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Posts Tagged ‘Hellebore’

It’s that time of year when spring ephemeral flowers appear to live out their short lives before the leaves appear on the trees. Once that happens the trees will cast shade deep enough to keep most flowers from blossoming so they grow, bloom and go dormant in about a month’s time. Vernal pools like the one in this photo are good places to look for wildflowers. And frogs and salamanders too.

I find spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) near a vernal pool like the one in the previous photo. They seem to appear overnight, so at this time of year I check the spot where they grow every couple of days. I’m always surprised to see them, because just a day or two earlier there was no sign of them. This photo is of a very unusual spring beauty, like none I’ve ever seen. The white petals usually have purple stripes the same color as the purple anthers in this example, but this one had none. Each flower blossoms for just three days, but the stamens are active only for a day. The stamens consist of, in this case, a white filament tipped by a violet anther. The stamen is the male part of a flower and produces pollen. In a spring beauty the female part of the flower is in the center of the blossom and is called the pistil. It terminates in a three part (tripartite) style.

This example looks more like the spring beauties I know. I always try to find the flower with the deepest color and this was it on this day. I’ve read that it is the amount of sunlight that determines color in a spring beauty blossom. The deeper the shade, the more intense the color, so I look for them in more shaded areas. The Native American Iroquois tribe used the powdered roots of this plant medicinally and the Algonquin people cooked them like potatoes.

I usually see trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) blooming with spring beauties but on this day all I could find were the leaves, which are speckled like the body of a trout. The flowers will probably have appeared by next weekend and there should be many thousands of them in this spot.

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) are late this year; I often see them in March but these are the first I’ve seen this year. They like moist to wet soil and these examples were in a roadside ditch. Coltsfoot flowers would be hard to confuse with dandelion but I suppose it happens.

Coltsfoot flowers are flat and dandelions are more mounded. Dandelion stems are smooth and coltsfoot stems have scales. Coltsfoot is said to be the earliest blooming wildflower in the northeast but there are many tree and shrub flowers that appear earlier, so I suppose “earliest” depends on what your definition of a wildflower is. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

After having their flowers frostbitten again and again the red maples (Acer rubrum) are finally free to let go and open all of their blooms, as this photo of the male blossoms shows. Each tiny red anther will become greenish yellow with pollen, which the wind will then carry to the female blossoms.

These are the female (pistillate) flowers of the red maple, just emerging. They are tiny little things; each bud is hardly bigger than a pea and each crimson stigma not much bigger in diameter than an uncooked piece of spaghetti. Once the female flowers have been dusted by wind carried pollen from the male flowers they will begin the process of becoming the beautiful red seeds (samaras) that this tree is so well known for. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

Each tiny female red maple flower (stigma) sparkles as if it had been dipped in sugar. They must be very sticky.

American elm (Ulmus americana) flowers form in small clusters. The flower stems (pedicels) are about half an inch long so they wave in the slightest breeze and that makes them very hard to get a good photo of. They are wind pollinated, so waving in the breeze makes perfect sense. Each tiny flower is about an eighth inch across with red tipped anthers that darken as they age.

The whitish feathery bit is the female pistil which protrudes from the center of each elm flower cluster. If the wind brings it pollen from male anthers it will form small, round, flat, winged seeds called samaras. I remember them falling by the many millions when I was a boy; raining down enough so you couldn’t even see the color of the road beneath them.

I finally found a pussy willow (Salix) that was showing some color but I don’t know if it was coming or going. This example looks a lot like the seed pods I see when they’re done flowering, but the gray fuzz hints at its just opening. I’ll have to go back and see it again.

I saw enough crocus blooms on Saturday to fill this entire post with nothing but crocuses, but I thought I’d restrain myself and show just this one, which was my favorite.

I also saw my first daffodil blossom on Saturday. Unfortunately I also saw many with frost bitten buds and leaves that won’t be blossoming this year. It’s a shame that so many were fooled by the early warmth.

The Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are finally blooming. The buds have been showing color for over a month but they refused to bloom until they were sure it was warm enough, and that was probably wise. This shrub is in the dogwood family and gets its common name from its red fruit. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years. The Persians and early Romans knew it well and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the sour red, olive like fruit, which is high in vitamin C. Cornelian cherry often blooms at just about the same time as forsythias do. Its yellow flowers are very small but there are enough of them to put on a good show.

