I either didn’t have the right camera with me, or I’ve been driving a car. Once I drove right up to a doe like this one on a tractor and she just stood there, 5 feet away until I tugged open the velcro camera case I carry. As soon as she heard the rip of the velcro she was gone like a shot. But she was okay with me being so close until then, and this one was fine with me being close too. This time I made sure I made no strange sounds.

She had two fawns and they all fed on green grass in a cornfield while I watched. The thought came to me then that they were feeding on pure sunshine.

They were beautiful creatures, so gentle and quiet. I didn’t hear a sound out of them the whole time I watched. I tried to get a shot of their tails in the air; they were constantly flicking their tails to keep flies away, but I missed every time.

Slowly the doe led her fawns to the edge of the woods, and then they were gone. I was grateful to have seen them and I hope they have an easy time of it this winter.

This big, 3 foot long northern water snake was not quite so easy with my being close to it as the deer were but at least it didn’t leave. All I had for a camera was my phone so I had to lean in quite close to get this shot. It was a gamble because, though these snakes don’t have fangs they can bite and scratch the skin, and I’ve heard that you might get a nasty infection if that happens. I took a couple of quick shots and left it to soak up some more sunshine. That’s all it was really after.

I followed this small, fidgety butterfly around for several minutes, trying to get a shot of its beautiful blue wings. Blue that is, on the upper part of the wings. The underside of the wings is white or very pale blue with dark markings and I doubted that I’d be able to identify it, but it was relatively easy. It’s a holly blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) so called because the larvae feed on Holly. They also eat euonymus, dogwoods, snowberries and other wild and cultivated plants. They don’t sit still long, so you’ve got to be quick.

Here are the beautiful upper wings of the holly blue butterfly in an excellent photo by By Charles J. Sharp that I found on Wikipedia. This is a female, identified by the large dark areas on the wing edges. The wing color is a kind of silvery blue that shimmers beautifully in the light.

I saw this insect exploring queen Anne’s lace blossoms. I haven’t been able to identify it but I like its big eyes. It could be one of the flesh flies (Sarcophagae.)

A cabbage white butterfly (I think) explored flowers at a local garden. This species is originally from Europe along with quite a few of the cabbage family of plants that their caterpillars feed on.

Quite often at this time of year I’ll see hickory tussock moth caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) everywhere, but so far this year I’ve only seen two or three. They have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

If you’ve never seen how beavers start building a dam, this shot is for you. And where did they build it? Why, in Beaver Brook of course. Beavers are busy damming up the brook that was named after them again and the town road crews aren’t happy about that, because if you leave these dams in place roads and businesses flood. Since this brook was named after beavers when Keene was first settled in the 1700s, I’m guessing that there have always been plenty of them in it. Since building ponds is what beavers do, I’m also guessing that building so close to this brook wasn’t a good idea. Some industrial buildings in town even have the brook running under them and they have been flooded. It’s hard to believe that someone actually thought that was a good idea.

I’ve seen a lot of red bark on conifers like hemlock and pine but here it was on an oak. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. I’ve read that it affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species, but this is the first time I’ve seen it on a hardwood. Red bark is caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae. It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. Scientists are very interested in why it is attracted to tree bark and call it RBP for red bark phenomenon. Alga in Latin means seaweed, so I suppose it’s no wonder they’re so curious about it.

Pouch galls on stag horn sumac (Rhus typhina) are caused by the sumac gall aphid (Melaphis rhois.) These galls look like some kind of fruit but they are actually hollow inside and teeming with thousands of aphids. They average about golf ball size and change from light yellow to pinkish red as they age. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. The galls can also be found on smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) They remind me of potatoes so I always think of them as potato galls.

It’s a great year for wild grapes. Our woods are full of ripe river grapes (Vitis riparia) at this time of year and on a warm, sunny fall day the forest smells like grape jelly. Not for long though, because birds and animals snap them up quickly. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is smaller than cultivated grapes and is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly, or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye. They sometimes remind me of Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes, which teaches that we shouldn’t belittle and depise that which is beyond our reach.

Oaks also seem to be doing well this year. I’ve seen trees like this one with quite a crop of acorns. I can’t say if it’s a mast year yet though. In a mast year the trees grow a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than in a non-mast year. Scientists believe that by sometimes producing huge amounts of seed that at least some will survive being eaten by birds and animals and grow into trees. Many acorns survive intact until spring in a mast year.

I’m not sure what is going on with our birds but I’m seeing lots of black cherries on the ground under the trees this year. You can see in this photo that it doesn’t look like a single one has been picked. According to the USDA black cherries are eaten by the American robin, brown thrasher, mockingbird, eastern bluebird, European starling, gray catbird, blue jay, willow flycatcher, northern cardinal, common crow, and waxwings, thrushes, woodpeckers, grackles, grosbeaks, sparrows, and vireos. So why aten’t they eating them? There are three cherry species native to New Hampshire, Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) and black cherry (Prunus serotina). We also have a native plum, which is the wild American plum (Prunus americana).

Of our native cherries both choke and black cherries are edible. Black cherries have the largest fruits, and they can be identified by the cup like structure found where the stem meets the fruit. Black cherries are the only ones that have this feature, and you can see it on two or three of the cherries in this shot. Rounded, blunt serrations on the leaf edges are another identifier. Choke cherries have sharp, pointed serrations.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows just about everywhere here these days but I can’t remember ever seeing it as a boy. It was always considered a southern plant but like opossums, it has found its way north. People eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. They also used the plant for dye and a while ago I recieved a letter from a woman who was looking for the berries to use just that way. She freezes them until she has enough to make a batch of dye so I told her where to find them them along the river in Swanzey. She should be gathering them this year because I’ve never seen so many pokeweed berries as there are right now.

I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of the dark purple poke weed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flower’s five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. They’re very pretty and worth looking for.

The red-orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll find most of them in this area. This tree grows where I work. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. They prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000-foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Another plant that is having a good year is silky dogwood. The bushes are loaded with berries this year and the cedar waxwings will be very happy about that because they love them. This is a large shrub that grows in part shade near rivers and ponds. It gets its common name from the soft, silky hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans smoked the bark like tobacco. They also twisted the bark into rope and made fish traps from the branches. 

The berries of silky dogwood start out porcelain white and slowly change to dark blue. Once ripe they’ll go fast. Every time I see these berries I wonder if the idea for the blue and white porcelain made in ancient China came from berries like these. I’ve looked it up and tried to find out but blue and white porcelain has been around for a very long time. The cobalt “Persian blue” glaze was imported from what is now Iran as early as the seventh century, so it’s impossible I think to find out where the original idea for the blue and white color combination germinated. I do know that lots of artists look to nature for inspiration.

These bright red seedpods of the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) have nothing to do with fruit but I like the color, so here they are. Seeing them glowing red all along the edges of ponds is a beautiful sight.

In the continuing saga of the poor farmer who lost all his corn to drought last year, and this year had his fields flooded so badly there were herons and egrets fishing in them; he has come up with a new plan. I know he tried winter wheat in one of his fields last year but then I recently saw something low growing, with yellow flowers, so I went to see what it could be.

At first I thought he was growing pumpkins, because I think I’ve heard that cows eat pumpkins but no, it was squash, and what appears to be butternut squash. Now my question is, how do you harvest squash on such a large scale? The fields are huge and I can’t see anyone actually picking all these squashes, so is the entire plant harvested? Everyone knows how prickly a squash plant can be; can cows eat such a prickly thing? Can the harvesting machines separate the squash and the vines? Unless someone who knows cows writes in, I suppose I’ll just have to watch and see.

Beautiful little shin-high purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis) grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its misty flower heads look like purple ground fog for a while before eventually turn a tannish color and breaking off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. Years ago I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses by taking photos of this grass. It wasn’t easy to get the color correct in a photo but as a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher.

