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Posts Tagged ‘Marsh St. John’s wort’

We still have plenty of flowers blooming as this view of a local pond side shows, but from this point on we’ll have very few new ones coming along. There will be a few more asters and a goldenrod or gentian or two but for the most part what you see here is the season finale for wildflowers.

Garden flowers on the other hand, will steal the show until the foliage begins to show color. Many will bloom right up until a hard frost but chances are this sunflower that I saw in the garden of some friends won’t make it quite that long. Sunflowers are a very pretty flower and I wish I’d see more of them but not many people seem to grow them.

If I said “St. John’s wort” chances are good that most people would think of a yellow flower with a lot of stamens, but marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) is very pink. As its name implies this plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline of ponds. The flowers are quite small; about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day, but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

The bright red flower buds of marsh St. John’s wort are as pretty as the flowers.

This crooked stem aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) is the first blue aster I’ve seen this year. I found this plant growing in a very wet, sunny meadow. I don’t usually try to identify asters but the one inch diameter light blue flowers and zigzagging stems make this one easier than most.

In my last flower post I showed the purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) which, if I was going by color and flower size alone would look identical to me, but my color finding software says that the flower on that one is purple and this one is blue. That and the zig zag stems lead me to the crooked stemmed aster. The Native American Iroquois tribe used this plant medicinally to treat fevers and other ailments.

It’s already time to say goodbye to my beautiful little friends the eastern forked blue curls, which surprised me by following me home and growing in my own yard. I spend a lot of my free time searching for flowers and trying to remember where each one of them grows, so any that choose to grow here are very welcome indeed,  especially when they’re as beautiful as this one.

It’s also time to say goodbye to brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea.) Since the plant is so invasive in certain places I suppose I should be glad that it hasn’t followed me home, but I do like its flowers. They’re colorful and unusual and I enjoy seeing large colonies of them all blooming at once. They really don’t seem very invasive here.

Nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) gets its common name from its drooping flower heads and the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. It doesn’t seem to bother ducks, geese, and all of the other animals that eat it, though. The plant is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never seem to fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles.

Another name for nodding smartweed and some other Polygonum species is lady’s thumb, and they get that name from the dark spot that appears on each leaf. Legend has it that a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently) left the smudge like mark on a leaf and it has been there ever since. There are over 200 species of Polygonum.

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is a strange plant with inch long flower buds that never seem to open beyond what you see in the above photo. This plant gets its common name from the belief that it was useful in the treatment of piles (hemorrhoids,) because the buds are the size and shape of suppositories. The Native American Algonquin people used the plant to treat poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) rashes. It has also been used as a source of a blue dye for cotton and wool.

Even after they open pilewort flowers still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely. This photo shows about all we can see of them. The flower is made up of many tiny florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. In some areas it is called burn weed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

Once they go to seed potential pileworts will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds.

I find spearmint (Mentha spicata) growing in the sunshine at the edge of the woods. Like wild mint (Mentha arvensis) spearmint has been used since before recorded time both medicinally and as a flavoring. Pliny wrote of it and the ancient Romans cultivated it to scent their bath water. Spearmint is originally from Europe but the Pilgrims brought it on their first trip to America, so valuable was the plant to them.

Instead of growing in the leaf axils as they do on wild mint, spearmint flowers appear at the top of the stem. They are said to be pink or white but these were white, blue, pink and lavender. Their scent is very refreshing on a hot summer day and always reminds me of spearmint gum. Imagine; you are seeing flowers that people admired 2000 years ago.

Native common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is unusual because it grows in woods or meadows and I see it in both. It’s considered a weed by many and is largely ignored by most, but it’s a very interesting plant. Its raw leaves can be chewed as a thirst quencher if you forgot to bring water on your hike. The Native American Kiowa tribe called it “salt weed” and used it that way for long walks. Its seed capsules can also be chewed but they can also explode when mature and can fling seeds up to 13 feet away. They are said to be tart with a flavor similar to rhubarb. The plant is high in vitamin C and it can be pressed to make a passable vinegar substitute.

August is when many of our asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata.) It gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaf arrangement of this aster really doesn’t fit the definition.

Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like the edge of a dinner plate but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length, and that means they aren’t in a whorl. Indian cucumbers have tiers of whorled leaves as do some loosestrifes. This plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall. Something I didn’t know about the plant is how its leaves have a faint smell of spearmint when they’re crushed. Many thanks to blogging friend Kenneth Posner for that interesting bit of information.

