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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Tobacco’

Last weekend I felt the urge to climb, so off I went to Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I know better than to deny the urge because it only gets stronger as time passes. The town History of Swanzey, New Hampshire says that Mount Caesar was named after Caesar Freeman, a freed black slave and one of the original settlers here. Some believe that he is is buried somewhere on it.

One of the first things I saw was a nice clump of lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids. Its beautiful pouch like pink flowers appear in May and last for a week or two, depending on the weather. I was happy to find them growing all along the trail, almost to the summit.

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. This one had apparently been pollinated because it had a seed pod.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) bloomed in sunnier spots along the trail. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

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

I saw a bright yellow, very hairy caterpillar on a twig. I believe it might be a Virginian tiger moth caterpillar (Spilosoma virginica.) This caterpillar is also called yellow bear and I think this is the first time I’ve seen one. I’m not sure what those four yellow bumps are.

Up and up I went. Mount Caesar is the most difficult climb I do these days but by normal standards it really isn’t that difficult unless you have breathing issues. I saw two or three people race up and down it before I even made it to the top but they weren’t interested in what they might see along the trail. Only the end of the trail is important to many people and they miss a lot of the beauty of nature by thinking that way. Some are even more interested in listening to their phones than the birds and I saw that happening here as well. All I can say about that is, if you are in the woods to enjoy nature racing through them as fast as you can go and plugging your ears so you can’t hear anything is not considered being in nature. Being in nature means allowing it to fill all of your senses while you are there. It means being completely immersed in the experience. When you are there be there, fully. You’ll enjoy it more and you’ll get far more out of the experience.

What I believe were ink cap mushrooms grew in the middle of the trail, but just because something is obvious doesn’t always mean it is seen and I doubt anyone noticed them because a few had been stepped on. I think they might have been the hare’s foot ink cap (Coprinopsis lagopus) but I could be wrong. I do know from personal experience that ink caps can appear very different at different times; even at different times of the same day, because their lives are very short. I liked the maroon shimmer of these examples. These mushrooms often grow in the forest, as these did.

Once they produce spores they’re done, and that usually takes one day but on this day there were plenty more coming. They’re called ink caps because their caps liquify and turn into what looks like ink.

I saw things here on this day that I’ve never seen before and one of them was shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) producing spores. The yellowish club like spore producing sporophylls at the tip of each plant are where the spores are produced and once the spores are released to the wind they can take up to 20 years to germinate. In my experience sporophylls aren’t common on this clubmoss. The leaves, called microphylls, resemble scales more than actual leaves and for some reason they are very shiny. Shining clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Note: A helpful reader has pointed out that this is actually bristly clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum,) which I’ve never heard of. Shining clubmoss doesn’t produce sporophylls, which explains why I never see them.  

Another thing I discovered on this day was that the unripe berries of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) are white. This plant is also called checkerberry and it is the first plant I ever learned well enough to know on sight, probably when I was just 5 or 6 years old. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed to relieve pain because they contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin. Since I’ve known these berries as red my entire life seeing them white was quite a surprise. I don’t suppose I’ve ever wondered what they would look like in their unripe state.

I was trying to capture the beautiful luminosity of the forest when I heard a loud crashing behind me. I thought “Oh great, another bear” but no, it was a deer. It stopped and watched me for a bit, blending into the forest so well that I couldn’t get a shot of it from where I was. Of course as soon as I started moving so did the deer, and it was off like a shot. The odd thing was it didn’t really run away; I could hear it jumping and thrashing in the woods for a while afterwards as I continued climbing, as if it was running along beside me.

I saw the deer clearing stone walls with ease, jumping so high it had feet to spare. I was wishing I had legs that could do  that.

A young oak had fallen and split lengthwise to reveal that it was completely hollow, most likely chewed up by carpenter ants. There are far more hollow trees in the woods than most people realize. If you have a tree on your property and you see what looks like sawdust around its base you should call an arborist, especially if it is near your house. Friends of mine had their barn cut in half by a hollow white pine that fell on it just a few years ago.

I could look at this all day. It is worthy of hanging in an art gallery, in my opinion.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is also called arrow wood. Its beautiful white flowers turn into blue-black berries, which aren’t often seen. This plant’s fall foliage is some of the most colorful in the forest and I always look for it in the fall. The shrub is called arrow wood because its branches grow very straight and some believe that Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. 

Yellow spots form on wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves before fall even arrives, and they slowly grow larger until the entire leaf is yellow. This is one of the earliest plants to start turning color in the fall.

I couldn’t get over the beautiful light coming through the trees. At times it was hard to focus on anything else.

Before you know it (unless you’re climbing with me) you’re at the summit. I remember how surprised I was the day I realized that I had been climbing a huge piece of granite. The trail ends just as it begins; with bare granite bedrock.

There is a glacial erratic up here that is nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It is said to rock back and forth like the 40 ton glacial erratic over on Hewe’s Hill called Tippin Rock, but I didn’t feel like heaving and grunting over boulders on this day.

Instead I wanted to visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulose.) Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily. They are naturally a deep pea green but when dry they turn ash gray as this one has. They will simply sit and wait for rain for eons if necessary and they, along with great blue herons, have taught me a lot about patience.

All those black dots on the lichen in the previous photo are this lichen’s fruiting bodies, where it’s spores are produced. I’ve noticed that they often seem to form where the lichen stays wettest longer after a rain. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecium) could easily hide behind one. The apothecium is where the lichen’s spores are produced and in this case it is tiny black disc with a sunken center that makes it look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This photo isn’t great but I was happy that it showed the detail that it does. What looks like a piece of wood in the upper right is actually a bit of a white pine needle, if that tells you anything about scale.

The views weren’t very good but that didn’t bother me. As I’ve said before, if I climbed for the view I’d be disappointed most of the time, because views are weather dependent. On this day there was a milky sky and that almost always means that far off scenes and landscapes will not reproduce well in the camera. In fact it isn’t that I don’t enjoy the views, it’s the trying to reproduce them that I don’t enjoy. If I ever stop blogging I can easily see myself no longer carrying a camera when I’m in the woods.

This is what I mean by a milky sky; almost pure white. Still, in my opinion there’s no such thing as a bad photo of Mount Monadnock, so I’ll just leave you with this one. 

No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. ~Ansel Adams

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Beautiful little marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) grows in the wet soil at the edge of ponds but it isn’t easy to get a photo of because it closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine the following afternoon. You never find them blooming on a cloudy day or in the morning so it is a plant that makes you go to it when it wants you to come, especially if you happen to be an insect or a nature nut. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow.

