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Posts Tagged ‘Maple Leaved Viburnum’

Last weekend I felt the urge to climb, so off I went to Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I know better than to deny the urge because it only gets stronger as time passes. The town History of Swanzey, New Hampshire says that Mount Caesar was named after Caesar Freeman, a freed black slave and one of the original settlers here. Some believe that he is is buried somewhere on it.

One of the first things I saw was a nice clump of lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids. Its beautiful pouch like pink flowers appear in May and last for a week or two, depending on the weather. I was happy to find them growing all along the trail, almost to the summit.

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. This one had apparently been pollinated because it had a seed pod.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) bloomed in sunnier spots along the trail. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

Indian Tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I saw a bright yellow, very hairy caterpillar on a twig. I believe it might be a Virginian tiger moth caterpillar (Spilosoma virginica.) This caterpillar is also called yellow bear and I think this is the first time I’ve seen one. I’m not sure what those four yellow bumps are.

Up and up I went. Mount Caesar is the most difficult climb I do these days but by normal standards it really isn’t that difficult unless you have breathing issues. I saw two or three people race up and down it before I even made it to the top but they weren’t interested in what they might see along the trail. Only the end of the trail is important to many people and they miss a lot of the beauty of nature by thinking that way. Some are even more interested in listening to their phones than the birds and I saw that happening here as well. All I can say about that is, if you are in the woods to enjoy nature racing through them as fast as you can go and plugging your ears so you can’t hear anything is not considered being in nature. Being in nature means allowing it to fill all of your senses while you are there. It means being completely immersed in the experience. When you are there be there, fully. You’ll enjoy it more and you’ll get far more out of the experience.

What I believe were ink cap mushrooms grew in the middle of the trail, but just because something is obvious doesn’t always mean it is seen and I doubt anyone noticed them because a few had been stepped on. I think they might have been the hare’s foot ink cap (Coprinopsis lagopus) but I could be wrong. I do know from personal experience that ink caps can appear very different at different times; even at different times of the same day, because their lives are very short. I liked the maroon shimmer of these examples. These mushrooms often grow in the forest, as these did.

Once they produce spores they’re done, and that usually takes one day but on this day there were plenty more coming. They’re called ink caps because their caps liquify and turn into what looks like ink.

I saw things here on this day that I’ve never seen before and one of them was shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) producing spores. The yellowish club like spore producing sporophylls at the tip of each plant are where the spores are produced and once the spores are released to the wind they can take up to 20 years to germinate. In my experience sporophylls aren’t common on this clubmoss. The leaves, called microphylls, resemble scales more than actual leaves and for some reason they are very shiny. Shining clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Note: A helpful reader has pointed out that this is actually bristly clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum,) which I’ve never heard of. Shining clubmoss doesn’t produce sporophylls, which explains why I never see them.  

Another thing I discovered on this day was that the unripe berries of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) are white. This plant is also called checkerberry and it is the first plant I ever learned well enough to know on sight, probably when I was just 5 or 6 years old. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed to relieve pain because they contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin. Since I’ve known these berries as red my entire life seeing them white was quite a surprise. I don’t suppose I’ve ever wondered what they would look like in their unripe state.

I was trying to capture the beautiful luminosity of the forest when I heard a loud crashing behind me. I thought “Oh great, another bear” but no, it was a deer. It stopped and watched me for a bit, blending into the forest so well that I couldn’t get a shot of it from where I was. Of course as soon as I started moving so did the deer, and it was off like a shot. The odd thing was it didn’t really run away; I could hear it jumping and thrashing in the woods for a while afterwards as I continued climbing, as if it was running along beside me.

I saw the deer clearing stone walls with ease, jumping so high it had feet to spare. I was wishing I had legs that could do  that.

A young oak had fallen and split lengthwise to reveal that it was completely hollow, most likely chewed up by carpenter ants. There are far more hollow trees in the woods than most people realize. If you have a tree on your property and you see what looks like sawdust around its base you should call an arborist, especially if it is near your house. Friends of mine had their barn cut in half by a hollow white pine that fell on it just a few years ago.

I could look at this all day. It is worthy of hanging in an art gallery, in my opinion.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is also called arrow wood. Its beautiful white flowers turn into blue-black berries, which aren’t often seen. This plant’s fall foliage is some of the most colorful in the forest and I always look for it in the fall. The shrub is called arrow wood because its branches grow very straight and some believe that Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. 

Yellow spots form on wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves before fall even arrives, and they slowly grow larger until the entire leaf is yellow. This is one of the earliest plants to start turning color in the fall.

I couldn’t get over the beautiful light coming through the trees. At times it was hard to focus on anything else.

Before you know it (unless you’re climbing with me) you’re at the summit. I remember how surprised I was the day I realized that I had been climbing a huge piece of granite. The trail ends just as it begins; with bare granite bedrock.

There is a glacial erratic up here that is nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It is said to rock back and forth like the 40 ton glacial erratic over on Hewe’s Hill called Tippin Rock, but I didn’t feel like heaving and grunting over boulders on this day.

Instead I wanted to visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulose.) Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily. They are naturally a deep pea green but when dry they turn ash gray as this one has. They will simply sit and wait for rain for eons if necessary and they, along with great blue herons, have taught me a lot about patience.

All those black dots on the lichen in the previous photo are this lichen’s fruiting bodies, where it’s spores are produced. I’ve noticed that they often seem to form where the lichen stays wettest longer after a rain. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecium) could easily hide behind one. The apothecium is where the lichen’s spores are produced and in this case it is tiny black disc with a sunken center that makes it look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This photo isn’t great but I was happy that it showed the detail that it does. What looks like a piece of wood in the upper right is actually a bit of a white pine needle, if that tells you anything about scale.

The views weren’t very good but that didn’t bother me. As I’ve said before, if I climbed for the view I’d be disappointed most of the time, because views are weather dependent. On this day there was a milky sky and that almost always means that far off scenes and landscapes will not reproduce well in the camera. In fact it isn’t that I don’t enjoy the views, it’s the trying to reproduce them that I don’t enjoy. If I ever stop blogging I can easily see myself no longer carrying a camera when I’m in the woods.

This is what I mean by a milky sky; almost pure white. Still, in my opinion there’s no such thing as a bad photo of Mount Monadnock, so I’ll just leave you with this one. 

No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. ~Ansel Adams

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Since it had been about a year since my last visit and since I was interested in seeing what aquatic plants might be blooming, I decided to go up to Goose Pond last weekend. The pond is part of a five hundred acre wilderness area that isn’t that far from downtown Keene. Goose Pond was called Crystal Lake and / or Sylvan Lake in the early 1900s. The pond was artificially enlarged to 42 acres in 1865 so the town of Keene would have a water supply to fight fires with. Wooden pipe fed 48 hydrants by 1869, but the town stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s, and in 1984 it was designated a wilderness area. The vast forest tract surrounding the pond has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s.

One of the first things I saw were these fungi growing on a fallen hemlock log and despite their odd shapes I believe they were hemlock varnish shelf fungi. Hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) can be quite big and their color can vary greatly but they’re almost always shiny on top, hence the “varnish” part of the common name. In China this mushroom is called the Reishi mushroom and it has been used medicinally for centuries. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese medicine and scientists from around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

I think we’ll have plenty of blackberries this year. I’ve never seen them bloom like they are now.

Beautiful blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) bloomed in the shallow water along the shore.

Unless you own a nursery or spend a good deal of time in the woods, there’s a good chance that you’ve never seen the seed leaves of an American beech tree (Fagus grandifolia.) Seed leaves are called cotyledons and appear before a plant’s true leaves. If the plant has 2 seed leaves it is called a dicot (dicotyledon), and if only one it is called a monocot (monocotyledon.) The cotyledons are part of the embryo within the seed and contain stored food that the young plant needs to grow. As the food stores are used up the cotyledons might either turn green and photosynthesize, or wither and fall off. That’s the quick botany lesson of the day. It’s hard to make it any more exciting.

What is exciting, at least for me, is how this was only the second time in my life that I’ve seen this, and since I’ve spent a lot of time in nurseries and forests I’m guessing this is a rare sight. Seed leaves, as anyone who has ever started vegetables or flowers from seed knows, often look nothing like the true leaves.  In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves and feel tough and leathery. If you know of a beech tree that produces nuts, take a look underneath it in the spring for seedlings that still have their seed leaves.

In places the trail is one person wide but generally two people can pass easily. If you come here you should wear good stout hiking boots because there are a lot of roots and stones and in places it gets muddy. I’ve had questions from people afraid of getting lost out here and I did on this day as well. A man asked about following the trail all the way around the pond and I pointed out that the trees were blazed with white rectangles. But even without the blazes I told him, if the pond is on your right side when you start make sure it stays there the whole way around, and don’t leave the main trail. That way you’ll never get lost. Even though the trail does leave the water’s edge in a couple of places you can still tell where the pond is. It sounds like common sense but I’ve caught myself wandering off the trail before, especially when looking for slime molds or fungi. You need to pay attention to the trail as well as what grows along it.

