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Posts Tagged ‘Late Spring Plants’

Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend I decided a climb was in order. We had beautiful weather in the morning but it was supposed to warm into the 80s F. in the afternoon, so as early as I could I left for Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard. I had never climbed Pitcher Mountain that early in the day, so I was surprised to find that the sun was in my eyes the whole way up the trail. That’s why this shot of the trail is actually looking down, not up.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides,) one of our most beautiful native shrubs, bloomed alongside the trail. Lower down in Keene they’re all done blooming and are making berries but up here it looked like they were just getting started.

I saw lots of violets along the trail too.

The paired leaves of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are already out.

One of my favorite stopping points along the trail is here at this meadow, which often houses Scottish highland cattle. I didn’t see any on this day but it was nice to have such a big, open space. When you live in the second most forested state in the country you don’t see many views like this one. It’s just you, the sky and the earth.

And dandelions. There were lots of them in the meadow.

Here is another view looking down the trail, but up looks much like it.

I saw lots of future strawberries along the trail.

And blueberries too. Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries and people come from all over to pick them.

The previous shot of the meadow that I showed was taken down the hill over on the right, so this shot is 90 degrees to it looking across the meadow. A little further out and down the hill a bit is the farm where the cattle live.

I’ve always thought that the cows had the best view of anybody. Last year, almost to the day, there was a big black bear right over there at the tree line. It looked me over pretty well but left me alone. I was the only one climbing that day but on this day I saw a few people, including children. I’m always happy to see them outside enjoying nature, and I spoke with most of them.

A chipmunk knew if stayed very quiet and still I wouldn’t see it.

John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday” and of course he was right. I thought of him last year when I found spring beauties I had been walking by for years and then I thought of him again on this day, when I found sessile leaved bellwort growing right beside the trail I’ve hiked so many times. I’m always amazed by how much I miss, and that’s why I walk the same trails again and again. It’s the only way to truly know a place.

By coincidence I met Samuel Jaffe, director of the Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough New Hampshire, in the woods the other day. Of course he was looking for insects and I was looking for anything and everything, so we were able to talk a bit as we looked. He’s a nice guy who is extremely knowledgeable about insects and he even taught me a couple of things about poplar trees I didn’t know. I described this insect for him and he said it sounded like a sawfly, but of course he couldn’t be sure. I still haven’t been able to find it online so if you know I’d love to hear from you. (Actually, I’d love to hear from you whether you know or not.)

Samuel Jaffe was able to confirm that this tiny butterfly was a spring azure, just as a helpful reader had guessed a few posts ago. This butterfly rarely sits still but this one caught its breath on a beech leaf for all of three seconds so I had time for only one photo and this is it. It’s a poor shot and It really doesn’t do the beautiful blue color justice, but it’s easy to find online if you’re interested. By the way, The Caterpillar Lab is a unique and fascinating place, and you can visit it online here: https://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/ I don’t do Facebook but if you do you’re in for a treat!

I fear that the old ranger’s cabin is slowly being torn apart. Last year I noticed boards had been torn from the windows and on this climb I noticed that someone had torn one of the walls off the front porch. You can just see it over there on the right. At first I thought a bear might have broken in through the window because they do that sort of thing regularly, but I doubt a bear kicked that wall off the porch. What seems odd is how I could see that trail improvements had been done much of the way up here. You’d think the person repairing the road would have looked at the cabin, but apparently not.

I heard people talking in the fire tower but then I wondered if it might have been a two way radio that might have been left on. The tower is still manned when the fire danger is high and it has been high lately, so maybe there were people up there. I couldn’t see them through the windows though and I wasn’t going to knock on the door, so it’ll remain a mystery.

The view was hazy but not bad. It was getting hot fast but there was a nice breeze that kept the biting black flies away, so I couldn’t complain.

No matter how hot or dry it gets it seems like there is always water in the natural depression that I call the bird bath. I’ve watched birds bathing here before but I like to see the beautiful deep blue of the sky in it, so I was glad they had bathed before I came.

Dandelions bloomed at the base of the fire tower.

The white flowers of shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) could be seen all around the summit.

I looked over at what I call the near hill and wished once again that I had brought my topographical map.

The near hill is indeed the nearest but it isn’t that near. There it is to the right of center and this photo shows that it would be quite a hike.

The meadow below was green but the hills were blue and in the distance the hazy silhouette of Mount Monadnock was bluest of all. I sat for awhile with the mountain all to myself except for the voices in the tower, but then more families came so I hit the trail back down. As I left I could hear complaints about the new windmills in the distance, and how they spoiled the view. I haven’t shown them here but as you can see, not all the views were spoiled by windmills.

On the way up a little girl told me that she had found a “watermelon rock” and her grandfather had found a “flower rock.” She wondered why anyone would paint rocks and leave them there, and I told her that they were probably left there just to make her happy. Then I found a rock with a message that made me happy, so I’ll show it here.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

Thanks for stopping in. Be safe as well as kind.