If you’re very lucky you might find swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) growing alongside the marsh St. John’s wort like I did. It’s hard to believe it’s already time to say goodbye to this beautiful flower. I do hope you’ve had a chance to meet it in person.

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is blooming and it hopes you’ll come by later and give it a ride. The plant is a good example of a biennial plant. In the first year of life it grows leaves and in the second year it flowers, sets seeds, and dies. This is what biennials do, so we know that its tubular flowers with purple stamens and white styles signal that it is close to finishing its journey. There is no reason to grieve though, because the germination rate of its seeds is high and there will surely be burdocks for many years to come, especially if you (or your dog) help spread them around.

Burdock is said to have been introduced from Europe because it was noted in 1672 by self-styled naturalist John Josselyn, who wrote that it had “sprung up since the English Planted and kept Cattle in New-England.” He said the same thing about the dandelion, but fossil evidence has proved him wrong. Native American tribes across the country had many uses for burdock, both as a medicine and food, so some form of the plant had to have been here long before European settlers arrived. 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. As the above photo shows, when fully open long white styles grow from the dark purple flowers.

Pearl crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) seem to love burdock flowers. There were clouds of them around these plants.  I’ve read that males have black antenna knobs, so I’m guessing that this must be a female.

I’m seeing more tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) flowers this year than I ever have, and they seem to be everywhere I go.. These particular flowers were a lighter ice blue but sometimes they can be quite dark. They grow in a cluster at the very top of the sometimes six foot tall plant and each blossom is no bigger than a pencil eraser. They’re always worth a look because they’re always beautiful.

All flowers have, in my opinion, a divine light shining from them and few flowers illustrate that better than orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca.) It’s a beautiful thing that I don’t really see much of, even though it is said to be invasive. I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one in orange and I’ve wondered if maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. These flowers do reflect ultraviolet light though so you would think that some insects must find them, but on this day in the meadow these grew in there were tiny butterflies all over many other species, but not a single one landed on these blossoms.

In my last post that showed an  Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) I never showed a face on view, so here is one. I still don’t see a monkey. According to the USDA it grows in almost every state in the country and nearly every Canadian province, but I rarely find it. They usually grow to about 2 feet tall and growing in wet, sandy soil. Each plant has its flowers strung along the stem, coming out of the leaf axils. I’ve read that the flowers can occasionally be pink or white. 

It’s time to say goodbye to my old friends the purple flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus.) This shade tolerant plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, light gathering, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. The plant has no thorns but it does have a raspberry like fruit. The flower petals always look a bit wrinkled and once you know it, it’s difficult to mistake it for anything else.

The fruit of the purple flowering raspberry looks like a large raspberry and is edible but is on the tart, dry side. I’ve heard that it is sweeter if put on the very tip of the tongue but I haven’t tried that. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The ancient Greeks knew it well and it was grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. The flat flower heads are made up of many button-like disc flowers that have a peculiar, medicine like fragrance that some compare to camphor. The plant has a long history of use as an insect repellant and early colonials added it to the straw in mattresses to keep bedbugs away.

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

The backward bending petals make soapwort easy to identify. They bend back as they age. The flowers will be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They are said to open toward evening, but I’ve seen them in the morning.

Lobelia inflata is called Indian tobacco because its round seed pods resemble the pouches that Native Americans carried their smoking materials in. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year and its tiny flowers are very hard to get a good photo of. Native Americans used all parts of the plant medicinally, and some tribes also used it in their religious ceremonies. Though the flowers closely resemble those of pale spike lobelia that growth habit does not. Pale spike lobelia grows in a single erect flower head and this plant is branched.

A friend at work grows Tomatillos in his garden and I noticed that the flowers were both unusual and quite pretty. I’ve never grown it.

The tomatillo fruit is even more unusual. It has a berry like fruit inside a papery husk and my friend uses it for salsa. According to Wikipedia the plant is also known as the “Mexican husk tomato. It is a plant of the nightshade family bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name.” They originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era.

Spearmint  (Mentha viridis) has been used since recorded time both medicinally and as a flavoring. Pliny wrote of it and the ancient Romans cultivated it to scent their bath water. In Athens where every part of the body was perfumed with a different scent mint was specially designated to the arms. Spearmint is originally from Europe but the pilgrims brought it on their first trip to America, so valuable was the plant to them, and now it is found in the wild. The flowers are said to be pink or white but these were white, blue, pink and lavender. I wish I could send you their scent because it was refreshing on a hot summer day.

Wild thyme is blooming in lawns. Bees love these tiny blossoms so I’m sure they are just ecstatic.

And they are tiny; I won’t tell you how many tries this shot took. Ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming and the ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burned it as incense in their temples, believing it was a source of courage, so it has been with us for a very long time.

Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area.

Balloon flower is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful blue veins.

One day I stood on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of fragrant white waterlilies. The breeze was blowing over them and the incredible fragrance that came across the pond made me want to never leave that place. But of course I had to leave eventually, so I brought this photo home to remind me of that day. There are some things that happen to you in nature that you never forget, and for me I’m sure this will be one of those.

A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life. ~Lewis Mumford

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Our meadows and roadsides are starting to take on that “Monet painting” look now, with purple loosestrife and goldenrods still predominating. Soon asters will take over, along with later goldenrods as the loosestrife blooms itself out.

You can’t tell from the previous photo but a lot of the Canada goldenrods (Solidago canadensis) I’m seeing have bunch galls at the very tip of the stem like the one seen in the above photo. A gall midge (Rhopalomyla solidaginis) lays its egg in a leaf bud and when the larva hatches the plant stops growing taller but continues to produce leaves in a “bunch” like that seen here. Since the midge only lays its eggs on Canada goldenrod it makes this plant easy to identify.

Nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) gets its common name from its drooping flower heads and the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. It doesn’t seem to bother ducks, geese, and all of the other animals that eat it, though. The plant is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never seem to fully open, but I got lucky on this day and found two blossoms sort of open. Each flower has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles.

Japanese beetles, I’ve discovered, love smartweeds. Better smartweeds than garden plants. They can do a lot of damage to a garden.

Tall white asters (Doellingeria umbellata) are very tall with large flower heads (panicles) and weak stems, so when all the flowers bloom the stems often bend and the flowers end up at ankle level. This is one of the earlier, more showy asters that spreads by underground rhizomes and usually grows in large colonies of plants. I see them on forest edges and meadow edges, sometimes by the hundreds.

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is a strange plant with inch long flower buds that never seem to fully open. This plant gets its common name from the belief that it was useful in the treatment of piles (hemorrhoids,) because the buds are the size and shape of suppositories. The Native American Algonquin people used the plant to treat poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) rashes. It has also been used as a source of a blue dye for cotton and wool.