A large colony of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) had been eaten down to about a foot high by deer. They’re one of our most beautiful native viburnums but they’ll never bloom while being constantly pruned like these were. Deer have to eat though, so I don’t fault them for doing a little pruning. At least they aren’t pruning someone’s vegetable garden.

I think is the best shot I’ve ever gotten of the tiered and whorled growth habit of the Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana.) It’s a very pretty plant and I saw a lot of them here. Since I just described their flowers in my last post I won’t put you through that again.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinite) grew in wet spots along the trail, and sometimes right in the water. It’s a large sedge that grows in big, 2 foot tall clumps. I like its drooping habit and I’m not the only one, because it has become a popular garden plant. Many animals and waterfowl eat different parts of sedge plants, especially the seeds. Other names for this plant are drooping sedge and long-haired sedge.

I’m not prone to blisters thankfully, but all of the sudden I felt what felt like a painful blister on the bottom of one of my toes, so I thought I’d sit down for a bit. I’ve had bouts of back pain for most of my life so I know a little about how to get past pain. Watching dragonflies helped me get my mind off it and trying to photograph them put me in another place altogether. When I got home and saw the photos though I saw something else on the cattail leaf under the dragonfly, so I thought I’d try to figure out what it was.

The toe was still bothering me when I started out again but not as bad as it had been and it didn’t matter anyway because I was half way around the pond and the only other way out of here was by boat or helicopter.

The bridge in the previous photo is chained to a nearby tree and I’ve heard people laugh about how “they must think that someone will steal it,” but that isn’t it. The chain is there to keep it from washing away in flooding, which has happened. It’s amazing what our small streams can do after a few inches of rain has fallen.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) grew near the stream that the bridge crossed. This is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the purple, fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers.

At their early stage the spore cases of royal ferns are green but they soon turn a beautiful purple color, and that’s why the plant was named flowering fern.

I saw lots red trillium (Trillium erectum) seed pods, so I’m guessing there will be lots more of them in the future.

The flowers on our native viburnums like the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers, which were just starting to open here. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

I sat beside the water again for a while to rest my toe and watch the dragonflies and saw another one of the husks on the same cattail leaf that the dragonfly was perched on, just like last time. I was fairly sure that I had seen this before and that was confirmed when I did some reading on the Dragonfly Woman’s blog. According to what I read I was seeing dragonflies not too long after they had emerged from the water. They crawl up a leaf or stick (with great effort) as nymphs and shed their exoskeletons, and that’s what the husks are. A part of metamorphosis is what I was seeing and I’m very grateful for having had the chance to see it. By the way, the Dragonfly Woman is a very knowledgeable lady. If you are at all interested in insects you can visit her here: https://thedragonflywoman.com/

A few years ago I found the only example of a northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) that I’ve ever seen here. On this day I found its single leaf, so I know it’s still alive and well. I hope to see it bloom again in late July. 

By the time I had made it to the odd stone that doesn’t belong here, my toe pain was gone. I’ve never been able to figure out what kind of rock this strange thing was made from but a lot of work went into making it square, with perfect 90 degree corners and very smooth faces. It’s about 5-6 inches on a side and dark colored like basalt, which makes it even more of an enigma. It’s too short to be a fence post but in the 1800s people didn’t spend hours of their time working on something like this for a lark, so it was used for something. How it ended up partially buried in the trail is a mystery. I’d love to be able to dig it up and see, but of course that isn’t possible. I wonder if it’s just the very top of a marker of some sort.

Or maybe the odd stone is the very top of a gravestone. People did live out here at one time, as evidenced by the stone walls that are found crisscrossing the landscape. In fact this entire forest was most likely pastureland in the 1800s, probably abandoned when the men went to work in the woolen mills, furniture, or shoe factories that had suddenly sprung up everywhere. They made more money in the mills for less strenuous work and many left farming altogether. Piling up all those stones and cutting down trees with an axe is hard work; I’ve done both and I hate to say it but I probably would have followed them to the mills.

As I was leaving this dragonfly flew toward me and landed right on the trail between my feet and stayed there, letting me take as many photos as I wanted. It had the same markings as those I had seen earlier on the cattail leaves, and I think it’s a calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa.) I also think it’s a male, but with my poor record of insect identification I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Juvenile males look different than adults so it can be confusing, especially if you’re colorblind. In the end it really didn’t matter what its name was because it and others of its kind had taken me on a fascinating journey, and that was enough.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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Well, the growing season is about finished here since we’ve had a freeze, but we were very lucky to have fall colors go on and on the way they did. This photo of Mount Monadnock was taken from a spot where I’ve never viewed it before. It was early on a cloudy morning, bordering on twilight, but boosting the camera’s ISO function showed me what you see here. The mountain had its head in the clouds again but there was plenty of color to be seen.