You’d think, after driving the same road to work every day for so long now that it would have become kind of ho-hum for me but it hasn’t, and this is why. I just never know what I’ll find around the next bend. I hope all of your days are filled with beauty, wonder and awe, whether you drive or not.

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~Anaïs Nin

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A bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) showed me how a bee’s pollen baskets can be filled with white pollen when it is foraging purple flowers. I’ve never seen so much pollen on a thistle blossom before.

A bee on another blossom showed me how the harvesting is done. The things I’ve learned from nature!

This pretty dark purple sedum grew in a local garden.

A beautiful datura blossom (Datura stramonium) was almost spotless. These blossoms are big; probably three and a half inches across and nearly twice as long. The plant is also called Jimson weed. It is in the nightshade family and all parts of the plant are toxic to humans and livestock. There is a bicolor purple and white variety that is very beautiful. If you’ve got the space, it makes quite a statement.

Spiky Datura seedpods are bigger than a ping pong ball but smaller than a tennis ball, if that tells you anything. They are also called thorn apples. Taken in small enough doses Datura is hallucinogenic, as British soldiers found out when they included Jimsonweed leaves in salad in Jamestown, Virginia in 1676. They were high for 11 days and had to be penned up to prevent them from hurting themselves. When the symptoms wore off, they remembered nothing. You can read about the incident by clicking here.

Downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula) is an unusual member of the family, with its single vertical stalk of flowers. They reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil, often in colonies of 15-20 plants.

The bright yellow 1/4-inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) likes the same dry, sandy conditions that downy goldenrod likes and they can often be found growing side by side. They also have the same single stalk growth habit. Silverrod is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast and is a native. Seeing these flowers always reminds me that the growing season is nearly over.

As silverrod’s flowers age they fade and change color slightly, and that’s where the bicolor part of the scientific name comes from.

Burdock (Arctium minus) is having a banner year. I’ve never seen so many flowers on these plants and they just keep blooming on and on. I’d say they must like lots of water. If I was ten again what wars I could have with the other neighborhood boys. We used to go home with them stuck all over us sometimes.

Because the sun was behind it, I had to overexpose this sunflower to get a half decent shot of it. Since its the only one I’ve seen this year it’ll have to do.

Another sunflower’s head was so heavy it had broken off and I was first drawn to it and then drawn into it. It is micro worlds like this that have helped me realize that I don’t need to know or to understand a single thing to see that everything is beautiful. Everything on this planet has a beauty of its own. We’re absolutely swimming in it.

I’ve never been that interested in begonias, though some are truly stunning. The frilly yellow centers on these flowers are what caught my eye. Some begonias make great house plants and some of them used to have a place in my indoor jungle. And it was a jungle; I used to half jokingly tell friends to bring a machete when they came over.

Mallow (Malvaceae) doesn’t seem to be having a good year. So far this is the only plant in flower that I’ve seen. It’s a very pretty flower that looks familiar to many people who have never seen it. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon, and I’d guess that’s why mallow looks so familiar.

I was surprised to find this pink spirea blooming in a local garden but it had been sheared, so maybe that’s why it was blooming so late. The bees were certainly happy to see it.

This year for the first time I’ve seen Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) blooming every single month, from March until now. I always thought they were strictly a cool weather plant but apparently not. Maybe lots of rain has more to do with it.

The fisherman you see in this shot saw me taking photos of these flowers and walked around me right into the frame, so hello world, here he is. Not too long after I took this shot, he caught an 8 or 9 inch pickerel in this pond and it proved to me that pickerel weed is indeed named after the pickerel fish, because the fish he caught was hiding in the pickerel weeds just like the legend says they do. That fish had some sharp looking teeth on it and the fisherman had quite a time getting his hook free, otherwise I would have shown you a photo of it. He told me that I had brought him luck.

I’ve watched catchfly (Silene armeria) go from a single plant to what is now a small colony of about 6 or 7 in 5 years or so, so it could hardly be called invasive, even though it is from Europe. It is also called sweet William catchfly and is said to be an old-fashioned garden plant in Europe. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. It’s a very pretty little plant. I like its smooth, bluish green stem and leaves.

Purple loosestrife and goldenrod fought for a place in the sun. I know which will win; this will be a sea of nothing but purple in just a few years’ time.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) have appeared so fall is definitely knocking on the door. These lighter colored ones always appear before the dark purple ones that I like so much. This one had what looks like a little hoverfly visiting.

And this one had a much bigger insect visiting. I think it might be a solitary wasp, possibly a potter wasp (Ancistrocerus antilope)?

I found this dark colored aster in a garden. It looked to be just waking up and unfurling its petals. Just as I was finishing this post I saw one of our native asters that was this color, so they’ll be coming along soon.

The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time. ~Loren Eiseley

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If you happen to see something like this on a vine that is climbing over nearby plants you might want to take a closer look because they are groundnut flowers, one of our most unusual and pretty wildflowers. The outside of the flowers seen here always remind me of tiny Conquistador helmets.

The chocolaty brown insides of the groundnut flowers (Apios Americana) are very pretty. They are borne on a vine that winds its way among other sunny meadow plants and shrubs like blueberry or dogwood. This plant is also called potato bean because of the walnut sized, edible tubers that grow along its underground stem. They are said to taste like turnips and were a favorite of Native Americans. Henry David Thoreau thought they had a nutty flavor.

This year I was able to watch how these flowers work, and I noticed that the two maroon colored “wings” start out tucked up inside the “helmet” (standard) and slowly, over a few days, they unfurl into the position we see here. They are landing pads for visiting insects and they, along with black angular lines inside the flower, direct the insect to the prize inside. These flowers must be loaded with nectar, because I’ve seen maroon “teardrops” of nectar on their outside surfaces. Groundnuts are legumes in the pea/ bean family and this one was taken across the Atlantic very soon after Europeans arrived. It was listed as a garden crop in Europe in 1885.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) has quite a long blooming season but I’m seeing fewer flowers each week so I think they’re nearing the end of their run. I’ll miss seeing them swaying in the breeze, especially in the morning when they sparkle with dew.

So where have all the Shasta daisies been hiding this year? Here it is August and these are the first I’ve seen. I’m guessing two years of drought have slowed them down a bit but here they are, back with the rains. I’ve always liked their brilliant white flowers. White and gray are important in gardens with a lot of color in them, because they allow the eye to rest a bit between colors. I always tried to have white, gray and/ or silver in any garden I built, especially perennial borders.

Centaurea is sometimes called basket flower or cornflower but it’s still a knapweed used in a garden setting. I’ve always liked it.

I showed this flower in a recent flower post and called it a rudbeckia, but someone wrote in and thought it was a Gaillardia. I planted some Gaillardia for a customer probably 40 years ago and they were disappointing, so I haven’t ever used them since and really don’t know them well. Since I couldn’t say for sure that it wasn’t a gaillardia I searched for its name and found that it is indeed a rudbeckia like its leaves told me it was. It is called Rudbeckia hirta, “Sonora.” Essentially a hybridized black eyed Susan.

I saw a colorful daylily that seems to be gaining in popularity, if I go by how many different gardens I’ve seen it in.

All the little heal all plants are still shouting yay! Do you hear them? Yay! How can you not feel joy in your heart when you see something like this? Heal all has been used medicinally since ancient times and the plants were once thought to be a holy herb sent by God to cure man’s ills. Or maybe they were sent simply to bring happiness. Maybe happiness is a large part of the cure.

I was surprised to find some beautiful little Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) still blossoming. I usually see them in July and they never seem to have a very long blooming period but you can occasionally find them still blooming in September. Though they originally came from Europe they can hardly be called invasive. I find them blooming in tall grasses usually in threes and fours.

This common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) plant grows in a wet ditch behind a shopping center. They usually grow just offshore in ponds but I didn’t see a single one blooming in a pond this year. This plant is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. The pretty, clear white flowers are about an inch across.

Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small but pretty, and unusual. Like the groundnut that started this post this plant is a legume in the pea/ bean family. Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds.

As usual I tried many times to get a photo looking into these tiny but pretty flowers, but this is the best I could do. They’re such an odd shape sometimes it’s hard to know which way is up. Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good at tripping up hikers.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) starts blooming in late July but it is another flower that seems late to me this year. This is the first one I’ve seen that could be said to be in full bloom and it’s now almost September. This is a good plant for gardens because monarch butterflies love these flowers.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it, I just look for the inflated seedpods.

Indian tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I found this beautiful white phlox blooming in a local garden. Tall garden phlox is often very fragrant but I couldn’t smell any scent from this one at all.

Even though they are everywhere I go I’ve had to search all summer for a queen Anne’s lace flower head (Daucus carota) with a tiny purple flower in the center, and I finally found one recently. They aren’t usually so hard to find.

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. I’ve seen lots of insects go to them but then turn away as if there was nothing of interest there for them. These flowers are so small I can’t think of anything to compare them to. A tick, maybe? I’ve never seen one with white specks on it like this one had. I assume they must be pollen from the white flowers.

For years now I’ve found one or two Asiatic dayflowers (Commelina communis) in a local park but that bed has now been dug up, so I was happy to find a large colony of this pretty little flower at the local college. It’s supposed to be highly invasive but it really doesn’t fit that description in this immediate area.

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) gets its common name from the way it will stay in position for a while after the stems are bent. Individual flowers will do the same. Though it is native to central and southern U.S.  it’s a very aggressive plant and can take over a garden if it isn’t kept under control. Flowers can be white, pink, or purple and there are cultivars available. An particularly unusual thing about this plant is how I can’t find any reference to it being used by Native Americans, medicinally or otherwise. I think I can only say that about two or three plants, after years of searching to see what uses plants had.

I found willowleaf angelonia (Angelonia salicariifolia) growing in a local garden and had no idea what it was at the time. After some digging, I found that it is a perennial native to Puerto Rico and grows year-round there. The plant is covered with sticky hairs and has spikes (racemes) of small, pretty 5 lobed flowers that come in a few different colors including pure white. Another name for it is granny’s bonnets. This is a hard plant to find any good information on but it would be worth searching for. It’s about a foot or so tall and in my opinion is very pretty. Because of the location I found it in I would guess that it wants plenty of sunlight.

Here is this week’s look at our late summer roadside flowers. No New England asters yet but there is boneset, Joe Pye weed, Goldenrod and purple loosestrife here. They made a beautiful scene, I thought.

I’m going to leave you with two quotes today from two men born more than 60 years apart; one a physicist, the other a naturalist, each saying the same thing.

Pick a flower on Earth and you move the farthest star. ~Paul A.M. Dirac

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. ~John Muir

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Our most beautiful time of year is almost here, when there are scenes like this just about everywhere you look. It’s much like living inside an impressionistic painting for a while until the hillside forests break into the full, blazing glory of fall.

Our late summer asters keep coming and the tall white aster (Doellingeria umbellata) is one of the most common and easily seen due to its 3-4-foot height. Large, mostly flat-topped flower heads give it another common name of flat-topped aster. They sway in the breeze and are usually covered with bees.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) seemed a little late this year but when I say that about a flower, I often find that it’s me who is expecting to see them earlier than they want to appear. In fact if I look back year to year on this blog, I find that most flowers are fairly consistent in their bloom times and jewelweed is no exception. It usually blooms in early to mid-August so it’s right on schedule.  

Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies pollinate these little flowers. You need a long tongue to reach all the way into that curved nectar spur but I watched an ant trying to come up with a way to get at that sweetness one day. Jewelweed typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

I think most people who read this blog know this, but for those who don’t; these are the jewels that give jewelweed its name. Raindrops sparkle like diamonds on the wax coated leaf surfaces. When you come upon a large colony of them after a rain it can be a very beautiful thing.

Since I’m seeing seedpods forming on our beautiful little eastern forked blue curl plants (Trichostema dichotomum) I’m going to say that it’s time we said goodbye, even though in a good year they might bloom through September. If so, it’ll be a bonus. When a heavy enough insect lands on that spotted lower lip those curved anthers, each carrying several white pollen grains smaller than grains of salt, will dip down and dust the insect with pollen. It’s another miraculous event in a world filled with them.

I found some low growing, potato like plants with lots of leaves and just a few small white flowers. It was obvious by the flowers that it is in the nightshade family but that’s about as far as I got. I think it might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

Do you see that tiny white flower to the right of center in this shot? All those leaves and one tiny flower? Clearly this plant doesn’t seem that interested in seed production.

But it does produce fruit, and these black berries are what leads me to believe it is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country so I doubt this is that plant. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

NOTE: A helpful reader has identified this plant as Eastern black nightshade (Solanum emulans,) so I can stop wondering about that. Thanks Sara!

Many of the plants in this post are not native and are considered invasive in many instances but only a few like purple loosestrife are truly pests in this region. In a large percentage of cases these plants were brought here because their flowers were beautiful and I can see that beauty, so I can understand the why of it. Many plants were also used medicinally and people went to a lot of trouble to get them here. Imagine bringing plants over on a wooden ship where extra deck space was nearly nonexistent. You’d have to present a very convincing argument I think, though in the case of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare,) which is pictured above and which has a long history of being used as an insect repellant, the ship’s captain might have been a little more understanding. Recent research shows that tansy repels ticks, moths, and other insects, so it might have gotten a free pass on deck space. And of course it might have arrived in the form of seed.

Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) is a plant I don’t have any memories attached to because before a year or so ago I never saw it growing here. Then all of the sudden there it was, and now I see it regularly. It’s a pretty little plant that Native Americans used to treat sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds, and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way. The name everlasting comes from the way the dried flowers will last for years in a dry vase. I keep forgetting to check these flowers for scent but the flowers of sweet everlasting smell like maple syrup.

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is another “invasive” that most pay little attention to in this part of the world, but I’ve heard that it can be a real pest in pastures. It was introduced from Europe as a garden ornamental and, as the old familiar story goes, has escaped and is now considered a noxious weed. A single hawkweed flower head can produce between 12 and 50 tiny black seeds, so when you do the math, it is obvious that these plants are here to stay. They are said to be much harder to control than dandelions. Though it’s easy to find many reasons to hate such a plant, we don’t have many orange wildflowers in this part of the country and I enjoy seeing it.

False dandelions (Hypochoeris radicata) are another imported plant but unlike orange hawkweed I see these plants almost everywhere I go at this time of year. If you look at the yellow flowers on tall wiry stems without paying attention to the foliage this plant might look like yellow hawkweed, but its leaves are very different and look more like narrow dandelion leaves. Yellow hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

Both dandelions and false dandelions have a rosette of edible leaves and a central taproot. The flower stems of false dandelion are solid, tall and wiry while those of true dandelions are hollow and much shorter. Another name for this plant is cats ear.

Native virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees. It is also called old man’s beard and devils’ darning needles. Both names refer to the twisted, feathery seed heads. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a toxic plant that can cause internal bleeding so you have to know what you’re doing to use it.

Another name for virgin’s bower is traveler’s joy and I can say that it is that. Its small white but pretty flowers are another reminder that fall is near. Clusters of them often cover the entire plant. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is another white flowered vine that drapes itself over the tops of shrubs to get more sunlight. It climbs using tendrils like a grape vine, unlike virgins’ bower which climbs by curling its leaf stems (petioles) around whatever it is climbing. Both strategies work well and each vine gets plenty of sunlight. You’ll note that the leaves on wild cucumber are two or three times as big as those on virgin’s bower though, and that’s because this vine prefers partial shade over full sunlight.  

The flower spikes (Racemes) on wild cucumber grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

If you’d like a native shrub that will attract pollinating insects clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is a very good choice. It’s also called summersweet because of its sweet fragrance. If you have low spots in your yard that get wet occasionally, this is a good shrub to plant in them because it likes moist soil and grows naturally along stream banks and in swampy ground. Insects love it and this one was covered with just about every one that I could name.