Even after they open pilewort flowers still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely. This photo shows about all we can see of them. The flower is made up of many tiny florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. In some areas it is called burn weed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) is one of our smallest lobelias. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods. The 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 stem while flowers are still blooming, as this photo shows.

I’ve been neglecting pretty little red clover blossoms this year, but not intentionally. I’ve told the story of how this lowly weed helped me see things differently but I’ll tell it again, because the same thing could happen to you. There was a time when all red clover (Trifolium pretense) plants meant to me was more hard work. I didn’t like having to weed it out of lawns and garden beds but it was so unsightly with its long, weak flower stems and sprawling, weedy habit. And then one evening a single ray of sunshine came through the clouds and fell directly on a red clover plant at the edge of a meadow, and when I knelt in front of it to take its photo for the first time I saw how beautiful it really was. I saw that it had an inner light; what I think of as the light of creation, shining brightly out at me. I’ve loved it ever since, and since that day I don’t think I’ve ever truly thought of another flower, no matter how lowly, as a weed.

I was surprised to find common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) still blooming. It grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds.

All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. The pretty flowers are about an inch across. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

Most people would think of a yellow flower with a lot of stamens when they thought of St. John’s wort, but marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) is very pink. As its name implies this plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline of ponds. The beautiful flowers are quite small; about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day, but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma. It is on the rare side in this area and I know of only two places where it grows.

I can’t think of a single time that I have found northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing away from water. It’s an odd little plant that might get knee high on a good day, and often leans toward the water that it grows near. Its tiny flowers grow in round tufts at each leaf axil and remind me of motherwort, which has the same habit. It is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. It is also closely related to American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and the two plants are easily confused. Paying close attention to leaf shape helps tell them apart. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food.

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. They are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots.

Nodding bur marigold (Bidens tripartita) likes full sun and wet feet and can often be found growing right beside the water horehound that we saw in the previous photo. Its flower is much showier though, and looks something like a miniature sunflower. As they age the flower heads nod towards the ground and that’s how it comes by its common name. Another common name is nodding beggar’s tick, because its seeds are barbed and stick to just about anything that happens by. In this part of New Hampshire this plant grows about knee high, sometimes in standing water. The flowers look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. I like their deeply pleated petals. 

I saw this stand of balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) in a local park.

Balloon flowers get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful blue veins.

Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are still blooming strong. This plant is well known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, as a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. As I’ve said before, I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

An ox-eye daisy wanted me to remember June. I thanked it for the memory and moved on, wishing it  really was June again.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heavens? ~ A.J. Balfour

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“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray…I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day.” California Dreaming by The Mammas and the Pappas has been playing in my head a lot lately; maybe because I hoped to do one more fall foliage post. But now, since all the leaves are brown I doubt that it will happen.

I shouldn’t say all the leaves are brown because bracken fern’s leaves (Pteridium aquilinum) have turned kind of a pinky gray. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns; fossils date it to over 55 million years ago, so it has been very successful. That might be because it eliminates competition by releasing chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants. That’s why large colonies of nothing but bracken fern are seen, often along roadsides. Some Native American tribes peeled and cooked the roots of bracken fern to use as food but science has shown that all parts of the plant contain carcinogens.

It has gotten cold here all of the sudden; cold enough to be record breaking in parts of the state, so scenes like this one of frosty leaves and grass have become commonplace in the morning. I was hoping I could get all of the leaves picked up before it snowed, but that isn’t going to happen.

This juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) was about as frosty as it could be but mosses can handle extremes and this little plot of moss should come through winter completely unscathed.

The thin, crinkly white puddle ice that I used to love riding my bike through as a boy has appeared on the puddles. I was never thrilled to see it in the fall but I loved seeing it in the spring because it meant that the earth was warming up after a long winter and soon school would be letting out for the summer. I’ve learned since then that the white color comes from bubbles, because this ice contains lots of oxygen. I’ve also learned that you can see some amazing things in this ice; I’ve seen wave ripples, birds flying, high mountains, distant stars, and space and time. All of that and more can all be there for the seeing, but most of us don’t take the time to look.

At the river there was ice of another kind. Just seeing it in a photo makes me shiver because I remember how cold it was that day.

Speaking of the river, the Ashuelot’s banks won’t hold much more. We’ve been getting 1-4 inches of rain each week since about mid-July and so far there hasn’t been any serious flooding but as this photo shows, something is going to have to give soon if it keeps up. Luckily the weather people are finally talking about a pattern change, and except for a few snow showers the upcoming week looks fairly dry for the most part.

Of course streams are running furiously as well. I visited Beaver Brook in Keene recently to admire the stone wall that was built over and around the brook, probably well over a hundred years ago. It’s the only stone wall built around a brook that I’ve ever seen; essentially a box culvert on top of rather than below ground, built by a clever farmer I’d guess. The only time you can get a good look at it is after the leaves fall.

Even beavers are saying “enough rain already!” This beaver dam was breached by high water because apparently even the industrious beavers can’t keep up.

Beavers have been very active near my house. They cut down this 5 inch diameter poplar tree and I was surprised because in the past they’ve always cut birches first. There are quite a few birches in the same area but so far they’ve left them alone. They can cut and drag off an amazing number of trees in one night.

Usually it’s the top branches of a tree that beavers want most for winter food so I was surprised that they left this poplar limb behind. I’m guessing that they probably came back for it that night.

Though jelly fungi grow at all times of year I think of them as winter fungi because that’s usually when I find them. I often see them on fallen branches, often oak or alder, and I always wonder how they got way up in the tree tops. Yellow jellies (Tremella mesenterica) like this one are called witches butter and are fairly common. We also have black, white, red, orange and amber jelly fungi and I’d have to say that white and red are the rarest. I think I’ve seen each color only two or three times. Jelly fungi can be parasitic on other fungi.

The most common of all jelly fungi is the amber one in my experience (Exidia recisa,) because I see it all the time, especially after a rain. This one always reminds me of jellied cranberry sauce. Jelly fungi dry out when it’s dry and appear as tiny colored flakes that you’d hardly believe could grow as much as they do, but they absorb water like a sponge and can grow to 60 times bigger than they were when dry. Jelly fungi have a shiny side and a kind of matte finish side and their spores are produced on their shiny sides. After a good rain look closely at those fallen limbs, big or small, and you’re sure to find jelly fungi.

Hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) can be quite big but they are still easiest to see when the leaves fall. Their color can vary greatly but they’re almost always shiny on top, hence the “varnish” part of the common name, but this example had no shine. In China this mushroom is called the Reishi mushroom and it has been used medicinally for centuries. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese medicine and scientists from around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

When I started my current job I saw a tree / shrub that I hadn’t ever seen. I watched it for a while to see what it would do but even after watching it for months I couldn’t find it in any guide, so I put it on the blog as an unknown. Right off my blogging friend Clare from the Suffolk Lane blog told me it was a spindle berry, native to Europe,  and after researching it I was happy with that name and I’ve called it that ever since. But recently I found out that we have a native version called eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus,) so now I’m going to have to watch it even more closely to see which one it is. I think it’s probably the native version. The photo above is of its interesting bright red fruit.

In my last post I mentioned how the inner bark of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) was often a beautiful bright red, but the odd thing about it is that it seems to turn red only after exposure to the elements. I’ve peeled the bark from dead staghorn sumacs and have never been able to find any red color, but if I look closely at dead sumacs with bark that has peeled naturally like that in the above photo, it’s often quite red. How and why it changes is a mystery to me but it’s nice to see in winter when there isn’t a lot of color.

Wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) are sucking insects that pierce the bark of an alder and suck out the sap, so they do harm the plant. They can be winged or unwinged and need both alders and silver maples to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring the nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the undersides of new leaves until in late May through July they develop wings and fly off to find alders. Once on an alder they begin feeding on the sap and reproducing. Soon the colony is made up of aphids in all stages of growth and becomes covered in a fluffy white, waxy “wool” like that seen in this photo. Some aphids mature and fly off to silver maples to mate and once mated the female will lay a single egg in a crevice in the bark and the cycle will repeat.

Last year I was able to do an entire flower post in November but this year it got cold quickly, so I was surprised to see this little lobelia (Lobelia inflata) still blooming. The flowers are no bigger than a pencil eraser and its common name of Indian tobacco comes from its inflated seedpods, which are said to look like the pouches that Native Americans carried their smoking mixtures in.

I’ve seen native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bloom in January in a warm winter, so it wasn’t a surprise to see it blooming in November, but even witch hazel can have too much cold and I doubt I’ll see these pretty blooms again until the spring witch hazels bloom in March. It’s an event I’ll be impatiently waiting for. Just the thought of spring, my favorite season, is like a soothing balm that gets me through winter.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

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In my last flower post I ended with a stand of wildflowers that I drive by each morning on my way to work. I didn’t think that photo showed all of the beauty there was to see there so I went back and took more photos. This is one of them.

And this is a wider view. How lucky I am to see this each morning. I think about how, if they stopped mowing the roadsides, they might all look like this. I don’t know why they can’t wait until the flowers are finished blooming to mow certain areas. Some states actually spend a lot of time and money trying to get their roadsides looking like what happens here naturally.

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have bloomed quietly all summer; so unobtrusive but always able to coax a smile and warm a heart. Long used medicinally in Europe, here it is a welcomed alien. It is plant that has been known for a very long time and goes by many common names. It’s said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heartsease and was used in love potions. Viola tricolor is believed to be the original wild form of all the modern varieties of pansy. I’m lucky enough to have them popping up at the edge of my lawn. I always make sure I miss them with the lawn mower.

Finding one or two forsythia blossoms in fall isn’t that unusual but if I saw a bush full of them I’d be concerned. This shrub had exactly one over anxious blossom on it, so it should still bloom in spring like it usually does. Forsythia was first discovered by a European growing in a Japanese garden in 1784 by the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg.

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is still blooming, I was happy to see. Orange is a hard color to find among wildflowers in this part of the world.  Other than orange daylilies which really aren’t wildflowers, and orange jewelweed, I can’t think of another orange wildflower.

This New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) had a lot of red in its purple and leaned toward a rose color. My color finding software sees violet, plum, and orchid.

Though it is nearing the end of September I wasn’t surprised to see silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) blossoming. Sometimes the shrub can have ripe fruit on it and still grow a flower cluster or two in a fall re-bloom. These bushes are big; many are 10 feet across. Silky dogwood is named for the soft, downy hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans used dogwood branches to make fish traps and twisted the bark into rope.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. I thought I’d show a blossom on a penny so you could see just how small they are. 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. The plant 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.

A plant I’ve never noticed before is this nightshade, which I think is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country, so I’d say this example might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

But is this plant Solanum nigrum? It doesn’t look hairy enough to me but it does have pea size green berries that I’ve read should turn black. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

The swept back petals and bright yellow centers remind me of another nightshade I regularly see called bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara.) Its flowers are blue and yellow rather than white and yellow but they look much the same otherwise. If this plant reminds you of a potato plant, that’s because they’re in the same family.

According to an article on National Public Radio scientists have found that once sunflowers mature they stop following the sun and face east. When young they greet the sunrise in the east and then as the day progresses they follow it to the west until it sets. During the night time they slowly turn back to the east to again to wait for the next sunrise. They do this through a process called heliotropism, which scientists say can be explained by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour internal clock that humans also have. The plant actually turns itself by having different sides of its stem elongate at different times. Growth rates on the east side of the stem are high during the day and low at night. On the west side of the stem the growth rate is high at night and low during the day, and the differing growth rates turn the plant.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) bloomed in a field that has been mowed all summer long.  This plant stood about three inches tall but it was still blooming as if it hadn’t been touched. I love its cheery, bright blue color. Our average first frost happens in mid-September, so this might be the last photo of it this year.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba,) is a plant in the aster family that blooms as late as asters do. It is said that the common name comes from the way that some Native American tribes used the plant to treat snakebite. William Byrd of Virginia wrote in 1728 that “the rattlesnake has an utter antipathy to this plant, in-so-much that if you smear your hand with the juice of it, you may handle the viper safely.” I hope nobody actually tried that. This plant is not toxic, at least not enough to kill; the Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of it in a tea that they used to relieve pain.

This cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows on the banks of the Ashuelot River and I’ve never seen them anywhere else. The small oval burs aren’t quite as sticky as burdock burs but they will catch on clothing. Cocklebur leaves require long nights to trigger production of the chemicals needed to produce flowers, so they are considered “short day” plants. Their leaves are so sensitive that any light shining on them at night can keep the plant from flowering.

Cockleburs grow male flowers along its upper half, and female flowers grow in the lower half but I’m never early enough to catch them. All I ever see are the burs.

I can’t explain these white squiggly things appearing from the cocklebur fruit. The plant is here in a flower post because I thought they might be flowers but good information on this plant is very hard to find, so I’m not sure what they are. The seeds in cocklebur pods were eaten raw or cooked by Native Americans and among certain tribes in the Southwest the seeds were ground with squash and corn and applied externally to heal puncture wounds.

Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful dark blue veins.

I liked this zinnia I found in a friend’s garden recently. These flowers are usually butterfly magnets but I didn’t see any this day.

This roadside view of asters is quite different from the first two photos in this post. It’s more pastel and subdued and has a different kind of beauty than those views I started out with, but I like them all.

The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of nature, was the first spiritual experience. ~Henryk Skolimowski

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Last Sunday dawned cool and free of the oppressive humidity that we’ve seen so much of this summer, so I thought I’d go for a climb up to the High Blue Trail lookout in Walpole. As I mentioned in last Saturday’s post, I’ve been having some breathing issues so I chose this trail because the climb is easy and gentle. I also chose it because there is usually much to see here and on this day I wasn’t disappointed.

The first things that caught my eye were the map like patterns in this coltsfoot leaf left by leaf miners. How remarkable that anything could be small enough to eat the tissue between the top and bottom surfaces of a leaf.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) leaves whispered that fall was on the way but I didn’t want to listen.

But listen I had to, because everywhere I looked nature was whispering fall. Soon the whisper will become a shout.

I saw a young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) just up out of the soil and looking like it had been scrubbed clean even though it hadn’t rained in a week. This mushroom is common where pine trees grow. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic. Vikings are said to have used it for that very reason.

I’ve seen plenty of club coral fungi but I’ve never seen one that was hairy like this one. I think they might be examples of cotton base coral fungi (Lentaria byssieda,) which has “stalks that rise out of a creamy white, felt-like, hairy mycelial patch.” From what I’ve seen online and in guide books this fungi’s appearance can vary greatly as far as shape, with some having branch tips that are sharply pointed and others with blunt branch tips.

When I saw this I knew that it didn’t matter what else I saw on this day, because my day was complete. Violet coral fungus (Clavaria zollingeri) is a very rare thing in these parts and this is only the second time I’ve seen one. Both times I’ve seen it on a hillside, growing out of the soil on the side of the trail. Such a rare and beautiful thing can take you outside yourself for a time and I knelt there in the dirt taking photos and admiring it for I don’t know how long. I wish I’d see more of them but who knows what makes them only show themselves so rarely, and who knows why they wear that color?

The old road isn’t long but it is winding.

Before you know it you’re at the sign on the side road that leads to the lookout.

A birch tree had fallen across the old road. Many trees have fallen this summer and in a way it’s a good thing. Weak trees standing in a forest could fall without warning at any time so it’s good when the wind removes them. It’s dangerous to have them standing near trails, as this one illustrates.

I saw quite a few examples of the old man of the woods mushroom (Strobilomyces floccopus.) This grayish mushroom has black scales on its cap and stem and was very hard to get a good shot of. Both cameras that I carried had trouble focusing on it. Nobody seems to know how this mushroom came by its common name.

The old man’s pore surface starts off white, then turns gray before finally becoming black, so this one had some age. The flesh turns pinkish red when bruised and finally turns black. You can see the shaggy stem in this photo and that helps with identification.

Powdery mildew on an oak showed how very humid and still the air has been lately. Molds and mildews have a hard time developing when there is good air circulation.

Soon I was at the cornfield which was once a meadow. All my senses go on high alert here because I know that bears come here regularly to feed on the corn. I carried bear spray but if a bear suddenly burst out of the cornfield I doubt I would have had time to use it, so I stopped and listened for a minute or two. Hearing nothing but the rustling of the corn leaves I moved on.

The corn was just about ready to pick but since this is cattle corn the whole plant gets chewed up and becomes silage. It attracts almost every animal in the forest, including deer and raccoons but I was surprised to find very little animal damage among the stalks. Quite often you’ll find broken stalks lying on the ground with the husks torn from the ears, and all the kernels eaten. Maybe the animals are waiting for it to become dead ripe, I don’t know.

I saw two or three of these odd insects on ears of corn. Some kind of shield bug, I think.

Asters bloomed along the edge of the cornfield.

A black eyed Susan bloomed among hundreds of blooming lobelias. These were the pretty little lobelias called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) I was surprised to see them because they’re just about finished blooming down in the low country.

I was especially glad the lobelias were blooming because there were two monarch butterflies visiting the small flowers. I scared this one away but luckily it landed close enough to get a photo of. I’ve been seeing lots of monarchs this year I’m happy to say, but this is the only one I’ve been able to get a photo of.

Though it was cool, sunny and dry when I left Keene by the time I reached the overlook clouds had rolled in and the air was so thick with humidity you could have cut it with a knife. This didn’t make breathing any easier and I was just about puffed out, as my blogging friend Mr. Tootlepedal says, so all I could think of was getting back to the car and into some air conditioning.  After a couple of quick shots of the thick haze I headed back down the hill.

The view wasn’t very good; you couldn’t even see Stratton Mountain over in Vermont. The blue was a little darker where it should have been but I think I see it in this shot only because I know where it is. As I’ve said many time before, if I climbed for the view I’d end up disappointed most of the time, so though I enjoy seeing across the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont I could hardly be disappointed after seeing all of the beautiful things I saw on the way up here. It isn’t about the end of the trail or how fast you can climb a hill; it really is about what you see along the way.

The events of the past day have proven to me that I am wholly alive, and that no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. ~Anonymous mountain climber

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It’s time to say goodbye to chicory (Cichorium intybus) I think, though I have seen it blooming in late September before. I found these plants still blooming along a roadside. 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. Chicory is one of my summer favorites.

I found the first dark purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) of the season recently. I look for the darkest ones I can find each year and these were beautiful but New England asters are very beautiful, no matter what shade of purple they are. When light and dark flowers grow together the bees always seem to prefer the lighter ones but in this area there were no lighter ones so I had to hope I didn’t get stung. There were bees everywhere, and they were loving these flowers as much as I was.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I see them still blooming here and there. This one looked as fresh as they do in July. There are still plenty of pollinators about so I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) are very tall with large flower heads (panicles) and weak stems, so when all the flowers bloom the stems often bend and the flowers end up at ankle level. This is one of the earlier, more showy asters that spreads by underground rhizomes and usually grows in large colonies of plants. I see them on forest edges.

I liked this pond-side view with its patch of wildflowers blooming.

When our native yellow loosestrifes have all bloomed then it’s time for purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) to start in and despite the belief that they need wet places to grow in I found this river of loosestrife at the edge of a dry cornfield. Purple loosestrife is an invasive 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. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant is becoming very difficult.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) still blooms on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Its common name comes from the way the leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.

