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Posts Tagged ‘Lily of the Valley’

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

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

2. Mayapple

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

3. Mayapple Foliage

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

4. Redbud

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

5. Foamflowers

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

6. Foamflower

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

7. White Lilac

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

8. Lilac

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

9. Lily of the Valley

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

10. Poet's Daffodil

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

11. Johnny Jump Up

I wonder if Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) got their name from the way they seem to appear overnight. This plant has been known for a very long time and goes by many common names. It’s said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. I think three-faces in a hood is my favorite.  In medieval times it was called heartsease and was used in love potions. Viola tricolor is believed to be the original wild form of all the modern varieties of pansy. I’m lucky enough to have them popping up at the edge of my lawn.

12. Rue

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

13. Starflowers

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

14. Bearberry-2

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

15. Nodding Trillium

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

16. Nodding Trillium

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

17. Nodding Trillium

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

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven? ~ A.J. Balfour

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1. Johnny Jump Ups

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

2. Painted Trillium

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

3. Lady's Slipper

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

4. Native Azalea

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

5. Native Azalea

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

 6. Gold Thread

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

7. Gold Thread Leaves

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

8. Fleabane

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

9. Skunk Currant aka Ribes glandulosum

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

10. Jack in the Pulpit

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

11. Jack in the Pulpit

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

12. Lilac

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

13. Lilac

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

14. Lily of the Valley

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

15. Trillium

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

16. Gaywings

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

17. Gaywings

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

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

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

 

 

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1. Foamflowers

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. These cheery plants usually form large colonies and are quite common in this area. There are also many hybrids available and they are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

 2. Poet's Daffodil

The poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) is such an ancient plant that many believe that it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on. It can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and can be found in unmown fields. It is very fragrant and it is quite remarkable to realize, as you sit admiring its spicy fragrance, that the Roman poet Virgil once did the same thing.

3. Quince Blossoms

It’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves. If you don’t like the color of the flowers in the photo there are also red, pink and white flowered cultivars. The plant is in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. It is also the toughest shrub I know of. If you have a sunny spot where nothing will grow just plant a quince there and your problem will be solved. It is indestructible and 100% maintenance free, unless you feel the need to trim it. In the 1800s this plant was often called simply Japonica.

4. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) have also just started blooming. It’s hard to beat the sweet fragrance from these tiny white bells and it’s hard to imagine a New Hampshire garden that doesn’t have at least a few of these plants in it. The majalis part of its scientific name means “belonging to May,” and that is when it blooms.

All parts of lily of the valley are very toxic even in small amounts, so small children should be watched closely when near their bright red berries. Every child should have a chance to express their love by thrusting a fistful of wilting lily of the valley blossoms out to mom or grandma, though. I can remember doing so as a boy and I was never harmed by them.

5. Striped Maple Flowers

Flowers that I rarely see are those of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), which is a smallish understory tree that might reach 30 feet every once in a blue moon. Most are 10-15 feet or less, probably because they grow in shade, but I’ve read that they are opportunists that will suddenly shoot upward when a gap opens in the canopy. The tree gets its name from the way the green bark is striped with white when it is young. I like the long and pendulous flower heads. They sway gently in the slightest breeze, especially when a camera is pointed at them.

6. Striped Maple Flowers

The yellowish striped maple flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers. I wonder which insects the tree hopes to attract with flowers this color.

7. Wild Sarsaparilla

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) sets flower buds just as its leaves have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from deep bronze to green. At this stage people sometimes confuse the plant for poison ivy because the young leaves can appear to be very similar. One easy to remember difference is the woody stem seen on poison ivy is not seen on this plant.

8. Wild Sarsaparilla Flower Head

A closeup of a wild sarsaparilla’s flower head. Each flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard.

9. Painted Trillium

Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) comes along just as purple trillium (Trillium erectum) finishes blooming. Its flowers are much smaller but also showier than those of purple trillium. Each white petal has a pink V at its base. These plants like cool shaded slopes and often grow under conifers like eastern hemlock. The undulatum part of the scientific name comes from the wavy margins of the petals.

10. Mayapple Flower

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) are up and blooming but are difficult to get a good photo of. This one happens to grow in a local park and the color in the background is from fallen PJM rhododendron petals. The ones that I see in the woods don’t seem to bloom very often. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten.

 11. Starflower

I like to keep an eye out for starflower plants (Trientalis borealis) with multiple blooms when I walk through the woods at this time of year. Even though books will tell you that two is their limit I think my record is four flowers on one plant. These plants are very common and can be seen in any forest in this part of the state. They get their common name from how their 5-9 pointed petals form the shape of a star. The Trientalis part of the scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin and describes the plant’s four inch height perfectly.

 12. Hobblebushes

Some of our most beautiful native shrubs are in the viburnum family and hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is queen among them in my opinion. This is the first of the native viburnums to bloom here. High bush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), and maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) will soon follow. Hobblebush flower heads are flat and bright white and can be seen from quite a distance. They like to grow along roadsides so the blooms can be easily seen at this time of year.

13. Hobblebush Blossoms

Hobblebush flower heads are large-often 6 or more inches across. They are made up of small, fertile flowers in the center and larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge. All have 5 petals. The large sterile flowers do the work of attracting insects and that’s why many viburnums have this kind of arrangement. If the great variety of fruit I see each summer is any indication, it works well.

 14. Fringed polygala

I start looking for the ground hugging, orchid like fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) as soon as I see violets bloom. No other flower in the northeast looks like this one, so identification is easy. They are also called gaywings and are among the most beautiful and interesting flowers in our forests. Each spring when I first see them I feel like I could sit and look at them for hours, absorbed by their beauty.

 15. Fringed polygala

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

To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand. ~Jose Ortega Y Gasset

Thanks for stopping in.

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