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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Tobacco Seed pods’

This is the time of year when our roadsides begin to look like Monet paintings. Purple loosestrife and goldenrod dominated this one, but the pink of Joe Pye weed and the white of asters and boneset often help brighten scenes like these.

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a strong wind that blew them over to one side of the stem. The heavy flower heads also bend the stem so the plant almost always leans at an angle like those shown.

I’ve included this shot of a field full of many kinds of goldenrod for those who haven’t ever seen one. Sights like this were common when I was a boy but are getting harder to find now, mostly because of invasion by purple loosestrife. The Native American Chippewa tribe called goldenrod “sun medicine” and used it to treat fevers, ulcers, and boils. Many other tribes also used it medicinally.

After years of trial and error Thomas Edison found goldenrod to be the best domestic source of natural rubber and bred a plant that grew to twelve feet tall and contained about twelve percent rubber in its leaves. Henry Ford and George Washington Carver developed a process to make rubber from goldenrod on an industrial scale during World War II and the USDA took over the project until synthetic rubber was discovered a short time later.

I’ve been surprised to find over the past couple of years how some of the flowers that I love to see, like the tiny little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) above, have somehow found their way into my yard. Since I haven’t done anything to encourage it how they get here is a mystery, but the list gets longer each summer. It’s such a pleasure to be able to see them each day without having to go and look for them, and I hope the trend continues.

Eastern forked blue curls have beautiful flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day and the entire plant barely reaches ankle high, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. This plant is an annual that grows new from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and sometimes roadsides, and now in my own yard.

I know of only one place to find field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) and it is always worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and that’s just what I often do. I find them growing in full sun in sandy loam.

On field milkwort flowers what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) can get very tall and often towers over my head. A cluster of small, pencil eraser sized, blue flowers sits at the tip of the long stem. This plant is very similar to the wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans but they should only be used by those who know them well, because it is said that they can cause death by cardiac paralysis.

The flowers of tall blue lettuce can be white, deep blue, or ice blue. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. I haven’t seen a single one this year though.

I have trouble seeing red against green due to colorblindness and that’s why you don’t see much red in these posts, but these bee balm blossoms stood high enough above the surrounding foliage to be clearly visible. The name bee balm comes from the way the juice from its crushed leaves will soothe a bee sting. Our native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) is also called Oswego tea, because the leaves were used to make tea by the Native American Oswego tribe of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for tea when they ran out of the real thing. It’s a beautiful flower that I’m always happy to see. Hummingbirds and butterflies love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

There are 2 or 3 small lobelias with small blue / purple flowers that grow here, but though the flowers look alike the plants themselves have very different growth habits, and that makes them easy to identify. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) and the small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

Indian tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering. Though Native Americans used this and other lobelias to treat asthma and other breathing difficulties they knew how to use what we don’t, and today the plants are considered toxic. They can make you very sick and too much can kill.

Common burdock (Arctium minus) must have come to this country very early, probably tangled in a horse or cow’s tail, because it was noted as being widespread in 1663. In fact it was so common then that some who came later wrote that it was native. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.  Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. The examples in the above photo had just opened. When fully open long white styles grow from the dark purple anthers. In this flower head only the lower blossom shows the styles.

Arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible.

It’s easy to see how the plant came by the arrowleaf part of its common name.

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late in summer.

Steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) seems more herb than shrub to me but it’s in the spirea family of many shrubs. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge.

Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin.

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep water at pond edges with the lower stem submerged so it’s hard to see the entire plant, but last year’s drought let me see that each plant had a tiny tuft of sword shaped leaves at the base of the stem. The stem has a twist to it and has 7 ridges, and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort.

The plants grow in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of very tiny white, cottony flowers. For the first time since I’ve been photographing the plant I was able to see what look like black stamens on this example. Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which of course is exactly what pipewort looks like. Pipewort is wind pollinated. It is also called hat pins, for obvious reasons.

Last year swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) started blossoming at the end of June and this year it waited until the end of July, a full month’s difference. Of course I started checking the two plants I know of at the end of June and have been waiting impatiently ever since to see this, in my opinion the most beautiful of all the milkweeds. Certain flowers can absorb me, and this is one of them. It’s one that I can sit and look at without thinking or caring about much of anything else for a time.

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Trail

Last weekend I was itching to see a frozen waterfall so I went up to 40 foot falls in Surry. Unfortunately all the hemlock trees made it so dark that photography was out of the question, so instead I ended up at Porcupine falls in Gilsum. It was a very cold day with a breeze blowing, so it was a brisk hike up the old road.

