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Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Jump Ups’

Though I’ve seen nursery signs that read bee bomb, the correct name for this plant is bee balm (Monarda didyma,) probably because whoever named it thought it pacified bees. But it isn’t just bees that love it; hummingbirds will come from all over to visit its flowers. Bee Balm is also called horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot. The Native American Oswego tribe (Iroquois) showed early colonists how to make tea from bee balm leaves, so it has been called Oswego tea ever since. Its leaves are also used as an ingredient in other teas as well, and they can still be found in many stores. Many Native American tribes also used this plant medicinally. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew.  

I was very surprised to see a native blue flag (Iris versicolor) blooming in July, but there it was. This iris usually blooms in April and May but plants seem to be doing odd things this year. These plants love water and near water is where I always find them. There is also a southern blue flag (Iris virginica.)

Another very odd thing I’ve noticed this year is how Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have been blooming continuously since March.

And I’m not just seeing a single plant with blossoms. I’m seeing many plants and hundreds of blossoms. This spring bloomer usually disappears in the heat of summer and re-appears in the fall but this year it is blooming right through one of the hottest, driest summers we’ve had in years. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant and the flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. The word pansy comes from the French pensée, which means thought or reflection.

I’ve seen a lot of white campion flowers but something told me to look closely at this one and when I did I saw something curious; it looked like a double blossom, with one flower growing over another. The petals on a white campion are split so what might look like 2 petals are actually one, but I took that into account and still counted 7 petals in all. If you look up white campion you find that it is supposed to have 5 petals, so that shows that flowers don’t read the flower identification guides. By the way, you can see that this is a female flower by the way its 5 elongated styles curl out over the central collar.

A side view shows how the petals were arranged over or on top of each other. Maybe this happens all the time, but I’ve never seen it. In the end I have to suppose that flowers can have as many petals as they want but to grow more petals they have to sacrifice something else, and that is often their reproductive parts like stamens.

I once thought that this plant was the only example of panicled trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) I had ever seen but then I found that I had misidentified them. Though the long thin shape of its flower head is correct the flowers are not.

After quite a lot of searching I’m not finding this one in my guide books or online under trefoil or Desmodium so now I’m wondering if it even is a trefoil. It’s definitely in the pea / bean family but that’s as far as I can go. It’s quite pretty and grows along a roadside in full sun. Each plant is probably about 3 feet tall but they lean on surrounding plants and each other so they’re all in a jumble. If you happen to know its name I’d love for you to let me know.

Native Rhododendron maxima (Rhododendron maxima) have reached the northernmost point of their growth here and there are very few of them in the area except for a pocket in Fitzwilliam New Hampshire, in a place called Rhododendron State Park. So rare is a place like it, it was designated a national Landmark in 1982.

This native rhododendron isn’t like others; its beautiful white to pink blooms appear in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since the first settlers came here. 

The big plants tower overhead in places and in a good year the white blossoms are everywhere you look. Anyone who loves rhododendrons or serious collectors of the shrubs should definitely see this.

Common quick weed (Galinsoga quadriradiata) comes from Mexico originally and how it happens to be in New Hampshire is a mystery. It is also called hairy galinsoga and is considered a weed even in its native range. It is said to be able to reduce crop yields by as much as half if left unchecked. The small flowers are about 3/8 of an inch wide and have five white ray florets widely spaced around the tiny yellow center disk florets. Another common name for the plant is shaggy soldier because of the very hairy stems. I almost always find it near vegetable gardens.

Purple loosestrife is an invasive plant that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures but though it is much hated you can’t deny its beauty. A field of loosestrife and goldenrod is a truly beautiful scene.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a tiny flowered native plant that likes to grow at the water’s edge in sandy soil. Dwarf St. John’s Wort’s foliage usually looks untouched by insects or animals because it is slightly toxic. Each flower has 5 petals and 5 light green sepals and is about the size of a pencil eraser. Though very small the flowers of Canada St. John’s Wort (Hypericum canadense) are even smaller; about half the size of these.

I find pretty gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) growing in a local garden. The plant is a fast spreading perennial in the primrose family. It originally comes from China and Japan where it grows in moist mountain meadows, near streams and along roadways. It is considered very invasive and Its extensive root system is what makes it so invasive. It can form colonies that choke out other plants but the good news is that it spreads by its roots rather than by seed, so it gets no help from birds.

Tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) can reach 10 feet tall, towering above other plants in the area. This makes it easy to see but sometimes it’s not so easy to get a good photo of. 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. Though it can reach 10 feet tall its flowers are very small; no more than a 1/4 inch across, and appear in loose clusters at the top of wiry stalks. Native Americans used the plant for pain relief, as a stimulant, and for calming the nerves. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium, which has narcotic and sedative properties. It is still used in medicines today but should be used with caution because overdoses can cause death.

If you find this plant growing near water it’s best to maybe take a photo and pass it by because it is one of the deadliest plants known. In 1992 two brothers went searching the woods of Maine for American ginseng. After finding what they thought was ginseng, they ate part of the root. The younger brother became violently ill within 30 minutes and died in an emergency room less than 3 hours later. The older brother suffered through seizures and delirium, but lived. The brothers were 23 and 39 years old; old enough to know better than to eat unidentified plant roots. The root they had eaten was that of the water hemlock (Cicuta maculata.)

Water hemlock is in the Carrot family (Apiaceae) like Queen Anne’s lace and the root, which reportedly “smells delicious,” like a parsnip, can be mistaken for a wild carrot or parsnip. The lower stems are hollow and the white flower clusters, called umbels, are made up of small 1/8″ flowers with 5 petals and 5 stamens. The plant grows in moist places; usually near streams and ponds, and blooms in July and August. Water hemlock is closely related to poison hemlock (Conium maculatum,)  which is generally believed to be the poison that Socrates drank. Water hemlock is every bit as deadly and is listed by the USDA as the most violently toxic plant in North America. It grows in all but 2 states and is quite common.