Japanese andromeda blossoms (Pieris japonica) look like tiny pearlescent glass fairy lights topped with gilded ormolu mounts, worthy of the art nouveau period. Japanese andromeda is an ornamental evergreen shrub that is very popular, and you can see why. Some think the blossoms resemble lily of the valley so another common name for the plant is lily of the valley shrub. Some varieties have beautiful red leaves on their new shoots.

I don’t know what it is that grabs me about a white flower with a simple blue stripe down the center of each petal but striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica) has it. The flowers are much like the scilla (Scilla siberica) that most of us are familiar with in size and shape, but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often and border on rare in this area. They’re worth looking for because they’re very beautiful.

Scilla (Scilla siberica) are also called Siberian squill and they are doing very well this year. Both striped squill and scilla grow to be about ankle high.  Scilla will spread and grow in lawns quite freely, so it’s wise to be careful when planting it. In some places it is considered invasive, but I haven’t ever seen that here. People usually plant it knowing that it will spread into large blue drifts.

Scilla has stripes on its petals and sepals much like striped squill but as far as I can tell they aren’t related. They look great planted together though.

Friends of mine grow hellebores that are very beautiful and when I see them I always wonder why, of all the people I gardened for, not one of them grew hellebores. I can’t even remember anyone asking about hellebores, and that seems odd considering their great beauty. Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. Maybe that’s why nobody I gardened for grew them.

I’ve seen flowers that were as beautiful but it’s hard to name one that could surpass the beauty of this hellebore blossom. It’s hard not to stare at it even here in a photo. it’s the kind of thing that I find very easy to lose myself in; mesmerizing, almost. I wonder how someone cannot love a life that is filled with things like this.

The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Last Friday the temperature started to fall and it didn’t stop until it bottomed out at a meager 4 degrees Saturday morning. Along with 30 mph wind gusts, that meant a wind chill factor of about 19 below zero. In that kind of cold flesh can freeze in 30 minutes, so I decided to wait until it warmed up a bit. By noon the temperature had risen to 15 degrees above zero with a wind chill of zero, so off I went to one of my favorite stands of American hazelnut shrubs (Corylus americana.) They grow beside the rail trail in the above photo. Snow squalls Friday night coated the ground with an inch or two of fresh powder and added to the arctic feel.

I wanted to see the hazels up close to see if the male catkins shown here had opened. They had barely started to open and didn’t look like they would have been releasing much pollen.

But much to my surprise on such a cold day female flowers were just starting to show. Each tiny crimson thread is a flower stigma protruding from the female buds. The golden catkins that we saw in the previous photo are the male flowers, and the wind blows their pollen to the female blossoms. This photo also shows how hairy this shrub’s stems are. They feel slightly prickly when you run your finger over them, and that’s an easy way to identify them.

Female hazelnut flowers are simple sticky crimson stigmas and are among the smallest flowers that I know of. I have to look up and down each stem very carefully to find them. Even then I often see only color and no real shape so I let the camera sort that out. I had been out in the weather for about a half hour and that was about all I could stand. I hope the hazel flowers weren’t hurt by it; last year I saw many that had been frost bitten.

On a warmer day I had spent some time looking at the alder catkins. The large ones in the foreground are the beautiful male catkins and the tiny ones in the upper left are the female flowers, which at this time were only showing a hint of their crimson stigmas, which are similar to female hazel blossoms in color and shape. The male catkins had already started releasing pollen so the female stigmas should have come out fully at any time, but then we’ve had this terrible cold so now I’m not sure.

Brown and purple scales on the male alder catkin are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen. The opening of alder catkins is one of the earliest signs of spring and when thousands of them open it looks like the bushes have been hung with sparkling jewels.

I was glad to see that the chubby little buds on the red elderberry hadn’t opened yet. Last year they opened early and were frostbitten. The week of 60+ degree temperatures at the end of February fooled a lot of plants. I just heard on the news that apple tree buds started opening and now orchard owners are lighting fires in barrels along the rows of trees, trying to keep them from freezing.

The bud scales on some of the red maple buds (Acer rubrum) have pulled back to reveal cups full of male anthers tightly packed together. When the fuzzy bud scales are closed they protect the flowers through winter and keep them from getting damaged by the cold.

Some red maple blossoms couldn’t wait and started showing themselves, and I’d guess that they’re probably blackened and shriveled by now. I saw many get frost bitten last year but it didn’t seem to hurt the trees any. What it will do is cut down on the number of seeds, so squirrels and other animals that eat them won’t be pleased. When maple trees blossom their sap gets bitter so seeing these flowers tells me that we’re near the end of the syrup season.