Each long upright clethra flower head is packed with small white flowers. Small yes, but also very fragrant; it has the name summersweet for a reason. Some older nurserymen might also know it as sweet pepperbush; whoever gave it that name thought its fruits resembled pepper corns.

The flowers of blue vervain (Verbena hastata) bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. Sometimes a stray plant will make it to first frost but usually not. This is a plant that doesn’t mind wet feet and that’s a good thing because the field that it grew in was flooded by all the rain. I couldn’t get near it so I had to use a lot of zoom for this shot. I love the color of the flowers so I was happy to see so many on this plant.

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) has just about reached the end of its flowering season I thought, when I noticed the third of an inch, brown winged fruits forming. Each mature fruit has a loose skin covering a rather large starchy seed. Native Americans snacked on the raw seeds or roasted them and ground them into flower. They’re said to be quite tasty but you have to be quick, because they’re a favorite of waterfowl.

There are far fewer fragrant white waterlilies in this pond than last time I was here and that tells me that they’re nearing the end of their time with us for this year. They’re very beautiful and I’ll be sorry to not be able to visit them for a few moths. To sit with them is to learn; they ask for nothing but have everything.

He is richest who is content with the least, for contentment is the wealth of nature. ~Socrates

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First come the yellow, red and orange mushrooms and then come the purples, and I’m seeing a lot of purple cort mushrooms (Cortinarius iodeoides) this year. I’ve noticed that this mushroom and virtually all of the orange ones are left untouched while white and other colors seem to be eaten almost as soon as they appear. Eaten by what I don’t know, but I assume it’s probably squirrels and chipmunks. Purple cort fungi have a rather bitter slime on their caps and that most likely accounts for their not being eaten.

A purple cort mushroom’s color lightens a bit as it ages, and it will often develop white or yellow streaks and spots as it ages. This is a good way to identify them.

The underside of a purple cort is very beautiful, in my opinion.

This butter waxcap (Hygrocybe ceracea) seemed to glow brightly in the dark of the forest. In this area I will now be seeing fewer and fewer orange and yellow fungi from this point on. Mushrooms have a “bloom time” just like flowers and the appearance of the purples tells me that the time for yellow and orange mushrooms is nearing an end.

Witch’s hat (Hygrocybe-conica) fungi have been everywhere this year. They’re quite small and easy to miss, or maybe I’ve just ignored them in the past. They’re also called conical wax caps.  According to Mushroom expert.com they bruise to black quite easily. They start out bright red to bright orange, fading to orangish or yellowish and finally black. Though this one was dry they can sometimes look wet or slimy.

Yellow nolanea (Entoloma murrayi) is also known as the yellow unicorn mushroom because it sometimes has a knob, called an umbo, on the top of its conical cap. Mushroom books say that they are common in the woods, but they aren’t that common in this immediate area. I think this is the first one I’ve seen.

American slippery jack (Suillus americanus) mushrooms are also called sticky buns or chicken fat fungi. They are known for their yellow, slimy caps with reddish brown scales, and how they usually appear in great numbers under eastern white pine trees. There must have been a dozen or more in this spot when I took this photo; enough so it was hard to get a shot of a single example.

The stem of the American slippery Jack is narrow with reddish spots and large yellow, angular pores are found on the underside of the cap. It’s a very stiff, tough feeling stem. Science has found that this mushroom has anti inflammatory properties.

The lilac fiber cap mushroom (Inocybe geophylla var. lilacina) is the lilac color seen here but it has a white cousin. Even Mushroom Expert.com says this genus is “filled with confoundingly similar species,” and is impossible to be sure of without a microscopic look at its spores, so I could be wrong about its name. It’s a pretty mushroom that people like to find for just that reason. What I noticed beside its pretty color was how the cap did indeed look fibrous. It starts out purple and fades to brown.

Here is the underside of the lilac fiber cap. The gills start off white and slowly turn brown, but you can also see a hint of purple in these examples. This is a poisonous mushroom.

According to Wikipedia scaly rustgill fungi (Gymnopilus sapineus) grow in dense clusters on conifer logs. The yellowish caps are darker at the center with a dry, sometimes scaly surface which can be fibrillose.  According to Mushroom Expert.com some guide books will say that the cap is scaly and others will say that it is smooth. I wanted to test Google lens on it to see how it did with mushrooms. It was close but it had the species wrong and the description it gave didn’t match what I’ve read elsewhere. DNA testing has shown that it is very similar to Gymnopilus penetrans, which is called the common rustgill. This common mushroom is often a bright spot in dark forests.

Clavaria ornatipes is described as a spatula or club shaped fungus, colored greyish to pinkish gray. These fungi shrivel when they dry out and revive after a rain. They grow directly out of the ground and there are often hundreds of them. I haven’t seen many coral type fungi this year so I was happy to see these.

In my last mushroom post I showed a Berkley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) that I had been watching grow for weeks. Now, more than a month later here it is, fully grown. I put a pocket knife up in the left corner so you could see how big it was. You can also see standing water in its center. Now this giant will begin to slowly decompose, and the odor will be easily detected from several yards away.

The scaly vase chanterelle (Turbinellus floccosus) is also called the wooly chanterelle. Sometimes it can have an orange cap like that seen in the above photo and sometimes it can be vase shaped. It likes to grow near conifers, and that’s where I found this one and several others. Though they might have chanterelle in their common name they can make you sick. They are said to be more closely related to stinkhorns than chanterelles.

Here’s a look at the outside of a younger scaly chanterelle, completely vase shaped. It is described as “shriveled looking but stout” and this one felt solid and heavy, like a club. The outside is creamy when young and then turns brownish.

There are many boletes that stain blue and they are easily misidentified, so I’ll just say that this is a bolete that stains blue. Many blue staining boletes are also poisonous.

Though there are gilled boletes most have pores or tubes on the undersurface as this one did. Sometimes the underside of the cap is a different color but the color of this one was fairly uniform all over.

Uniformly colored that is until it was cut, and then the flesh turned blue. I’ve seen boletes stain a beautiful, indigo blue instantly when damaged but this was a lighter blue that took a minute or two to show. If you happen to know its name, I’d love to hear from you.

Seeing big mushrooms is easy, but to see small ones you need to re-train your eyes. (And your mind, somewhat.) Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) taught me that one day when I accidentally saw them; they helped me see that forests are full of things just as small and sometimes many times smaller. Once you train your eyes to see small things before long, you’ll be able to see them everywhere and a whole new chapter in the book of nature will open for you. Despite their name jelly babies are sac fungi rather than jelly fungi.

I thought I’d never see a mushroom smaller than jelly babies but I was wrong. These fuzzy foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina campanella) were the smallest I’ve seen. Many of the mushrooms seen in this photo were barely as big as a pea and some were even smaller. The Xeromphalina part of the common name means “little dry navel” and points to the dimple that forms in the cap as it grows and expands. This mushroom grows on wood and this particular species prefers conifers. There is another that prefers hardwoods called Xeromphalina kauffmanii. Both are known for their ability to fruit in large numbers. I think there was an eastern hemlock stump under all that moss.

Everything in nature gets eaten, but something that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like this one with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus (pin mold) that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom and it was the first fungus found to be capable of sexual reproduction. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right. You can’t plan to see something like this. You have to be there when it happens, and that’s a good reason to spend as much time as possible in nature.

On older vermillion waxcaps (Hygrocybe miniata) the penny size cap can become a bit scaly and fade to orange a bit, as this one had. The margin also becomes scalloped with age as this one showed but even with all of that Mushroom Expert.com says that this pretty little mushroom can be confused with several others. In fact the web site says that miniata should mean “many look-alikes.” Actually it means red or vermillion.

The gills on a vermillion waxcap are pale yellow but fade a bit with age. The underside of this mushroom is very pretty, in my opinion. It looks like a very tiny spider might have been living among the gills.