The stem of the plant is smooth and hollow and often purple striped or spotted. It shouldn’t be broken because it contains toxic sap that can be absorbed through the skin. We should always remember to  teach children to never put any part of any plant in their mouth unless an adult is present. In this case even using the hollow stem as a pea shooter could be fatal.

When he went into the desert the singer of the song Horse With No Name by the band America says the first thing he met was a fly with a buzz. The question of where the fly got its buzz isn’t answered, but one of my theories is that it had visited a broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.)

The reason I think that is because the nectar of a broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects 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 orchid for the buzz it got from its nectar. Look at that little pencil eraser size cup full of what looks like caviar. What insect wouldn’t want to at least try a little taste?

Suddenly I realized
That if I stepped out of my body
I would break Into blossom.
~James Wright 

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It’s foxglove time here in New Hampshire and I love seeing the tall spikes full of tubular flowers. At one time the plant was called folksglove according to a list of plants from the time of Edward III (1312-1377,) because the flowers were “thought to be the gloves of the ‘good folk’ or fairies, who lived in the deep hollows and woody dells where the plants grew.”

Bees, especially honey bees, love the foxglove flower and after landing on the projecting lower lip of the blossom follow the nectar guide spots up into the blossom. These spots were said to be fairy fingerprints in King Edward’s time but really they just tell the bees where to go. Once at the top of the blossom the bee finds a ring of nectar but while crawling up to it, it has brushed against the little dangly bits you can see in this photo. Those are the pollen carrying anthers of the male stamens, which lie flat against the top of the tube, and the bee carries pollen from one blossom to another as it brushes against them. Once pollinated a single plant can produce up to two million dust like seeds.

A fallen blossom shows that the nectar guide spots don’t just lie on the inside surface of the flower.

I saw this fine display of coreopsis last week, but even thought the plant is known for its drought tolerance all the flowers were gone in days. There are about 80 species of coreopsis and many are native to the prairies of the U.S.

I thought the maiden pinks blooming at the feet of the coreopsis made for a beautiful scene.

Imagine a tree 100 feet high and 50 wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. This, one of our most beautiful trees, are loaded with big, orchid like blossoms right now. Each flower tube is big enough to easily put your finger in and I’d say the flowers must be at least 3 inches across. Soon long, thin seed pods will dangle from the branches. When I was a boy we always called catalpas string bean trees because that’s what the seed pods look like.

I think of Johnny jump ups as spring flowers because they like cool weather but I’m seeing quite a few of them in this hot, dry summer, including this pale example. Since the name Viola tricolor means three colors, I was surprised to see only white and yellow petals, but then I looked closely at the photo and saw just a hint of blue in those two upper petals.

Golden clover (Trifolium campestre) is an imported clover originally from Europe and Asia. It is also known as large trefoil and large hop clover. The plant was imported through Philadelphia in 1800 to be used as a pasture crop and now appears in most states on the east and west coasts and much of Canada, but it is not generally considered aggressively invasive. Each pretty yellow flower head is packed with golden yellow pea-like flowers. I see the plant growing along roadsides and in sandy waste areas.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. John’s day, and it was right on that day this year that I saw the first blooms. The plant’s healing properties have been well known since ancient times; the Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadsides growing in full sun.

The black dots on its yellow petals make St. John’s wort very easy to identify. They are tiny sacs that hold the plant’s essential oils and when they are crushed, a dark red oil will come from them. These essential oils are used in homeopathic remedies to treat everything from healing wounds to treating depression.

An important native food found here in New Hampshire is the cranberry. They grow in wet, boggy areas and despite the drought  I got my knees quite wet getting photos of them. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

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

I think of black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) as a fall flower so they always remind me that summer will end all too soon. They have such a long blooming period and are seen everywhere in the fall, and I suppose that’s why I think of them as I do. I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by. They’re native to the U.S. anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, and introduced west of them. I found these examples growing along the river bank and as I was taking their photo a rabbit ran out from behind them.

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

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. I almost always find it near water, as this plant was. It is another plant which for me marks summer’s passing.

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) have just started blooming and are commonly found along streams or on the edges of swamps.

Elderberry bushes are very common in this part of New Hampshire; common enough to be largely ignored, in fact. But, if you take the time to stop and really look at them you find that the large, flat flower heads are made up of hundreds of tiny, uncommonly beautiful flowers. Later in August each flower will have become a small purple berry so dark it is almost black.

Native spreading dogbane has small, light pink, bell shaped flowers that have deeper pink stripes on their insides. They are fragrant but their scent is hard to describe. Spicy maybe. This plant is pollinated by butterflies and the flowers have barbs inside that trap short tongued insects. That’s how it gets another of its common names: flytrap dogbane. Each flower is just big enough to hold a pea.

Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a perennial wildflower that looks like a shrub. It spreads by both seeds and underground stems and is considered a weed in some places. I find large colonies of it growing in sandy soil along sunny forest edges. The plant in related to milkweed and many species of butterflies rely on it.

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

Just in time for the 4th of July, tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) puts on its own fireworks display. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo. Every time Independence day comes around I know it’s time to watch for these and all of the other flowers in this post. Knowing when flowers bloom is a fun thing; they give you something beautiful to look forward to all summer long. There is an orchid with very beautiful flowers growing in a swamp that I am impatiently waiting to see. It should appear next week if all goes well.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

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I didn’t think I saw Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) until April but I checked back on previous blog posts and found that I did see them in bloom on March 28 once. Because of that I can say that this is the earliest one I’ve seen since doing this blog. The hardy little plants were introduced from Europe so long ago that they are thought to be native by many. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant. The flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. 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.

Not too many people have heard of this non-native, early blooming shrub called Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) but it hails from the Mediterranean regions and was well known to Ancient Greeks and Romans. Archeological digs show that it’s small, tart, cherry red fruits have been eaten by man for thousands of years. It has quite small bright yellow, four petaled flowers that bees absolutely love. The flowers aren’t spectacular but they are a sure sign of spring and I always check to see how they’re coming along. The bright yellow flower buds are just showing between the opening bud scales but it might still be 2 weeks before they’re in full bloom.

