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Posts Tagged ‘Keene’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) are still showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It is native to eastern North America.

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

I was very surprised to find sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) still blooming. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them this late in the year. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. Here in this area it could hardly be called invasive; I usually have to hunt to find it. This beautiful example grew in an unmown field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A recent view along the shore of a local pond shows asters mixing in with boneset and narrow leaf goldenrod. The asters have just started and the others are just about finished blooming. I think the aster might be the purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum,) which is also called the swamp aster or glossy leaved aster, and I think that because it was growing near water and has a somewhat crooked, dark purple stem. The flowers are about half the size of those of New England aster.

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

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. I think it must have taken me at least 5 or 6 tries to get a useable photo of them. The tiny things are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) have just started blooming. This is our largest and most showy aster, and also among the last of the aster family to bloom. Each blossom is about an inch and a half across and sits atop a four foot stem. The plants prefer full sun but will still bloom with less.

I always look for the darkest New England aster that I can find each year and so far this one wins the prize for 2017, but I know there are darker ones out there. They’re a very beautiful flower, no matter how dark they happen to be.

This nodding bur marigold plant (Bidens tripartita) grew along the river’s edge. As they age the flowers of the nodding bur marigold nod towards the ground and that’s how the plant comes by its common name. The flowers look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. I like their deeply pleated petals. The plants grow to about knee high, often in standing water at the edges of rivers and ponds. Another common name is nodding beggar’s tick, because its seeds are barbed and stick to just about anything that happens by.

Though smooth gerardia (Agalinis purpurea) is also called false foxglove, I don’t see it. The flowers are tubular like foxglove but that’s where the similarities end. The flowers are much smaller than foxglove blossoms and point upwards instead of downwards like foxglove. I find gerardia every year on the flanks of Mount Caesar growing in hot, dry sand but these 1 inch long examples that grew along the Ashuelot River were twice as big as those.

I’ve never seen a foxglove blossom that looked like this. Two upper lobes, two side lobes, and a lower lobe spread from the mouth of a smooth gerardia blossom. The inside of each blossom is very hairy and has two yellow patches with dark purple spots that serve as nectar guides.

Sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) is a curious little plant that gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. I know of only two places where it grows but each year there are many new plants. It is an annual so each year’s plants have to produce plenty of seed. They grow to about knee high and this year there are plenty of tiny white blooms, so hopefully strong seed production will continue.

The flowers are among the smallest that I try to photograph and each year I tell myself that I have no hope of getting a good photo of them, but each year I try again. One of these times I’ll get it right.

This is an example of the strange jointed stem of sand jointweed, for those who have never seen the plant.

I often find purple stemmed beggar’s ticks (Bidens connata) growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers. This example was growing in standing water at the edge of a pond.

Purple stemmed beggar’s ticks have curious little yellow orange ray-less disc flowers that never seem to fully open and dark, purple-black stems. It is closely related to bur marigold (Bidens tripartita), and is also called water hemp because of the leaf shape. The name beggar’s tick comes from its barbed seeds that stick to fur and clothing like ticks. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year.

This is what the purple stem of purple stemmed beggar’s ticks looks like. The name fits.

White campion (Silene latifolia,) can also be pink, but I didn’t see a blush of it on this example. Just to confuse the issue red campion (Silene dioica) flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa. The flowers have 5 deeply notched petals that have an easily seen fringe at their base.

Thanks to a friend sending me this photo I’m able to illustrate the difference between a male and female white campion blossom. The previous photo was of a male flower and this one is a female, and we know that because of the 5 long, curved styles. Male and female flowers are on separate plants.

If the square stems and tufts of tiny pink / purple flowers in the leaf axils don’t ring a bell, then one sniff of a crushed leaf will tell you immediately that the plant is wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) Mint has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. Each time we see it we are seeing one of mankind’s earliest memories.

White meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) is still blooming but its time is coming to an end. This plant likes moist ground and I usually find it near water. Its flowers have long stamens that always make them look kind of fuzzy.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) blooms in the tall grass of unmown meadows, and this is the last one that was blooming in what is a large colony near a pond. This plant isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle but it does have small spines along the leaf margins and stem. Despite its common name the plant is actually a native of Europe but has spread to virtually every country in the northern hemisphere. It has a deep and extensive creeping root system and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold. For that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states.