There was mist on Half Moon Pond in Hancock one morning. It’s been a very misty fall, I’ve noticed.

You could barely see the hill on the other side of the pond.

But when the mists cleared it was beautiful.

I’ve been trying for several years now to get a shot of the full moon over Half Moon Pond, and this year I finally got it.

I’ve known witch alders (Fothergilla major) for a long time but apparently I never paid them any mind in the fall. They’re quite pretty. This is a native shrub related to witch hazel which grows to about 6-7 feet in this area. 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.

The yellow leaves are from black birch and the white bark is from a gray birch, so we have black, white, and gray subjects in color.

Blackberries can be quite beautiful in the fall with their deep maroon / purple leaves.

The maple leaved viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium) have been beautiful this year. Their leaves seem to start out colored just about any color you can name in the fall, but after their red / yellow / orange/ purple phases all of the leaves eventually become a very pale, ghostly pink, making this shrub’s fall color among the most beautiful in the forest, in my opinion.

Maple leaved viburnum berries (drupes) are about the size of raisins and I’ve heard that they don’t taste very good, but many birds and animals eat them. They disappear quickly and getting a shot of both fall colored leaves and fruit is difficult.

What else can I say about the red maples? They’re just so beautiful with their many beautiful colors at various times of year.

This bracket fungus had the autumn spirit.

I had high hopes that I’d see the burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey go all the way this year, showing leaves of the lightest pastel pink before they fell, but unfortunately a freeze saw all the leaves drop overnight last week, so this photo of them in much darker pink will have to do. Burning bushes might lose their leaves quickly some years but the berries will persist until birds have eaten every one of them. That’s what makes them one of the most invasive plants in the area and that is why their sale and cultivation have been banned in New Hampshire.

Here’s a closer look at the burning bushes. It’s too bad that they’re so invasive because they really are beautiful, especially when massed in the thousands as they are in this spot.

We’ve had some ferocious winds this year but I’ve been lucky enough to find still waters for tree reflections.

The beeches have also been beautiful this year but once they started they turned fast and most now wear brown. I thought this young example was very beautiful.

There are over 200 viburnum varieties and many grow as natives here. Smooth arrow wood (Viburnum dentatum) is one of them. It has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and blooms along stream banks and drainage ditches. The flowers become dark blue drupes that birds love. You can see some of them in this photo. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food. It’s quite pretty in the fall as well.

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between. These examples were mostly orange.

But this sumac was very red.

I thought I’d end this post with a leftover photo from my last trip up Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. I finally hit the peak color up there at just the right time this year and it was so glorious I hated to come down. They were truly some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.

So many hues in nature and yet nothing remains the same, every day, every season a work of genius, a free gift from the Artist of artists. ~E.A. Bucchianeri

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Imagine a tree 80-100 feet high and 50 feet wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

Each beautiful catalpa flower is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough for a bumblebee.

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I always find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Once you get used to seeing both dogwoods and viburnums you can tell them apart immediately. The flowers on our native viburnums like the the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) has tiny hooded flowers that remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. This one had a friend visiting.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years.

Several times I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Heartsease (Viola tricolour) has been used medicinally for a very long time as an expectorant, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Used both internally and externally, the violet is said to be helpful for cystitis, rheumatic complaints, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Though Viola tricolor, the parent of today’s pansy, is native to Europe the medicinal qualities have been found to be the same for all of the species. Native Americans used our native blue violets for cancer treatment. American pioneers thought that a handful of violets taken into the farmhouse in the spring ensured prosperity, and to neglect this ceremony brought harm to baby chicks and ducklings.

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms and you can see certain roads that are lined with the glossy leaved, white flowering shrubs. They seem fussy about where they grow but when they find a spot that they like they can form dense thickets that are nearly impossible to get through. In this spot they grow to about 10 feet tall.

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. I saw several bumblebees working these flowers and you can see some relaxed anthers in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the tough wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like roadsides but I think most are escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers on this example look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

I found this white mallow looking for all the world like a white hibiscus.

I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

A very special guest flower for this week is the rare (here) and beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), a plant that I’ve searched for for many years and could never find. Where I finally found it was amazing; one of the lawns where I work had construction going on near it and couldn’t be mowed for two weeks, and in those two weeks up popped several ragged robin plants. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it.

Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S., like the very beautiful Clarkia pulchella shown recently on Montucky’s blog,  this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England. It might have come as a garden ornamental, but when ships arrived from foreign lands it was once common practice to dump their ballast of gravel and stones on our shores so they could take on cargo, and this plant was reported growing in ship’s ballast in 1880. However it got here I was very happy to see it. This is the kind of thing that makes my pulse quicken and my breath catch in my throat and is what can take me out of myself to a higher place, much like art or music might do for you. The chance of seeing something so beautiful is part of what keeps me going back to nature day after day, year after year.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. ~Rumi

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1. Meadow

The tree leaves have fully unfurled and the forests are shaded, and that means it’s time to get out of the woods and into the meadows where the sun lovers bloom.

2. Vetch

There aren’t many flowers that say meadow quite like vetch. I think this example might be hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa,) which was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire. I think of vetch as very blue but this example seemed purple so I checked my color finding software. It sees violet, plum, and orchid, so I wasn’t imagining it. Maybe it is cow vetch (Vicia cracca,) which is kind of violet blue.

3. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. This example grows in a local park. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, and another common name is American ipecac. Nobody seems to know the origin of the name bowman’s root or whether it refers to the bow of a boat or the bow part of the bow and arrow.

4. Bowman's Root

The white flower petals of bowman’s root are asymmetrical and always look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler. But they are beautiful nonetheless and dance at the end of long stems. And they do dance in the slightest movement of air. Some say that all it takes is the gentle breath of a fawn to set them dancing, and because of that another of their common names is fawn’s breath. A beautiful name for a flower if there ever was one.

5. False Solomon's Seal

I missed getting a photo of Solomon’s seal this year but there are plenty of false Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) blooming right now. The largest example in this photo was close to three feet tall; one of the largest I’ve seen.

6. False Solomon's Seal

False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California used crushed false Solomon’s seal roots and used them to stun fish. Others used the plant medicinally.

7. Yarrow

Humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

8. Goatsbeard

After not seeing any goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis,) for a couple of years I recently found a good stand of it growing in a meadow in full sun. Luckily I was there in the morning because goat’s beard closes up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify.

9. Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They grow at the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. This plant is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed, but there are over 50 different chickweeds. The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals. This is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The flowers of greater stitchwort are also larger.

10. Bittersweet Nightshade

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine, which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

11. Wood Sorrel

I can’t say if wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) is rare here but I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grew in a wet area near a stream. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger.

12. Tradescantia

My grandmother had a great love of flowers that rubbed off on me at an early age. I used to walk down the railroad tracks to get from her house to my father’s house and when I did I saw flowers all along the way. One of those was spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana,) and I loved them enough to dig them up and replant them in our yard, despite my father’s apparent displeasure. He didn’t care much for the plant and he often said he couldn’t understand why I had to keep dragging home those “damned old weeds.” He said he wasn’t pleased about a stray cat that I brought home either but it wasn’t a week later that I saw the cat on his lap with him stroking her fur, so I think he really did understand why I kept dragging those damned old weeds home. Though he could have he never did make me dig them up and get rid of them. That’s why spiderwort became “dad’s flower,” and why every single time I see one I think of him.

13. Purple Tradescantia

Spiderworts can be blue, pink, purple, or white so I don’t know if this one growing in a local park is a native natural purple flowered variety or if it’s a purchased cultivar. It’s nice but I like the blue best.

14. Peony

While I was at the park visiting the purple tradescantia I saw this saucer sized peony blossom. It was a beautiful thing to stumble upon and very easy to lose myself in for a while.  When you’re taking photos of a flower or object it’s easy to become so totally absorbed by the subject that for a time there is nothing else, not even you.

15. Rose

Do roses smell like peonies, or do peonies smell like roses? Either way we win, but I smelled a rose before I even knew what a peony was because we had a hedge full of them.

16. Fringe Tree

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that few people grow. It’s one of the last to leaf out in late spring and its fragrant hanging white flowers give it the name old man’s beard.  Male flowered trees are showier but then you don’t get the purple berries that female flowered trees bear. Birds love the fruit and if I had room I’d grow both. I’ve read that they’re very easy to grow and are pollution tolerant as well.

17. Blue Eyed Grass

I showed a photo of blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) recently but here is one with seed pods. I’ve never seen them. Blue eyed grass is in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light blue green leaves resemble grass leaves. The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find.

18. Maple Leaf Viburnum

Our viburnums and native dogwoods are just coming into bloom. The flowers above are on the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) Each flattish flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

19. WNE

I thought I’d tell local readers that the new wildflower guide by Ted Elliman and the New England Wildflower Society is in stores. I got my copy about a week ago and I find it really clear and easy to read. It also has photos rather than line drawings, which I like and another thing I like about it is how some of the more common non-native plants are also included. Some of my own photos can be found in it as well, and I feel honored to have had them included. I hope everyone will want a copy.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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