Daffodil leaves poked up out of the snow. At least it was just their leaves. Last year we had a cold snap after they had blossomed and I saw many blooms lying on the ground.

Tulip leaves were also covered by snow. I don’t know if tulips are coming up earlier each year or if I’m just not paying attention, but it seems very early for tulips.

The season of Lent began on March first, but I fear the Lenten roses (Hellebores) will give up blossoming for lent this year. The season doesn’t end until April 13th though, so I could be wrong. The flowers are beautiful and I’d like to see them, but not if there’s a chance of them being damaged by cold.

Pussy willows seem to have shrugged off the cold; they hadn’t changed since the last time I saw them.

There was no yellow showing and plenty of fur, so I’m guessing the pussy willows will be fine.

Because skunk cabbage can melt its way through ice and snow by raising their temperature by as much as 50 degrees through a process called thermogenesis I didn’t think the cold would bother them at all, but I found quite a few that had been damaged. Though the above examples look healthy many flower spathes had darkened and had become soft and rubbery. I found several like that last year and wasn’t sure why they seemed sick. Now I know.

The greatest shock for me on this day was seeing the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) all in bloom. I’ve never seen them bloom in this kind of cold and only time will tell if they were hurt by it. I saw this scene on Saturday afternoon and that night it dropped to 2 degrees F., so I won’t be surprised if these flowers show more brown than yellow next time I see them.

There is an old Chinese Proverb that says “Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men” and the plants, shrubs, and trees are telling me that as far as they’re concerned it is indeed spring, but the weather certainly doesn’t seem to agree. I hope that the cold doesn’t harm too many early blossoms but there aren’t many plants that I know of that can survive such a long stretch of below freezing temperatures and now snow as well. We’ll just have to wait and see.

There I was, hoping for a warm spring rain.
But instead frost flowers bloomed on my window pane.
It wasn’t right; this cold, cold March.
Instead of frost on the windows there should be blooms on the larch.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. ~Willa Cather

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1. Shadbush

So far the month of May has been cloudy, cool and often rainy at least part of every day, and the lack of sunshine is beginning to have an impact on the bloom times of some wildflowers. I’m having a bit of trouble finding what I expect, but at the same time am often surprised by what is blooming early. The native shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) blossoms arrived right on schedule this year though. These tall shrubs with small white flowers line the roadsides at this time of year and it’s a pleasure to see them, even if the sun isn’t shining. The shrub in the above photo either fell over or grew this way, very close to the water. They usually stand very straight, reaching up to 25 feet tall.

2. Shadbush Flowers

Shadbushes originally got their name from the way they bloomed when the shad fish were running upriver to spawn. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens. The fruit is said to resemble blueberry in taste, with a hint of almond from the seeds. Shadbush wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. It can also be very straight, and Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. Shadbush makes an excellent garden shrub or small tree and is easily found in nurseries. It grows naturally at the edge of forests.

3. Magnolia

I thought this magnolia blossom was a beautiful thing. It was on a dwarf tree that couldn’t have even been 5 feet tall. I think if I planted one it would be more for the fragrance than flower shape or color. If there are fragrances in the afterlife surely this will be one of them. Others might be lilac, rose, and tiny, fragrant wild grape. At least I like to think so.

4. PJM Rohdodendron

Purple flowered PJM rhododendrons usually bloom at about the same time as forsythia but they’re a little late this year. The PJM in the name is for Peter J. Mezitt who developed the plant and also founded Weston Nurseries in Weston, Massachusetts. They are also called little leaf rhododendron and take shearing fairly well. They are well liked here and have become almost as common as forsythia.

5. Primroses

In the blogs I read from the United Kingdom primroses (Primula) are wildflowers that grow on roadsides, but I rarely see them here because few people grow them and they are apparently not at all invasive. This yellow example bloomed beautifully in the garden of friends on a rainy day. The word primula comes from the Latin primus, which means first and applies to flowers that bloom earliest in the spring.

6. Trillium

It’s hard to believe that I have to say goodbye to our purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) when I’ve barely had a chance to say hello, but the darker color near the center of this flower tells me that it isn’t long for this world. It’s always hard to see these beauties fade because they’re here for such a short time, but their passing means that our painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) will start blooming and they’re very beautiful as well.