A single bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) blossomed along the Ashuelot River where I’ve never seen it before. I don’t think of this plant as being naturally attracted to water like many other plants, but maybe a bird dropped a seed or two along the shoreline. No matter how it got there, I imagine bull thistles will be seen along that stretch of river for a long time to come.

Bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) grow along a trail in Keene that I’ve hiked probably a hundred times or more, but I never saw them until just a couple of years ago. My only answer for having never seen them is I must have always been there at the wrong time of year. In any event they are relatively rare in this area and are well worth searching for. Their usual color when mature is a very beautiful deep violet purple. The flowers never open beyond what is seen here so it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to pry them open and get at the pollen.

Flowers carry not only beauty but also the silent song of love. You just have to feel it. ~Debasish Mridha

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We’ve still got some roadside color but many plants are now done blossoming for the year. Though there is purple loosestrife in this photo even that has mostly gone to seed, so we’ll see more asters and goldenrods than anything else from now on. Our largest and most showy aster, the New England aster, should be starting to bloom any day now.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) appears early on in summer but waits until September to bloom. Its stems grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, as if to show off the yellow blooms that grow in tufts all along the stem. This plant tolerates shade and seems to prefer places where it will only get two or three hours of sunlight. It isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod get their blue color from the same natural wax coating that is found on grapes, plums, blueberries and other plants. The coating is called a “bloom” and plants use it as a form of protection against moisture loss. It’s made up of tiny powdery, whitish crystals which reflect and scatter light in ways that can make the surface that they cover appear very blue. The wax crystals can be washed off by rain or melted by the sun, so many stems will be green before the plant blooms. You can see in the above photo how the blue color has gone in some places on the stem.

A flower head of woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata) looks a lot like goldenrod from a distance and since it blooms at about the same time these are the only things that I can think of to explain why I’ve lived so long without ever seeing it until recently. The plant is also called roadside agrimony and that’s exactly where I found this example.

The small, bright yellow flowers of woodland agrimony grow in long spikes (racemes) on a small, knee high plant. It is said to be rare in parts of New England and I wonder if it is here, because this is only the third time I’ve ever seen it. It was growing in quite a shady area. Agrimony has been used medicinally for many thousands of years, dating back to at least ancient Egypt but though woodland agrimony is native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans.

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

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

White snake root should not be confused with white rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba,) which is an entirely different plant in the aster family. This plant is not toxic, at least not enough to kill; the Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of it in a tea that they used to relieve pain.

Beech drops (Epifagus americana) usually 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. Science doesn’t know much about which insects pollinate this plant but I often find spider webs on them so there must be insect activity on or near them. If you look closely at the plant in the above photo you can see a web on its top part.

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.

Jewelweed or spotted touch me not (Impatiens capensis) is still blooming but the lack of rain over the last couple of weeks has made them wilt badly. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

When jewelweed flowers first open they are male, but then change to female. The way to tell is by looking for white pollen. If white pollen is present the flower is male. Female flowers will have a small green pistil in place of the pollen. In this photo the flower on the left is in the female stage and the one on the right is in the male stage. The flowers are dichogamous, meaning that the male and female parts mature at different times. That guarantees that the flowers can’t be self-pollinated. According to an article in the International Journal of Plant Sciences, when nectar is taken from a flower pollen collecting hairs are stimulated and the duration of the male phase of the flower is shortened. From then on it enters its female phase and waits for a visitor to dust it with pollen from another male flower. It’s no wonder these plants can produce so many seeds!

Friends of mine grow this beautiful daylily in their garden. It’s a very late bloomer for a daylily and would be a good one for a daylily grower wanting to extend the season. I think its name might be Athlone, an older variety introduced in 1942. Athlone is also a town in Ireland on the River Shannon.

Both dandelions and false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) have a rosette of edible leaves and a central taproot, but the flower stems of false dandelion are solid, tall and wiry while those of true dandelions are hollow and much shorter. False dandelion leaves are also much smaller and narrower than the dandelion’s leaves. The plant is a native of Europe.

The flowers of false dandelion look almost the same as those of true dandelions in a photo, but in the field they are much smaller and stand on 6-8 inch long, wiry stems. The plant is also called cat’s ear, possibly because of the bracts along its stem that look like tiny cat’s ears. I see them almost everywhere I go at this time of year.

I think almost everyone knows what goldenrod looks like but not everyone has seen silverrod. Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only native white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast.

I always find silverrod in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods at the end of August. It’s hard to get a photo of because it’s usually surrounded by other plants and rarely grows alone. It grows about knee high and isn’t seen anywhere near as often as the yellow goldenrods. The flowers are quite small but pretty.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) sometimes has a second blooming period into October. Though the flowers are smaller and not as tall they can almost fool you into thinking that it’s summer again.  When freshly cut Queen Anne’s lace flowers will change color depending on the color of the water in which they are placed, so if you put a bouquet into purple water you’ll have purple Queen Anne’s lace. There is already purple on this one though. If you look closely you can see a tiny purple flower in the center of this flower head.

Legend says the tiny purplish / reddish flower at the center of the flower head is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators, but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. It’s very difficult to get a good photo of because it’s so small.

They grow an ornamental datura (Datura metel) at the local college.  I’ve seen Datura many times, but never as beautiful as this. I think this one is a black Datura hybrid called Datura metel Fastuosa “Double Purple Blackberry.” A native Datura found here is called Jimson weed, which is a corruption of the original Jamestown weed, signaling where it was first found. Each blossom opens in the evening and lasts until about noon the following day.

I was there at evening when this blossom opened but these datura blossoms are doubled with many ruffles and they never really seem to be open. Bees in the know crawl in from the side and then down into the trumpet but I didn’t see any on this day. Datura contains several powerful toxic compounds and even the honey made from its flowers can sometimes lead to poisoning. The seeds and flowers are the most toxic parts of the plant, but they were used in sacred rituals for many thousands of years by Native American shamans and the plant is still called “Sacred Datura” by many. Native Americans knew the plant well though, and knew what dosages would and wouldn’t kill. Many with less experience have died trying to test the hallucinogenic effects of the plant.

Summer is leaving silently. Much like a traveler approaching the end of an amazing journey. ~Darnell Lamont Walker

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I decided to take a walk through my neighborhood recently. I do this now and then when I don’t feel like driving anywhere, but also because it’s a good way to learn about everything that grows in my area. As I’ve said before if someone knocked on my door and asked where to find any one of a hundred different plants, there’s a good chance that I could lead them right to it. That’s when you know that you know a place well. The old road in the above photo cuts through a mixed hard and softwood forest of the kind that is so common here. It makes a pleasant place to walk and look.

There is a small pond nearby which over the years has gotten smaller and smaller due to the rampant growth of American burr reed (Sparganium americanum.) The plant has now cut the pond in half and I expect the far half to be completely filled in a few more years.  I’ve seen many ducks, geese, and great blue heron here in the past but they don’t seem to come very often anymore. I’ve also seen this small pond grow to 3 or 4 times its size after a heavy rain, so full that it overran its banks. That can get a little scary, because that means the one road in and out of the neighborhood can be under water.

There is a small grove of gray birch (Betula populifolia) near the pond and I often search their branches to see if any new lichens have moved in. Gray birch doesn’t have the same bright white bark that paper birches do, but lichens seem to love growing on their limbs.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) bloomed near the pond. This is one of our longest blooming wildflowers. It usually blooms from June right up until a hard October frost.

Flat topped white aster (Doellingeria umbellata) also bloomed near the pond. This aster can get 5 feet tall and has smallish white flowers. Its common name comes from the large, flat flower heads. Butterflies and other pollinators love it and I often wander down to where it blooms to see if there are any butterflies on it. It likes moist, sandy soil and plenty of sun, and it often droops under its own weight as it did here.

Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) winds itself among the tall stems of the flat topped white asters. It is said that bindweed purifies and cleanses the body and calms the mind. Native Americans used the plant medicinally for several ailments, including as an antidote to spider bites.

The small pond that I showed a photo of previously eventually empties into a large swamp, which is called a wetland these days. I’m guessing that beavers and muskrats keep the water way open through it; it has been this way for as long as I’ve lived in the area.

I’ve seen two odd things on staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) this year that I’ve never seen before. First, when the berries were ripening they went from green to pinkish purple to red instead of from green to red, and now they are a dark purple, which from a distance looks black. I wonder what is going on with these plants. I’ve never seen this before.