I put this photo of a yellow fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria var. formosa) here in this post to remind me to tell you that we’ve never seen as many of this mushroom as we’ve seen this year. They’re just about everywhere you look and some of the caps have flattened out and grown as large as dinner plates. This tells me that they like lots of rain and they do better when they get it. The white spots (called warts) are what are left of the universal veil that covered the mushroom when it was in the immature “egg” stage.

Another mushroom that is having a great year is the tiger’s eye mushroom (Coltricia perennis.) Something that makes it unusual is how it is one of the only polypores with a central stem. Most polypores are bracket or shelf fungi. The concentric rings of color are also unusual and make it look like a turkey tail fungus with a stem. The cap is very thin and flat like a table, and another name for it is the fairy stool. They are very tough and leathery and can persist for quite a long time. I find them in August through October. This year they have a lot of red in them.

I hope you enjoyed this second look at the summer fungi that have been popping up in this area. You don’t need to be a mycologist to enjoy their many interesting shapes and beautiful colors, so I hope you’ll look out for them.

Go out, go out I beg of you  
And taste the beauty of the wild.   
Behold the miracle of the earth 
With all the wonder of a child. 

~Edna Jaques

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Narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis) grow alongside an old dirt road up in Stoddard, so it takes a bit of effort to see them. It’s always worth it though; gentians of any kind are extremely rare in these parts and I’m always as excited to see them as I would be to see a field full of orchids. They’re such a beautiful shade of blue.

The gentians were coming up through ferns and I’m hoping the ferns aren’t choking them out. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them on this blog very often, because our soil is generally acidic. The flowers never really open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so.

I didn’t see a bumblebee on the gentians but I did see one on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) I found growing in a local garden. This is another flower that I have never seen here before this and I wonder why more people don’t grow it. It’s a pretty flower but the plants were a bit wilted on the day I saw them, so maybe they need a lot of water? I don’t know them well, so I can’t say. They certainly do attract insects.

I realized that I hadn’t been keeping up with the roses this year so here is a pink one I saw in a local garden.

This one reminded me of the cabbage roses I grew up with. My mother planted them before she died and the fragrance was unbelievable. Sitting out on the porch on a warm summer evening smelling the hedge full of hundreds of fragrant roses is a pleasant memory I’ve carried with me my entire life.

Google lens tells me this is a northern sundrop (Oenothera tetragona.) I’m okay with the sundrop part but northern sundrops have red buds and the buds on this plant were green. This plant is in the evening primrose family and there is a northern evening primrose (Oenothera parviflora) but it has flowers that do not open during the day and this flower was fully open at about 11:00 am. There is a narrow leaved evening primrose (Oenothera fruticosa) with 4-petaled bright yellow flowers which are 2-3 inches across, so that fits. It blooms in April through August in sandy soil along roadsides so that fits as well. Even though I can tick off a few positives there is a big negative, and that is that Oenothera fruticosa is rare in New England. Though it is listed as present in New Hampshire it is also listed as unranked, so in the end all I can tell you is that I found a sundrop plant beside an old dirt road and I can’t tell you its name. It’s very pretty though and there are sundrop cultivars for gardens.

Before the lily beetles came and finished them off, I used to grow Asiatic lilies. I planted them under each window so their wonderful fragrance would fill the house and it did until it didn’t. I grew stargazer lilies which were much pinker than these I found in a local garden. These were a bit over done as far as color I thought, but the fragrance was still heavenly. If you want wonderful fragrance in the garden Asiatic lilies will get you there.

I was looking for sunflowers but instead found these rudbeckia plants in the same garden as the Asiatic lilies. I do enjoy seeing what plant breeders are doing, so I was pleasantly surprised to see them. They’re quite different from any I’ve ever seen.

NOTE: A reader believes this might be a Gaillardia rather than a rudbeckia. Since I don’t know Gaillardia I’ll ask all of you what you think. I based my identification on the leaves, which couldn’t be any more rudbeckia like. But then maybe Gaillardia leaves look like that too. What do you think?

These nodding onions (Allium cernuum) I found in the same garden as the rudbeckia and Asiatic lilies were quite beautiful, I thought. They were dainty little things and I loved their colors. These plants are native to the U.S., with a range from New York to Michigan down to Georgia and the mountains of Arizona.

White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is known for its drought tolerance and will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed leaves help with identifying this plant. The small, one-inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers and they always look a bit wonky, like like a chubby fingered toddler had glued the petals on. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings, which is how it grows naturally. Where I work, they’ve come up under lilacs and they’re very pretty there, so I just let them be.

In a normal year I would see big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) like those in the above photo blooming before the white wood asters we just saw but this year things are reversed and big leaf asters came in second. The flowers of big leaf aster are about the size of a nickel and are usually white but you can find an occasional plant with purple flowers as I did in this instance.

Big leaf asters get their common name not surprisingly, from their big, hand size leaves. Big leaves gather more light and since this plant grows in forests under trees that is how it has evolved. The leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify. I should also say that these leaves are not at all shiny. The only reason they look shiny in this photo is because it was a dewy morning and they were wet. Normally they would have a kind of dull, matte finish.

Bees were loving the purple coneflowers, which are now at their peak of bloom. They’re another native plant, native to the prairies of the mid west.

It’s just about time to say goodbye to our native purple flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus.)  Or at least, the flowers. The fruit comes next of course, and it will look like an oversize raspberry. These 2-inch diameter flowers look like roses at a glance but a closer look at the leaves and stems tells the story.

I wanted you to see the variations in color you can find on a single flowering raspberry plant. The flowers can look quite different even when they grow side by side. I’ve always thought the age of the blossom must have something to do with it but of course I can’t prove it.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) has just come into bloom. At a glance you might call it white Joe Pye weed and in fact the two plants are closely related, but the thread like flower styles are really the only shared feature. The leaves look quite different than those found on Joe Pye weed. I find boneset on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

Wild basil (Clinopodium vulgare) is a first for this blog. Though I must have walked by it for years I just noticed it where I work one morning. The silvery looking things that the flowers are growing out of are the spiky flowerheads, covered in dew. The flowers are very small and it took several tries to get a useable photo of them. The plants sprawl a bit but are quite short. I’d have to call them maybe shin high.

I’m not thrilled with this shot of the wild basil flower but the plants have been cut so it’s all I have. The plant is in the mint family and the leaves are edible. They are said to have a minty, peppery taste. I’ve also read that a sweet and aromatic herb tea can be made from the fresh leaves. It is said that the plant probably came from Europe because it is very common there, but nobody seems to know for sure. Since I’ve seen it exactly once in 60+ years I doubt it could be called invasive, even if it did originate in Europe.

As the story goes, once upon a time a lady (with a dirty thumb?) made an impression on this plant and it has been called lady’s thumb (Polygonum persicaria) ever since. Though it doesn’t show very well in this photo, the base of each leaf forms a clasping sheath where it joins the central stem. Clasping leaves and the spots on each leaf are helpful identifiers. This plant is originally from Europe.

The small whitish-pink flowers are hard to find fully open and often aren’t seen when they are open. This is a small, unobtrusive plant that might reach 2 feet tall on a good day.

And there is the lady’s thumb print. Lady’s thumb is very similar to other knotweeds and smartweeds, but is the only one with the brownish black “thumb print.” I found the plant pictured growing in the rocky, sandy soil by a pond. Smartweeds get their name from the way they’ll make your tongue smart if you bite into them. The name knotweed comes from the sheath that encircles the nodes on the stems.

NOTE: A helpful reader has identified this plant as Persicaria extremiorientalis, far-eastern smartweed. Thank you Sara!

Regular readers of this blog know that I believe that all flowers have a divine inner light. In some flowers it’s easy to see and in others it’s not so easy, but one of the flowers that always shows it best is the purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea.) I always have to stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just for a few moments. If a flower’s inner light can shine so brightly just imagine what yours might do.