Individual white snakeroot flowers are small, bright white, and fuzzy. The plant seems to prefer moist, shaded locations and doesn’t mind disturbed ground. It can often be found quite deep in forests and blooms from August to September. If you should happen to have farm animals you should know it well.

It’s also time to say goodbye to the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea.) This one looked like it had been through the wash. Its color had faded and its dry petals felt like paper.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) must be one of the longest blooming wildflowers we have here. It usually starts blooming in May and I’m still seeing it in quite large numbers here in September. You can’t ask more from a flower than that. I love the shade of blue that it wears.

There are about 15 different species of agrimony but I think this one is woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata.) The small, bright yellow flowers grow in long spikes (racemes) on a small, knee high plant. The last time I showed its flowers I forgot to show the foliage, so this photo corrects that oversight. If you know it as something other than woodland agrimony I’d love to hear about it.

Woodland agrimony is also called roadside agrimony, and that is just where this one grew.  Agrimony has been used medicinally for many thousands of years, dating back to at least ancient Egypt, but though woodland agrimony is native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans.

I saw these beautiful chive blossoms in a friend’s garden. I think they must have been garlic chives (Allium tuberosum.)

Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small and beautiful, but it’s a plant that comes with a lot of baggage. As the story goes author and forager Samuel Thayer calls them ground beans rather than hog peanut because he claims that the name “hog peanut” was a racial slur against Native Americans. He says that the Europeans came to a point where they refused to eat them because even though the small legumes saved many of their lives they insisted they were only fit for hogs (implying that Native Americans were hogs.) Personally I find this story hard to believe because anyone who has ever raised pigs knows that they root around in the soil looking for just the kinds of legumes that grow on these vines, and it isn’t hard to imagine colonials, who raised pigs, saying “look, the hogs have found some peanuts.” I call it hog peanut here not to slander anyone but because nine out of ten people will use a plant’s common name when they look for it in field guides, and field guides call the plant hog peanut. If Samuel Thayer can get them to change that, then I’ll be happy to call it a ground bean.

Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds. Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good a tripping up hikers.

I tried many times to get a photo looking into these tiny but pretty flowers, but this is the best I could do.

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

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

I don’t know if this was tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) but it was a tall goldenrod that stood feet above the other plants in the surrounding meadow. Its height was amazing.

I tried and failed to get a shot of a single goldenrod flower for you, but it’s close. I think there are two here.

One of the things I like most about native pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is the way a child’s face will light up and break into a smile when they crush it and smell it. Usually when I tell them that it smells like pineapple they don’t believe it, so it’s a surprise. The conical flower heads are easiest to describe by saying they’re like daisies without petals, or ray florets. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and the leaves are also scented and have been used to make tea. The plant was used by Native Americans in a tonic to relieve gastrointestinal upset and fevers. The Flathead tribe used the dried, powdered plants to preserve meats and berries. It is said to make a nice pineapple flavored tea.

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.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heavens? ~ A.J. Balfour

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As I’ve said recently in previous posts it has been mostly sunny, hot and dry here so far this summer and now a large part of the state is once again in a moderate drought, for about the third year in a row. Small streams and wetlands are again drying up so last Saturday I decided to go and see how Beaver Brook in Keene was faring. I hadn’t done a post about the place since February so I thought it was time. I like to see the seasonal changes that take place in the various places I visit. It’s how I really get to know the places and the plants that grow in them. The trail through this particular place was once a road north out of Keene, but it was abandoned in the 1970s when a state highway crossed it. Now nature is in the process of reclaiming it.

The first flower I saw blooming on this day was the little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.)

This lobelia gets its common name from its inflated seed pods, which are said to resemble the pouches that Native Americans carried their smoking materials in. It’s too early for those but there were plenty of the tiny blue flowers to see.

There is lots of poison ivy here (Toxicodendron radicans,) all along the left side of the old road as you walk up it, so it’s best to wear long pants, hiking boots and socks if you come here. That’s what I always wear anyway and, though I’ve heard you can get a rash just by getting the plant’s oils on your clothes, I’ve walked through knee high poison ivy plants hundreds of times with no ill effects. I tend to be somewhat immune to it though; if I get it on my hand it stays there and doesn’t spread.

Just in case you do start to itch, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows along the right side of the road. If you crush the stems of jewelweed and rub the sap on poison ivy blisters it will stop the itch. It doesn’t cure the rash but it stops the itch as well as calamine lotion does. There are people out there who don’t believe this is true but I’ve used it many times and it works, so I’ll continue using it and the non-believers can scratch. With plants being used even in cancer and HIV treatments I’m not sure why some people have a hard time believing that a plant can stop a simple itch, but they do.

I was shocked to see that a huge portion of ledge had fallen; shocked because I used to kneel right where the stone pile is to get photos of the helleborine orchids that grew there. The stone is white (actually sort of pink) because it is feldspar, and the biggest piece lying at an angle behind the plants is as long as a car. It’s always risky to walk near ledges and this is why. Ledges line almost the entire road and so many years of water seeping between the layers of rock and freezing in winter has cracked them badly, so none of it is stable; it’s all very loose. The city should come in with an excavator and peel away all the loose stone but they don’t even cut brush correctly here, so I know that isn’t going to happen. I’ll be staying well back from the ledges from now on.

The reason the ledges are here at all is because this road was hacked out of the stone of the hillside back in the 1700s. This photo shows a hole in the feldspar made by a star drill. A star drill is a pointed, five sided, two foot long piece of steel. You can tell a star drill was used because you can see the star, as it shows in this photo. To use it one man holds the drill while another strikes it with a sledge hammer. After each hammer blow the drill is turned a quarter turn and then the hammer falls again and again the drill is turned, and so on until a hole is made. Once you have a hole you fill it with black powder, insert and light a fuse, and run as fast as you can. At least, that’s what you do if you happen to live in the 1700s. Feldspar is a softer stone but it was still a tremendous amount of work. After all, someone had to clean up all that blasted stone.

Stone isn’t the only thing falling here. Trees fall regularly and many get hung up on the electric lines that still run alongside the road.

In some places the ledges pull back away from the road as you can see there on the left, but in many places the ledges come right up to the road. You can also see how the trees lean over the electric wires on the right. It’s all about light and plants lean towards the light to get more of it, so this will never stop happening no matter how many trees fall or how many are cut. The hole in the canopy that lets in light is over the road.

The double yellow no passing lines still run down the center of the road even though there hasn’t been a car here for nearly 50 years.

The old guard posts still line the road but they are slowly rotting away.