7. Anemones

We have at least 3 different anemones here in this part of New Hampshire and they look enough alike to be easily confused, but I think these examples are wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia.) The flowers are sun lovers and close as soon as it clouds over, so getting a photo of them open has been a challenge this year. They dance in the slightest breeze and have earned the name windflower because of it. Greek legends say that Anemos, the Wind, sends anemones in early spring to warn of his coming.

8. Cherry Blossoms

New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms, I believe. It can be difficult to tell them apart.

9. Cinquefoil

After dandelions, violets, and bluets cinquefoil appears in lawns. I gave up on small yellow flowers a few years ago after deciding life was too short to try to identify them all but I’m fairly certain that this example is a cinquefoil. The odd thing about this particular flower is its six petals; cinquefoil normally has five. Its 5 leaves look a lot like strawberry leaves and I think it might be the dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), which is a native.

10. Andromeda

Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) flowers appear in long dangling strings of small blueberry like blossoms. Some think the blossoms resemble lily of the valley so another common name for the plant is lily of the valley shrub. Some varieties have beautiful red leaves on their new shoots.

11. Bluets

Some flowers, especially those we have labeled weeds like dandelions and bluets, are having a banner year. I’ve never seen drifts of bluets (Houstonia caerulea) like those I’ve seen this year. This example in the above photo seemed to go on and on. If left alone bluets will bloom for much of the summer.

12. Bluets

Bluets are cheery, beautiful little things but individual flowers are very small. Luckily they always grow in tufts of many blossoms and are easily found. Each year I always try to find the flowers that best live up to their name. So far the examples in the above photo are the winners but there are bluer ones out there, I’m sure.

13. Hellebore

Friends of mine started growing hellebores a few years ago and have some beautiful ones. This pinkish example just blossomed and though I’d be happy to see it in my yard there is a deep purple one that is beautiful beyond words, and it blooms as much as a month earlier.

14. Jack in the Pulpit

I always lift the hood of Jack in the pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) to see the beautiful stripes and to see if Jack is being pollinated. Jack is the black, club shaped spadix surrounded by the showy striped spathe, which is the pulpit. The plant has a fungal odor that attracts gnats and other insects and if they do their job Jack will become a bunch of bright red berries that white tail deer love to snack on.

Another name for Jack in the pulpit is Indian turnip, because Native Americans knew how to cook the poisonous root to remove the toxic calcium oxalate crystals. They called the plant “tcika-tape” which translates as “bad sick,” but they knew how to use it so they didn’t get sick. They also used the root medicinally for a variety of ailments, including as a treatment for sore eyes. This plant is also called bog onion because the root looks like a small onion and it grows in low, damp places. It is in the arum family and is similar to the “cuckoo pint” plant found in the U.K.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.
~ Zenkei Shibayama

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1. Frost bitten Daffodils

Our last bout of cold snowy weather finished off quite a few flowers that were blooming early because of being fooled by extreme warmth beforehand. The daffodils in the above photo for instance, bloomed a good month earlier than last year. Unfortunately the record cold won out and their stems turned to mush. The leaves didn’t though, and that’s all important. It’s the foliage photosynthesizing that will ensure a good crop of blossoms next year.

2. Daffodil 3

Many were damaged but there were more coming into bloom. Luckily most plants flower and leaf out at staggered times so it would be rare for all of a species to lose its flowers at once.

3. Hyacinth

Hyacinths were as beautiful this year as I’ve ever seen them but the cold also hurt their fragile stems and many were lying down and giving up the ghost by the time I got to see them.

4. Hyacinth

Some were still standing though, and the fragrance was still heavenly.

5. Magnolia

The pink magnolia didn’t fare well. Every bud that was showing color had been damaged and had some brown on it.

6. Red Maple Flowers

The hardest things to see were the many thousands of red maple (Acer rubrum) blossoms that died from the cold but again, I’m sure many of them bloomed after the cold snap. Many birds and animals eat the seeds and I hope there won’t be a shortage this year. These flowers should be tomato red.

7. Pink Tulips

These pink tulips were very short and small and also very early, but still late enough to miss the extreme cold. I saw some orange examples which weren’t so lucky.

8. Dandelions

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) don’t seem to have been bothered by the cold and they’re everywhere this year. I think I’ve already seen more than I have in the past two years. I wish I knew what it was that made them so scarce for that time. I love dandelions and formed an early relationship with them. My grandmother used to have me pick the new spring leaves so she could use them much like she did spinach when I was a boy.