Your inner light is what makes you beautiful. ~Mary Davis

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We had lots of rain here in July; well over a foot in some places but luckily no serious flooding as of this writing. Since it’s raining hard as I write this near the end of the month though, that could change.

I’ve been lucky because on most of the days that I’ve had a chance to get into the woods, it hasn’t been raining. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been wet though. Most of the grasses and undergrowth have looked like what you see in the above photo for quite a while now, and many lawns have standing water on them because the ground is so saturated the water has nowhere to go.

The rains have made many moths and other insects seek shelter under the eaves of buildings, and that’s where this one was one morning when I arrived at work. I think it might be one of the underwing (Catocala) moths, so called because when they spread their upper wings their underwings show a flash of color, but I haven’t been able to satisfactorily identify it. They have names like “charming underwing,” “girlfriend underwing,” “betrothed underwing,” and “bride underwing,” so it sounds like whoever named them had something other than moths on their mind at the time.

I often see moths resting on leaves during the day and that’s what this pretty one was doing when it caught my eye. I think it might be a large lace border moth (Scopula limboundata,) which is found only east of the Rocky Mountains. From what I’ve seen online wing colors and patterns can vary considerably on this moth. Their caterpillars are a type of inchworm that feeds on clover, blueberry, apple, and black cherry.

Early one windy morning I saw this dragonfly hanging on to a blueberry leaf, blowing in the wind like a flag. That’s why I think it’s one of the pennant dragonflies. Maybe a calico pennant. It wasn’t the least bit spooked by me and just kept hanging on as I took photos. I wish they were all so willing.

Note: A knowledgeable reader who knows much more about dragonflies than I do tells me that this may be a female banded pennant dragonfly. Thanks Mike!

Widow skimmers don’t seem to stay still very long. This one flew off and returned to its perch several times before I was able to get a decent shot of it. It wasn’t the shot I was hoping for but it does show off this dragonfly’s beautiful wings.

Slaty skimmers are another beautiful dragonfly. I think this is a mature male, which are dark blue with black heads. Females and juveniles look quite different, with brownish bodies and a dark stripe down their backs. These large dragonflies are fairly common here and can usually be found on pond shorelines.

What I believe is a Mayfly hung onto the wall of a building where I work. It was under the eaves, probably trying to get out of the rain. Mayflies are very interesting creatures that can be seen anytime in summer, not just in May. From what I’ve read they are part of an ancient group of insects that includes dragonflies and Damselflies. People have been fascinated by them for a very long time; Aristotle and Pliny the Elder wrote about them. Adults, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, do not eat. Their sole function is reproduction, so I’d guess that maybe this adult male was just hanging out, waiting for his mate to come along.

Banded net wing beetles also waited under the eaves of another building, but they were still getting wet. At first, I thought this was just one beetle but I couldn’t figure out why it had its wings spread so wide until I saw the photo. There are actually 3 beetles here. Two are hiding under the wings of the first, possibly mating? Males are smaller than the females but these three looked to all be about the same size to me. These beetles contain defensive chemicals and most birds and spiders leave them alone. They feed on plant juices or sometimes other insects.

Japanese beetles cause a lot of damage to plants but they aren’t very remarkable otherwise. They’re common and fairly easy to control, even by hand picking. But this one surprised me by turning into a lion.

The beetle turned, lifted its hind legs, and roared. Or at least I thought that when I saw this photo on the camera’s screen. It looked like the beetle had opened its big mouth and roared at me, but then I thought wait a minute, beetles don’t have big mouths. It was a trick of the light, with the bright sunlight shining on the beetle’s “snout” or nose, or whatever it is called. I had to laugh at my own foolishness.

A white crab spider hung upside down among the blossoms of a swamp milkweed, hoping it wouldn’t be noticed by any visiting insects. Crab spiders can change color from white to either yellow or pink but it takes anywhere from 2 to 21 days. They’re very patient little things and if you pay attention creatures like spiders, great blue herons, frogs, and many other creatures will teach you all about what it means to be truly patient.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I saw this great egret wading through a flooded cornfield. Usually when I see things like this I don’t have the right camera with me, but on this day I had it. Without a thought I slammed on my brakes, jumped out and started shooting, so it was a good thing there was nobody behind me. I’ve really got to stop doing that.

I’ve been wanting to see an egret my whole life and never had, even when I lived in Florida, so this beautiful bird was an exciting find. I looked up how to tell which egret you were seeing and from what I read the orange bill and black legs mean it’s a great egret. It looked to be about the size of a great blue heron, but it was quite far across a cornfield so that might not be correct. We’d had quite a storm the night before and I wondered if maybe it had been blown off course. It kept pecking at the ground so it was apparently seeing plenty of food.

I didn’t find any egret feathers but I’ve seen plenty of turkey feathers. We have lots of turkeys around and I’m always seeing feathers but not usually tail feathers like this one.

I found this feather hanging from a grass stalk, gently twisting in the breeze. Google lens has said repeatedly that it is from a long-eared owl but I have a hard time believing it because, though we do have long eared owls here they’re exceedingly rare and are hardly ever seen. On the other hand, I’ve read that they nest in the woods near open fields where they like to hunt, and that was the type of terrain I found it in. I’m hoping some knowledgeable reader might be able to sort it out.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call an electric blue. They don’t seem to be doing very well this year though; this is the only berry I’ve seen. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these. These plants are toxic so no part of them should ever be eaten. Luckily the berries are so bitter one bite would be enough to make anyone spit them out. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow.

Red or purple trillium (Trillium erectum) seed pods turn bright red in late summer, but few people ever seem to see them. Trilliums are all about the number three or multiples of it, and the seed chamber has six parts. The fleshy seeds are prized by ants because they have a sweet, pulpy coating that they eat, so many of the trilliums we see have most likely been planted by ants. It takes about five years for a trillium to go from seed to flower.

Tiny starflower seedpods (Trientalis borealis) look a bit like soccer balls. They’re very small so you often have to look at the plant’s leaves to find them. The few brown seeds inside need a cold period to germinate and will not do so until the fall of the second year. Ants and other insects “plant” the seeds.

This photo from a few years ago gives a good idea of how small a starflower seed pod really is; about as big as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny. They’re a challenge to get a good shot of.

Witch hazel gall aphids (Hormaphis hamamelidis) have been doing their work. These cone shaped galls are where the gall aphids grow and reproduce. When they’re ready they leave the gall and fly off to find birch trees. The young aphids feed on birch leaves until they give birth to nymphs, which develop wings and fly back to witch hazels, where the process begins again.

The galls are called nipple galls or cone heads and each year, usually around Halloween, they turn black and look like witch hats. For some reason this one was early.

I went to see if I could get some shots of goldenrod flowers and instead found dodder attacking the goldenrod plants. Dodder (Cuscuta) is an annual and grows new from seed in the spring. It is a leafless vining plant that wraps and tangles itself around the stems of other plants. It is a parasite that pushes root like growths called haustoria into the stem of the host plant. Dodder can do a lot of damage to food crops and some of its other common names reflect how people have felt about it over the years:  devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, hail weed, hair weed, hell bine, pull-down, strangle weed, and witch’s hair.

In this photo from 2013, if you look just to the upper left of the white flower in the photo you can see how the orange dodder stem (haustoria) has burrowed into a goldenrod stem. Once it is feeding on its host it loses all connection to the soil and from then on will survive by sucking the life out of the host plant. Dodder has no chlorophyll and its stems can be bright orange, yellow, or red. The round growths are seed pods. One of its favorite hosts seems to be goldenrod.

Here is a close look at the dodder’s flowers. They’re among the smallest I’ve ever photographed but I’d guess that they produce plenty of seeds.

While I was getting photos of the dodder, I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye and it turned out to be 3 monarch butterflies flying around some milkweed plants. Of course, they all flew away when I walked over but this one returned and hid under a leaf. I’ve seen quite a few monarchs this year but most have been wary and hard to get good shots of.

