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Posts Tagged ‘Leafy Spurge’

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 usually appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because they aren’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) 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.

The rhodora flower looks like an azalea blossom but 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.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are supposed to be a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but I’ve seen eight petals like the flower on the right in this photo, and I’ve seen many with 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.

I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said that it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at, because like many I’ve seen this one has nine petals and nine stamens.  I’m thinking that the 7 rule should be disregarded because I’ve found by looking at many plants that 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

I believe this is purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) “Purple Dragon.” Whatever its name it was a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf. That middle flower looks like it has a chicken popping up out of it.

Dogwood bracts have gone from green to white, but the tiny florets at their center haven’t opened yet. I think this tree is the Japanese Kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa) and not one of our native trees.

Nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum) is a little later than the purple trillium and just ahead of the painted trillium. They’re shy little things with flowers that hide beneath the leaves like the mayapple, and this makes them very hard to see. Even though I knew some plants in this group were blossoming I couldn’t see the flowers at all from above. Nodding trillium is the northernmost trillium in North America, reaching far into northern Canada and Newfoundland.

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. My favorite thing about the nodding trillium blossom is its six big purple stamens.

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, for some reason both nodding and painted trilliums are blooming at the same time. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three.

I didn’t see it until I looked at the photos I had taken but the painted trillium in the previous photo has a single petal pointed straight down, but in this example it points straight up. Note that the three smaller green sepals behind the petals also changed position. Which is the usual way? I’ve never paid enough attention to be able to answer that question but when you’re this beautiful I don’t suppose it really matters.

A flower that comes with plenty of memories for me is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) My grandmother’s name was Lily and I used to bring her wilting bouquets of them when I was a young boy. She would always smell them before putting them in a jelly jar full of water, all the while exclaiming how beautiful they were. The plant is extremely toxic but, though she didn’t tell me it was poisonous I never once thought of eating it or putting any part of the plant in my mouth. I do remember smelling their wondrous fragrance as I picked them though, and all those memories came back as I knelt to photograph this example. Amazing how memories can be so strongly attached to a fragrance.

Speaking of fragrance, our lilacs are finally blooming. In my April 26th post I showed lilac buds and said lilac blossoms would probably be in my next flower post. So much for prophesying; that was a full month ago and it has taken that long for them to open thanks to the cold and rainy first half of May. 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, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire 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.

My mother died when I was very young so I never really knew 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.

Every time I look closely at blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) I wonder why they didn’t call it yellow eyed grass, but that’s not all that’s wrong with the name because the plant isn’t a grass at all; it’s in the iris family. Its light blue green leaves do resemble grass leaves though. The beautiful little flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find.

The leaves are on the trees and that means that the spring ephemeral flowers won’t get the sunlight they need, and we’ve already had to say goodbye to spring beauties, purple trillium, and trout lilies. Now it’s time to say goodbye to the sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia.) The plants usually grow in large colonies and seeing the bell shaped flowers on thousands of plants all moving as one in the breeze is quite a sight. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats. Each 6-8 inch tall plant has a single dangling blossom that is about half an inch to sometimes one inch long.

Though I had the new spring shoots of the plant in the last post the club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) have already appeared, so it’s a very fast grower. This plant is very easy to confuse with red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but that plant’s flower head is spherical rather than elongated.

The flower head of white baneberry is always taller than it is wide and if pollinated the flowers will become white berries with a single black dot on one end. That’s where the common name doll’s eyes comes from. The berries are very toxic and can be appealing to children but luckily they are very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

Another plant with the same type of flower head is the witch alder (Fothergilla major.) The difference is that witch alder is a native shrub related to witch hazel, and is much bigger than baneberry. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They do very well in gardens but aren’t well known. I’m seeing more of them now than in the past though.

Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) is in the euphorbia family, which contains over 2000 species of plants including poinsettia, cassava, and many popular house plants. It’s a plant native to Europe, thought to have been mistakenly imported when its seed was mixed in with other crop seed. It was first seen in Massachusetts in 1827, and from there it spread as far as North Dakota within about 80 years. It can completely overtake large areas of land and choke out native plants, and for that reason it is classified as an invasive species by the United States Department of Agriculture. I find it growing along roadsides and gravelly waste areas but I haven’t seen extremely large colonies of it. All parts of the plant contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts, or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock.

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. ~Marcus Aurelius

Thanks for coming by.

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