 2. Stone Wall

A break in the stone wall beside the road reminded me of a Chinese dragon so I had to get a photo of it.

3. Sulfur Dust Lichen

Further down the wall I saw some sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina) growing on the underside of a stone. I don’t know if it is sunlight or rain that this lichen dislikes but I always find it growing under some type of overhang where neither can fall directly on it, as if it were too shy to be seen.

4. Tracks

Somebody crossed and re-crossed the trail many times. I’m guessing it was a field mouse.

 5. White Fungus

I’m also guessing that the same little critter that left all of the tracks in the snow had been eating this mushroom, but I don’t know that for sure. I took this photo because what struck me most was how the mushroom was whiter than the snow.

6. Indian Tobacco Seed Heads

I saw some Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) seed heads poking up out of the snow and they made me wish that I could see the small blue flowers that preceded them. It’ll be a while yet before I see them or any other flowers though. This little lobelia gets its common name from the way its seed pods look like the tobacco pouches that were carried by Native Americans.

7. Frozen Stream

One of the strangest things about this hike was the silence. I wish I could somehow show how very different a walk like this can be between summer and winter. Last fall on my first trip to see this waterfall it was simple; I just followed the roar of the stream, but on this day there was no roar or any other sound except my own huffing and puffing and the squeak of the snow. I had to watch carefully for the turnoff that I knew was somewhere up ahead.

8. Bridge

This bridge crossing the stream marks the place but it’s out in the woods a few yards away from the old road and I passed it even though I was watching for it.  I had to backtrack to find it.

 9. Frozen Falls

The view of the frozen falls from the bridge was a bit anti-climactic, and I decided as I stood here that frozen waterfalls in general aren’t that exciting; at least, from what I’ve seen of them.

 10. Frozen Falls

A side view wasn’t much more spectacular, but the photos don’t really convey the bigness of the thing. I’m guessing the height of the ice is maybe 35-40 feet from top to bottom.

11. Bench

Nobody was sitting on the bench and I wasn’t surprised. It was very cold and I was starting to shiver, so I thought I better get walking.

 12. Yellow Something

I stopped to see what I thought was a yellow slime mold growing on a log the last time I was here but now I see that it is hairy, much like the filamentous Trentepohlia aurea algae I find growing on the rock faces in the deep rail trail cut in Westmoreland. I’ve read that it can be yellow, among other colors, and that it can grow on logs. In China there is a red variant that has carpeted an entire river valley and is so beautiful and unusual that it has become a tourist attraction. The valley has been renamed “Red Stone Valley.”

 13. Mushroom on Birch

I saw a reddish brown mushroom on a birch tree that was frozen as solid as a brick. When I think of mushrooms that grow on birch trees I think of birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus), but this wasn’t one of those because it had gills instead of pores. I have a feeling that this might have been a late fall oyster mushroom (Panellus serotinus.) We have seven different varieties of oyster mushroom here in New England and they can be found on a variety of trees in spring through late fall.

14. Mushroom Underside

The mushroom grew on the birch tree at about knee high but I wanted a shot of its gills so I took off my gloves and knelt in the snow, taking and rejecting shot after shot. Occasionally I get so engrossed in the object at hand that I lose myself in it and often have no idea how long I’ve been studying it. That happened on this day and as usual ended with the realization that once again I had been outside of myself. Not only had I lost track of time but I hadn’t felt the cold, and that isn’t wise in January in New Hampshire. Feeling the cold is what helps us keep Jack Frost from stealing our fingers and toes.

15. Orange Soil

There are certain towns, or areas inside of towns, in Cheshire County that have a very strangely colored soil that has always looked orange to me. Since I’m colorblind I’ve always told myself that it was really brown but no, my color finding software sees orange as well. In my last post I found out that oak leaves really can be pink and now we have orange soil.

I should mention that seeing this soil on your property is a bad sign because it is pure silty sand and few plants will grow well in it. If you have this kind of poor soil you should immediately start adding all of the compost and manure that you can get your hands on before trying to grow a garden.

16. Ice Covered Moss

I wanted to take a photo of some moss covered in ice to show how tough mosses really are, but when I saw this photo I was more interested in the ice than the moss because of the strange light that seems to be inside it. It’s as if the light of creation itself was in there, shining out of this tiny drop.  It reminded me of photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and of William Blake holding infinity in the palm of his hand in his poem Auguries of Innocence.

Lose yourself in nature and find peace. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks for coming by.

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