A bumblebee worked hard on Joe Pye weed blossoms. Soon the cooler nights will mean that bumblebees will be found sleeping in flowers in the morning.

Native rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) is one of the last of our many hawkweeds to bloom. An unbranched single stem rises about knee high before ending in a terminal cluster of small yellow flowers. The plant blooms in full sun in late summer into early fall for about 3-4 weeks. Many species of hawkweed, both native and introduced, grow in the United States and I’d guess that we must have at least a dozen here in New Hampshire. Some of our native hawkweeds bleed a bitter white latex sap and Native Americans used to use it for chewing gum. I’m guessing that they had a way to remove the bitterness and probably found ways to flavor it too.

There is a lot of sand in this area and it is one of only two places that I know of where sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) grows. I didn’t see any of the tiny white flowers on this walk but I did see the plants. They should be blooming any time now and will appear in a future flower post.

I’ve found that it is close to impossible to get a photo of a forest while you’re in it. I’ve tried many times but it never seems to work. There’s just too much going on.

So since I can’t get a good photo of the forest itself instead I take photos of the things that live there, like this purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides.) Purple corts are having an extended fruiting time which is now in its fourth week, I think. I’ve never seen so many and I’ve never seen them fruiting over such a long period of time.

Something else that’s is strange in the fungi kingdom this year is how jelly fungi like this witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica) has fruited all summer long. I usually only see it in early spring, late fall and winter when it is colder. It could be because of all the rain I suppose; jelly fungi are almost all water. I almost always find them on stumps and logs; often on oak. After a rain is always the best time to look for them because they’re at their best when well hydrated.

We’ve had at least a day of rain each week all summer but it’s been on the dry side over the past couple weeks, so I was surprised to see this white finger slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa) growing on a log. The log was very rotten and held water like a sponge, so maybe that’s why.

There is a small glade of lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) out here and I like to stop and admire the lacy patterns they produce and how they wave in the breeze like they were on this day.

Bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum) are starting to show some fall color. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns; fossils date it to over 55 million years old. The plant releases chemicals which inhibit the growth of other plants and that is why large colonies of nothing but bracken fern are found. Some Native American tribes cooked and peeled the roots of bracken fern to use as food but modern science has found that all parts of the plant contain carcinogens.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is also starting to turn. These plants sometimes turn a deep purplish maroon in fall but more often than not they go to yellow. Native Americans used the root of this plant as emergency food and it was also once used to make root beer.

Giant foxtail grass (Setaria faberi) grew in a sunny spot at the edge of the forest. This is a big annual grass that can form large colonies. Its nodding, bristly, spike like flower heads (panicles) and wide leaves make it easy to identify. The flower heads go from light green to straw colored as they age.

This walk ends in a meadow full of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium,) which is one of my favorite grasses. I hoped to show you its flowers but it was a little early for it to be blooming. Little bluestem is a pretty native grass that is grown in gardens throughout the country. It’s very easy to grow and is drought resistant. Purplish-bronze flowers appear usually in August but they’re a little late this year here.

This was one of those perfect New England days in late summer where the spirit of autumn takes a first stealing flight, like a spy, through the ripening country-side, and, with feigned sympathy for those who droop with August heat, puts her cool cloak of bracing air about leaf and flower and human shoulders. ~Sarah Orne Jewett

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We still have plenty of flowers blooming as this view of a local pond side shows, but from this point on we’ll have very few new ones coming along. There will be a few more asters and a goldenrod or gentian or two but for the most part what you see here is the season finale for wildflowers.

Garden flowers on the other hand, will steal the show until the foliage begins to show color. Many will bloom right up until a hard frost but chances are this sunflower that I saw in the garden of some friends won’t make it quite that long. Sunflowers are a very pretty flower and I wish I’d see more of them but not many people seem to grow them.

If I said “St. John’s wort” chances are good that most people would think of a yellow flower with a lot of stamens, but marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) is very pink. As its name implies this plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline of ponds. The flowers are quite small; about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day, but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

The bright red flower buds of marsh St. John’s wort are as pretty as the flowers.

This crooked stem aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) is the first blue aster I’ve seen this year. I found this plant growing in a very wet, sunny meadow. I don’t usually try to identify asters but the one inch diameter light blue flowers and zigzagging stems make this one easier than most.

In my last flower post I showed the purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) which, if I was going by color and flower size alone would look identical to me, but my color finding software says that the flower on that one is purple and this one is blue. That and the zig zag stems lead me to the crooked stemmed aster. The Native American Iroquois tribe used this plant medicinally to treat fevers and other ailments.

It’s already time to say goodbye to my beautiful little friends the eastern forked blue curls, which surprised me by following me home and growing in my own yard. I spend a lot of my free time searching for flowers and trying to remember where each one of them grows, so any that choose to grow here are very welcome indeed,  especially when they’re as beautiful as this one.

It’s also time to say goodbye to brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea.) Since the plant is so invasive in certain places I suppose I should be glad that it hasn’t followed me home, but I do like its flowers. They’re colorful and unusual and I enjoy seeing large colonies of them all blooming at once. They really don’t seem very invasive here.

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

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never seem to fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles.

Another name for nodding smartweed and some other Polygonum species is lady’s thumb, and they get that name from the dark spot that appears on each leaf. Legend has it that a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently) left the smudge like mark on a leaf and it has been there ever since. There are over 200 species of Polygonum.

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

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

Once they go to seed potential pileworts will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds.

I find spearmint (Mentha spicata) growing in the sunshine at the edge of the woods. Like wild mint (Mentha arvensis) spearmint has been used since before recorded time both medicinally and as a flavoring. Pliny wrote of it and the ancient Romans cultivated it to scent their bath water. Spearmint is originally from Europe but the Pilgrims brought it on their first trip to America, so valuable was the plant to them.

Instead of growing in the leaf axils as they do on wild mint, spearmint flowers appear at the top of the stem. They are said to be pink or white but these were white, blue, pink and lavender. Their scent is very refreshing on a hot summer day and always reminds me of spearmint gum. Imagine; you are seeing flowers that people admired 2000 years ago.

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.

August is when many of our asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata.) It gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaf arrangement of this aster really doesn’t fit the definition.

Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like the edge of a dinner plate but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length, and that means they aren’t in a whorl. Indian cucumbers have tiers of whorled leaves as do some loosestrifes. This plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall. Something I didn’t know about the plant is how its leaves have a faint smell of spearmint when they’re crushed. Many thanks to blogging friend Kenneth Posner for that interesting bit of information.

Whorled wood aster is one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time and because the narrow white ray florets look like they were glued on by chubby fingered toddlers. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths. I love the beauty of asters but I don’t like their message of summer’s passing, so when I stop and admire them I always feel a bit of wistfulness and wonderment that a season could pass so quickly.

Many flowers have a visible inner light but few shine it out as brightly as this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow. Maybe the postal workers stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just as I do.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~Lydia M. Child

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The clouds were very angular on this morning at Half Moon Pond in Hancock, but they weren’t what I was trying to get a photo of. I was interested in the trees along the far shoreline, which are starting to show just the first hint of their fall colors.

Some of our native dogwoods like this silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) have already turned a beautiful deep red-maroon.

Silky dogwood berries go from green to white and then from white to blue, but for a short time they are blue and white like Chinese porcelain. In fact I’ve always wondered if the original idea for blue designs on white porcelain didn’t come from berries just like these. Once they are blue and fully ripe birds eat them up quickly.

Among the birds that love silky dogwood berries is the beautiful, sleek cedar waxwing. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see on its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol. I met a drunken cedar waxwing once so I know that story is true. I got between a bird and its fermented dogwood berries one day and it flew directly at my face at high speed, only pulling up at the last second. I wondered what is with this crazy bird as it flew at me several times, but once I finally realized what was happening and moved away from its berries it left me alone. I can still remember the feel the wind on my face from its drunken aerobatics.

If you’re wondering if I climbed a tree to get above that cedar waxwing in the last photo the answer is no; I just stood on a bridge and looked down on it. There is a huge brush pile against one of the bridge piers and the birds rest here between flights. They fly out quickly and grab insects out of the air in the evening, just before the sun sets. Earlier in the day they feed on silky dogwood and other berries and rest in the bushes.

