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Posts Tagged ‘Mad Dog Skullcap’

Last weekend I thought I’d visit a few places along the Ashuelot River in Keene and Swanzey to see if there were any fall colors showing yet. I saw a few, though I really hoped it was still too early for fall.

I even saw signs of fall up in the trees already. As I’ve said here many times, spring and fall start on the forest floor and work their way through the shrubby understory to the trees. To see it already in some of the trees was a bit disconcerting.

Here was a beautiful wild sarsaparilla plant (Aralia nudicaulis) on the forest floor that was sticking to the plan. This is where I expect to see fall first, and sarsaparilla is always one of the first forest floor plants to change. Most turn yellow but this one felt like purple would do best.

Native dogwoods of the shrubby understory are also starting to change. They’re often one of the first shrubs to turn and will often turn purple.

Another shrub that’s beginning to change is the invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus.) These understory shrubs can take a lot of shade and can form monocultures in the forest. They in turn cast enough shade so natives can’t get a start.  Burning bushes often turn unbelievable shades of pink and a forest full of them is truly an amazing sight. Their sale and cultivation is banned in New Hampshire but there are so many of them in the wild they’ll always be with us now.

Last time I saw this butterfly I had a very hard time identifying it and finally settled on silvery checkerspot, but several of you knew it as a pearly crescent. Then someone wrote in and said they were fairly sure it was indeed a silvery checkerspot, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide. To be honest I just enjoy seeing butterflies and don’t really need to know their names to love them.

This one I did know; a cabbage white butterfly rested on a Virginia creeper leaf. This species is originally from Europe along with quite a few of the cabbage family of plants that their caterpillars feed on.

Of course there were turtles. There are almost always turtles to be seen along the Ashuelot. In the fall this turtle would be looking out upon a blaze of flaming red maples in this spot but on this day all we saw was green.

I saw plenty of flowers along the river, including this aster that I’ve been too lazy to try to identify.

I hate to say it but when I was a boy this river was so polluted you could hardly stand the smell in high summer. I’ve seen it run orange and purple and green, and any other color the woolen mills happened to be dyeing with on any particular day. I’ve seen people dump their trash on its banks and I’ve seen it close to dead, with only frogs, turtles and muskrats daring to get near it. But after years of effort it is clean once again and eagles fish for trout and other freshwater fish along its length. It no longer smells and though you can still find an occasional rusty can or broken bottle it is far cleaner than it was when I was growing up. Or so I thought; when I was a boy you could step in the mud at the river’s edge and see oil accumulating in your footstep, just like it did in the photo above. How long will it take to clean that up, I wonder? It’s a hard thing to see, after all these years.

But the plants don’t seem to mind. Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is just about done this year but I still loved seeing the few pretty little flowers that were left. This plant can get quite tall under the right conditions but it’s fussy about where it grows. It likes wet soil and full sun, which means I almost always find it near water. Its bitter roots were used by Native Americans to treat gastric irritation and some tribes roasted them and ground them into flour. Others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to stop nosebleeds. This is one of the plants they introduced to the Europeans and they used it in much the same way.

Ducks and many other birds feed on the seeds of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and the ones on this plant were almost gone. This native shrub grows all along the river and I see it fairly often. Each puffy bit that looks like a bladder is what a fertilized flower turns into and each should hold two black seeds.

Hairy galls on buttonbush leaves are caused by the buttonbush mite (Aceria cephalanthi.) There are over 900 species of the nearly microscopic Aceria insects that are identified by the host plants they feed on.

Nodding bur marigolds (Bidens tripartita) grew along the shore with smartweeds like tearthumb. I just featured this plant in my last post so I won’t go on about it, other than to say that the way to tell how old the flowers are is by their position. As they age they nod and point toward the ground, so it’s safe to assume that these flowers were relatively freshly opened.

Mad dog skullcaps (Scutellaria laterifolia) are still blooming, I was surprised to see. This plant was unusual because of its one flower. They always bloom in pairs and I must have gotten there just after one of this pair had fallen. They love to grow on grassy hummocks near rivers and ponds and that’s where I always find them. The skullcap part of the common name comes from the calyx at the base of the flower, which is said to look like a medieval skull cap. The plant was once thought to cure rabies, and that is where the mad dog part of the common name comes from. This plant contains powerful medicine so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a vision quest or a spirit walk, this was one of the plants they chose to get them there.