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If you’re tempted to pass by what you think are violets you might want to take a closer look, because our beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) have just started blossoming. Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets has fooled me in the past. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in pairs as can be seen in the photo above. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the little wings. The little fringe at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect lands on the fringe the third sepal, called the keel, drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. Surprisingly this little insect landed on the flower I was taking a photo of it and let me actually see how it works. I think it was a sweat bee.

In this shot the reproductive structures are exposed. That little bump or nub just under the tube formed by the petals makes up the reproductive structures and this is the first time I’ve ever seen them. Though I’ve searched high and low in books and online apparently little is known about how they function. I did read that the seeds are coated with a fatty tissue that ants like, so ants disperse them. I usually find this plant in shady, mossy places and I think it prefers moist ground. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual flower that I always look for in May.

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, and a colony as big as this one is a beautiful sight. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or 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.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) has just come into bloom, right on schedule. This plant was introduced from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae but is sometimes mistaken for phlox, which has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) has just started blooming and something has already chewed a hole through the side of one of them. I can remember bringing my grandmother, whose name was Lilly,  wilting bouquets of lily of the valley along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw when I was just a young boy, so it’s a flower that comes with a lifetime of memories for me. The plant, originally from Europe and Asia, is quite toxic. It is actually in the asparagus, not the lily family.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are another spring flower that have just started blooming. 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.

Books will tell you that starflowers have 7 petals but as this one shows, they can have as many as 9. They can also have as few as 6.

When you see big umbrella like leaves like these you should look under them, because that’s where the flowers of Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) hide. Mayapple 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.

Mayapple flowers are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves, but it can be done. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, but this colony seems to bloom well each year.

One of most beautiful spring flowering shrubs is the rhodora (Rhododendron canadense.) Henry David Thoreau once wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that’s what this little two foot tall shrub does each spring. The flowers appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because they aren’t common. Rhodora is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

Because of their habit of growing in or very close to the water it can be hard to get close enough to get a shot of a single flower, but if you’ve ever seen an azalea blossom then you know what they look like. It’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

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. I know that long time readers are probably tired of hearing all these flower stories but there are new readers coming along all the time who haven’t, so I hope you’ll bear with me. When I see certain flowers I often think more of the connection it has in my memory to a certain person than I do the flower.

White lilacs hold my mother’s memories and tradescantia flowers hold my father’s. When I was just a young boy living with my father I decided that our yard needed a facelift. We had a beautiful cabbage rose hedge and a white lilac, and a Lorelai bearded iris that my mother planted before she died but I wanted more. I used to walk the Boston and Maine railroad tracks to get to my grandmother’s house and I’d see these beautiful blue flowers growing along the tracks, so one day I dug one up and planted it in the yard. My father was quiet until I had planted 3 or 4 of them, and then he finally asked me why I was bringing home those “dammed old weeds.” He also walked the tracks to get to work and back, so he saw the tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants just as often as I did. Though I thought they were lost and needed to be rescued, he thought somebody threw them away and he wished they’d have thrown them just a little farther, because now they were all ending up in his yard. Today every time I see these flowers I think of him. I hope your flowers come with such pleasant memories.

Common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is often confused with clover but clover has oval leaflets rather than the heart shaped ones. Yellow wood sorrel’s three leaflets close up flat at night and in bright sunshine, and for that reason it is also called sleeping beauty or sleeping molly. The flowers also close at night. The stricta part of the scientific name means “upright” and refers to the way the plant’s seedpods bend upwards from their stalks. This small grouping had the largest flowers I’ve seen; twice the size as they usually bear. I’m not sure what would cause that.

We have several invasive honeysuckle species here in New Hampshire and I’ve given up trying to identify them all. Most or all are banned from being sold but birds love their bright red berries and that makes the shrubs impossible to ever eradicate. Though most of their flowers are white you do see an occasional pink example. They can be very pretty and also very fragrant.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus ) takes quite a long time to bloom after the melting snow reveals  its cluster of basal leaves in  early spring. This commonly seen plant originally comes from Europe and Asia and is considered invasive.

Greater celandine’s yellow / orange colored sap that we used to call mustard when I was a boy has been used medicinally for thousands of years, even though it is considered toxic and can irritate the skin and eyes. It is said that it can also cause liver damage if used incorrectly. We might have called it mustard but as far as I know, nobody ever ate it.

Little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is one of my favorite spring flowers and it has just started blooming. Toadflax flowers have an upper lip that is divided into 2 rounded lobes, and a lower lip which is divided into 3 lobes that are rounded and spreading. They also have a long spur in back, which can’t be seen well in this photo. Toadflax likes sandy soil and waste areas to grow in. The cheery blue flowers are always a welcome sight.

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) is a plant that quite literally helped me see the light. There was a time when all this plant meant to me was more hard work. I didn’t like having to weed them out of lawns and garden beds but they were so unsightly with their long, weak flower stems and sprawling, weedy habit. And then one evening a single ray of sunshine came through the clouds and fell directly on a red clover plant at the edge of a meadow, and when I knelt in front of it to take its photo for the first time I saw how beautiful it really was. I saw that it had an inner light; what I think of as the light of creation, shining brightly out at me. I’ve loved it ever since, and since that day I don’t think I’ve ever truly thought of another flower, no matter how lowly, as a weed.

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them. ~John Ruskin

Thanks for coming by.

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It got to be sunny and hot for a change last Saturday so I sought out the natural cooling of the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s usually about ten degrees cooler in there with almost always a bit of a breeze. After I spent some time in the man made canyon in the above photo I was wishing I had worn something a little warmer, so the natural air conditioner was working. Out there it was 80 degrees F. but in here it felt more like 60.

But that was in the deepest, darkest part of the trail. Once I found some sunlight it warmed to a more pleasant temperature.

I come here quite often at all times of year and each season has much beauty to offer. In spring there is an explosion of growth on the stone walls of the man made canyon, and it always reminds me of the Shangri-La described in the book Lost Horizons by James Hilton. When I was a boy I dreamed of being a world traveling plant hunter who brought back exotic plants from far away places, and in my imagination many of those places looked a lot like this.

Groundwater drips constantly down the stone walls of the canyon and many hundreds of species of plants, mosses, ferns, grasses, liverworts and even trees grow on the stone walls, among them the marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) seen here.

The violets also grow thickly all along the sides of the trail.

For every thousand blue violets there is a white one. Actually I can’t guess the numbers but white violets are scarce here.

Heart leaf foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) also grow here by the thousands. They’re one of our prettiest late spring flowers and I always find them near water or growing in wet ground along rail trails. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and a colony as big as the ones found here are a beautiful sight. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or 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 strangest thing I saw on this trip was this dandelion stem, which had split in half and curled tightly on either side of the split. I can’t even guess how it might have happened.

I saw a very pretty white moth on a leaf. It had fringe on its wings and that fringe made it easy to identify as the white spring moth (Lomographa vestaliata,) which has a range from Newfoundland west to south-eastern British Columbia and south to Florida and Texas. It likes forest edges.

I saw an unusual flat, antler like fungus growing on a log. The log was down in one of the drainage ditches so I couldn’t get close to it. I haven’t been able to identify it and I wonder if it isn’t a badly degraded bracket fungus from last year. It looked relatively fresh but without touching it, it’s hard to tell.

One of the most unusual things growing here are these green algae, called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the algal cells called hematochrome or beta-carotene color the algae orange by hiding their green chlorophyll. It is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color.

Something else unusual is a dandelion growing on stone. I think everyone knows that dandelions have taproots, so how does that work on stone? Maybe there is an unseen crack in the stone that the 4-6 inch long root grew into, I don’t know. Maybe the constant watering means the dandelion doesn’t need a taproot.

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along the trail. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been shown to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. It isn’t the same plant as cultivated chervil used to flavor soups though, so it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) also grows along the trail and there are lots of them here, now gone to seed. Coltsfoot is native to Europe and Asia and was brought here by early settlers. It has been used medicinally for centuries and another name for it is coughwort.

So many plants, so little time. The lushness of this place is really quite amazing. Except for the narrow trail nearly every square inch, be it horizontal or vertical, is covered with some type of growth.

One of the plants that grow here are the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) that grow on the stones by the thousands. This is the only place I’ve ever seen them and I think that’s because the conditions here are perfect for them. They like to grow in places where they never dry out and the constant drip of the groundwater makes that possible. They like to be wet but they can’t stand being submerged for any length of time so growing on the vertical walls above the drainage channels is ideal.

Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and there was lots of it.

This is one of the most beautiful liverworts in my opinion because of its reptilian appearance, which is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

One of the plants growing here that I wasn’t happy to see was garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata.) It’s 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 I read in the New York Times a few years ago, it’s delicious.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) like wet, sunny meadows and open woodlands so it was no surprise to see them growing in drifts as I left the canyon and moved into open meadows. It is said to be an important plant to a number of short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. Each flower is only about an eighth of an inch long and has five sepals, five petals, and five stamens. They’re also very difficult to get a good photo of, for some reason.

If I could walk through the canyon with my eyes closed it wouldn’t take too long to reach the old lineman’s shack but since I dilly dally and stop to look at anything that seems interesting and / or beautiful it usually takes a good two hours, so I’ve made what’s left of the shack my turn around point. Picked apart board by board over the years by those wanting to bridge the drainage ditches, it has become a symbol of strength and longevity for me, still standing and bearing heavy snow loads with only two walls left. It was certainly built to last; the the railroad came through here in the mid 1800s.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
~Lao Tzu

Thanks for coming by.

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