I met an old timer up here once who told me that he had seen Beaver Brook flood badly enough to come up over the road and I believe it, because you can see where it’s eating away at the edge of the road all along it. This old concrete culvert finally gave up and slid into the brook.  You can also see the size of the boulders that the brook tosses around like pebbles when it rages. And it does rage; I’ve seen it roaring and angry enough to make me leave this place, but normally it just giggles and chuckles along beside you as you walk along.

On this day though, there was little chuckling and giggling to be heard, because the brook had all but dried up to a gurgle. I could walk from bank to bank in this spot without getting my feet wet, and that’s something I’ve never been able to do before. In a normal year I would have been in serious trouble if I had tried to stand in this spot, though it’s actually getting hard to remember what a normal year was like. It seems we’ve had extreme weather take over our thoughts for the past few years.

It’s time to say goodbye to thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) for another year. The seed head will grow on for a while longer and then the seeds will fall.

Purple trillium (Trillium erectum) was also busy making seeds. Trilliums are all about the number three and multiples of it, so the seed chamber has six parts. The fleshy seeds are prized by ants because they have a sweet, pulpy coating that they eat, so many of the trilliums we see have most likely been planted by ants. It takes about five years for a trillium to go from seed to flower.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on the end of a log. Though they look like bracket fungi oyster mushrooms have off center stems that attach to the log they grow on. Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun worms, whereupon the mycelium enters its body through orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria in order to get nitrogen and protein. These examples looked like they had slug damage, so the mushroom apparently hasn’t evolved a defense against them.

I saw the most colorful tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) that I’ve ever seen. It had bands of purple and orange and red and that’s unusual, because they’re normally gray, brown, and sometimes a little cream colored. I’ve also seen these tough, woody fungi with squirrel teeth marks all over them in the past but I didn’t see any on this example. I think the squirrels are after the algae that grow on the fungus. They do the same thing with certain lichens. I can’t explain the colors; it’s something I’ve never seen in person or in books.

I saw a very dark colored toad that looked black in person but looks dark green in the photo. It looks like it has somehow lost most of its left front foot. Or maybe it was making a fist. It seemed to hop just fine.

I made the treacherous climb down the steep gravel embankment that leads to Beaver Brook Falls and found what I expected; barely a trickle. The water usually falls with a roar heard from quite far away but on this day there was a little splashing going on that hardly echoed off the stone walls of the canyon. I’ve never seen the falls with so little water coming over them.

This is what the falls normally look like and they probably look much like this right now, because since I went there last weekend it hasn’t stopped raining. We’ve had rain and storms every day since, totaling up to about 4 inches of rain here. We’ve even had flash flood warnings, so I suppose we need to be careful what we wish for in this age of weather extremes. From drought to flood in one post.

The air is impressively warm and close, as thick as honey. ~Lucy Foley

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How strange it seems to be able to do a flower post this late in October, but the weather people say we’re on the way to the warmest one ever. Bluets often start blooming in early May. They have quite a long blooming season but I was still surprised to find a small clump in bloom this late in the year. As many other flowers do right now, the bluets looked smaller than normal, and stunted. It’s as if they know they shouldn’t be blooming but decided to give it a halfhearted try anyhow.

False dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) is a plant that is still thriving and I see it blossoming everywhere I go. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The yellow flowers are smaller than the dandelion’s and stand atop wiry, 6-8 inch long stems. The leaves look like miniature versions of dandelion leaves and are nowhere near as wide or as long.

I still see various species of goldenrod blooming here and there but the huge fields of them I saw in August and September are finished for this year. I think this one might have been downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula,) which I’ve seen growing in this place before. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches, and it has been used for centuries to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections.

A hoverfly on the goldenrod was willing to pose for a photo.

I found this pretty little dianthus growing in a garden. Dianthus are much loved garden flowers that are often called “pinks.” Maiden pinks and Deptford pinks are two members of the family that have escaped and are found in the wild in summer.

Pee Gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) blossoms are still turning into their fall pink and when that is done they will go to brown. Eventually each flower petal will start to disintegrate and for a short time will look like stained glass. If cut at the pink stage however, the color will hold for quite a long time.

The last time I saw brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) blooming was in August I think, but apparently after a rest it has decided to bloom again. Either that or new plants have grown from seed. This is an annual plant that is originally from Europe and Asia. It is considered highly invasive in some regions but I hardly ever see it here. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls at the top of the plant.

The flowers of brittle stem hemp nettle have a 3 part lower lip for insects to land on. From there they can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom, brushing against the 4 pollen bearing stamens along the inside of the upper lip as they do so. The small 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on the outside of the upper lip and the square stems are also hairy. It is a very brushy, bristly looking plant but the soft hairs don’t embed themselves in your skin, thankfully.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. This blossom was at the very top of the flower spike, meaning this plant is done.  Mullein is a biennial which flowers and dies in its second year of growth. Native Americans used tea made from this plant’s large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

This tiny lobelia flower known as Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) is the first I’ve seen in a while now. Most of these plants have long been brown but this one must have wanted to give it one more go. I’m sure the insects appreciated its efforts. I was glad to see it too.

Indian tobacco gets that name from its inflated seed pods that are said to resemble the pouches that Native Americans used to carry their smoking materials in.

I was hoping to see some orange hawkweed once more this year but I didn’t see any members of the family blooming except this yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum.) Yellow hawkweed starts blooming in June here and is fairly common, but not in October. I think this is the latest I’ve ever seen it bloom. This plant had several more buds on it too, so it will bloom for a while yet.

I’m still seeing roses blooming away like it was high summer. I keep thinking I should call them the last rose of summer when I show them here but summer seems to just go on and on this year. And I’m not complaining about that.

I found a large colony of pink knotweed (Polygonum pennsylvanicum) still blooming, mixed in with grasses and clovers. It was very small and short but it had also been mowed so it was probably stunted because of it.

Pink knotweed is also called Pennsylvania smartweed. The flower heads are made up of many petal less flowers that grow densely on the stalk. Smartweeds get their name from the way your tongue will smart if you bite into them. Native American used smartweeds medicinally to treat a variety of ailments, and also used the chopped plants as a seasoning, much as we use pepper today. Some species are extremely hot while others are said to be milder. I almost always find smartweeds near water but these examples were not.

I think this is the first time scabiosa has been on this blog, mainly because I don’t see them very often. This example was growing in a local park and seemed to be doing well, with many flowers. Actually I should say many flower heads, because what you see in this photo is a flower head containing many small florets. I’ve read that the name scabiosa comes from the plant’s use in the past to treat scabies, which causes a severe itching. It is native to Africa, Europe and Asia.