Giant foxtail grass (Setaria faberi) is a large annual grass that can form large colonies. Its nodding, bristly, spike like flower heads and wide leaves make it easy to identify. The flower heads go from light green to straw colored as they age.

I think pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) goes from flower to fruit quicker than any plant I know of. These berries were overripe and stained my fingers purple when I touched them. The birds usually eat them right up and I was surprised to find so many on this plant. Science says that humans should never eat the berries or any other part of the plant because it’s considered toxic, but people do eat the new shoots in spring. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses.

My favorite part of the pokeweed plant is the tiny purple “flower” on the back of each berry. The flower is actually what’s left of the flower’s five lobed calyx, but it mimics the flower perfectly. I just noticed that this calyx has six lobes rather than five. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen more than five.

A hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) found its way to the top of a pokeweed plant to get more sunlight. Pokeweeds can get 5 or 6 feet tall so the bindweed got a lot closer to the sun than it would have normally been able to.

And here was something new; at least, it was new to me. I can’t believe I’ve walked the banks of this river for over 50 years and have never seen native swamp smartweed (Persicaria hydropiperoides.) This plant is also called false water pepper or mild water pepper and is the only smartweed I’ve ever seen that had most of its flowers open at once. You’re usually lucky to find one or two open on a smartweed.

From what I’ve read even botanists have a hard time with this one because the plant is so variable, probably because of cross breeding. The pretty pinkish white flowers are quite small; less than an eighth of an inch across.  They remind me of the sand jointweed flowers that I featured in the last post, right down to the plum colored anthers.

No, I haven’t put the same shot of the Ashuelot River in this post twice. This one looks upriver from a bridge and the one at the start of the post looks downriver. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best so you get to see both of them. I hope you like one or the other. They show how the green is starting to lighten and fade from a lot of the leaves.

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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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

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We’ve had some hot weather lately and that always makes me want to be near water, and of course when I’m near water I can’t help noticing the plants that grow there. Cattails (Typha latifolia) are the easiest to see, sometimes towering to 6 or 8 feet tall. They can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. Of course, that doesn’t account for all the new plants that grow from seed.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing it’s best to just admire this one. This photo is of the last one I saw blooming this year.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly. I know of one small pond that started with 2 or 3 plants a few years ago and now nearly half the pond is being choked out by them.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were tiny flies crawling over most of the blossoms I saw on this day.

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. 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.

Some of the aquatic plants that I like to see up close grow far enough out in the water to have to be photographed from a boat or by swimming out to them with a waterproof camera. If you really want to challenge your photographic skills, try photographing aspirin sized flowers from a kayak that you can’t keep still.

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and grew where I kayaked in great numbers. This rose, like many other plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. I saw a lot of swamp milkweed too, but I couldn’t get close enough for a photo.

One day I saw a couple of Canada goose families eating cherries from cherry trees that had bent low over the water. I didn’t know that they did this.

The adults seemed to be trying to teach the goslings how to get at the cherries but the little birds didn’t have the neck stretch it took to reach the fruit.

What I believe is creeping spike rush (Eleocharis macrostachya) isn’t a rush at all; it’s a sedge, so I’m not sure why it’s called a rush. As sedges go this one is very small; just a spiked stem with a brushy little flower head on top and a couple of basal leaves. It likes to grow in standing water at pond and lake edges, just off shore but I’ve read that it will also grow in ditches, vernal pools, and wet meadows.

The flower head of this sedge is called a spikelet and it is about a half inch long. The cream colored oval parts are the male flowers and the wispy white feathery bits are the female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look nearly identical so I could be wrong about its name. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, the only way to tell them apart is by their tiny fruits, and I doubt that I could even see them.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. Since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

One of the bonuses of looking for aquatics is that you see a lot of dragonflies, like this male common whitetail dragonfly. This dragonfly rests on twigs and grasses near the water, and sometimes on the ground. I haven’t seen one on the ground but I have seen them on stones. This isn’t a very good shot but he only perched long enough for one click of the shutter.

If only narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) would grow at the water’s edge. Instead it grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow and by the time I was finished taking its photo my feet were soaked. How odd it seems that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but we have had a lot of rain. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow whorled loosestrife that I spoke of in my last post. But whorled loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Though they are very hard to see in this example because of the bright light each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

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1. Island

On Sunday some friends and I decided to take our kayaks out for the first time this season. The water in Wilson Pond in Swanzey was warm enough for a dip, in case a mishap should happen and one of us got wet. We started our journey by paddling past the island in the pond.

2. Chop

It was a beautiful day and the sun felt hot as we paddled, but luckily there was a stiff breeze that cooled us. Though welcome, it also made the water quite choppy and would blow your kayak across the water as if it were a sailboat if you stopped paddling.

3. Channel

Secluded coves and channels meant we could find some shade and get away from the wind for a while. The water in some of these channels is very shallow; I’m not sure you’d even get your knees wet if you walked them. Last year there were a lot of ducks here but on this day we didn’t see a single one.

4. Beaver Birch

Beavers had cut down many of the white birch trees along the shore but they left them behind and didn’t even eat the new twigs on their crowns, which seems odd behavior for a beaver. Some trees were hard to paddle around.

5. Cove

I’ve never seen any white water lilies in this pond but yellow pond lilies (Nuphar lutea) like to grow in coves where the water is relatively shallow and calm.

6. Bullhead lily Seed Pod

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.

7. Pickeral Weed

Native pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) blossomed in small colonies just off shore. If you see pickerel weed you can expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid. These examples were only about two feet high but I recently saw others that were as tall as a great blue heron.  I didn’t know that they grew so tall.

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Pickerelweed’s common name comes from the pickerel fish because they were once thought to breed only under its leaves. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. Though humans can eat the seeds and new spring shoots of this plant there is no record that I can find of Native Americans using it for food.

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Maleberrry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrubs look much like a blueberry, even down to their flowers, but these flowers are much smaller than those of blueberry. I’d guess barely half the size of a blueberry blossom. The two shrubs often grow side by side and look so much alike that sometimes the only way to tell them apart is by the maleberry’s woody brown, 5 part seed capsule. These seed capsules stay on the shrub in some form or another year round and are helpful for identification, especially in spring when the two shrubs look nearly identical.

10. Maleberry Seed Capsules

I’ve included this photo of the maleberry’s seed capsules that I took earlier so you could see what they look like. They are very hard and woody and appear near the branch ends.

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Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shoreline. 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. 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.

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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.

13. Swamp Roses

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) bloomed in great numbers on the hummocks along the shoreline but I had trouble getting close to them. The 2 inch flowers are very fragrant and though the plant prefers wet to moist soil it will also grow in dry ground. It would be an excellent choice for a home pond or near a stream.

14. Bur Reed 2

Bur reed is another plant found growing just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

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The female flowers of bur reed are less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

16. Pipewort

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area and doesn’t grow in this pond, but I’ve included it because it’s an unusual aquatic that isn’t often seen. In fact, I know of only two ponds that it grows in. The plants grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers.

17. Pipewort

Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I’ve found that its flowers are close to impossible to get a good photo of.

18. Lobelia

When I found a new spot for pipewort plants this year I also found a new plant that I’d never seen; water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna.)  I can’t speak for its rarity, but I’ve never seen it in any pond I’ve visited. It’s said to be a more northern species, so that could be why. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands.

19. Lobelia Blossom

The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl.

20. Cattails

Cattails (Typha latifolia) formed an impenetrable wall and soared overhead in some places along the shoreline. They must have been 8 feet tall or more.

21. Going Back

As the old saying goes all good things must come to an end and before we knew it, it was time to turn for home. I’ve found that an hour or so in a kayak is about all my back can take, but what a fun filled hour it can be. It’s an excellent way to get close to aquatic plants.

We are but a speck in the universe
Oh, but what a lucky speck to be.
~Kehinde Sonola

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1. Fragrant White Water Lily

Our aquatic plants have started blooming here in the southwestern part of New Hampshire and queen among them, at least in my opinion, is the fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata.) I happened to be with someone recently who crawled out on a fallen tree to smell one of these beauties. When I told him that people said they smelled like honeydew melons he agreed. Sort of-it was a hard fragrance to describe, he said, but a pleasant one.  I’m happy just seeing them; I like the golden fire that burns in their center.

2. Pickerel Weed

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is another aquatic that has small purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep. It’s a plant that often forms large colonies.

3. Pickerel Weed

A small sampling of what was a very large colony of pickerel weed. Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

4. Burr Reed

One of my favorite aquatics is American burr reed (Sparganium americanum,) more for its quirky appearance than for any other reason. Its round, spiky female flowers grow at the bottom of the stem and the male flowers with yellow stamens above them. Burr reed usually grows right at the edge of ponds and rivers in waterlogged soil but it will sometimes grow in still water. Ducks and other waterfowl love the seeds.

5. Purple Loosestrife

Purple loosestrife is an invasive that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally 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.

Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant like the one pictured above is becoming very difficult. I read of an experiment going on in Dublin, a town east of here, in which the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture is releasing European beetles to feed on purple loosestrife. The thought is that the beetles will control the plant but my question is, suppose they do control the plant and suppose one day there isn’t any more purple loosestrife. What will the beetles feed on then, native plants? Will we be any better off?  I think we need to be very careful what we wish for.

6. Purple Loosestrife

Though it is much hated you can’t deny the beauty of purple loosestrife. I’ve worked for nurseries and have had people come in wanting to buy “that beautiful purple flower that grows in wet areas.”

7. Mad Dog Skullcap

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) gets its 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. 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.

8. Mad Dog Skullcap

There is powerful medicine in both mad dog or marsh skullcap and when Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. The small blue and white flowers always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Those of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller.

9. Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet (Spiraea Ulmaria) is another plant that I look for at the water’s edge, though it doesn’t usually grow close enough to get its feet wet. It grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. This plant was one of three considered most sacred by the Druids and has been used medicinally for many thousands of years. Here in America it is an introduced invasive, but little is heard about it and nobody seems to mind.

NOTE: The scientific name I meant to use for this plants is Spirea alba.

10. Soapwort

I find soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) growing along river banks. The plant gets its common name from the way the chopped and boiled leaves produce a soapy lather that is particularly good at removing grease. This plant is a native of Europe and is thought to have been brought over by colonists to be used as a soap substitute. It is said to be especially useful for waterproofing wool, and museum conservators use it for cleaning delicate fabrics that can be harmed by modern soaps.

11. Riverbank Flowers

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is just coming into bloom and I like its dusty rose pink color with the beautiful blue of vervain. I found them on the rocky banks of the Ashuelot River.

12. Canada thistle  aka Cirsium arvense

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) that most of us have tangled with. Though it does have spines along the leaf margins and stem, they are quite small. 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.

13. Orange Daylilly

Along with lilacs and peonies, the common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) is a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is also found in cemeteries often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. It is also very tough; my brother used to mow his when they finished blooming and they still came back and bloomed year after year. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common.

This plant was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes and all of which have the potential to spread just like the original has. If you find yourself doing battle with a particularly weedy daylily, no matter the color, there’s a very good chance that the common orange is one of its parents.

14. Phlox

Phlox whispered that fall is on the way but I didn’t want to hear it. It seems like just yesterday that I was taking photos of spring beauties.

15. Herb Robert

Herb Robert is a geranium that has never appeared on this blog because I’ve never found it in the wild until just recently on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Surry, which is north of Keene. My question, once I had identified it, was: Robert who? As it turns out Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

A very curious fact about this plant is how many people, scientists included, have discovered that it grows most abundantly in areas that have high levels of radiation. It is thought to absorb the radiation from the soil, break it down and disperse it. If I had a Geiger counter I’d go back and check the bedrock outcrop that I found it growing on.

16. Radish

Friends let their radishes go to seed this year and among the rows of plain white flowers was a beautiful pink one. Since Henry David Thoreau instilled a spirit of nonconformity in me when I read his words as a boy, I was happy to see this plant breaking ranks and doing its own thing. Many of the plants found in nurseries are those that have done the same.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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1. Kayaking With Friens on the Old Skatahootchie

Some friends of mine live on a local pond and recently we went exploring in our kayaks. The pond is fed by a wide, shallow stream that was as smooth as glass. It winds in and out between small wooded islands and the shore line and was a beautiful place to explore. None of us knows the name of the stream so I told my friends that I was going to call this photo Kayaking with friends on the old Skatahootchie. I don’t know why the word Skatahootchie popped into my mind, but it did. Maybe it means botanical abundance.

2. Mad Dog Skullcap

I’ve been walking the shores of ponds and lakes for many years and have found one or two mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants here and there, but in this place great bunches of them grew along the shoreline. I would have gotten a good close up of one for you but I’ve discovered that keeping a kayak from moving while trying to get a photo is darn near impossible. 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. There is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. 3. Pickerel Weed

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) grew here and there but wasn’t as prevalent as I’ve seen in some other ponds. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid.

4. Kayaking

It was easy to be stunned into silence by the beauty of this place and at times floating through it seemed like floating through a dream. There might not be a heaven on earth, but there are still pieces of Eden left. 5. Fragrant White Water Lilies

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are still in bloom. There are certain flowers that are beautiful enough to make me want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. Some say the scent of fragrant white water lilies reminds them of honeydew melon. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds, so if you see some and come back a week later and find that they’re gone, you aren’t imagining things.

6. Yellow Water Lily Seed Pod

It isn’t often that we get to see a yellow pond lily (Nuphar luteum) seed pod, so I thought I’d get a photo of one while the kayak was handy. This one still had its petals attached. The seeds of this plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. 7. Pipewort

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area. In fact, I know of only one pond that it grows in, so I had to hike a bit to see it. The plants grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers. I’ve found that this plant is very hard to get a good photo of.

8. Pipewort

Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I wish I had a better photo to prove it. 9. Bur Reed

Bur reed is another plant found growing just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down. The female flowers are less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

10. Buttonbush Flower 2

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a shrub that I often find overhanging rivers and streams. It’s very easy to identify when it’s flowering because the inch diameter spherical flower heads don’t resemble those of any other native shrub that I know of. The fragrant, long white, tubular flowers each have an even longer style that makes the whole flower head look like a spiky pincushion. Once pollinated the flower heads become hard brown seed heads made up of small, two seeded nutlets that are a favorite of ducks and shore birds. Not surprisingly the first part (genus) of the scientific name Cephalanthus comes from the Greek words cephalo, meaning head and anthos, meaning flower.

11. Dwarf St. Johnswort aka Hypericum mutilum

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. These flowers are about the same diameter as a pencil eraser and, since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

12. Arrowhead Flowers

Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is another plant that grows just off shore in ponds but it can also be found it ditches and other wet places. The tuberous roots of this plant are said to have the texture of potatoes but to taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour.  Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

13. Arrowheads

All the arrowhead leaves pointed heavenward and looked as if they were about to lift off, and the damselflies hung on for the ride.

14. Frog

Mr. Frog knew that if he stayed very still I wouldn’t see him and neither would the damselfly. I think he’s a green frog rather than a bullfrog but I can’t ever seem to feel 100% certain of my amphibian identifications.

Note: Jim at the jomegat blog has identified this frog as a female bullfrog, so I wasn’t even close. Thanks Jim!

15. Raft

When I saw this old raft my boyhood came rushing back in the form of many pleasant memories of building rafts with friends. They never did float us down the Ashuelot River to the Atlantic but we sure had fun building them, imagining all the while the great adventures we would find. Kayaking is kind of like a rafting-maybe that’s why it’s so much fun.

Discovering this idyllic place, we find ourselves filled with a yearning to linger here, where time stands still and beauty overwhelms. ~Anonymous

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Here are a few more examples of what’s blooming in southwestern New Hampshire right now.

 1. Buttonbush

Native button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is blooming along rivers and ponds now, but it isn’t real common. This plant is a shrub that can reach 12 feet tall. The flowers are unusual-the spiky pistils stick out quite far above the petals, giving the round flower head the look of a pincushion. Native Americans used the roots and bark of these shrubs medicinally but modern science has found that the plant contains a compound called cephalanthin, which destroys red blood cells.

 2. American Burr Reed aka Sparganium americanum

American bur reed (Sparganium americanum) looks almost like a miniature version of the button bush in the previous photo. Since they both like water they are often found growing together on the same stretch of shoreline. The round, spiky female flowers of burr reed grow at the bottom of the stem and the male flowers with yellow stamens above them. Ducks and other waterfowl love the seeds.

 3. Partridge Pea

In New Hampshire native partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate) is a quiet little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of the woods and you really don’t hear much about it. In other areas it is often grown for honey production.  This annual plant is a legume in the pea family and is a great addition to a wildflower garden because it attracts a large variety of insects and wild life.

 4. Showy Tick Trefoil

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is another legume in the bean family but it is a perennial. I like it because it blooms in late summer along with goldenrod and I think that the colors go well together. This plant gets its name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and stick to clothing like ticks. Deer, rabbits, woodchucks and even cows love to eat this plant. Books and websites say its flower is pink but my color finding software sees purple in this photo, and so do I.

5. Hedge Bindweed

I see a lot of white hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) but not many bi-color flowers like this one. It’s a beauty.

6. Yellow Toadflax aka Linaria vulgaris

Yellow toadflax was introduced from Europe and Asia as an ornamental but as the old, familiar story goes; it escaped cultivation and is now found on roadsides and in pastures of every state in the country except Hawaii. Called butter and eggs, this plant is hated by cattlemen because it can take over large areas of pasture. Cattle know it is toxic and don’t touch it.

 7. Virgin's Bower

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a late summer blooming native clematis vine that drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees.

 8. Virgin's Bower

The flowers of virgin’s bower resemble those of sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata), which is a nonnative garden climber that has escaped. The plant is also called old man’s beard and devils’ darning needles. An extract made from it is hallucinogenic and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth, so it no part of it should ever be eaten.

 9. Wild Cucumber

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is another late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees. 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 spiny, 2 inch long fruits have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. The fruit is not edible.

 10. Wild Cucumber

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.

11. Black Swallowort aka Cynanchum louiseae

Plant breeders have been trying for centuries to breed a plant with black flowers but nature beat them to it with black swallow-wort (Cynanchum louiseae). The flowers can be black to dark purple and look like tiny stars. This plant is native to Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain and in 1854 it escaped from a botanical garden here in the U.S. and has been trying to take over since. It grows long, wire-like vines that are strong enough to trip you up without breaking. It is for that reason its other common name, dog strangler, came about.

 12. Mad Dog Skullcap

The seed pods of native mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) might look like an old fashioned skullcap, but the only thing the plant has to do with mad dogs is the erroneous belief that the it cured rabies. Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. These plants are quite small to begin with but many plants that grow on river banks where the river floods regularly can be stunted and quite smaller than usual, and I think that is what happened to these plants. These flowers were very small-no more than 1/8 of an inch long.

13. Dwarf St. Johnswort aka Hypericum mutilum

Dwarf St. Johnswort  (Hypericum mutilum) grows on the riverbank with the mad dog skullcap but it grows small naturally instead of being stunted. These flowers were about the same diameter as a pencil eraser. Like its bigger cousins the leaves of this plant contain a compound called hypericin, which can make light skinned people more susceptible to sunburn by way of a photosensitive reaction.

14. Forked Blue Curls

Another small flower I find on the upper gravel part of the riverbank is the forked blue curl (Trichostema dichotomum.) These are annual plants that grow from seed each year and I was afraid that all the seeds would have washed away in last spring’s flooding, but here they are. They are very small and you have to get down on your hands and knees for a view like this but it’s worth it because they are beautiful. This native plant grows as far west as Texas.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

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