Cedar waxwings are beautiful birds that don’t seem to mind me being above them, but if I walk down along the riverbank so I can be eye to eye with them it causes quite a ruckus among the flock and they all go and hide in the bushes. Though this photo looks like we were on nearly the same level I was quite far above the bird when I took the photo. Once I saw the photo I thought that the bird’s wing didn’t look quite right. Or maybe it does; I’ve never been much of a bird studier and it was obviously able to fly, but it does seem to be missing the red wax drops.

Rain can be a blessing to an allergy sufferer because it washes all of the sneezy, wheezy pollen out of the air, but on this day it washed it into the river where it could reveal the otherwise invisible currents and eddies.

One of the reasons I like cutting and splitting firewood is because, unless you want to lose a finger or two, you have to be focused on the task at hand and on each piece of wood before you. When you focus so intently on any subject you see many unexpected things, like these robin’s egg blue “insect eggs.” At least I thought they were insect eggs, so I put this piece of wood aside to see what happened when they hatched. They hatched all right, but after turning white and splitting open instead of baby insects out came black spores, and then I knew it was a slime mold. Blue is a rare color among slime molds and I’m happy to have seen it.

This event really was an insect hatching and there were hundreds of baby hickory tussock moth caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) crawling all over this tree. I’ve never seen as many as there are this year.

Hickory tussock moth caterpillars have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

I’ve done several posts that included hickory tussock moth caterpillars but I just realized that I’ve never seen the moth itself, so I went to Wikipedia and found this photo of a very pretty hickory tussock moth by Mike Boone from bugguide.net.

According to what I’ve read the banded net-winged beetle (Calopteron discrepans) is commonly found resting on leaves in moist woods, and that’s right where I found this one. Its bright Halloween colors warn predators that this insect contains acids and other chemicals that make it at best, distasteful. The adult beetles eat nectar, honeydew, and decaying vegetation.

I find more feathers than you can shake a stick at but this is the first time I’ve ever found one like this one. It was quite big as feathers go and I think it was a great blue heron feather.

But the feather wasn’t from this great blue heron. I walked around a tall clump of Joe Pye weed at a local pond and almost ran nose to beak into this bird. We both looked at each other for a moment and I don’t know which of us was the most startled, but instead of flying away the big bird just calmly walked into the cattails and began hunting for food while I fumbled around for my camera.

Instead of pretending to be a statue the heron bent and jabbed at some unseen morsel several times, but from what I could tell it missed every time because it never swallowed.

Each time after the heron had dipped and missed whatever it was it was trying for it would look back at me and grin in a self-effacing way before wiggling its tail feathers vigorously. I’m not sure what it was trying to tell me. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again?

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and so are the pink stalks (pedicels) that they’re on. Though Native Americans used its roots medicinally all parts of this plant are extremely toxic. As few as six berries can kill so it’s no surprise that “bane berry” comes from the Old English words bana or bona, which both mean “slayer” or “murderer.”

Another baneberry that can have white berries is red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but I know these plants well and I’m sure they’re white baneberry. It really doesn’t matter though, because both plants are extremely toxic. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow. I often find it at or near the base of embankments that see a lot of runoff.

On their way to becoming brilliant red, the berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time. This plant is also called treacle berry because the berries are supposed to taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They are rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from the burning roots to treat headaches and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

From a distance I thought a beautiful spotted butterfly had landed on a leaf but as I got closer I saw that the beauty was in the leaf itself.

I did find butterflies though; they were all on the zinnias at the local college but only the painted ladies were willing to pose. I was able to tell the difference between this butterfly and the American painted lady thanks to a link posted by blogging friend Mike Powell. If you love nature but aren’t reading Mike’s blog you’re doing yourself a real disservice. You can find him by clicking on the word here. I’ve also seen several monarch butterflies lately but none would pose for a photo.

How very lucky and grateful I am to be able to see such beauty in this life. I hope all of you will take time to see it too.

Beauty is the moment when time vanishes. Beauty is the space where eternity arises. ~Amit Ray

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Asters have been blooming for a couple of weeks now but this is the first purple one I’ve seen, blooming just two days ago at the height of the eclipse. I think it’s a purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) because of its smallish one inch flowers, reddish purple stems and long narrow leaves that clasp the stem. Purple stemmed asters like moist places and this one was growing at the edge of a pond. Native Americans had a word for asters which meant It-Brings-the-Fall. They used the plant to relieve coughs and treat breathing difficulties.

