Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Lizard Tails’

Here we are in high summer and the roadsides are starting to show some beautiful color. So many different flowers are blooming now it’s hard to keep up with them but the standouts in this scene are white boneset and Queen Anne’s lace, yellow goldenrods, and purple loosestrife. For me this is easily the most beautiful time of year. It’s like living inside a Monet painting.

The big bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) have just started to show some color as well. This plant originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant as this one did, and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love these flowers and it is not uncommon to have them flying all around me as I take photos of it.

Globe thistle (Echinops) is a garden thistle that isn’t very prickly at all compared to a bull thistle. This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers, but that’s not going to happen this summer. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony.  On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. I think a reader wrote in last year and said they do.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long yellow tipped, white styles sticking out of the tubular flowers the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey, though the town has done their best to cut most of them down. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person name. I think the flowers have the most intense color when in bud like they are in this photo.

Here are the flowers of Joe Pye weed; in my opinion not as colorful as the buds. Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is a common late summer sight in wet meadows and on river banks. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area. There are also cultivated varieties sold in nurseries.

At a glance common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) looks like white Joe Pye weed. That’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side, but boneset usually blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here. I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

The perfoliatum part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the foliage” and that’s how its stem appears to grow; as if the leaves have been perorated by it. The common name comes from the way that the joined leaves looked like broken bones knitting themselves back together. Joe Pye weed leaves have leaf stems (petioles) and look very different. Boneset was a very valuable medicine to Native Americans and they showed early settlers how to use the plant to reduce fever and relieve coughs and congestion. It was also used to ease aches and pains of all kinds.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. You can just see the tiny skullcaps at the very top of this stem. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

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 such an important food source for the settlers they forbade Natives from digging the tubers on “colonial lands”. And we wonder why Natives were upset with the settlers.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is often thought of as a warmth loving southern plant but I’ve seen it blooming and making berries here in October. Pokeweed flower clusters (Racemes) are unusual because you can often see ripe fruits at the bottom and new flowers at the top.

Pokeweed flowers are about a quarter inch across and have no petals but do have 5 white or pink sepals surrounding green carpels that fold and meet in the center. These green carpels will become a shiny, 8-10 chambered, purple-black berry. The carpels are surrounded by 10 white stamens. Though they were once used to color cheap wines the berries are poisonous and have killed children. People eat the leaves and spring shoots but adults have also been poisoned by eating plants that weren’t prepared properly. There are some powerful toxins in parts of the plant and scientists are testing it for its anti-cancer potential.

Steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) seems more herb than shrub to me but it’s in the spirea family of many shrubs. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin. I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is having a good year and I see the big flower heads everywhere, but despite their abundance I’m not finding more flower heads with the tiny purple / reddish floret at their center like this example has. Though another name for this plant is “wild carrot” you had better know exactly what you’re doing if you dig and eat the root because there are very similar plants like water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) that are among the most dangerously toxic plants known.

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. These flowers are tiny and very hard to see, much less get a photo of. This is the first time I’ve seen several in a cluster like this.

The first time I saw this plant a couple of years ago I thought it was some type of vining honeysuckle but the tiny flowers and its white latex sap pointed me in the direction of milkweeds.

But the tiny flowers weren’t right for a milkweed so I tried dogbane, which is in the milkweed family. I finally found that it is called Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum,) which is also called dogbane hemp. It is a poisonous plant which can cause cardiac arrest if ingested but it’s also a great source of strong fibers and was used by Native Americans to make nets, bow strings, fishing lines, clothing, and twine. Some tribes also used it medicinally despite its toxicity to treat rheumatism, coughs, whooping cough, and asthma.

One of the chief identifiers for Indian hemp are the pretty plum colored stems.

What would a garden be without a phlox or two? They’re so beautiful; it’s hard not to love them. And many are fragrant as well.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) has been in this country for a very long time, having been brought over as a garden flower by a Welsh Quaker in the late 1600s. It was used medicinally at least since the 1400s and modern science has shown the plant to have diuretic and fever reducing qualities. As if that weren’t enough it’s also used as a cut flower by florists because they are so long lasting when cut. I found these examples blooming in a waste area by a music store and I enjoyed seeing them.

I’ve been wondering what these flowers were for at least two years and I think I’ve finally found their name: Lizard tails! (Saururus cernuus.) They look like little hedgehogs to me but somebody saw a lizard tail so that’s their name.

The flowers are pretty and there are many of them on each flower head. Though I’ve never seen it in the wild it turns out that the plant is native to eastern North America, where it grows in shallow water. Its leaves look like the smartweed family to me but I’m not sure if it is related. It is said to have medicinal properties and was once used to treat inflammation, but science has found that it is toxic. The crushed leaves are thought to smell like sassafras.

Little things seem nothing but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air. ~George Bernanos

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »