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Posts Tagged ‘Heal All’

Last Saturday I did a post about a rail trail that I had hiked in Winchester and in that post I mentioned that I was a bit anxious that the trail looked like it was no longer being maintained. The maintenance of many of these rail trails is handled by local snowmobile clubs. They volunteer their time and effort to keep these trails open for winter use but there is only so much they can do, and I’m afraid they might have had to let that one go. This post will show what happens to a trail when it is no longer maintained, and why the thought that some trails might no longer be maintained gets me a little anxious.

Two weeks ago we had a thunderstorm. It didn’t seem like anything special; we expect thunderstorms in June in this part of the world. It only lasted for maybe 20 minutes and as I say, it didn’t seem like anything special. Until I looked out my window and saw my neighbor’s huge old oak tree on my lawn, that is. Then I knew that this wasn’t just a June thunderstorm. In fact thousands of trees had been blown down all over the state, and close to 100,000 people lost power because of it. This day, on this trail, I saw at least 10 trees that had blown across the trail, but they had all been cleaned up. Do we ever wonder who does all the cleaning up? I wonder. Some trees fell where I work, and it took all day for two of us to clean up a single pine tree like the one pictured above. It was a lot of work, and that was just one tree.

There will be more tree work on this trail; I saw 3 or 4 trees that had fallen and gotten hung up on trees on the other side of the trail. These are called “widow makers” and I hope nobody is under them when they come down.

I’m still not seeing many fungi because of the dryness, but a little rain the day before was apparently enough to coax this yellow mushroom into fruiting. It had a little slug damage on the cap but it was still worthy of a photo or two.

A colony of heal all plants (Prunella lanceolata) grew in a sunny spot, still moist from the previous day’s showers. I love to see these small but beautiful orchid like flowers.

Other flowers I like to see are maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) and they found sunny spots to grow in too. At first I thought they were their cousins the Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) but the jagged circle in the center of the flower told the story. Deptford pinks don’t have this feature.  They should be along any time now.

There are lots of box culverts carrying streams under this rail trail but much of the rail bed was built on fill that was packed between two hills, and in some cases it’s a 50 foot climb down to see the culverts. This example was the only one that was just a few feet below the rail bed. That granite lintel stone over the opening is about two feet thick; strong enough to have locomotives roll over it for well over a century.

There are plenty of other reminders of the railroad out here as well, like this old signal box. I once had an asbestos abatement contractor tell me that these were often lined with asbestos, so it’s best to just let them be.

Old stone walls still mark the boundary lines between private and railroad property.

I’ve never seen a horse on this trail but you can tell that they’ve been here.

I was surprised to find many pinesap plants (Monotropa hypopitys) up and ready to bloom. I don’t usually find these until well after their cousins the Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) bloom, but I haven’t seen a single Indian pipe yet this year. The chief differences between the two plants are color and flower count. Indian pipes are stark white and have a single flower, while pinesap plants are honey colored or reddish with multiple flowers. Neither plant photosynthesizes. Instead they receive nutrients from fungi that are associated with the roots of oaks and pines.

I’m guessing this log must act like a sponge and hold water, because it had coral fungus all over it. I think the soil is simply too dry to support much fungi at the moment.

I think these were crown tipped coral fungi (Clavicorona pyxidata) but since I don’t have a microscope to make identification a certainty, please don’t hold me to that.

This is a great trail for groups of people to walk because it is so wide. I think 4 people could walk side by side over most of it. It is level over much of its length and mostly arrow straight as well. When it does curve the curves are so gentle you don’t even realize it.

And that is why this should tell you something; the railroad would have never built anything like this. It’s hard to tell but it goes steeply uphill and the curves are far too sharp for a train to follow. That’s because this is a detour around the actual railbed, which lies abandoned over there on the right.

If you were to ignore the detour and keep walking straight on, this is what you’d find; the original rail bed. After I climb over and under a few downed trees, we’ll have a look.