I thought I’d go and see how the red maple buds (Acer rubrum) were coming along and you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found flowers instead of buds. These are the female (pistillate) flowers of the red maple, just emerging. They are tiny little things; each bud is hardly bigger than a pea. Once the female flowers have been dusted by wind carried pollen from the male flowers they will begin the process of becoming the beautiful red seeds (samaras) that this tree is so well known for. If you’re lucky you can often find male and female flowers on the same tree. I didn’t see a single male bud open though, and I wasn’t surprised because maple flowers usually appear in April.

I thought I’d show you some ice baubles I saw at the river just before I saw the red maple flowers in the previous photo. It was about 36 degrees, which is why I was so surprised to find them in bloom.

Ice baubles usually display great symmetry but these were asymmetrical for some reason. Maybe they were melting.

It still snows occasionally, though the snow decorating this sugar maple was little more than a nuisance inch or so. I searched for the latest price of maple syrup and found a gallon of pure Vermont maple syrup for $68.95. I’m guessing it’s going to go up with an early spring.

And spring is indeed early.

Hairy bittercress plants (Cardamine hirsuta) are blooming. Cress is in the huge family of plants known as Brassicaceae. With over 150 species it’s hard to know what you’re looking at sometimes, but hairy bittercress is a common lawn weed that stays green under the snow and blooms almost as soon as it melts.

Hairy bittercress flowers can be white, pink or lavender and are very small; no bigger than Lincoln’s head on a penny. The plant is self-fertilizing and seed pods appear quickly. The seed pods will explode if touched or walked on and can fling the tiny seeds up to 3 feet away. Plants can form up to 1000 seeds, so if you have this plant in your lawn chances are good that you always will. Enjoy the flowers when there are few others blooming.

Over just the past few days alder catkins have taken on more color. They swell up and lengthen as the season progresses and the colors change to maroon and yellow-green. They sparkle in the sunlight and make the bushes look like someone has hung jewels from the branches. When they are fully opened and the tiny male blossoms start to release pollen I’ll look for the even smaller female flowers, which look like tiny threads of scarlet red.

The brown and purple scales on the alder catkins are on short stalks and there are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are covered in yellow pollen. These hadn’t quite opened yet but you can see how they spiral down their central flower stalk.

One of the smallest flowers that I know of is the female blossom of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana,) and they’ve just started blossoming.  The crimson thread-like bits are the stigmas of the female flowers, waiting for the wind to bring them some pollen from the golden male catkins. To give you a sense of just how small they are, the bud that the flowers grow from is about the size of a single strand of cooked spaghetti. They’re so small all I can see is their color, so the camera has to do the rest.

This photo shows two things; how windy it was and how the ice on our smaller ponds is melting back away from shore. Pond and lake ice melts at the shore first, while river and stream ice starts in the center of the flow and melts at the shore last. Wind helps melt ice.

The skunk cabbages seemed happy; I saw many of their mottled spathes. They come in maroon with yellow splotches or yellow with maroon splotches.

Inside the skunk cabbage’s spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. I could just see it in this open spathe.

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

This year it seems that everything is blooming at once, with wild flowers blooming early and garden flowers pretty much on time, so for a flower lover it’s a dream come true. I don’t think it’s unprecedented but it isn’t common either.

Some crocuses were just dipping their toes in, not sure if they should go all the way or not.

Others were somewhere in between. I like this one’s light pastel blush but you’d need hundreds of them to make any impact because they’re tiny at not even an inch across. There were only these two in this bed.

Snowdrop buds looked like tiny white Christmas bulbs. The old fashioned kind that I grew up with.

Vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) started blooming very early and it seems like they’ll go on for quite a while yet. I wish I could let you smell their fragrance. It’s one of the lightest, freshest, cleanest scents I’ve experienced in nature. Someone once said the flowers smelled like clean laundry just taken in from the line, but I can’t verify that. I have a dryer.

It won’t be long before we’re seeing daffodil blossoms.

Since I started with a Johnny jump up I might as well end with one. This one bloomed in Hancock while that first one bloomed in Keene. That illustrates the oddness of this spring, because flowers usually bloom in Keene before blooming in Hancock. That’s because Keene has a lot of pavement and is slightly warmer. In any case it’s always nice to see their beauty no matter where I am.

Listen, can you hear it?  Spring’s sweet cantata. The strains of grass pushing through the snow. The song of buds swelling on the vine. The tender timpani of a baby robin’s heart. Spring! ~Diane Frolov

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I thought I’d illustrate our weather by showing these grape hyacinths, which should be done blooming by now. I saw the first ones blooming just a little over a month ago. Other bulbs like tulips and daffodils are also still blooming so they must be enjoying the cool, damp weather.

Trees with white flowers are everywhere and this one happens to be an apple tree. I think many people are surprised to learn that apple trees are not native to the United States. They have all come from old world stock brought over in the 1600s. Apples from Europe were grown in the Jamestown colony and the first non-native apple orchard was planted in Boston in 1625. Only the crab apple is native to this country and they were once called “common” apples. The Native American Abenaki tribe called them “apleziz” and used them for food as well as medicinally.

But it doesn’t matter where apples come from, because the fragrance is wonderful. Apple blossoms were one of my grandmother’s favorites and I remember bringing her arm loads of flowering branches when I was a boy. They were all you could smell in her house for days after.

Few of us think of creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) as a wildflower but it is actually native to the forests of North America. It is sometimes called moss phlox or moss pinks and April’s “pink moon” got that name from the way the “moss pinks” bloom in that month. It’s a plant that loves growing in lawns and luckily it doesn’t seem to mind being mowed. Even so many people wait until it’s done blooming to do their first spring mowing.

Individual creeping phlox flowers are quite pretty but I doubt many people bother to look at them. They see the mass display but not the individuals responsible for it.

Pin cherry flowers (Prunus pensylvanica) are quite pretty and are pollinated by several kinds of insects. They become small, quarter inch bright red berries (drupes) with a single seed which are also called bird cherries. The berries are said to be very sour but edible and are used in jams and jellies, presumably with a lot of sugar. Native Americans used the berries in breads and cakes and also preserved them and ate them fresh. The bark of the tree was used medicinally for a large variety of illnesses including coughs, stomach pains and as a burn salve.

