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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Tobacco’

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

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1. Trail Start

July ended much as we’d expect it to; sunny and hot. But after a month or more of hot rainless days everyone, especially farmers, is hoping for rain. The weather people said that rain showers would pass through last Friday night and we did get a little, so on Saturday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I was hoping that a few showers might help some mushrooms grow because it was about this time last year that I saw a beautiful violet coral fungus, easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in nature. The above photo shows the start of the trail between two dry stone walls. If I was a farmer in the 1700s and I wanted my cows to follow a certain path I would have built walls on either side of it too.

2. Hole Under Wall

There was a hole dug recently under one of the walls. It looked plenty big enough for a family of bobcats but I didn’t see any signs of activity.

3. Meadow

There is a meadow here, made when the town decided to clear cut a large swath of forest. I find many wildflowers here that I don’t see anywhere else, like slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) and Canada St. Johnswort (Hypericum canadense.) Two different native lobelias grow here as well, pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) and Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) This spot has seen full sun and 90 degree F weather for quite a while now, and only the toughest can take it.

4. Lobelia Blossom

I keep trying to explain in words how small some of the flowers are that appear in these posts but a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took a photo of a lobelia flower sitting on a penny. It is from an Indian tobacco plant, which is one that appeared in my last post. A penny is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.

5. Trail

As much as I’d like to I can’t stay in the meadow all day, so up we go.

6. Fairy Stools

There will be stops along the way so I can catch my breath and admire things like these fairy stool mushrooms (Coltricia cinnamomea.) They are very tough, leathery little things that seem to have shrugged off the lack of rain. I like their concentric rings. Their cap is usually very flat and with their central stems they remind me of tiny café tables.

7. Sapsucker Holes

Bark full of tell-tale holes from a yellow bellied sapsucker were about all that was left of a birch log. Many other birds, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.

8. Unknown Fungi

A cluster of young fungi grew on the birch log. I’m not sure of their name but I was surprised to see them. It’s been dry enough to make mushrooms a rare thing this year.

9. Starflower Seed Pod

The starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have gone to seed and this tiny seed pod was just opening, as you can see by the hole at the top. These chalky white seedpods are so small that this one would have fit inside the lobelia flower that we saw earlier with room to spare. I like how they look like miniature soccer balls.

10. Pixie Cups and British Soldier

Other small things along the way were these red British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing with some trumpet like pixie cups (Cladonia pyxidata). Lichens like water so I was surprised to see that these examples looked so fresh.

11. Trail Top

The trail at the bottom of Mount Caesar starts out as bedrock and that’s also how it ends. This mountain is really just a huge mound of solid granite with a thin coating of soil covering it.

12. View

The views were what I expected them to be; hazy on such a hot, humid day.  I had hoped there would be a cooling breeze up here but hardly a leaf stirred. Not only that but the lack of shade made it feel even hotter than it did down below.

13. Earthworks

Off in the distance on another hill I saw a large sand pit that I’ve never noticed before. Swanzey is built on sand and gravel and digging it up to use elsewhere is thriving business. Surely an operation as big as this one has been there for a while, but I’ve never seen it.

14. Monadnock

Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey could be seen through the haze. At 3, 165 feet its summit rises another 2,203 feet higher than where I was standing. It was much too hot to even think about climbing that one but I’d bet that there was a cool breeze up there.

15. Rocking Stone

Everyone in this area has heard of Tippin rock, the forty ton glacial erratic that sits on the top of Hewe’s hill one mile to the south, but I doubt many have heard of the rocking stone that sits on the top of Mount Caesar. I’ve seen this big stone many times but hadn’t really paid much attention to it until a friend sent me a photo from 1895 with a caption calling it the rocking stone. It’s probably about a quarter the size of tippin rock but I didn’t try to rock it.

16. Mount Caesar

I was surprised to see a building along with the stone in the old photo with a caption calling it “the pavilion.” I wonder how many teams of horses or oxen were needed to get all that lumber to the summit, and I also wonder why a building was even needed up there. It looked old in 1895 so it must have been there a while. There was no air conditioning then so maybe people climbed to the summit hoping to find relief from the heat by sitting in the shade of the pavilion.  Maybe they had picnics up there; picnics were popular then. Or maybe they were tired of getting caught in thunderstorms and built a shelter, I don’t really know. I don’t even know who “they” would have been. I wandered all over the summit, using the shape of the stone as a guide, but I couldn’t find a trace of the building. Not a board, not a nail, nothing. Time has erased it completely.

17. Blueberries

I’m sure that people must have climbed these hills to pick the blueberries in 1895 as they still do, but I hope they had better luck than I did. It’s so dry up here this year they’re turning into hard, withered stones.

18. Toadskin

I couldn’t leave without a visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) Their gray color told how dry and potato chip crisp they were but lichens are nothing if not patient, and they will sit here for eons if need be, waiting for rain. Some show an entire solar system on their faces and how fitting that is.; lichens have been flown into space and have survived more than two weeks in the void, leading many to believe that they are immortal.

19. Toadskin close

Toadskin lichens have warts called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. The black dots are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) which are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just take the time to look a little closer.

20. Fan Clubmoss

 I never did find the beautiful violet coral fungus that I hoped to see but I saw many other things that made this climb worthwhile, including this fan club moss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) that grew into double hearts.

May your dreams be larger than mountains, and may you have the courage to scale their summits. ~Harley King

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1. Monkey Flower

Monkey see, monkey do, but I don’t see a monkey in you. Someone must have seen a smiling monkey’s face when they looked at this flower though, because that’s how the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) got its common name. This plant has a square stem and that’s how it comes by another common name: square stemmed monkey flower. It gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and isn’t all that common. I know of only two places where it grows.

2. Monkey Flower

I’m still not seeing a monkey. All I see is a beautiful little flower that is whispering summer’s passing.

3. Bugle Weed

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify. In fact, I’m never 100% sure that I’ve gotten it right.

4. Bugle Weed

The tiny flowers of northern bugleweed are about 1/8 inch long and tubular with 4 lobes, a light green calyx with 5 teeth, 2 purple tipped stamens, and a pistil. They are also very difficult to photograph because they’re so small. The plant is usually about knee high when I find it along the edges of ponds and streams. They often fall over and grow at an angle if there aren’t any other plants nearby to support them. Several Native American tribes used the tuberous roots of bugleweed as food.

5. Yellow Sorrel

Native common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is unusual because it grows in woods or meadows and I see it in both. It’s considered a weed by many and is largely ignored by most, but it’s a very interesting plant. Its raw leaves can be chewed as a thirst quencher if you forgot to bring water on your hike. The native American Kiowa tribe called it “salt weed” and used it that way for long walks. Its seed capsules can also be chewed but they can also explode when mature and can fling seeds up to 13 feet away. They are said to be tart with a flavor similar to rhubarb. The plant is high in vitamin C and it can be pressed to make a passable vinegar substitute.

6. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is a goldenrod that’s easy to identify because of its long slender, willow like leaves and its pleasant, vanilla like fragrance that is impossible to describe. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf. It is also called flat topped goldenrod.

7. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod

Insects of all kinds swarm over slender fragrant goldenrod and you have to be careful that you aren’t going to inhale one when you smell it.

8. Teaberry

My grandmother taught me a lot about plants and the one she started with was one of our native wintergreens that she called checkerberry. I call it teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens) and if you’ve ever chewed Clark’s Teaberry Gum you know exactly what the plant’s small red berries taste like. The fragrance of the oil is unmistakable and can be recognized immediately in toothpaste, mouthwash, pain relievers, etc. Another name for it is American wintergreen. Its evergreen leaves were once chewed to relieve pain because they contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin, and anyone allergic to aspirin should leave it alone. As the photo shows teaberry’s blossoms look a lot like tiny blueberry blossoms. The plants are having a good year; I’ve never seen so many blossoms on teaberry plants.

9. Tansy

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. Tansy is a natural insect repellent and was used as such in colonial times. Dried tansy added to the straw in mattresses was said to keep bedbugs away. Most tansy plants are seen in gardens but it had naturalized itself in New England by 1785 and can still be occasionally found growing along roadsides. It’s a good plant to use in vegetable gardens for pest control. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

10. Field Milkwort

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 usually do.

11. Field Milkwort

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.

12. Indian Tobacco

I’ve shown 2 or 3 small lobelias with blue / purple flowers over the past few flower posts and here is another one. 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.

13. Indian Tobacco

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.

14. Coneflower

This purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seems to have dressed in the dark and thrown on any old thing. Its petals were all different sizes and one or two seemed to be missing, but at least they were all the same color. If the butterflies and bees don’t mind then I don’t suppose I should either. Purple cone flower is 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, 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. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

15. Helborine

Broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore.

Scientists have discovered that the nectar of broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the intoxicating orchid for the buzz.

16. Steeplebush

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.

17. Steeplebush

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.

18. Red Sandspurry

The beautiful little flowers of red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) are hard for me to see because they’re so small, so I take photos of them so I can see them better. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s and it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.  I’m not sure where the red in the common name comes from. I wonder if the person who named it was colorblind.

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.  ~Vincent Van Gogh

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1. Mum

There aren’t many garden flowers that say fall in New Hampshire like the chrysanthemum. The trouble is even though they’re sold as “hardy mums” few can survive our kind of winter cold and most will die. This one was given to me by a friend many years ago and despite having no special care whatsoever has survived winters when the temperature fell to 30 and 35 below zero F (-34 to -37 C.) Purple and white seem to be the hardiest of all the chrysanthemums.  Frost won’t hurt this one; it will bloom right up until a freeze.

2. Sweet Everlasting

Sweet everlasting’s (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. This example had a fully open flower which is something I don’t see that often. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers. An odd name for this plant is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

3. Indian Tobacco

Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) looks like a fragile flower but it can take quite a lot of frost and the small pea sized blossoms can be seen until late in the season. It gets its common name from its swollen seed pods that are said to look like the tobacco pouches that Native Americans carried.  There doesn’t seem to be any records of Native Americans smoking it but it can make you very sick and they used it as an emetic. Burning the dried leaves is said to keep insects away but burning just about anything usually keeps insects away, so I’m not sure what that would prove for the plant.

4. Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) blooms earlier in the season then rests a bit and blooms again in the fall. The plant has more common names than any other that I can think of and one of them, bad man’s plaything, makes me laugh every time I see a yarrow plant. I can’t imagine how it came by such a name but it could have happened thousands of years ago; yarrow is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow 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.

5. Yellow Toadflax

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is considered an invasive species but I don’t see it that often and I was surprised to see it blooming so late in the year. When the plant is grown under cultivation its flowers are used as cut flowers and are said to be long lasting in a vase. It has been used medicinally in Europe and Asia. It always reminds me of snapdragons.

6. Bee on Aster

New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) and other asters are popular with bees right now but something I noticed last year seems to be true this year as well; the bees visit the lighter colored flowers far more than the darker ones. That could explain why I don’t see the darker colored ones that often, but I wonder why bees would prefer one over the other.

7. Dark NE Aster

This is the darkest colored New England aster I’ve seen this year and though it was blooming profusely there wasn’t a bee on it.

8. Heath Aster

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. 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.

9. Bumblebee on Heath Aster

Bumblebees preferred the small flowers of the heath aster on this day and the plants were covered with them. They were moving very slowly though, and instead of flying crawled from flower to flower.  Our bee season, like our flower season, is coming to an end.

10. Wild Radish

I’ve seen many wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) flowers growing alongside corn fields but I’ve never seen one with such pronounced veins in its petals. Maybe the cold brings them out. Honey bees love these flowers. They can be white, purple, light orange or pale sulfur yellow. Photos I’ve seen of the white version also show pronounced veins in the petals. Wild radish is in the mustard family and is sometimes confused with wild mustard (Brassica kaber,) but that plant doesn’t have hairy stems like wild radish.

11. Dandelion

I’m not sure what’s going on with dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) but I’ve seen very few of them over the last two seasons. I used to see them virtually everywhere I went but I had to look for several days to find one for this blog last spring. I stumbled onto the one shown here. It seems very strange that they’d suddenly disappear, or could I somehow just not be noticing them? Is anyone else seeing fewer of them, I wonder?

12. Phlox

Though phlox seems to me more like a summer than a fall flower many of them will bloom until we see a hard frost. This purplish one was seen in a park so I think it’s a cultivar rather than a native plant, but we do have native purple phlox so I could be wrong. It was a spot of color that grabbed my attention and I was happy to see it, so I thought it needed to have its picture taken.

13. Vetch

Since I like the color blue so much it’s hard not to like vetch, even though it is invasive and is probably responsible for more than a few gray hairs on this head. Once it gets in a garden it is close to impossible to eradicate by pulling alone, and I know that because I tried many times in many gardens over the years. It’s especially annoying when it gets into shrubs. I think this example is hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa,) which was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire.

14. Witch Hazel

Though I’ve seen dandelions blooming in a mild January witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is usually our latest blooming flower. Oddly enough the spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) are among our earliest flowers, so this shrub has both ends of the season covered. Both are called winter bloom because they bloom so close to that season. My father always had a bottle of witch hazel lotion handy, and this plant reminds me of him. Today’s witch hazel lotion recipe might have come down from Native Americans, who used the plant to treat skin irritation in the same way it is used to this day.

I wanted to know the name of every stone and flower and insect and bird and beast. I wanted to know where it got its color, where it got its life – but there was no one to tell me. ~George Washington Carver

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1. Meadow Flowers

The beauty and abundance of high summer are upon us here in southwestern New Hampshire and the meadows once again look like they’ve been painted by Monet himself.

2. Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) has just started blooming and is a common late summer sight in the meadows. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area.

Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I just read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person name.

4. Monkey Flower

No matter how often I look at this flower I don’t see a smiling monkey face but whoever named the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) did. This plant has a square stem and that’s how it comes by another common name: square stemmed monkey flower. It gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and isn’t all that common.

5. Monkey Flower

I’m still not seeing a monkey. All I see is a beautiful little flower that is whispering summer’s passing.

6. Thimbleweed

Tall thimbleweed’s (Anemone virginiana) white flower sepals don’t seem to last very long. Every time I see them they have either turned green or are in the process of doing so, like these appear to be. There are usually plenty of yellowish stamens surrounding a center head full of pistils though. The seed head continues growing after the sepals have fallen off and it becomes thimble shaped, which is where the common name comes from. These flowers are close to the diameter of a quarter; about an inch.

7.Thimbleweed Seed Head

Thimbleweed’s thimble shaped seed head looks prickly but it isn’t. It will eventually turn into a mass of fluffy white seeds. There is another plant called thimble berry, but that is the purple flowering raspberry; a completely different plant.

8. Indian Tobacco

The last time I did a flower post I showed an example of pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) but here is another lobelia that blooms at the same time and is easy to confuse with it. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) There are several ways to tell the two plants apart but I just look for the inflated seedpods. This is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen.

9. Indian Tobacco Seed Pods

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.

10. Helleborine Orchid

I recently found the largest clump of broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) that I’ve seen. This orchid is originally from Europe and Asia and was first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. It has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year. Its leaves are deeply pleated like those of false hellebore and I wonder if that is how it comes by its common name.

11. Helleborine Orchid

Scientists have discovered that the nectar of broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they get so stoned they want to stay around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. After the insect has staggered around for a while it will clumsily fly off, most likely oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for giving it a good buzz.

12. Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain Foliage

I didn’t know what kind of trouble I was getting myself into when I started finding Goodyeara orchids. There are about 800 different species and telling them apart can be tricky because they cross pollinate and create natural hybrids. I think the example in the above photo is a checkered rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara tesselata) because of its small size, dull blue gray leaf surface, faint leaf markings, and the way its flowers appear randomly arranged on the stalk. These leaves look fragile but they’ll remain green throughout winter.

13. Chechered Rattlesnake Plantain Flower Spike

If nothing else these tiny orchid flowers are teaching me a thing or two about flower photography. After trying and failing three or four times to get a useable shot of the flower spike I took a tip from my orchid books and tried propping a piece of black artist’s foam core board behind it. Much to my surprise it worked fairly well. But that’s another thing to carry into the woods and I don’t have any empty hands left, so I won’t be making a habit of it. This flower spike was about 6 inches tall.

14. Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain Flowers

The lip of a checkered rattlesnake plantain orchid flower is wider than that of other rattlesnake orchids and has a shorter tip that makes it look like the spout of a teapot according to orchid books, but they remind me more of short, fat turtlehead flowers (Chelone glabra.) Each flower is very hairy and small enough to hide behind a pea, and their petals and sepals spread outward. Checkered rattlesnake plantain is said to be a hybrid of giant rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara oblongifolia,) and dwarf rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara repens.)

I’ve noticed that there is a lot of erroneous information online regarding these orchids so if you find one and would like to identify it I’d advise using a good, reliable orchid identification guide. I list two that I use in the “Books I use” section of this blog.

15. Dwarf St. Johnswort

Tiny little dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is still blooming. I tucked a quarter down into it to give some idea of just how small it is. I usually find this plant growing in the muddy soil at the edge of ponds but I just saw a few growing quite high and dry on the riverbank. Its flowers aren’t much bigger than a pencil eraser but there are usually a lot of them so it’s an easy plant to find.

16. Liatris

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susans and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden.

17. Tall Lettuce

The pale yellow flowers of tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted by red or pink on their edges. This native lettuce can reach 10 feet tall and has clusters of small, 1/4 inch flowers at the top of the stalks. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even the leaves on the same plant looking different from each other. The milky white sap of this plant contains lactucarium and is still used in medicines today.

18. Blue Lettuce-2

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) doesn’t get quite as tall as tall lettuce in this area but it has the same size flowers, which are ice blue instead of greenish yellow. Sometimes they can be quite dark and other times almost white and grow in a cluster at the very top of the plant. Tall blue lettuce is easily confused with tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) when it isn’t blossoming, but tall blue lettuce has hairy leaves and tall lettuce doesn’t. Native Americans had medicinal uses for both of these plants.

19. Tall Rattlesnake Root

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) is also called white lettuce but, though it blossoms at the same time as wild lettuces and often right beside them, it really isn’t a lettuce. It’s in the aster family and is unusual because of its bell shaped, lily like flowers; most asters have ray and disc florets like the dandelion. The Prenanthes part of the scientific name comes from the Greek words “prenes,” meaning drooping and “anthos,” meaning blossom. Alba means white, and white drooping blossoms are exactly what we see.  The plant was thought to be an antidote for rattlesnake bite to Native American Cherokee and Iroquois tribes and that’s how it comes by its common name.

There is so much beauty in the world, but you must allow yourself to see it. ~Tom Giaquinto

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1. Bumblebee on Goldenrod

Here in southwestern New Hampshire we don’t see many wildflowers in October, but every now and then you can find a stray something or other still hanging on. The bumblebee on this goldenrod (Solidago) was moving but very slowly and looked more like it was hanging on to the flower head rather than harvesting pollen. Bumblebees I’ve heard, sleep on flowers, so maybe he was just napping. The thought of a bee sleeping in or on a flower seems very pleasing to me, for some reason.

2. New England Aster with Agapostemon splendens

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are late bloomers but even they aren’t seen much after mid-October. This one had what I think is a halictid bee on it. They are also called sweat bees. At first I thought it was a hoverfly, but the long antennas changed my mind. He flew off immediately after this shot was taken, so there was no time for study.

3. Panicled Aster

Aster identification can be difficult but I think this one was a panicled aster (Aster simplex.) I don’t see too many large white asters at this time of year.

4. False Dandelion

I’m not sure what is going on with dandelions in this area but I’ve seen very few this year. On the other hand, I’ve seen false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) almost everywhere I’ve been. If you look at just the flowers this plant might be confused with hawkweed, but its leaves are very different and look more like small dandelion leaves.

5. Lobelia

The small violet blossoms of Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) have just a hint of yellow on the inside and are quite cold hardy. We’ve had two or three light frosts and the example in the photo continues to bloom in my yard. The plant gets its common name from the way its seed pods are said to resemble the tobacco pouches carried by Native Americans. They did smoke it, but medicinally to treat respiratory and muscle disorders, and as a purgative.

 6. Lowbush Blueberry

I was surprised to see this lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) blooming so late in the year. Even its berries should have come and gone by now. Something had been munching on its leaves.

7. Nasturtium

I found this nasturtium in a friend’s garden. A little white hoary alyssum (Berteroa incana) leaned in to whisper encouraging words to the nasturtium while it was having its photo taken, and it stayed perfectly still the whole time.

8. Wild Cucumber Blossoms

Another surprise was this wild cucumber vine (Echinocystis lobata) still flowering and producing fruit. Apparently the male flowers aren’t as delicate as they look. One of the mysteries of nature for me is why this plant has so many male flowers when there is only a single female flower at the base of each flower stalk. Another mystery is why I keep forgetting to get a photo of that female flower.

9. Yellow Sorrel

Common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is often confused with clover but clover has oval leaflets rather than the heart shaped ones like those seen in this photo. Yellow wood sorrel’s three leaflets close up flat at night and in bright sunshine, and for that reason it is also called sleeping beauty or sleeping molly. The flowers also close at night. The stricta part of the scientific name means “upright” and refers to the way the plant’s seedpods bend upwards from their stalks.

10. Red Clover

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) likes cool weather and blooms right up until a hard freeze, even though there are few insects left to pollinate it. Red clover makes excellent hay and silage and increases the quality of grass pastures, and that is most likely the reason it was introduced by colonists in the late 1700s.

11. Witch Hazel

Our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) starts blooming sometimes as early as mid-September, so seeing it isn’t a great surprise. What is surprising is how I’m finding it growing in so many different places.  It’s doing well this year and each plant is loaded with blossoms. The “hama” part of the plant’s scientific name means “at the same time” and is used because you can see leaves, flowers, and the prior year’s fruit all at once on the same plant. During warm winters I’ve seen witch hazel bloom as late as mid-January.

12. Sweet Everlasting

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is living up to its name by still going strong.  Actually, the common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. An odd name for this plant is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. It was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people.

13. Ox Eye Daisy

I never expected to see an ox-eye daisy blooming in October but that’s one of the great things about nature study; there is always another surprise right around the next bend. I’m always grateful to be able to see and smell flowers but even more so in October because it is then, when they really shouldn’t be blooming, that I remember what a great gift they are.

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

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1. Dark Aster

This dark colored aster was caught in the act of unfurling its petals. I think that New England asters have several natural color variants from light to dark purple, and even pink. This shade is my personal favorite.

 2. Blue Stemmed Goldenrod aka Solidago caesia

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod are blue because they are coated with a waxy “bloom” much like a grape, plum, or blueberry.  Quite often though, the blue coloring will have weathered away and the stem will be green, so it’s best to look for the little tufts of flowers that appear in the leaf axils on a usually horizontal stem. Zigzag goldenrod also blooms in the leaf axils but it has much larger, rounder leaves.

3. Blue Stemmed Goldenrod aka Solidago caesia

This photo shows a closer look at the blue stem. Blue stemmed goldenrod can stand quite a lot of shade and I often find it in places that get only morning sun.

4. Indian Tobacco

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. I think it should be called Catch me if you can because 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.

 5. Beech Drops

Beech drops (Epifagus Americana) is another plant that is hard to photograph, but only because it grows in deep shade under beech trees. It’s a parasite that fastens onto the roots of the beech using structures called haustoria and takes all of its nutrients from the tree, so it doesn’t need leaves or chlorophyll. These plants are annuals that die off in cold weather.

6. Beech Drop Closeup

Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish stripe are the only things found on beech drop stems. On the lower part of the stems are flowers that never have to open because they self-fertilize. They are known as cleistogamous flowers. On the upper part of the stem are tubular Chasmogamous flowers, which open and are pollinated by insects. There isn’t much known about which insects pollinate this plant but in almost every photo I’ve seen of it the flowers are draped in webs.

7. Johnny Jump Up

Cheery little Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have suddenly appeared at the edge of my lawn. Every time we admire a pansy we have this plant to thank, because all of today’s pansies came from it.  The word pansy comes from the French pensée, which means thought or reflection. I’m not sure what thought has to do with it but folklore tells us that, if the juice from the plant is squeezed onto the eyelids of a sleeping person, they will fall in love with the next person that they see. Another name for it is love in idleness, and it can be found in its love potion form in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

8. Pink Turtlehead

Some see a turtlehead when they look at these flowers and that’s how they got their common name. I find the white ones, called Chelone glabra, in nature and the pink ones pictured here grow in my garden. Their name is Chelone oblique and they are sold in nurseries now. Pink turtleheads are a tough, very pretty, late summer / early fall perennial that prefers afternoon shade and needs absolutely no care at all. I planted mine many years ago and have done nothing to it since except remove the dead stems.

9. Soapwort Flowers

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) gets its common name from the way it produces lather when the roots or flowering stems are added to water. It gets soapy enough to be used to wash clothes and another common name is bouncing bet, which is an old name for a washer woman. As the fragrant flowers age the white petals begin to curve backwards. I find it growing along river banks.

 10. Sweet Everlasting

Sweet everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium) is another plant that warns that fall is coming. Its common name comes from the way it holds its scent for years after drying. Some say that, even after it has been dried for a long time, the plants will suddenly release a burst of scent as if they had just been picked. Sweet everlasting was an important medicinal plant for Native Americans, who used it to treat asthma and other lung ailments. To this day it is often used by herbalists for the same purpose.

 11. Sand Joint Weed

Just as its common name implies, sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) grows in sand, and I find it growing in very hot, dry sand where only the toughest plants grow. It stands about a foot tall and have thin, wiry stems and tiny white, pink, or rarely red flowers. The leaves are also very small and lie against the stem, making the plant appears leafless. The plant gets the second part of its common name from the odd way that the stems are jointed.

 12. Sand Joint Weed

I put a penny in the sand and leaned a flowering stem of sand jointweed over it so you could get a sense of how small its flowers really are. I can’t say that this plant is the hardest to photograph that I’ve ever seen, but it has to be right up there in the top five. It’s a beautiful little thing though, and is worth the effort.

Flowers are the plant’s highest fulfillment, and are not here exclusively for herbaria, county floras and plant geography: they are here first of all for delight. ~John Ruskin

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