Native clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is also called summer sweet because of its sweet, spicy fragrance. If you have low spots in your yard that get wet occasionally, this is a good shrub to plant in them because it likes moist soil and grows naturally along stream banks and in swampy ground. Bees love it too, and these plants are covered with them every time I visit them in bloom. If you’re trying to attract pollinators this shrub should be in your yard.

Each long upright clethra flower head is packed with small white flowers. Small yes, but also very fragrant; it has the name summer sweet for a reason. Some older nurserymen might also know it as sweet pepperbush. Whoever gave it that name thought its fruits resembled pepper corns. Clethra was named wildflower of the year by the Virginia Wildflower Society in 2015. An odd fact about this native shrub is that it doesn’t seem to have any medicinal or culinary uses. I can’t find a single reference regarding its use by Native Americans but I feel certain that they must have used it in some way.

Groundnut (Apias americana) flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years.  Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

Ground nut is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. The roots became an important food source and they forbade Natives from digging the tubers on colonial lands. And we wonder why they were upset with the settlers.

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees like it’s doing in this photo. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. These plants are annuals and grow from seed each year.

The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of wild cucumber have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. They look prickly but the spines are soft until the fruits dry out and drop their seeds. By then they’re so light and desiccated that they can’t be thrown at anybody. The fruit is not edible and doesn’t really resemble a cucumber.

When I see a rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) I always think of my time spent as a gardener in Florida. I worked in the gardens of a large hotel and the job included trimming what seemed like miles of tropical hibiscus hedges (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and rose of Sharon is a kind of hardy hibiscus in the same family as the tropical hibiscus. The hardy version shown here has large trumpet shape blossoms in early fall.

There are many different tall yellow flowers blooming now and most are Helianthus species. I think this one is a Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus.) Jerusalem artichokes were cultivated by Native Americans for thousands of years for their tuberous roots, which they cooked and ate much like we do potatoes. They are said to be starchy with a nutty flavor and they were immediately adopted by the early settlers. The tubers have fewer calories than potatoes and the plant’s carbohydrates and sugars can be assimilated by the digestive tract without insulin. This makes them an excellent choice for diabetics.

I probably see one orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) plant for every thousand yellow hawkweed plants. Orange hawkweed is native to the alpine regions of Europe, so apparently it likes high places. Maybe that’s why I never see it. I’d like to see more of it; orange is a hard color to find among our wildflowers.

Panicled hawkweed (Hieracium paniculatum) has wiry stems that curve in all directions and end in a small, yellow, daisy-like flower. I found this plant growing in a splash of sunshine near a pond. These native plants are sometimes confused with rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) but that plant has a very different growth habit.

Panicled hawkweed has smooth, hairless leaves and prefers dry forests. This is one of very few hairless hawkweeds. Another common name is Allegheny hawkweed. It is in the aster family and just the kind of flower that we would expect to see on a member of the hawkweed family.

Turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) are blooming early in some places. The plant gets the first part of it scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. I have a friend who said he immediately thought of a turtle when he saw these flowers but for some reason I never see a turtle when I look at them.

I don’t think this waspish visitor cared one way or another what the turtlehead flowers looked like. As I watched it crawled all the way into the blossom and then back out again several times. There will be turtlehead seeds this year.

Some of the most beautiful flower photos I’ve seen have been of huge fields of lavender, but those were on lavender plants while the lavender colored flowers in the above photo are on purple loosestrife. This is one of the most aggressive invasive plants I know of. This photo shows why the plant is so unpopular here; it grows in monocultures and chokes out all native plants. It originally came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was 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 but will grow just about anywhere.

I can remember when the view in the previous photo looked much like this, but purple loosestrife took over the entire area. Now it’s the predominant flower in this photo as well.

It isn’t uncommon to see a carpet of knee high, white blooms in the woods at this time of year. White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is known for its drought tolerance and will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant.

The small, one inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

It’s almost time to say goodbye to beautiful blue vervain (Verbena hastata.) Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower spikes. The blossoms start at the base of each spike and work their way up to the top, so when they’ve reached the top you know they’re done for the season. I always find vervain growing near water in full sun. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans.

Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery, man ceases to be man. ~Henry Beston

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