I can remember picking lilacs for my grandmother on Mother’s day but not this year. I’d guess that they’re close to two weeks late. So far this small flower head is the only one I’ve seen but that’s probably because of the cool wet weather. We had a dusting of snow yesterday morning so if it’s cold enough to snow it’s cold enough to keep those buds closed. This one was small in size but not in fragrance. It’s great to smell lilacs again.

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have jumped up almost over night. This beautiful dark one was the first I’ve seen. This wild form of the modern pansy has been known and loved for a very long time. It is said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heart’s ease and was used in love potions. Stranger names include “three faces in a hood.” Whatever it’s called I like seeing it appear at the edge of my lawn in spring. I always try to encourage it by letting it go to seed but it never seems to spread.

Just after many other magnolias lose their flowers this one with tulip shaped flowers starts blooming. Its name is “Jane” and though I’m not crazy about the flower shape I love its color. It’s later bloom time means less chance of damage by frost.

Vinca (Vinca minor) has come into full bloom now. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the plant’s wiry stems do. They grow quickly into an impenetrable wiry mat that other plants can’t grow through and I’ve seen large areas of nothing but vinca in the woods, still blooming beautifully 200 years after it was first planted. You can often find huge colonies of it near old cellar holes. Still, it is nowhere near as aggressive as many other invasive plants and people enjoy seeing its beautiful violet flowers in spring. Another name for it is Myrtle.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) is also called wild oats and the plants have just come into bloom. They are a spring ephemeral and won’t last but they do put on a show when they carpet a forest floor. They are a buttery yellow color which in my experience is always difficult to capture with a camera. The spring shoots remind me of Solomon’s seal but the plant is actually in the lily of the valley family.

The word “sessile” in the name describes how the leaves of a sessile leaved bellwort lie flat against the stem, with no leaf stalk. The leaves are also elliptic and are wider in the middle than they are on either end.

A forest floor carpeted with sessile leaved bellworts makes an unforgettable sight. Many tens of thousands of them grow along the Ashuelot River in Keene.

Dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) plants have three leaflets on each compound leaf and together form a whorl of three compound leaves around the stem. The plants are very small; each one would fit in a teacup with plenty of room to spare. Dwarf ginseng is very choosy about where it grows and will only grow in undisturbed ground in old hardwood forests. It is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine but it is quite rare in my experience, so it should never be picked.

Each dwarf ginseng flower head is about the size of a malted milk ball, or about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Individual flowers are about 1/8 inch across and have 5 bright white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. In a good year the flowers might last 3 weeks, and if pollinated will be followed by tiny yellow fruits.

Pulmonaria usually has green leaves splotched with silver but this one I saw in a local park must be a new hybrid. Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis) is an old fashioned but pretty evergreen garden plant that originally hails from Europe and Asia. The silver mottled leaves were once thought to resemble a diseased lung and so its common name became lungwort. People thought it would cure respiratory ailments like bronchitis and the leaves were and still are used medicinally in tinctures and infusions.

The leaves and flowers are edible, and if you’ve ever had vermouth you’ve had a splash of pulmonaria because it is one of the ingredients. The plant does well in shade and has flowers of blue, pink, white, purple and red.

I finally saw the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) blooming and thankfully Ii was a nice uneventful hike out to see them. I’ve found that my bear encounter of a couple of weeks ago has taken a lot of the shine off this hike. It’s hard to relax when you know you need to be on your guard.

But as always the columbines were beautiful and I lost myself in them for a while. I took shot after shot, trying to get the best view I could. Much like people flowers have a best side, and your job as a nature photographer is to find it. If you want to really see nature like you’ve never seen it before, look at it through a camera lens.

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. ~Dorothea Lange

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I’d like to take you for a little walk through December in New Hampshire so those who’ve never been here might know what it’s like. I’m going to start on December 9th, when I was taking photos of Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor.) As any gardener knows these pretty little flowers don’t mind a little cold but still, seeing them blooming in December is rare here.

Even rarer than Johnny jump ups blooming in December is forsythia blooming at any time beyond June, but I found one shrub blooming happily in the warm sunshine on the same day I saw the Johnny jump ups. And it wasn’t just a single blossom; this bush probably had 30-40 flowers on it. Whether or not it will bloom again in the spring like it should is anyone’s guess.

Flowers weren’t the only thing happily carrying on in the warmth; bright yellow lemon drop fungi (Bisporella citrina) decorated the end of a log. They look like tiny drops of sunshine sprinkled over logs and stumps, and are fairly common. Lemon drops are in the sac fungus family, which refers to their microscopic reproductive structures that resemble wineskins. There are over 64,000 different sac fungi, including ear and cup fungi, jelly babies, and the morel and false morel mushrooms.

Lemon drops start life as a tiny yellow disc and look as if they lie flat on the log, but they actually hover just above the surface on a short stalk. As they age each disc will become cup shaped. The citrina part of the scientific name comes from the Latin citrin, and means “lemon yellow.” They are very small; the smallest in this photo would be barely the size of a period made by a pencil on paper, so a hand or macro lens comes in handy.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) is a tease and always reminds me of spring, but it just lies under the snow all winter staying almost as green as it is here. Greater celandine was purposely introduced from Europe and is now considered an invasive plant but nobody really seems to mind it. When I was a boy we called it mustard because of the yellow sap that stained your hands, but it is in the poppy family and has nothing to do with mustard. The sap was once used to remove warts but science has found that it is toxic and can be extremely irritating, especially to the eyes and skin, so its use isn’t recommended.

Sweet little bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is the smallest member of the dogwood family that I know of here in New Hampshire. It gets its name from the bunches of red berries that appear after the flowers are pollinated, and I hoped to get some photos of them for you this year but they are apparently popular with the critters because they disappeared quickly. Instead all I can show is its pretty fall leaves. Bunchberry was an important plant to Native Americans. They made tea from it to treat colds and also dried the leaves for smoking. Ashes from the burned plants were used to treat sores and insect bites and the roots were ground and used to treat colic in infants. The plant has strong antiseptic, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties but I love it for its beautiful pure white, dogwood like blossoms.