The original rail bed was another deep cut, with a man-made canyon hacked out of the stone hillside. I’ve explored it before and found that the far end is blocked by many tons of gravel, which was poured into the canyon when a road was built across it. It’s a confusing conundrum, because I’m sure both the road and railbed are very old. If the road was there when the railbed was built there should be a tunnel under the road. If the road was built later over a running railroad there would have been a bridge or trestle over the rails. In any event there is just a huge mound of gravel at the end, and that has caused the drainage ditches on either side of the railbed to fail, so I got very wet feet in here. I should have worn my winter hikers.

These photos show what our rail trails would look like if the maintenance on them were to suddenly stop. When I say that we owe our snowmobile clubs and all of the other volunteers who keep these trails open a huge debt of gratitude, I’m not joking. I think it took me over two hours to pick my way through the entire length the first time I explored it, and this section isn’t even a mile long.

The woods have a luminous quality out here but even so this part isn’t a very pleasant walk. I spent far more time climbing over trees and avoiding walking in standing water than I did actually walking so I decided not to follow the canyon to the end. Standing in ankle deep mud taking photos isn’t much fun, so my only thought was to get out of here.

I grew up in a house that was just a few yards from a Boston and Maine Railroad track that freight trains ran over twice a day, so when I saw them tear up all the rails and take them away it was traumatic enough to keep me off rail trails for a very long time. Seeing a dirt trail where the trains once ran was a hard thing but finally after 30 years or so I convinced myself that it was time to get over it and I’ve been walking these rail trail ever since. In that time I’ve discovered what a great gift they are. For a nature lover who wants to get far into the woods without having to cut a trail, there is simply nothing that can compare. I hope we will all do our best to keep them open, even if it is simply telling a town or state representative how much we enjoy them. To stand aside and watch nature reclaim something so unique and valuable would be a real tragedy, in my opinion.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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I’ve driven by this spot for years, admiring what I thought were huge drifts of maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids.)  I’ve told myself that I really had to stop and take a photo to show here, and on this day I finally did. There are tens of thousands of flowers here if not hundreds of thousands, and they grow right beside the road.

Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I found that they were all blue eyed grass flowers (Sisyrinchium angustifolium.) They’re one of my favorite wildflowers but smaller than an aspirin and often hard to see in the tall grass. Here they’ve taken over and there is no tall grass. If you’re wondering why I couldn’t tell blue from pink / purple it’s because I’m colorblind when it comes to those and a few other color combinations.

My friends grow this beautiful clematis in their garden. I don’t know its name but I’m hoping it isn’t Ooh-la-la. There is one very similar flower with that name that I saw recently on Mr. Tootlepedal’s blog, which you can find right over there in the “favorite links” section on the right. In the end it doesn’t matter what its name is because it is still beautiful.

Many of our native shrubs like dogwoods and viburnums are coming into bloom. One of the first to bloom is the smooth arrow wood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum.) This 8 foot tall shrub grows near water usually, near streams and drainage ditches. It gets as large in diameter as it is tall and when it is flowering is very easily seen from a distance. Later on these blossoms will become a cluster of blue drupes that birds love. Native Americans are said to have used this shrub’s straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used parts of it medicinally and used its fruit as food. It is the only viburnum I know of with shiny leaves.

Once you get used to seeing both dogwoods and viburnums you can tell them apart immediately. The flowers on our native viburnums like the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact other than the arrow wood viburnum just seen I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) is in full bloom now and is a plant held in high regard for its hard to find clear blue color. This is another tough native plant that bees love. People love it too, and it is now sold in nurseries. The black seed pods full of loose, rattling, seeds that follow the flowers were once used as rattles by children. Not surprisingly, other common names include rattle weed and rattle bush. Native Americans made a blue dye from this native plant that was a substitute for true indigo.

This is a flower that I found growing in deep shade by a swamp and I think it might be common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris.) From what I’ve read it is an annual plant from Europe that is common, but I’ve never seen it. Apparently it is considered a pest in nurseries and greenhouses but even though I’ve worked in both I’ve never seen it there either. It is said to be toxic.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) has tiny hooded flowers that remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight. It’s a pretty little thing that always deserves a closer look.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) are showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It is native to eastern North America. One of the easiest ways to identify it is by the flower’s long red, mushroom shaped pistil and its hairy throat.

Here’s an iris that has been in my family longer than I have. Before I was born my mother planted a few in the yard so I’ve known it quite literally my entire life, and now it grows in my own yard. Its name is Loreley, and it’s an old fashioned variety introduced in 1909. It’s one of the toughest irises I know of; truly a “plant it and forget it” perennial. It was bred in Germany, and the name Loreley (Lorelei) refers to the sirens that would perch on cliffs along the Rhine and entice sailors to their doom with their enchanting song, much like the sirens who lured Ulysses and his crew in the Odyssey. It’s such a beautiful iris; is it any wonder that Loreley is still grown over 100 years after her introduction?

This yellow daylily (Hemerocallis) is very early, blooming just after the Siberian irises bloom. This plant was given to me many years ago by a friend who has since passed on and I have divided it many times for family and friends. Two things make this plant special: the early bloom time and the heavenly fragrance that smells of citrus and spices. I have a feeling this is a Lemon daylily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) which is a very old species brought to America in colonial days and originally from China and Europe.  The Greek word Hemerocallis means “beautiful for a day,” and that’s how long each flower lasts. It’s a shame that many of today’s daylilies, bred for larger and more colorful flowers, have lost their ancient fragrance.

This small ninebark shrub (Physocarpus) grows in the garden of friends and my favorite part of it is the dark purple foliage, but the flowers are pretty too. It is said to be related to the spirea and you can see that in its blossoms. Its common name comes from the way its bark splits and peels, revealing layers of reddish brown inner bark. It was once thought to have nine layers of bark.

Coincidentally, after I saw the garden ninebark I found this native ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) on an old farm. Though the flowers look identical the leaves on this one are green. Ninebark is originally from Missouri, where it grows on the banks of streams. The flowers will become clusters of reddish fruit.

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I always find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

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

Invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) originally came from China to be used as an ornamental and as the old story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by using all the available sunshine. In the above photo it’s growing up into a tree and I’ve seen it reach thirty feet. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.

It’s easy to see why it is in the rose family but if it wasn’t for their heavenly scent you might as well be looking at a raspberry blossom because multiflora rose blossoms are the same size, shape, and color, and raspberries are also in the rose family.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.

Bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) is another very beautiful native shrub but it is on the rare side so I don’t see it that often.  The small, dime size flowers are bright pink and very beautiful. Like many laurels bog laurel is poisonous enough to kill and no part of the plant should ever be eaten.  Legend has it that when a Native American wanted to end his life, this was the plant that was chosen to do the deed. It likes to grow along the edges of cool acidic bogs and ponds and often grows in shallow standing water. That makes it harder to get close to and in this case, that might be a good thing.

The pentagonal flowers of laurels are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. You can see relaxed anthers at about 3 and 6 O’clock in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them. What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a blossom in the lower right corner shows the arrangement of the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in.

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a native wildflower but it only grows naturally in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. This example grows in a local park. The white flower petals of bowman’s root are asymmetrical and always look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler. But they are beautiful nonetheless, and dance at the end of long stems. And they do dance in the slightest movement of air. Some say that all it takes is the gentle breath of a fawn to set them dancing, and because of that another of their common names is fawn’s breath. I can’t think of a more beautiful name for a flower.

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. ~Aldo Leopold

Thanks for coming by. Have a happy first day of summer tomorrow!

 

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It has been so hot and dry here lately some of the lawns have gone crisp and make a crunching sound when you walk on them, but there was a single dandelion blooming on one of them all the same. I was surprised to see it because dandelions rest through the hottest part of the summer and don’t usually bloom until it gets cooler in fall. I hope this isn’t the last one I see this year. It’s a cool rainy day as I type this, so maybe that will convince more of them to blossom.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) is still blooming in lawns everywhere I go. This plant is also called self-heal and has been used medicinally for centuries. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Native Americans drank tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed it improved their eyesight. The tiny orchid like flowers look like a bunch of little mouths, cheering on life.

Bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) grows in the shade away from the hot sun but it has still been hot enough even there to melt all of the wax crystals from its stems. It is this natural wax coating, the same “bloom” found on plums and blueberries, that makes the stems blue and without it this looks like many other goldenrods, and that makes them a little harder to identify. Luckily these examples are old friends and I know them well, so there is no doubt.

I think this was an example of the bushy American aster (Symphyotrichum dorsum) which has small blue flowers and looks much like the small white American aster (Symphyotrichum racemosum) in size and growth habit.  Each flower is about a half inch across and plants might reach waist high on a good day, but they usually flop over and lean on the surrounding plants as this one has. It likes dry, sandy fields and that’s exactly where I found it growing.

I found a tiny, knee high bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) with a single flower head on it, in a color that I’ve never seen it wear before. It had a lot of white in it and bull thistle flowers are usually solid pinkish purple. It is also called spear thistle, and with good reason; just look at those thorns.

Here’s another look at the bull thistle flower head. I’ve never seen another like it. I wonder if it’s some sort of natural hybrid. Or maybe, because it is so loose and open, I’m just seeing parts of it I haven’t seen before.

I was surprised to find creeping bellflowers (Campanula rapunculoides) still blooming. This pretty flowered plant was introduced as a garden ornamental from Europe and escaped to find nice dry places in full sun, which it loves. It’s usually finished blooming by the time the goldenrods start but this year it looks as if this plant will outlast them. It’s a plant that is very easy to identify, with its pretty blue / purple bell shaped flowers all on one side of its stem.

I don’t know if it’s the unusual hot temperatures we’ve had or if there is another reason but I’m seeing a lot of summer flowers that I shouldn’t be seeing now, like this St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum.) It usually blooms in June and July and should be long since done by now but I guess it can do whatever it wants. In any event it’s a pretty thing and I was happy to see it. Originally from Europe, St. Johnswort has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun.

Yet another plant that I was surprised to find still blooming was purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus.) This plant is in the rose family and has flowers that are 2 inches across and large, light gathering leaves that it needs to grow in the shade. It usually blooms in July for about 3 weeks but I was happy to see it in September.

At about 2 or 3 times the size of a standard raspberry the berry of the purple flowering raspberry looks like an extra-large raspberry. It is said by some to be tart and dry but others say it tastes like a raspberry if you put it on the tip of your tongue. This was an important plant to the Native Americans. They had over 100 uses for it, as both food and medicine.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) starts blooming in late July and is usually finished by now, but you can still see them here and there. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name. I learned just this year that monarch butterflies love these flowers.

Most purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) plants stopped blooming weeks ago so I was surprised to find one still blooming. This is an invasive perennial that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows but will grow just about anywhere. It’s hard to deny its beauty, especially when you see a meadow full of it growing alongside yellow goldenrods, but the plant chokes out natives including goldenrod and creates monocultures.

I was also surprised to see an ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) blooming but that’s one of the great things about nature study; there is always another surprise right around the next bend. I’m always grateful to be able to see and smell flowers but even more so in at this time of year because it is then, when they really shouldn’t be blooming, that I remember what a great gift they are. The plant came over from Europe in the 1800s but is much loved and many believe it to be a native.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) still blooms here and there but it’s pretty well finished for this year. Its final act will be to drop millions of seeds before it dies back completely until spring. This plant was brought to Europe from Japan sometime around 1829. It was taken to Holland and grown in nurseries that sold it as an ornamental. From there it found its way across the Atlantic where we still do battle with it today. It is one of the most invasive plants known and the only plant I have ever seen overtake it is purple loosestrife, which is also an invasive weed. Japanese knotweed is also a tough plant that is very hard to eradicate once it has become established.

Japanese knotweed does have pretty flowers but they aren’t enough to convince people that it’s a plant worth having on their property. It can take over entire yards when left alone.

Bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa) bloomed in a local children’s butterfly garden. This plant gets its common name from its powerful fragrance that is said to chase away bugs when bouquets of its long racemes are brought inside. Other names for it include black snakeroot and black cohosh. Native Americans used it for centuries to treat pain, fever, cough, pneumonia, and other ailments. They also taught the early European settlers how to make a tonic from the plant to boost women’s reproductive health; a kind of spring tonic.

The pee gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) is a “panicled” hydrangea, meanings its flower heads are cone shaped rather than round. These plants grow into large shrubs sometimes reaching 10-20 feet tall and nearly as wide. Though originally introduced from Japan in 1862 this plant is thought to be native by many and is a much loved, old fashioned favorite. What I like most about this hydrangea is how the flower heads turn a soft pastel pink in the fall. When they’re cut and dried they’ll hold their color for quite a long time.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. Its flowers are sparse at this time of year but I find it blooming here and there. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

I never thought I’d see chicory (Cichorium intybus) blooming in September but here they were on the roadside and I was happy to see them. The flowers were small for chicory at about 3/4 of an inch across, but their beautiful shade of blue more than made up for their small size.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

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Imagine a tree 80-100 feet high and 50 feet wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

Each beautiful catalpa flower is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough for a bumblebee.

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I always find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Once you get used to seeing both dogwoods and viburnums you can tell them apart immediately. The flowers on our native viburnums like the the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) has tiny hooded flowers that remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. This one had a friend visiting.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years.

Several times I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Heartsease (Viola tricolour) has been used medicinally for a very long time as an expectorant, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Used both internally and externally, the violet is said to be helpful for cystitis, rheumatic complaints, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Though Viola tricolor, the parent of today’s pansy, is native to Europe the medicinal qualities have been found to be the same for all of the species. Native Americans used our native blue violets for cancer treatment. American pioneers thought that a handful of violets taken into the farmhouse in the spring ensured prosperity, and to neglect this ceremony brought harm to baby chicks and ducklings.

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms and you can see certain roads that are lined with the glossy leaved, white flowering shrubs. They seem fussy about where they grow but when they find a spot that they like they can form dense thickets that are nearly impossible to get through. In this spot they grow to about 10 feet tall.

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. I saw several bumblebees working these flowers and you can see some relaxed anthers in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the tough wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like roadsides but I think most are escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers on this example look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

I found this white mallow looking for all the world like a white hibiscus.

I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

A very special guest flower for this week is the rare (here) and beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), a plant that I’ve searched for for many years and could never find. Where I finally found it was amazing; one of the lawns where I work had construction going on near it and couldn’t be mowed for two weeks, and in those two weeks up popped several ragged robin plants. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it.

Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S., like the very beautiful Clarkia pulchella shown recently on Montucky’s blog,  this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England. It might have come as a garden ornamental, but when ships arrived from foreign lands it was once common practice to dump their ballast of gravel and stones on our shores so they could take on cargo, and this plant was reported growing in ship’s ballast in 1880. However it got here I was very happy to see it. This is the kind of thing that makes my pulse quicken and my breath catch in my throat and is what can take me out of myself to a higher place, much like art or music might do for you. The chance of seeing something so beautiful is part of what keeps me going back to nature day after day, year after year.

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

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1-asters

I’ve seen the white of frost on rooftops a couple times but it was very light and from what I can see didn’t harm a single plant, so we’re still seeing a few flowers. Our average first frost date is September 15th, so we’re very lucky to be seeing them nearly a month later. I found this nice clump of what I think is purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) growing on the shore of a pond recently.

2-asters

I’m seeing this aster everywhere right now. It has flowers that are quite small and grows at forest edges and other dry locations. I think it’s the late purple aster (Symphyotrichum patens.) It’s rough, hairy stems tell me that it isn’t the smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve.) Whatever its name is, it’s a beautiful small plant that’s loaded with blossoms.

3-globe-amaranth

I’m not sure why but as a gardener I never had much to do with globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) but I saw some recently in a town garden. It’s a native of Central and South America so it must have loved the warm weather we had this summer. I’ve read that blossoms can be purple, red, white, pink, or lilac.

4-globe-amaranth

This globe amaranth reminded me of red clover.

5-globe-amaranth

There was also a darker colored variety that I thought was pretty.

6-mum

It can’t be fall without mums (Chrysanthemum) and this pink one was given to me by a friend many years ago. It has grown well all that time with no special treatment and it’s very cold hardy; it has survived -35 °F (-37 °C.) I’m hoping that it will never have to again.

7-bottle-gentian

I had to walk out to where the bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) grow in their moist, shaded spot along the banks of the Ashuelot River. I hoped to see plenty of them but just these 3 were left, so I’m guessing they’re done this year. I love their beautiful blue color but I wish they’d open like a fringed gentian. Bees have to pry them open to get inside. I’ve read that these plants won’t tolerate drought so we’ll have to see what next year brings.

8-viburnum-blossoms

I first saw this viburnum growing beside a box store a few years ago and have wondered its name ever since. It’s the latest blooming viburnum I’ve ever seen but since there are something like 150–175 species, I’m not surprised. I’m fairly sure after a few years of off and on research it must be a viburnum cultivar called “Dart’s Duke” (Viburnum x rhytidophylloides.)

9-viburnum-blossoms

Dart’s Duke is a big viburnum which can reach 8’ tall by 8’ wide in sun or shade.  It has large, showy white flower heads in May and can rebloom in the fall as I’ve seen it do for several years running.  The flowers are followed by bright red berries. The large, leathery leaves are said to be deer resistant.

10-dandelion

I’m still seeing dandelions but only occasionally. The very hot and dry summer seems to have knocked the wind from their sails.

11-queen-annes-lace

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) sometimes has a second blooming period. Though the flowers are smaller and not as tall they can almost fool you into thinking that it’s summer again.  When freshly cut Queen Anne’s lace flowers will change color depending on the color of the water in which they are placed, so if you put a bouquet into purple water you’ll have purple Queen Anne’s lace.

12-blaxk-eyed-susans

I’m not seeing very many now but black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) still blooms here and there. It’s one of our longest blooming flowers, often blooming from June to our first hard freeze. I found this pair growing near a pond. Since the water is warmer than the air now the pond probably moderates the nighttime temperature. By October 19th the probability that we’ll have a hard freeze is around 90%.

13-sweet-everlasting

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is another plant that won’t be finished until we have a freeze but it doesn’t start blooming as early as black eyed Susans do. I finally remembered to crush a few blossoms and smell them, and they really do smell like maple syrup. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as this example shows. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

14-datura-metel-fastuosa-double-purple-blackberry

The gazania blossom in my last flower post was a big hit so I went back to our local college to get more photos of other examples, but every blossom had closed up, so instead I got a shot of this ornamental Datura (Datura metel) blossom.  I’ve seen Datura many times, but never as beautiful as this. A little research leads me to believe that it is a black Datura hybrid called Datura metel Fastuosa “Double Purple Blackberry.” A native Datura found here is called Jimson weed, which is a corruption of the original Jamestown weed, signaling where it was first found. Each blossom opens in the evening and lasts until about noon the following day.

15-bee-on-datura

Bees were all over the Datura, but some were moving slowly and seemed confused. The blossoms are doubled with many ruffles and bees in the know crawled in from the side and then down into the trumpet, but a few like the one pictured just crawled around the outside looking for a way in. Datura contains several powerful toxic compounds and even the honey made from its flowers can sometimes lead to poisoning.

16-datura-seed-pod

Another name for Datura is thorn apple because of the spiny seed pods that appear on some varieties.  The seeds and flowers are the most toxic parts of the plant, but they were used in sacred rituals for many thousands of years by Native American shamans and the plant is still called “Sacred Datura” by many. Native Americans knew the plant well though, and knew what dosages would and wouldn’t kill. Many with less experience have died trying to test the hallucinogenic effects of the plant.

17-datura-seed-pod

The black Datura, Datura metal, has unusual seed pods but the seeds within are just as toxic as other varieties. If the plant wasn’t so toxic I’d hollow out a seed pod and dry it to see if it would hold its color and shape. It’s very unusual.

18-heal-all

Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Its tiny flowers have an upper hood and a lower lip which are fused into a tube. Tucked up under the hood are the four stamens and forked pistil, placed perfectly so any visiting bees have to brush against them. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt.

There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of heal all; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

19-witch-hazel

In a recent post I said that witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) would bloom once the leaves fell off, but I should have said that the flowers would be easier to see once the leaves fell. The flowers are there now but most are surrounded by leaves and can be hard to see. Native Americans used the plant to treat skin irritation in the same way it is used to this day. The common English name witch hazel was given to it by early settlers after the Wych Elms (Ulmus glabra) that they knew in England. Wych means pliable or bendable.

20-witch-hazel-blossoms

Witch hazel flowers are our latest blooming native flower and are always worth looking for, starting in October. I can’t think of any others quite like them. It can be quite a surprise to come upon a whole grove of them on a cool day in November. I’ve seen them blooming as late as January in a warm winter.

A beautiful thing, though simple in its immediate presence, always gives us a sense of depth below depth, almost an innocent wild vertigo as one falls through its levels. ~Frederick Turner

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1. Maiden Pink

Most wildflowers will be found in full sunshine away from the forest now and meadows and roadsides are just coming into bloom. The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows.

2. Bird's Foot Trefoil

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

3. Autumn Olive

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) was imported for cultivation from Japan in 1830 and is now one of the most invasive shrubs we have. It’s a plant that’s hard to hate though, because its berries are delicious and their content of lycopene is 7 to 17 times higher than tomatoes. Also, the pale yellow flowers are extremely fragrant just when lilacs finish blooming. It is a very vigorous shrub that is hard to eradicate; birds love its berries and spread it far and wide. Its sale is prohibited in New Hampshire but that will do little good now that it grows along forest edges almost everywhere you look.

4. Autumn Olive

Autumn olive was originally introduced for landscaping, road bank stabilization and wildlife food. The undersides of the shrub’s leaves are scaly and silvery and grow alternately along the stem. A closely related shrub, Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), has narrower silvery leaves with a smooth underside that appear oppositely arranged along the stem.

5. Canada Mayflowers

I think Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is the only plant in this post that grows in the shade of the forest and, as the above photo shows, it does very well there.

6. Canada Mayflower

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe Canada mayflower as invasive but it does form monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. Its tiny white four petaled flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals.

7. Beauty Bush

Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis.) originally came from China and is popular as an ornamental, but it has escaped cultivation in this area. I found the above example growing at the edge of a forest in dry, sandy soil. I find it only in this spot so it doesn’t seem to be at all invasive. It gets quite tall-sometimes 8 feet or more-and can get as wide, so it needs a lot of room. It is sometimes used as a hedge but it is difficult to trim once it gets above 6 feet tall, so it’s best to keep it on the short side. The trimmings are very itchy if they get inside your shirt as you’re trimming overhead.

8. Fleabane

Fleabane continues to bloom and always remind me of spring blooming asters. I believe this example is Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus,) which is our earliest blooming fleabane. It has inch to inch and a half diameter showy white to purple flowers. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center.

9. Rhody

Our rhododendrons follow the native azaleas into bloom. This one blooms in my yard. I’ve never known its name but I like it.

10. Multiflora Rose

Invasive multiflora rose originally came from China and as the old story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by hogging all the available sunshine and I’ve seen it grow 30 feet into a tree. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.

11. Multiflora Rose

It’s easy to see why it is in the rose family but if it wasn’t for their heavenly scent you might as well be looking at a raspberry blossom because multiflora rose blossoms are the same size, shape, and color, and raspberries are also in the rose family.

12. Upright Bedstraw

Upright bedstraw (Galium album) is also called upright hedge bedstraw, and that name is perfect because it describes where this plant is found growing. Where the meadow meets the woods there can be found millions of tiny white, honey scented flowers lighting up the shade. Bedstraws hail from Europe and have been used medicinally for centuries. In ancient times entire plants were gathered and used as mattress stuffing and that’s where the plant gets its common name. The dried leaves are said to smell like vanilla in some species of Gallium and honey in others.

13. Upright Bedstraw

When I see it’s foliage before it blossoms the plant always makes me think of sweet woodruff, because its leaves grow in whorls along the stem just like sweet woodruff, which is also in the Galium family.

14. Smooth arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)

Smooth arrow wood (Viburnum dentatum) has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and is blooming along stream banks and drainage ditches right now. Native dogwoods are also beginning to bloom, but they have four petals and the viburnums have five. Dogwood flower clusters also tend to be much flatter on top and seem to hover just above the branch. Smooth arrowwood viburnum has a much more rounded flowering habit. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

15. Smooth arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)

There’s an awful lot going on in a viburnum flower head but taking a close look and counting a single tiny flower’s petals is the best way to tell it from a dogwood.

16. Heal All

Heal all’s (Prunella lanceolata) tiny hooded flowers always remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure virtually every disease known, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

17. White Water Lily

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have just come into bloom. Last summer I was with someone who crawled out on a plank to smell one of these beauties and he said the fragrance was very pleasant but impossible to describe. When I told him that others thought the fragrance was close to that of honeydew melon he said yes, maybe that’s it. Each beautiful blossom lasts only 3 days before the stem coils and pulls it underwater to set seeds. After several weeks the seeds are released into the water so currents can carry them to suitable locations to germinate. The stamens that glow at their center always remind me of a golden fire, and I love to see it burn.

A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions — so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect.  ~Terri Guillemets

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1. Catalpa

Imagine a tree 100 feet high and 50 wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba.

2. Catalpa Leaf

For those who have never seen a catalpa leaf, here is my camera sitting on one. I took this photo last fall.

3. Heal All

And since we’re thinking about orchids, here is our old friend heal all (Prunella lanceolata,) whose tiny hooded flowers also remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

4. Knapweed

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

5. Partridge Berry

The unusual twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the berries.

6. Mt. Laurel

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms. The pentagonal flowers are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. You can see flowers with relaxed anthers in the upper center and left parts of this photo. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them.

7. Mt. Laurel from Side

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

8. Hedge Bindweed

I saw a beautiful bicolor hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) flower one day. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds these bicolor ones have become more numerous over the last few years. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has arrowhead shaped triangular leaves.

9. Red Sandspurry

This is the first time that red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) has appeared on this blog, maybe because it is so small I’ve never noticed it. The tiny flowers aren’t much bigger than a BB that you would use in an air rifle, but grow in groups that are large enough to catch your eye. I find them growing in sand at the edge of roads and parking lots.

10. Red Sandspurry

The pretty little flowers of red sandspurry are pinkish lavender, so I’m not sure where the red in the common name comes from. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s. An odd fact about the plant is that it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.

11. Silky Dogwood

Silky dogwood has just started blooming. One way to tell that it’s a dogwood that you’re looking at is to count the flower petals. Dogwoods have 4 and viburnums have 5. What I like most about this shrub are its berries. They start off white and slowly turn deep blue, but for a while they are blue and white and remind me of Chinese porcelain. In fact I’ve always wondered if the Chinese got the idea for blue and white porcelain from these berries. This shrub is also called swamp dogwood. I usually find it growing on the banks of rivers and streams.

12. Columbine

I saw these beautiful wine red columbines in a friend’s garden. I think they probably started life as flashy bicolor hybrids and now the seedlings reverted back to one of the parents.

13. Sulfur Cinquefoil

Five pale yellow heart shaped petals surround a center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils in a sulfur cinquefoil blossom (Potentilla recta.) Close to the center each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I like seeing its pale yellow flowers among the purple maiden pinks and white ox-eye daisies.

14. Tulip Tree Blossom

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) gets its common name from the way its flowers resemble tulips, at least from the outside. As the photo shows, the inside looks very different. The fruit is cone shaped and made up of a number of thin, narrow scales which eventually become winged seeds. Another name for this tree is yellow poplar. It is the tallest hardwood tree known in North America, sometimes reaching 200 feet. Native Americans made dugout canoes from tulip tree trunks.

15. Crown Vetch

I love all flowers but some seem to have a little extra spark of life that makes me want to kneel before them and get to know them a little better. One of those is the lowly crown vetch (Securigera varia.) I know it’s an invasive species that people seem to either despise or ignore but it’s also beautiful. In fact if I had to design a beautiful flower, I don’t think I could do better than this.

If you love it enough, anything will talk with you. ~George Washington Carver

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