9. Ground Ivy

In a ground ivy blossom (Glechoma hederacea) five petals are fused together to form a tube. The lowest and largest petal, which is actually two petals fused together, serves as a landing area for insects, complete with tiny hairs for them to hang onto. The darker spots are nectar guides for them to follow into the tube. The unseen pistil’s forked style is in a perfect position to brush the back of a hungry bee. This flower is all about continuation of the species, and judging by the many thousands that I see its method is perfection. It’s another invader, introduced into North America as an ornamental or medicinal plant as early as the 1800s. Many people don’t like ground ivy’s scent but I raked over a colony yesterday and I welcomed it.

10. Henbit

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. The plant is in the mint family and apparently chickens like it. The amplexicaule part of the scientific name means clasping and describes the way the hairy leaves clasp the stem. The plant is a very early bloomer and blooms throughout winter in warmer areas. Henbit is from Europe and Asia, but I can’t say that it’s invasive because I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

11. Henbit

I like the cartoon=like face on henbit’s flowers. It’s always about reproduction and I’m guessing the spots are nectar guides for honeybees, which love its nectar and pollen.

12. Hellebore

The green hellebores in a friend’s garden have bloomed later than the deep purple ones of two weeks ago. I think the purples are my favorites.

13. Grape Hyacinth

In this shot we’re in a flower forest and grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) are the trees. The tiny blossoms really resemble blueberry blossoms and they aren’t in the hyacinth family. They hail from Europe and Asia and the name Muscari comes from the Greek word for musk, and refers to the scent.

14. Scilla

Scilla (Scilla sibirica) shrugged off the cold and weren’t bothered by it at all. With a name like Siberian squill I shouldn’t have been surprised, but these small bulbs come from Western Russia and Eurasia and have nothing to do with Siberia. Immigrants brought the plant with them sometime around 1796 to use as an ornamental and of course they escaped the garden and started to be seen in the wild. In some places like Minnesota they are very invasive and people have been asked to stop planting them. Here in New Hampshire I’ve seen large colonies grow into lawns but I assume that was what those who planted them wanted them to do, because I’ve never heard anyone complain about them. Still, anyone who plants them should be aware that once they are planted they are almost impossible to eradicate, and they can be invasive.

15. Striped Squill

Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica) also came through the cold unscathed and I was very happy about that because they’re a personal favorite of mine. They’re tiny, much like Scilla, but well worth getting down on hands and knees to see. They’re another small thing that can suddenly become big enough to lose yourself in. Time stops and there you are.

16. Mayflower Buds

I’ve heard that trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is already blooming in Maine and New York but all I’ve seen here are buds so far. I’m hoping I’ll see some today and be able to show them in the next flower post. They were one of my grandmother’s favorites so I always look forward to seeing (and smelling) the pink and / or white blossoms. It is believed that trailing arbutus is an ancient plant that has existed since the last glacier period. It has become endangered in several states and is protected by law, so please don’t dig them up if you see them. It grows in a close relationship with a fungus present in the soil and is nearly impossible to successfully transplant.

17. Hobblebush Flower Bud

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) might be blooming this weekend too. As the above photo shows the buds are swelling up and beginning to open. When all of its hand size white flower heads are in bloom it’s one of our most beautiful native viburnums. Its common name comes from the way the low growing branches can trip up or “hobble” a horse.

18. Lilac Flower Buds

Lilac bud scales have pulled back to reveal the promise of spring. Many people here in New Hampshire think that lilacs are native to the state but they aren’t. They (Syringa vulgaris) were first imported from England to the garden of then Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower.

And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

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1. Dandelion

I saw my first dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) of the season last Saturday. It was beautiful as they always are, and very welcome.

2. Dandelion Seed Head

But the dandelion that I saw wasn’t the first dandelion of the season. This seed head surprised me.

3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) still seem a little reluctant to bloom heavily but I do see them. They like moist to wet soil and these two were in a roadside ditch. Coltsfoot flowers would be hard to confuse with dandelion but I suppose it happens.

4. Coltsfoot From Side

Coltsfoot flowers are flat and dandelions are more mounded. Dandelion stems are smooth and coltsfoot stems have scales. Coltsfoot is said to be the earliest blooming wildflower in the northeast but there are tree and shrub flowers that appear earlier, so I suppose “earliest” depends on what your definition of a wildflower is.

5. Crocuses

Crocuses are blooming well now, and I saw a couple of open daffodils but I couldn’t get close to them because they were in the middle of large beds and I couldn’t step on the other plants.

6. Crocuses

I was able to get closer to the crocuses. I used to work for a lady who had quite a few crocuses and also many squirrels and chipmunks and we used to laugh each spring at the odd places that crocus bloomed. They came up in places where neither of us would have planted them so we always blamed the squirrels and / or chipmunks for moving the small bulbs around. It isn’t odd or unusual for flowers to come with memories and I think of her every time I see crocuses. They bring so much pleasure and ask for nothing in return.

7. Reticulated Iris

These reticulated iris had some amazing color, I thought.  My color finding software says the color is orchid in light, medium and dark tones. The yellow is perfect with it.

8.  Cornelian Cherry

In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years. The Persians and early Romans knew it well and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the sour red, olive like fruit, which is high in vitamin C. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is in the dogwood family and is our earliest blooming member of that family, often blooming at just about the same time as forsythias do. Its yellow flowers are quite small.

9. Hellebore

Friends of mine grow hellebores and this was the first to bloom. I love its beautiful dark color. Since Lent ended on Thursday, March 24 this plant lived up to its common name of Lenten rose. There is one called “Dark and Handsome” that looks much like this one, but I’m not sure if this is it. It’s a beautiful thing.

Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. I’ve never seen an eagle near these plants but I haven’t dug one up either.

10. Skunk Cabbage with Foliage

Skunk cabbages seemed to be having a hard time producing pollen this year but I’ve seen a few with pollen now that the maroon and yellow splotched spathes have started opening. They were holding back for a while as if not sure whether they should open or not. This one had a new green leaf shooting up beside it but its spathe was still tightly closed. There is a time when they’re young that the leaves do look somewhat cabbage like but they grow quickly and lose any resemblance once they age.

11. Skunk Cabbage Spadix

Inside the skunk cabbage’s spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. In 1749 in what was once the township of Raccoon, New Jersey they called the plant bear’s leaf because bears ate it when they came out of hibernation. Since skunk cabbage was and is the only thing green so early in the spring so the bears had to eat it or go hungry.

12. Male Willow Catkins

Our willows (Salix) finally bloomed after what seemed like a prolonged gray, fuzzy stage. Or maybe I was just impatient, because I always love seeing them in early spring. The male (Staminate) flowers are shown in the above photo. The inner bark and leaves of some willows contain salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Native Americans chewed or made tea from the willow’s leaves and inner bark to relieve fever or toothaches, headaches, or arthritis, and that is why the willow is often called “toothache tree.” It was a very important medicine that no healer would have been without.

13. Female Willow Catkin

The female willow flowers aren’t quite as showy as the male flowers but I’m happy to see them nonetheless. Tomorrow and Monday are supposed to be cold and snowy and it might harm a few flowers. We’ll have to wait and see; early spring flowers are fairly tough.

14. Squill

In my own yard the Scilla has started blooming. This fall planted bulb with small blue flowers is also called Siberian squill and comes from Russia and Turkey. It spreads quite quickly and is a good flower to grow in a lawn because it usually goes dormant before the grass needs to be cut. I grow it because it takes care of itself and is my favorite color.

Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music.  They relax the tenseness of the mind.  They dissolve its vigor. ~Henry Ward Beecher.

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1. Stream IceWinter made a strong comeback last week with daytime temperatures barely reaching the 20s and nights near zero, so everything froze up again. The weather can often change dramatically and quickly in New England and this winter has certainly done its best to prove it; today we might see 70 degrees.

2. Stuck Log

A tree got stuck on the Ashuelot River dam and the spray grew into long icicles.

3. Canada Geese

The Canada geese drew me over to the river with their loud honking. Several of them seemed to be looking for something and honked back and forth as they swam and walked the shore. Could they be looking for nesting sites, I wonder? I’ve also seen many flocks flying overhead lately.

4. Canada Geese Flying

I must have spooked them because all of the sudden several of them flew up river, letting me get the first fuzzy shot of a bird in flight to ever appear on this blog.

5. Ice in Bushes

Ice high on the branches of the bushes told the story of the drop in water level. I’d guess it must have been at least 5 feet from the surface of the water.

6. Witch Hazel

The yellow vernal witch hazel that grows in the park by the river was blooming heavily. What a change from the last time I was here when there wasn’t a flower to be seen on it.

7. Witch Hazel

If there is a color combination more pleasing than yellow and blue, I can’t think of what it would be. When I see this shade of yellow I think of daffodil, dandelion, and Forsythia blossoms.

8. Cornelian Cherry

Since Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) doesn’t bloom until mid-April I was surprised to see that its bud scales had opened to reveal a glimpse of its yellow buds. Cornelian cherry is in the dogwood family and is our earliest blooming member of that family, often blooming at just about the same time as forsythias do. The small yellow flowers will produce fruit that resembles a red olive and which will mature in the fall. It is very sour but high in vitamin C and has been used for at least 7000 years for both food and medicine. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included Cornelian cherry, and the Persians and early Romans also knew it well.

9. Box Buds

Box shrubs (Buxus) were showing white flower buds in their leaf axils. They will open into small greenish yellow flowers soon. The flowers are very fragrant and attract a lot of bees. These small leaved, easy to trim shrubs are usually used ornamentally, often in hedges. Only the European and some Asian species are frost hardy and evergreen, so any examples seen here in New Hampshire are from those parts of the world. Box is another plant that has been used by man since ancient times; it was used for hedges in Egypt as early as 4000 BC.  Some species of box can live as long as 600 years.

10. Swamp

I made my way to a beaver pond to see if the beavers were awake yet, but the only sign of activity was a woodpecker drumming on a distant tree.

11. Beaver Lodge

Skunks have come out of hibernation and chipmunks are once again scampering along the stone walls so I’m sure the beavers must be awake, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their lodge. They might have abandoned this area.

12. Heron Nest

We had some ferocious winds one day that blew to near 50 miles per hour but the great blue heron nest stayed in the dead tree in the beaver swamp. It looks like it might need some tidying up, but it held.

13. Hole Under Tree

I found what was left of a wild turkey here last year and I wondered if a bobcat had gotten it. I didn’t see this hole under a tree then, but it looked to be the perfect place for a bobcat den. That could explain the lack of chipmunks in this place. Bobcats are doing well in New Hampshire and there is now a debate raging here about whether or not there should be a bobcat hunting season. They do a lot of good in the way of rodent population control and I say let them be. Though they can rarely reach 60 pounds in weight most aren’t a lot bigger than a house cat and are rarely seen. After having a few run ins with feral house cats over the years I know that I wouldn’t want to tangle with a bobcat, no matter what it weighed.

14. Stilted Golden Birch

Sometimes if a stump or log has decayed enough tree seeds can grow on them. In this photo a golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) grew on a log that has since mostly rotted away, leaving the birch to look as if it’s standing on stilts. From what I’ve seen any type of tree will do this.

15. Hellebore Buds

The pale shoots of hellebore (Helleborus) were nestled under last season’s leaves. Once they grow up into the sun they’ll become deep green but for now they are blanched white. A common name for hellebore is Lenten rose because it blooms very early; often during lent. This year lent ends on March 24th, so this plant has some fast growing to do if it’s going to live up to the name.

16. Skunk Cabbage

The curvy, splotchy spathes of the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flowers have come up fully now but the foliage shoots are just sitting and waiting for the right time. Once they’ve started they will grow quickly and the leaves will hide what we see here.

17. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

The swamp where the skunk cabbages grow looked like it was frozen solid but with all the thin ice warnings this winter I didn’t want to try my luck. There’s nothing quite like a boot full of ice water.

18. Pussy Willow

The pussy willows have gotten bigger since the last time I saw them. I love their beautiful bright yellow flowers and I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon. They’re among the earliest to bloom.

19. Red Maple Buds

Red maples (Acer rubrum) protect their buds with as many as four pairs of rounded, hairy edged bud scales. The scales are often plum purple and the bud inside tomato red. If you see more red than purple on the buds that’s a sign that they’ve began to swell. Red maple is one of the first of our native trees to blossom in spring and also one of the most beautiful, in my opinion. Each small bud holds as many as 6-8 red blossoms. Red maple trees can be strictly male or female, or can have both male and female blossoms on a single tree. They bloom before the leaves appear and large groves of them can color the landscape with a brilliant red haze.

20. Maple Sap

The drop of maple sap on the end of the spile shows that the trees are coming out of dormancy and growing again. A spile is the metal or wooden peg which is hammered into the hole made in the tree and it directs the sap into the sap bucket that hangs from it. Flowing sap means that the tree is taking up water through its roots and that means that the ground has thawed, so it won’t be long now.

Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men. ~Chinese Proverb

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1. Trillium

Spring is moving onward quickly now and the warmer temperatures are bringing out the flowers and tree leaves. Trilliums (Trillium erectum) couldn’t seem to make up their mind for a while but here they are in all their glory. This one is our red or purple trillium, which is also called stinking Benjamin because of its less than heavenly scent. “Benjamin,” according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word benjoin, which was an ingredient that came from a plant in Sumatra and was used in the manufacture of perfume. Apparently it looked a lot like trillium.

2.Trillium

Whatever you call it it’s hard to say that purple trilliums flowers aren’t beautiful. Just don’t get close enough to smell them.

3. Spring Beauties

It’s almost time to say goodbye to some of my favorite springtime friends, like these spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) Their time is brief and maybe that’s why they are so loved by so many. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder, but I doubt that I would like them any less if they stayed all summer. They’re beautiful little things and seeing a forest floor carpeted with them is a breathtaking sight that you don’t forget.

4. Sessile Leaved Bellwort

In botanical terms the word sessile describes how one part of a plant joins another. In sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) the leaves are sessile on the stem, meaning they lie flat against the stem with no stalk. These leaves are also elliptic, which means they are wider in the middle and taper at each end.  New plants, before the flowers appear, can resemble Solomon’s seal at a glance. The plants I find always have just a single nodding, bell shaped pale yellow flower but they can sometimes have two. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats.

 5. Shad

Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) gets its name from the shad fish. Shad live in the ocean but much like salmon return to freshwater rivers to spawn. Shad was a very important food source for Native Americans and for centuries they knew that the shad were running when the shadbush bloomed. In late June they harvested the very nutritious shad fruit, which was a favorite ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of dried meat, dried fruit, and animal fat.

6. Shadblow Flowers

Shadbush is our earliest native white flowered tall shrub, coming into bloom just before the cherries. Another name for it is serviceberry, which is said to refer to church services. One story says that its blooming coincided with the return of circuit preachers to settlements after winter’s end and the resumption of church services. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when it’s fruit ripens.

7. Common Blue Violet aka Viola sororia

The common blue violet (Viola sororia) likes to grow in lawns, and that’s exactly where I found this one. The markings on its lower “landing pad” petal are there to guide insects to its nectar but it is actually visited by very few insects. This violet doesn’t take any chances though, and in summer self-pollinating (cleistogamous) flowers without petals produce more than enough seeds to ensure future generations.

8. Green Hellebore

I saw another hellebore flowering in some friend’s garden. This one leaned toward olive green, which seems an odd color for a flower but is still beautiful.

 9. Trailing Arbutus

Trailing arbutus flowers (Epigaea repens) are also called Mayflowers in this part of the country and this year they lived up to their name by refusing to bloom until May first. The small, pinkish flowers are very fragrant and were my grandmother’s favorite wildflower. At one time Mayflowers were collected nearly into oblivion and laws had to be passed to see that they didn’t disappear altogether. I’m happy to report that it is making a strong comeback. This plant was thought to have divine origins by many Native American tribes.

10. Fly Honesuckle Flowers

The unusual joined flowers of the American fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) are a little late this year but still, there are few shrubs that bloom as early as this one, which usually starts blooming during the last week of April. Its unusual paired flowers branch off from a single stem and if pollinated will become joined pairs of reddish orange fruit shaped much like a football, with pointed ends. Many songbirds love its fruit so this is a good shrub to plant when trying to attract them. I see it growing along the edges of the woods but it can be hard to find, especially when it isn’t blooming.

11. Anemone

Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) is very similar to false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum.) but false rue anemone doesn’t grow in New England. True rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is also similar and does grow in New Hampshire, so the two plants can easily be confused. It’s complicated, so I try not to think about all of that and just enjoy the sometimes huge colonies of delicate white flowers.

12. Hepatica

This is the first time a hepatica flower (Hepatica americana) has ever appeared on this blog because this is the first one I’ve ever seen. These small plants are limestone lovers and since most of our soil in this part of the state is very acidic, they are rarely seen here. I was lucky enough to be shown this plant and many others that I’ve never seen in the woods of Distant Hill Gardens in Walpole, New Hampshire recently. In 1979 owner Michael Nerrie and his wife Kathy bought the property and, after finding so many beautiful and rare plants in the woods, graciously opened it to the public. We’ll be hearing a lot more about the plants found in the Walpole woods in the future but for now, if you live in this area you should definitely visit Distant Hill Gardens. You can find directions and much more by clicking on the word here.

Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought? ~Sophie Scholl

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