I wish I could tell you what this is but I don’t know myself. I found several of them growing in damp, sandy soil in full sun and it says liverwort to me, but I can’t be sure. It is a low growing, flat on the ground plant. When I went back to look a little closer they had all curled up and died from the cold. At least I think so.  If you’ve seen them and know what they are I’d love to hear from you.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, so I wasn’t that surprised to see these blossoms in December. What the real surprise concerning witch hazels was this year was their lack of blossoms. Most of the shrubs that I know of didn’t bloom at all this year, and that’s very strange. In fact I only saw two or three shrubs out of hundreds blooming and I can’t guess what is holding them back, unless it was the unusually cool weather in August. Some Native American tribes steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in their sweat lodges to soothe aching muscles and others made tea from it to treat coughs. As is often the case Natives had a use for virtually every part of the plant and witch hazel is still in use today. It can be found as a lotion in almost any drugstore.

Since I was in the neighborhood I had to stop in to see the only plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) that I know of. It grows in an old stone wall and I like to see its crinkly, foot long evergreen leaves. Each leaf has a prominent midrib and a vein running on either side of it, and this makes identification very easy. I often come to see it in mid spring when it blooms. I wish I’d see more of them but so far in my experience this plant is quite rare here.

Heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) blooms in May and seems like a delicate little thing, but in reality it’s a very tough plant that stays green under the snow all winter. Some foamflower plants have leaves that turn pink and maroon but these examples stayed green. Like many plants that hold their leaves through winter, this year’s foliage will only brown and die back in spring, when new ones will appear. It is thought that some plants stay green in winter so they can get a jump on their competitors by photosynthesizing just a short time earlier. Foamflowers form dense mats of foliage and there is usually nothing else seen growing among them.

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) another of our native evergreens, goes by many other names but to me it will always be the checkerberry. Thanks to my grandmother, who had trouble getting up after keeling and so had me crawl around through the forest looking for its bright red berries, it was the first plant I learned to identify. We loved the minty, spicy flavor of the berries but coming up with only a handful was often difficult. The name checkerberry comes from the chequer tree, which is a mountain ash tree native to Europe and which is thought to have similar berries. From what I’ve seen though the only similarity is the color of the fruit. Oil of wintergreen can be distilled from the leaves of American wintergreen, and they also make a pleasant, minty tea. Native Americans would take a handful of the leaves with them on a hunt and nibble on them to help them breathe easier while running or carrying heavy game.

With a name like evergreen Christmas fern you probably wouldn’t be surprised to see this fern’s green leaves in winter, but these leaves did surprise me because they weren’t the deep green color that they usually have. They were a much paler, blanched green and this is something I’ve never seen before. I can’t even guess what would have caused this nearly indestructible fern to lose its color. Early colonials used to bring the fronds of this fern indoors in the winter, presumably to brighten what must have been a long, cold, dark period for them. If you look closely you can see that each leaf has a tiny “toe,” which makes it look like a Christmas stocking.

You would expect it to get cold in December and we weren’t too deep into the month when I started finding mushrooms like these brown ones frozen absolutely solid, but the cold that froze them was nothing compared to what was to come.

If you want to strike fear into the heart of even the crustiest New Englander just say the words “Ice storm.”  An ice storm coats absolutely everything in ice and as the ice builds up layer after layer on tree branches the branches and sometimes the whole tree will fall, and when they fall they usually take the already weighed down power lines with them. This leaves entire regions; sometimes millions of people, without electricity. Of course it is cold outside as well, and when you don’t have electricity to power your furnace, unless you have a woodstove or fireplace you have only two choices: move or freeze. I have no backup heat source, and all of these thoughts crossed my mind as I walked through the landscape on the morning of Christmas Eve day, right after an ice storm.

An ice storm can be both beautiful and terrible at the same time, but thankfully only a few thousand people lost their power this time and it was restored rather quickly. I’ve known people who have lost their power for close to a month after an ice storm and returned home only to find their house nearly destroyed by frozen and burst water pipes. I don’t think there is any weather event that we fear more.

The ice looked thick on all the trees but in reality was probably only about a quarter inch thick, which isn’t usually enough to cause much damage, thankfully.  Anything above that can mean trouble.

After the ice came about 5 inches of snow on Christmas morning, and this weighed the branches down even more because most of the ice was still on them. Still, though the Christmas tree lights blinked once or twice our power stayed on and I was able to cook our Christmas ham.

After the snow of Christmas day came the cold, and I do mean cold. Record breaking, dangerous cold settled in and hasn’t left yet, nearly a week later. As I write this I’m hoping I don’t wake to -16 °F again tomorrow as I did this morning, because you don’t go outside in that kind of cold, and it’s hard to chronicle what is happening in nature if you can’t get outside. In nearly eight years of writing this blog the weather has never stopped it, but this year could be different. I waited until it warmed to +14 ° and went out to take some photos, but an hour of that was all I could take. I must be getting old or maybe just tired of the cold; when I started this blog I could stay out most of the day if it was above 10 degrees but on this day it was more like work than fun.

But the cold can’t last forever; the earth will continue tilting toward the sun and spring will come once again. Meanwhile I’ll get outside when I can and if I can’t I might have to do a re-blog, which is something I’ve never done and don’t have the slightest idea how to do. It can’t be that hard.

If you’re wondering why I’m showing a photo of an old rock, it isn’t the rock I’m trying to show; it’s the skirt of ice it’s wearing. This stone is in the Ashuelot River and the river has frozen over from bank to bank in places. All I need to see is the river frozen over like that and I don’t need a thermometer to know it has been cold.

I see feathers all the time, but this is the first partridge feather I’ve ever seen. The partridge is an old world game bird that was introduced into the U.S. sometime around 1790. From what I’ve read it hasn’t been very successful here but it can do well on northern prairies and open farmland.  They forage in tall grass and whole flocks of them can often be very close but remain unseen, so that might help explain why I’ve never seen one. I hope they and all the other birds and animals survive this terrible cold. How they do so, I don’t know.

So that’s our look at December in New Hampshire. Maybe January will be warmer so we can all go outside once again.

Ice burns, and it is hard for the warm-skinned to distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost. ~A.S. Byatt

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The hand size flower heads on hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) have now fully opened and they are blossoming beautifully this year. I’ve never seen so many; they grow alongside many of our roads and are easily seen. They are one of our most beautiful native shrubs; George Washington thought so highly of them he planted two at Mt. Vernon.

The larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge of the hobblebush flower heads (corymbs) opened earlier and the small fertile flowers in the center have just opened and can now be pollinated. Though very beautiful hobblebush flowers have a bit of an unpleasant fragrance, at least to my nose.

The large sterile flowers do the work of attracting insects but it’s the tiny fertile flowers that do all the work of seed production. Once pollinated they will become berries that turn from green to bright red to deep purple black. Birds help spread the seeds far and wide but it takes two years for them to germinate. Moose and deer will eat the shrub right back to the ground, and ruffed grouse, brown thrasher, Swainson’s thrush, cedar waxwings, red-eyed vireos, and pine grosbeaks eat the berries.

There are thought to be over 200 species of viburnum and one of the most fragrant is the mayflower viburnum (Viburnum carlesii,) named after the mayflower or trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) because of its scent. It is an old fashioned, much loved shrub that is also called Korean spicebush. The flower heads are on the small size, maybe as big as a small tangerine, but the scent from one shrub full of them can be detected anywhere in my yard.

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

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

Johnny jump up is a 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. I think “three-faces in a hood” is my favorite.  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.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is not native to New Hampshire and I have only seen two of the trees growing in this area. Both are on private property but this one has branches overhanging a sidewalk so I’m able to get close to it. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. They’re very pretty trees though, and if I was starting a new garden I think I’d try growing one or two.

I’m always surprised by how small the pea like purple flowers are on a redbud but the tree makes up for it by producing plenty of them.

Lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) and highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are blooming well this year and that means we’ll probably see a bountiful crop of berries, provided we don’t have a late frost. Blueberries are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America. The other two are cranberries and concord grapes, but then I wonder about crabapples, which are also native fruits. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

Red currant (Ribes rubrum or Ribes sativum) bushes were once grown on farms all over the United States but the plant was found to harbor white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola,) so in the early 1900s, the federal and state governments outlawed the growing of currants and gooseberries to prevent the spread of the disease. The fungus attacks both currants and white pines (Pinus strobus,) which must live near each other for the blister rust fungus to complete its life cycle. Black currants (Ribes nigrum) are especially susceptible. The federal ban was lifted in 1966 but some states still ban the sale of currants and gooseberries. The plant’s flowers might not win a blue ribbon for beauty but that’s okay because currants are grown for their berries. Fruits range in color from dark red to pink, yellow, white and beige, and they continue to sweeten on the bush even after they seem to be fully ripe. Though often called “wild currant” red currant is native to Europe and has escaped. I found these examples on land that was once farmland.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms aren’t much in the way of fragrance because of a compound called trimethylamine, which gives the plant a slightly fishy odor, but they’re big on beauty with their plum colored anthers. They are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today.  There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

The flowers of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) look like bells dangling on a cord. They usually hang down under the leaves and can be very hard to get a good photo of unless you can find them hanging over a leaf, and that’s what happened here. The yellowish green bell shaped flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers.

Another view of the unusual striped maple flowers. Each flower has 5 green sepals and 5 greenish-yellow petals with outward turning lobes that are a bit longer than the sepals. Their six to eight stamens show that those in the photo are male flowers. A striped maple needs to be at least ten years old to produce seeds. They like cool moist woods and their large, hand size leaves mean they can take quite a lot of shade, so they grow in the understory. Native Americans are said to have used the wood of striped maple to make arrows and its bark for tea.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed.

Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to an article in the New York Times, it’s delicious.

There are something like 500 plants in the veronica family and they can be tough to tell apart, but I think this one might be slender speedwell (Veronica filiformis.) It’s a tiny thing that I found growing in a lawn and I thought I’d see if my camera was capable of taking its photo. This particular speedwell is native to Europe and is considered a lawn weed but there are many others that are native to the U.S., and Native Americans used some of them to treat asthma and allergies.

The speedwell was growing alongside a dandelion and L thought a photo of both would be a great way to show you just how small the speedwell’s blossoms were. A single blossom could easily hide behind a pea.

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their striking foliage as the flowers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

The small, numerous flowers of foamflower have 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. It is said that the long stamens are what give foamflowers their frothy appearance, along with their common name. Native Americans used the leaves and roots of foamflower medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “coolwort” because the leaves were also used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

Two of my great loves are history and botany, and they come together in the poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus.) It is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on; it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. Its scent is spicy and pleasing but it is said to be so powerfully fragrant that people can get sick from being in an enclosed room with it. I like it because of its historical baggage; it always makes me think of ancient Rome and Greece, where toga wearing poets admired its beauty. It has naturalized throughout this area and can be found in unmown fields, and it’s still just as beautiful today as it was then, over 2,000 years ago.

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

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1-ne-asters

As if someone flipped a switch, all of the sudden New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are blooming everywhere. Though they’re usually a light purple color I’m seeing more of the deep purple ones that I like so much this year. Asters are very beautiful things that provide one last ecstatic pollen gathering fling for the bees.

2-bee-on-thistle

But the bees aren’t choosy and this bull thistle blossom (Cirsium vulgare) was as good as an aster, even though the asters bloomed just a few yards away.  Last year I was in a field where light and dark colored asters grew side by side and I saw bees go for the lighter colored aster blossoms nearly every time as they all but ignored the darker blossoms. I’ve wondered since if that’s why I don’t see as many of the deep purple asters.

3-johnny-jump-up

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have bloomed quietly all summer; so unobtrusive but always able to coax a smile and warm a heart. Maybe that’s why they’re also called heart’s ease. Long used medicinally in Europe, here it is a welcomed alien. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare wrote that the juice of this plant placed on the eyelids of a sleeping person would cause that person to “dote upon the next live creature that they see.” In that play it was also called “love-in-idleness.”

4-yarrow

Johnny jump ups might have some historical baggage but humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also 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.

5-yarrow

According to one source each tiny yarrow blossom is supposed to have 5 ray floret “petaloids” but I can count more than that on some of these so I checked another source, which said 3 to 8. That seems more like it. 15 to 40 off white or pale yellow disc florets fill the center.

6-beech-drops

Beech drops (Epifagus americana) grow in deep shade and can be hard to photograph. This isn’t a good shot but it does show the plant’s growth habit and lack of leaves, which is what I’d like you to see. Beech drops grow near beech trees and are a parasite that fasten onto the roots of the tree using root like structures. They take all of their nutrients from the tree so they don’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. Beech drops are annuals that die off in cold weather, but they can often be found growing in the same place each year.

7-beech-drop-roots

The root like structures on beech drops, called haustoria, can penetrate a beech root. Once inserted the plant takes nutrients from the tree.

8-beech-drop-blossom

Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish  or reddish stripe are the only things found on a beech drop’s leafless stems. On the lower part of the stem 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 and are shown in the above photo. This example had what looks like a yellow pistil poking out of it; the first time I’ve seen this. Science doesn’t know much about which insects pollinate this plant.

9-beech-drop-blossom

Beech drop blossoms are quite small and hard to get a good photo of because they grow in such deep shade. No plant can live in complete darkness though, so they usually have a sunbeam or two that finds them at some point each day. You just have to be lucky enough to find the plant and sunbeam at the same time. It’s not as hard as it sounds if you’re willing to wander a bit.

10-balloon-flower

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 blue veins.

11-goldenrod

I thought this was hairy goldenrod (Solidago hispida) but its stems and leaves aren’t hairy. Instead the leaves have a downy coating, so I think it must be downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula.) Both plants reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil.

12-goldenrod

Though still small the bright yellow 1/4 inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. 9-16 ray petals surround the central disc. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.

13-hedge-bindweed

This isn’t much of a photo of a bindweed blossom but I wanted you to see it because of the tiny black dot just to the right of center. It’s a deer tick. Adult ticks will climb onto grasses, plants, and shrubs and perch there sometimes for months waiting for an animal or human to come by. We have two kinds of common ticks in New Hampshire; deer ticks and American dog ticks. Adult deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed and dog ticks are about the size of a watermelon seed. Ticks carry many diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. If you spend most of your waking hours outside as I do, ticks are impossible to avoid and I’ve been bitten several times. I’m very thankful that I’m still healthy.

14-pale-sunflower

Friends of mine grew sunflowers from seed and they all looked like sunflowers except this small pale one, which decided it wanted to be a dahlia.

15-red-clover

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) is originally from Europe and was brought to this country by English colonials, who used it medicinally and agriculturally. It is a very beautiful thing that glows with its own inner light, and I have to stop and admire it every now and then. Had I been an early settler I surely would have had a few of its seeds in my pocket.

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. FleabaneIt’s time to start mowing lawns here in New Hampshire and that means that it’s also time for fleabanes to appear in many of those lawns. You can always tell the flower lovers among us by the islands of unmown fleabane plants left dotted here and there throughout lawns in every town in the region.  The example shown here, Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus,) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms and its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center.

2. Mayapple

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

3. Mayapple Foliage

This photo of mayapple foliage is for those who have never seen it. The hand size or larger leaves hide the flowers well so you really have to look for them.

4. Redbud

Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis) is not native to New Hampshire and I have only seen two of the trees growing in this area. Both are on private property but this one had branches overhanging a sidewalk so I was able to get close to it. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. I’m always surprised by how small the pea like purple flowers are but the tree makes up for it by producing plenty of them. They’re very pretty trees.

5. Foamflowers

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks. The leaves are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

6. Foamflower

The small, numerous flowers of foamflower have 5 petals and 10 stamens and it is said that the long stamens are what give foamflowers a frothy appearance, along with their common name. Native Americans used the leaves and roots of foamflower medicinally including as a mouthwash for mouth sores.

7. White Lilac

My mother died before I was old enough to retain any memory of her but she planted a white lilac before she died, so now the flowers and their scent have become my memory of her. Whenever I see a white lilac she is there too.

8. Lilac

Though I like white lilacs I think the favorite by far is the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s also the New Hampshire state flower, even though it isn’t a native. They were first imported from England to the garden of then Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower. I noticed last year for the first time how suede-like the individual blossoms were.

9. Lily of the Valley

Another flower that comes with plenty of memories is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) I can remember bringing my grandmother wilting bouquets of them along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw when I was just a young boy. I remember that she would always seem delighted with my gift but since I usually picked the flowers from her garden, her delight might be a false memory on my part.

10. Poet's Daffodil

Two of my great loves are history and botany, and they come together in the poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus.) It is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on; it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and I find it in unmown fields. Its scent is spicy and pleasing but it is said to be so powerfully fragrant that people can get sick from being in an enclosed room with it.

11. Johnny Jump Up

I wonder if Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) got their name from the way they seem to appear overnight. This plant 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. I think three-faces in a hood is my favorite.  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.

12. Rue

Both Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were said to use common rue (Ruta graveolens) to improve their eyesight and their creativity. Early Romans cooked with its seeds and you wouldn’t think so because it is mildly toxic, but it is still used today as a flavoring agent, in very small amounts. Hippocrates was fond of it for its medicinal uses and Aristotle said that it calmed nervousness. Rue has an unusual bitter odor and the graveolens part of the scientific name is Latin for “having a strong or offensive smell.” The plant is evergreen and I see it growing on roadsides. Originally from Europe, it has naturalized in this area and some say that it can be invasive.