I saw more monarchs on some hyssop plants and I tried and tried to get a photo of their open wings, but this was the best I could do. They were almost all the way open.

I ended up with most shots looking like this one but with wings open or closed they are still very beautiful things. Hyssop is a very pretty plant that would be happy in any garden and it would attract butterflies too, so it isn’t hard to do something to help these creatures survive. There are many ways in fact, and a helpful reader was kind enough to send me some information on how we can help monarchs and many other insects simply, with no real effort other than putting some thought into which plants we select for our gardens. If you’re interested you can find a wealth of information by clicking this link: https://homegrownnationalpark.org/faq

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. ~Henry Miller 

Thanks for stopping in. I’m sorry this post is so long but there are just so many beautiful things to see out there. I do hope that you’re seeing as many of them as I am.

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Whether you think Joe Pye was the name of a healer who used the plant to heal or jopi, the Native American name of the plant that did the healing, doesn’t matter. All that matters is its beauty. The plant is having a fairly good year because it likes a lot of rain, and some tower over my head. This example was just starting to flower, and you can tell that by the tiny thread like flower styles that give the flower head its fuzzy look. The flowers smell a bit like vanilla to me, and they attract many insects including monarch butterflies, so this plant (Eupatorium) is a great choice for a wildlife garden.

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) is easy to recognize because of the way its erect stems are unbranched, with steeple shaped flower clusters at their ends. They are usually found near water, as this one was, but I’ve also found them in very dry places. This native plant is available commercially and is an excellent choice for butterfly gardens. Native Americans used a tea made from steeplebush leaves for easing childbirth.

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is similar to lance leaved goldenrod, but the two can be told apart by leaf veining; slender fragrant goldenrod has only one vein running down the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has several veins. Other common names are sweet goldenrod, wound weed, Blue Mountain tea, sweet-scented goldenrod, anise-scented goldenrod, and true goldenrod. Goldenrods like dry, sunny places and don’t mind sandy soil. This native grows much shorter than most; usually about knee high. The flowers are quite fragrant and many insects love them.

Marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) flowers are very pink for a St. John’s wort. As its name implies this plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline of ponds. The flowers are quite 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 often has dark colored maroonish leaves like those seen here. It isn’t rare but it isn’t easy to find either.

The pin striped flowers are unusual and beautiful but you have to be patient to see them because they will only open when the plant is in full afternoon sun.

Field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) is a pretty little shin high plant that usually blooms in August. What look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant, including bumblebees. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

Several years ago, I put a field milkwart raceme on a penny so you could see how small these flowers really are. Small or not they’re very pretty and worth seeing. Milkworts get their name from the ancient Greeks, who thought they increased milk production in nursing mothers. The polygala part of the scientific name comes from the Greek polugalon or “much milk.”

Native trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) flowers are showy, waxy, trumpet shaped, and big; up to 3 1/2 inches long. They can be orange, reddish orange, or sometimes pink and they attract Ruby throated Hummingbirds and many insects. If you plant this vine near your house, you’d better give it something very sturdy to climb on. I once saw it pull a trellis right off a porch. Trumpet creeper can grow 35 feet tall when it has something to climb on. It climbs using aerial roots which, like some other vines like English Ivy, can damage wood, stone, or brick. Other names are cow vine, foxglove vine, hellvine, and devil’s shoestring, so you either love it or hate it. This one grows on an old rusty chain link fence so I just admire it. If I was going to plant one, I’d let it grow up a pine tree. It wouldn’t pull that down.

I like the flower buds on a trumpet creeper as much as the flowers. They look like red satin balloons.

I found a small plant, about as big as a baseball, in a lawn. It was covered in a large number of tiny flowers which were obviously in the forget me not family but much smaller. I think it might be field forget me not (Myosotis arvensis,) which I’ve never seen before now.

The flowers are about 1/8 inch across, much smaller than the forget me nots I’m used to finding. They are saucer shaped, which is an identifying feature as is the hairy, 5 lobed calyx at the base of the flower. If you know that I’ve misidentified it I’d love to hear from you.

Low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis) is blooming in sandy waste places in quite large numbers this year. The flowers are tiny; about the same size as those of red sand spurry, and blossom on the ends of wiry stems. Its leaves are also small and sword shaped. Most of the plants I’ve seen would fit in a tea cup with room to spare, but there are usually lots of plants growing together. It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath. I had never seen it before a couple of summers ago but now I see it quite regularly. I’m guessing it re-seeds itself prolifically. This is another plant that was identified by readers of this blog, so once again I say thank you for the help.

I saw some of the lobelia plants that are called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) but there was a black spot in the center of some of the flowers which didn’t look right, and that was because this little guy and his cousins were buried up to their hind legs in the flower tubes. As I watched this one crawled out and that’s how I found out what was happening. The flower seen here was about a quarter inch long so this was a tiny critter. It looks like a beetle of some sort but I haven’t been able to identify it.

Note: A helpful reader has identified this creature as a weevil, and I think it might be the stem miner weevil (Mecinus pyraster.) Thanks Ginny!

Invasive purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) has come into bloom. Three species of non native plant feeding beetles have been said to show promise in biological control of purple loosestrife and biological control has begun in the southern part of the state. I haven’t seen any great loss of purple loosestrife yet but it is said that it will take 5 years before we’ll see any real impact.

My first question is, what will the introduced insects eat when there are no more purple loosestrife plants? My second question is, when will we ever learn?

It’s time to say goodbye to Canada lilies, which are our biggest, showiest wildflower. Stumbling into a clearing in the woods where dozens of these plants, some 7 feet tall, are blooming is just unforgettable.

The blossoms themselves are pretty unforgettable too. Everything about them is big.

Years ago, when I first saw blue hydrangeas I thought they were the greatest thing, but since then I’ve grown into a more take it or leave it frame of mind. I found this one growing beside an abandoned building in Keene and I kind of liked the white in the flowers, rather than solid blue. I don’t know if the white is just a fluke or if it means the flowers are fading but it was a nice touch, in my opinion.

It’s rare to see anything but red bee balm here so I was surprised and happy to find this one in a local park. It had a bit of powdery mildew on its leaves but it looked good otherwise.

I was also surprised to find a huge anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) plant in full bloom at the local college. It’s a pretty plant that I’ve never seen before, but it was easy to see that it needs a lot of room. I’ve read that it’s a native plant in the mint family that is said to attract many insects and butterflies but, though there were plenty of both flying around that day I didn’t see a single one land on this plant. I wondered if they, like me, just weren’t used to seeing it. When I find plants I don’t know like this one I sometimes think of what I could have done with them back when I was gardening for a living.

Rose of Sharon shrubs (Hibiscus syriacus) have come into bloom. There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding this plant each year at this time. People don’t know if it’s a hibiscus or a mallow or a hollyhock, and that’s because all of those plants are in the mallow family (Malvaceae) and have similar flowers. The easiest way to identify a rose of Sharon is by looking at the plant the flowers are on. If the flower is on an upright, often tall woody shrub it is a rose of Sharon. Mallow and hollyhocks are perennials and / or biennials and will usually die back to the ground each year. Hibiscus resembles rose of Sharon but you’ll only find it growing outside year-round in the southern states because it is very tender. I think of rose of Sharon as a hardy hibiscus. This is about the only time of year I think of hibiscus because I used to have to trim what seemed like miles of hybiscus hedges when I worked as a gardener in Florida, so I don’t really miss them.

And here was a double flowered one. I’m not usually partial to double flowers but this one wasn’t too bad.

And here is this week’s beautiful daylily. My color finding software tells me its colors are thistle, orchid and plum. It has a divine light shining out of its throat and anthers of flame. If you could take a tray of flower parts and build your own, I’m not sure you would end up with a flower more beautiful than this. It’s a flower I can easily lose myself in.