If you ever want to see a child’s face light up and break into a big grin, just squeeze a blossom of pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) and have them smell it. They’re always surprised when they find that the humble little weed that they’ve never paid attention to smells just like pineapple. I’m guilty of not paying attention too; I realized when I saw several plants blooming that I had no idea what its normal bloom schedule was. I know that it starts blooming in June here and according to what I’ve read blooms for about two months, so it is well past its normal blooming period. It is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year so I wonder if next year’s seed supply is growing now, in this extra warm fall.

Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) is in the same family (Oleaceae) as lilacs and that should come as no surprise when you look closely at the small flower heads. What is surprising is that it was blooming at all, because they usually bloom in May or early June. Privet is a quick growing shrub commonly planted in rows and used as hedging because they respond so well to shearing. Originally from Europe and Asia it is considered invasive in some areas. It has been used by mankind as a privacy screen for a very long time; Pliny the Elder knew it well. Its flexible twigs were once used for binding and the name Ligustrum comes from the Latin ligare, which means “to tie.”

Common chickweed (Stellaria media) likes cool weather so it was a bit surprising to find it blooming. The plants looked like they were suffering though, with small, stunted flowers that looked as if they had never made it to full size. Chickweed is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year. It’s originally from Europe and is considered a lawn weed here. I usually find it in the tall grasses at the edge of woods. This one had tiny friends visiting.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is often thought of as a warmth loving southern plant but here it is blooming and making berries in October in New Hampshire. Pokeweed flower clusters (Racemes) are unusual because you can often see ripe fruits at the bottom and new flowers at the top.

Pokeweed flowers are about a quarter inch across and have no petals but do have 5 white or pink sepals surrounding green carpels that fold and meet in the center. These green carpels will become a shiny, 8-10 chambered, purple-black berry. The carpels are surrounded by 10 white stamens. Though they were once used to color cheap wines the berries are poisonous and have killed children. People eat the leaves and spring shoots but adults have also been poisoned by eating plants that weren’t prepared properly. There are some powerful toxins in parts of the plant and scientists are testing it for its anti-cancer potential.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

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This woodland path was dominated by white wood asters and goldenrods on either side and I didn’t see anything else blooming there, but though in this part of New Hampshire asters and goldenrods sing the loudest right now there are still other flowers to see. You just have to look a little closer to see them at this time of year, that’s all.

I found some very dark purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) recently. I look for the darkest ones I can find each year and these might win the prize for 2017, but I’ll keep looking.

New England asters are large flowers and very beautiful, no matter what shade of purple they are. When light and dark flowers grow together the bees always seem to prefer the lighter ones but in this area there were no lighter ones so I had to hope I didn’t get stung. There were bees everywhere, and they were loving these flowers as much as I was.

The pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) are blooming in my garden; one of the very last plants to do so. A friend gave me this plant many years ago and I think of her every time I see it bloom. That’s one of the best things about giving and receiving plants; they come with memories. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

It’s very hairy inside a turtlehead blossom. The hairs remind me of the beard on a bearded iris.

I was surprised to see common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) still blooming. The flowers are very small and hard to get a good photo of but they’re also very pretty and worth the effort. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries.

Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is a garden flower native to Mexico. The flowers are usually daisy like, but some have tubular petals. Cosmos is an annual plant that self-sows quite reliably. If you’re careful weeding in the spring and don’t pull all the seedlings, a six pack of plants might sow themselves and produce seedlings year after year for quite some time. I found this one at the local college.

Cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum ) are tall native perennials that can reach 8 feet, and with the flowers at the top I don’t get many chances to show them, but this plant had kindly bent over. It’s called cup plant because its leaf pairs-one on each side of the square stem-are fused together and form a cup around the stem. This cup usually has water in it. The plant produces resins that smell like turpentine. It was used medicinally by Native Americans.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) are still 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.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods. The plant gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I was very surprised to find sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) still blooming. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them this late in the year. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils 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. Here in this area it could hardly be called invasive; I usually have to hunt to find it. This beautiful example grew in an unmown field.

This pink rose grows in a local park. I was going to call it the last rose of summer until I saw all the buds surrounding it. It’s a beautiful thing but unfortunately it has no scent. Plant breeders will often sacrifice scent in favor of larger, more colorful blooms but give me an old fashioned cabbage rose any day. I grew up with them and they had a marvelous scent that I’ve never forgotten.

Annual fleabane (Erigeron annuus) is an easy flower to ignore and I’m often guilty of doing so, maybe because it’s so common and I see it everywhere all through the summer, from June to October. At this time of year it would be easy to mistake annual fleabane for an aster if the fleabanes didn’t start blooming so much earlier. There’s also the fact that they just don’t have the “aster look” when you see the entire plant. There can sometimes be 40-50 small, half inch flowers blooming at the same time.

The white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is a plant that is so loaded with small white flowers along its stems that it doesn’t look as if you could fit one more on it. For that reason it has another common name; the many flowered aster.

There are many asters that look alike and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids, so they can be hard to identify. One of the features that help with the identity of the heath aster is how it has nearly every inch of free stem covered by a blossom, all of them on the sunny side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmown fields and pastures.

White heath aster blossoms are fairly small; 1/4 to 1/2 inch across at best. Asters were burned by the Greeks to drive away serpents, and the Romans put wreaths made of aster blossoms on alters to the gods. In this country Native Americans used asters in sweat baths.

Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) should have stopped blooming quite a while ago but every now and then I stumble on a plant still in bloom. Since it’s one of my favorites I had to get another photo of it. These little beauties get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun.

Phlox still blooms here and there but it’s about time to say goodbye to these beauties for another year. Late summer wouldn’t be the same without them. Native Americans used phlox medicinally to heal sores and burns. They were among the first wildflowers in the United States to be collected and exported back to Europe, where they became very popular.

I saw a large swath of yellow from quite far away and I supposed it was a large colony of Jerusalem artichokes or one of the other native Helianthus species, but as I got closer I could see by the leaves that I was wrong. I’d been by this area many times and had never seen these plants but this time I saw a sign that said the area was a wetland restoration project, and warned me not to harm the plants or wildlife.

The yellow flowers, many hundreds of them, turned out to belong to the long-bracted tickseed sunflower (Bidens polylepis.) This plant likes wet feet and partial shade and is considered a wetland indicator. It is said to be of special value to native bees and is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of them. It is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year and is a native, but I wondered if it had been planted since I’ve never seen it. In any event it’s a native plant with a beautiful flower so it doesn’t really matter how it got here. Native Americans used the plant to treat fevers and I’ve read that it can produce natural dyes in brown and orange. I’m going to have to return next spring and summer to see what else might grow here.

Our indigenous herbalists say to pay attention when plants come to you; they’re bringing you something you need to learn. ~Robin Wall Kimmerer

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