13. Starflowers

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but just to be different they can occasionally have eight petals like the flower on the left in this photo does, and some can have six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

14. Bearberry-2

Bearberry is a native creeping shrub with clusters of very small bell shaped flowers with petals that are curved at the tips. The flowers on the example shown had pink tipped petals. When pollinated by bumblebees the flowers will become red, berry like drupes that both black and grizzly bears love to eat.  Humans can also eat the berries and they are usually eaten in the form of jams and jellies. Native Americans used the dried leaves in a smoking mixture called kinnikinnick and they also used the plant medicinally. Today over 50 pharmaceutical products in North America contain bearberry. This is the first time bearberry has appeared on this blog.

15. Nodding Trillium

Another first for this blog is the nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum.) I’m guessing that I’ve seen them before but have probably missed seeing the flowers. The way they nod beneath the leaves makes them very hard to see and I tested that by looking at plants that I knew had flowers. Even though I knew they were blossoming I couldn’t see them at all from above. Nodding trillium is the northernmost trillium in North America, reaching far into northern Canada and Newfoundland.

16. Nodding Trillium

When the buds form they are above the leaves but as they grow the flower stem (petiole) lengthens and bends, so when the flower finally opens it is facing the ground. I’ve heard that some plants do this to keep rain from washing the pollen away, but I don’t know how true that is.

17. Nodding Trillium

Nodding trillium is also called whip-poor-will flower because it blooms when the whip-poor-wills return. I’m always a little wary of flower lore but the friend who gave me the tip about where to find the nodding trilliums also has whip-poor-wills near his house, and he said that he heard their calls just as the flowers opened. Coincidently, I heard my first whip-poor-will yesterday morning. Anyhow, this isn’t a bird blog. My favorite thing about the nodding trillium blossom is its six purple stamens. This photo shows a view that you would never see of the nodding flower. To get it I had to hold my camera under the plant and “shoot blind.” Out of many clicks of the shutter only this one was useable. I think it was worth the effort; it’s a pretty little thing and I’m glad I can show it to you.

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 heaven? ~ A.J. Balfour

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1. Johnny Jump Ups

Cheery little Johnny jump ups (Viola cornuta) have done just that; it seems like one day they weren’t there and the next day they were. The unusual spring heat is causing some plants to bloom two weeks or more ahead of when they normally do and it has been hard to keep up with them.

2. Painted Trillium

I was surprised to see a painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) already past its prime. You can see how the bright white has gone out of the petals and how they have become translucent. These are sure signs of age even though it should be just starting to bloom. Each white petal has a pink V at its base and that’s how it comes by its common name. Painted trilliums grow north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia. I hope I find a better example before they go by.

3. Lady's Slipper

The only time pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have appeared in May on this blog was in 2013 because they usually bloom in June. It’s a beautiful thing and I was happy to see it but all the flowers that are blooming early will also be passing early, and I wonder what there will be to see in June. Nature will take care of things and I won’t be disappointed, of that I have no doubt. Native Americans used lady’s slipper root as a sedative for insomnia and nervous tension. I never pictured natives as being particularly nervous or tense, but I suppose they had their fair share of things to worry about.

4. Native Azalea

If you were hiking with me and saw an eight foot high native roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) in full bloom and didn’t stop and gasp in astonishment I think I’d have to check your pulse just to make sure that you were still with us, because this is something that you don’t see just any old day. It had a rough time over the winter and isn’t blossoming as much as it did last year but it’s still a sight to behold.

5. Native Azalea

There are few things more beautiful than these flowers on this side of heaven. They are also very fragrant with a sweet, clove like aroma. This old azalea grows behind an even older hemlock tree in a very swampy area, surrounded by goldthread plants and cinnamon ferns.

 6. Gold Thread

Here is one of the little goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum) that grow near the azalea. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. This plant usually grows in undisturbed soil that is on the moist side. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, and it was most likely sold under its other common name of canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

7. Gold Thread Leaves

New goldthread leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and flowers will appear.

8. Fleabane

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms and its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. They’re a good indicator of where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes. If you are one of those people who mow around this native fleabane you might want to visit a nursery, because there are also many cultivated varieties of this plant.

9. Skunk Currant aka Ribes glandulosum

This is the first appearance of skunk currant (Ribes glandulosum) on this blog. I know a place where hundreds of these plants grow but I’ve never seen one blooming so I was never sure what they were. I’ve read that the plant gets its common name from the odor given off by its ripe dark red berries, which doesn’t sound too appealing but they are said to be very tasty. If you can get past the smell, I assume. This is a very hairy plant; even its fruit has hairs. The Native Ojibwa people used the root of skunk currant to ease back pain but it is not a favorite of foresters or timber harvesters because it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

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

11. Jack in the Pulpit

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

12. Lilac

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

13. Lilac

Until I saw this photo I never realized how suede-like lilac flowers look. I was too busy sucking the sweet nectar out of them as a boy to notice, I guess.

14. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley always reminds me of my grandmother because I can remember bringing her fistfuls of them along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw. She would always be delighted with my rapidly wilting bouquet and would immediately put it in a jelly jar of water. These plants are extremely toxic but I never once thought of eating or putting any part of one in my mouth, so I hope all of the mothers and grandmothers out there will give the little ones a chance to see your face light up as they thrust out a chubby fist full of wilted lily of the valley blossoms. I can tell you that, though it might seem such a small thing, it stays with you throughout life. It also teaches a child a good lesson about the great joy to be found in giving.

15. Trillium

It’s time to say goodbye to purple trilliums (Trillium erectum,) which are another of our spring ephemerals that seem almost like falling stars, so brief is their time with us. You can tell that this trillium is on its way out by the way its petals darken from red to dark purple, unlike the painted trillium we saw earlier with petals that lighten as they age.

16. Gaywings

Fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers often grow in pairs like those shown in the photo. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen. That pollination happens at all seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

17. Gaywings

I tried to get a “bee’s eye view” of one of the flowers, which also go by the name of gaywings. What beautiful things they are; I could sit and admire them all day.

I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — an endless prospect of magic and wonder. ~Ansel Adams

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day!

 

 

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