In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends. ~ Kakuzō Okakura

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Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata,) another sign of summer’s passing, have come into bloom. Some of these flowers can be extremely fragrant and they’re a valuable addition to any garden. A walk along a garden border full of fragrant phlox on a summer evening is something you probably won’t ever forget. Many people think of English gardens when they think of phlox but this is actually a native plant with a range from New York to Mississippi.

Another sign of summer’s passing comes in the form of eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) but many people miss seeing these ankle tall plants full of tiny but very beautiful blue flowers. They bloom in the morning and each flower only blooms for one day before falling off the plant. Its common name comes from its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on the flower’s lower lip. It’s one of our prettiest mid summer natives and is worth getting down on your hands and knees to see. It likes poor, sandy soil like that found along roadsides, and that’s where I found this one.

One of the oddest plants you’ll meet at the end of July is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) Odd because it was introduced from Europe and of course almost immediately escaped gardens and is now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. According to the USDA it was first found in the wild in North America near Syracuse, New York, in 1878 and has now spread to 31 states. I see only a few plants each year and they’re usually growing in shade but in some areas they come up in lawns. They stand about knee high, but they can get taller with more light. The leaves, though smaller, closely resemble those found on false hellebore and the name helleborine in Latin means “like hellebore.” That’s another oddity about this plant; neither false hellebore leaves nor the leaves of this orchid look at all like hellebore leaves.

A third oddity about broad leaved helleborine orchids is how two plants growing side by side (it is said from the same bulbous root) can have different color flowers. The flowers, maybe slightly bigger than a pencil eraser, can be green with a hint of purple, or purple with a hint of green, as these examples were. In fact, this year the flowers have more purple in them than I’ve seen.  

The fourth and oddest oddity about this plant in my opinion, is how scientists have discovered that its 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 one flower’s pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the intoxicating orchid for the buzz.

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. Once the flowers go by (as this example was) 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.

Here is a fresh buttonbush flower head. Each small white flower is relatively long and trumpet shaped, with 4 short stamens and a single, long white style that is longer than the flower’s corolla, and that’s what makes them look like pincushions. Buttonbush is said to be poisonous to animals but beavers have been seen taking the wood. Whether for food or for the construction of their dams and lodges isn’t known.

One of the things that surprises me most about burdock (Arctium minus) is how, even though it grew everywhere when I was a boy and we used to throw the burs at each other, I never saw the flowers until I became an adult. I suppose my priorities changed; back then there was nothing more fun than covering your friends in the sticky burs. 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. When fully open long white styles grow from the often darker purple anthers, which form a type of sheath around it. Burdock 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.

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) is also called false violet because of its leaves, and I think the resemblance might be part of why a lot of people never see it. Its small white flowers dot the forest floor like so many other small white flowers, and that also makes it easy to pass by with just a glance. Though I know of two colonies of them they are rare here, and are endangered or threatened in many other states.

Dewdrops have a secret; they produce flowers other than the ones we see. The hidden flowers don’t open but still produce seeds. They are called cleistogamous flowers and grow down beneath the leaves. The showy flowers like the ones in the photo are mostly sterile. In plants like hobblebush these bigger, showier, sterile flowers are used to attract insects to the smaller, less showy fertile flowers but I doubt that it works that way on dewdrops, because cleistogamous flowers are self fertile and don’t need insects to pollinate them. So why are the bigger, showier flowers even there? Maybe they’re just another way that nature expresses itself. Maybe all of creation rejoices when they come into bloom. Maybe that’s true of all flowers. Maybe it’s true of all life.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) gets its common name from the way the chopped and boiled leaves produce a soapy lather that is particularly good at removing grease. This plant is a native of Europe and is thought to have been brought over by colonists to be used as a soap substitute. Another common name for this plant is bouncing Bet. I’ve heard several stories about how this name came about but I like the one that claims that the curved petals catch the breeze and make the plant bounce back and forth in the wind. The flowers are very fragrant.

Bee balm (Monarda) is a native plant that is seen more in gardens than in the wild in this region. It is also called Oswego tea and bergamot. Many Native American tribes used this plant medicinally and a tea made from it can still be found in many stores. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew. It isn’t doing well here this year. The plants I’ve seen this year don’t have mildew but still seem weak and the flowers are small.

There are more than 43 different species of liatris so I’m never sure which one I’m seeing but I do know that though it is a native plant I’ve only found it outside of a garden just once in this area.  It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies and bees to the garden. I think it would be more striking planted in drifts rather than the one or two plants spotted here and there that I see. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of the plant; they are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

When you take a close look at the flowers the plant’s other common name, blazing star, comes to mind. It is grown commercially as a cut flower, so you might have seen it in an arrangement.

The beautiful blue of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) is hard to match in a garden. I and my color finding software see blue but some call it purple so if you see purple that’s fine. The plant is an Asian native with a common name that comes from its buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. In nature it grows on hillsides and in meadows. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. 5 white anthers surround a central stye that becomes 5 lobed as the flower ages. This example hadn’t been open long.

Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) is in the ginseng family but its flowers are hard to mistake for those of ginseng. In fact, the entire plant isn’t easily confused with any other natives because of its bristly lower stems and foul odor. The plant can reach 3 feet tall but its weak stems give it a sprawling habit in the shade.  I almost always find it growing in dry gravel under pine trees at forest edges. Medicinally, the dried bark can be used in place of sarsaparilla. This plant is also called dwarf elder, wild elder, or angelica tree. Its leaves look nothing like those of wild sarsaparilla. Its fruit changes from green to dark blue and finally to black.

Bristly sarsaparilla is listed by the USDA as endangered in many states. The stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. The lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter, so technically it is considered a shrub. Each small, 1/8-inch flower sits at the end of a long stalk. They have 5 white petals that almost always curl back away from the center. 5 white stamens surround a central shorter style. I almost always see black ants swarming all over the flower heads of this plant but on this day there were only one or two.

Though when I was a boy hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) flowers were always pure white, I’m having a harder time finding white ones these days. Now most of them seem to be bicolor pink and white and I’m not sure why, other than natural selection. It could be that insects are more attracted to the bicolor flowers, which means that they have a higher probability of pollination and seed production. I took this photo because the flowers looked white to me but then when I saw them in a photo I thought I could see a blush of pale pink here and there.

I found a garden variety yarrow (Achillea) that I haven’t seen before. Its color was eye catching. Many tiny flowers packed together make up a yarrow flowerhead and this plant showed that off beautifully.

NOTE: A reader wrote in to say they were quite sure this plant is a cultivar called ‘New Vintage Violet’. Thank you!

I knew this plant was a hydrangea but it didn’t look like any hydrangea I had ever seen. It was like a lacecap, but not entirely. The colors were unusual and seemed to be several different shades all at once. Then I realized that I had been out of the professional gardening game for quite a long time. This was the tea of heaven hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata,) also called sawtooth hydrangea or blood on snow. It is a hybrid and I haven’t kept up with newer developments; my subscriptions to garden catalogs and horticultural magazines ran out long ago. But none of that matters; its beauty is what caught my eye and I thought it might catch yours as well. By the way, the leaves contain a natural sweetener called Phyllodulcin and they are used to make tea in some Asian countries. That’s where the name tea of heaven comes from. As for the name blood on snow, we’ll leave that for another post.

Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) had me going around in circles for a while because the USDA said it didn’t grow here, but what I wasn’t picking up on for some reason on was that this plant grows in a garden here, and not in nature. It was obviously in the mallow family like hollyhocks but the small, quarter size flowers were unusual in my experience. Then the helpers came to the rescue, and that’s why I’m adding this plant to this post; I should never forget to thank the many people who write in to help with identifications. They do it quietly, often in the background unknown by readers, but they are an important part of this blog and I’m very fortunate to have them there, waiting for me to get tangled up. So thank you, one and all. I do appreciate your help.

I’ll end this post with this peachy daylily, for no other reason than the fact that it is extremely beautiful.

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom. They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful.  ~Jim Carrey

Thanks for coming by.

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