Whorled wood aster is one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time and because the narrow white ray florets look like they were glued on by chubby fingered toddlers. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths. I love the beauty of asters but I don’t like their message of summer’s passing, so when I stop and admire them I always feel a bit of wistfulness and wonderment that a season could pass so quickly.

Many flowers have a visible inner light but few shine it out as brightly as this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow. Maybe the postal workers stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just as I do.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~Lydia M. Child

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1-half-moon-pond

Fall officially began two weeks ago but often the calendar doesn’t align with what we see, and fall colors are only just starting to appear.  We’re probably a week or two away from peak color but you can get glimpses, as this view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows. Water cools slower than the air and fog forms on lakes, ponds and rivers most mornings now.

2-marsh-st-johnswort-pods

While at the pond I took some photos of marsh St. John’s wort seed pods, which are an amazing shade of red. It’s particularly amazing to me because it is one of the few shades of red in nature that I can actually see. Colorblindness plays havoc with reds and blues for me.

3-dirt-road

Though the drive down this dirt road was mostly green there was quite a bit of yellow to be seen as well. Birches turn yellow and usually do so quite early.

4-black-birch

This black birch (Betula lenta) was half green and half yellow. This tree’s bark looks like cherry bark but the twigs have an unmistakable taste of wintergreen, so nibbling on a twig is the easiest way to identify it. Black birch was once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen, and so many were taken that they can be very hard to find now. Most are found on private property rather than in the forest where they were harvested.

5-witch-hazel

This witch hazel was also half green and half yellow, but in a very different way. Once this shrub loses all its leaves it will bloom. Witch hazel is our latest flower; I’ve seen them even in January.

6-gall-on-witch-hazel

At this time of year small black witch hats can be seen on some witch hazel leaves. They are actually the gall of the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis). These galls won’t hurt the plant, but they do look a little strange. They are called nipple galls or cone heads.

7-sarsaparilla

The yellow ribbons along the edges of the old road were made of ferns and wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis.) Native Americans used the root of this plant as emergency food and it was also once used to make root beer.

8-autumn-olive

The ripe berries of autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) signal fall’s arrival. It’s a terribly invasive plant originally from Japan but also very fragrant in spring. Its wonderful fragrance overlaps that of lilacs and honeysuckle and smelling all 3 mingled together is a little slice of heaven that I look forward to each spring.

9-burning-bushes

It looks like it’s going to be a good year for burning bushes (Euonymus alatus,) both in color and berries.

10-burning-bush-foliage

The color of burning bushes can vary considerably, from red to pink to magenta. These along the river have chosen vivid magenta this year. The many berries will ripen from greenish white to orangey red and the birds will eat them quickly, and that’s what makes this plant so invasive. Once they become established they can take over large areas of forest and create enough shade so native plants don’t have a chance.

11-orange-crust-fungus

Fall is the time when more colorful crust fungi appear. This orange one, which I believe is Stereum complicatum, is the first I’ve seen. This fungus is usually brown and I’m not sure if it changes color in the fall or if some of them decide they want to be orange.  Of course, I might also have the identification wrong, but it’s very pretty no matter its name and I like seeing it in the woods.

12-jelly-fungi

I don’t know if day length or cooler temperatures trigger the need to produce spores in jelly fungi, but I see more of the jelly like fruiting bodies in the fall and winter than I do at other times of year. So far I’ve never been able to find an explanation for why that is.

13-jelly-fungi

But I do know that it’s great to come across bright orange jelly fungi in the dead of winter, even if it is frozen solid.  I think this one’s name is orange witch’s butter (Dacrymyces palmatus,) which isn’t in the same family as yellow witches’ butter (Tremella mesenterica.)  It likes to grow on fallen pines and often looks like it is being squeezed out of voids in the bark, but that’s because it actually grows on the wood of the log and not the bark.

14-oak-leaves

A huge old oak tree was a sea of green except for this one branch which had turned yellow. If this entire tree turns that color it’s really going to be something to see.

15-virginia-creeper

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) continues its long, slow change from green to red. Though some trees and bushes seem to change color overnight, Virginia creeper won’t be rushed. This photo was taken on a rare rainy day so the leaves were shinier than they would normally be.

16-ferns

I visited one of my favorite cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) groves hoping to see them wearing orange but instead I saw mostly yellow and green. I don’t know if they’ll go from yellow to orange or not, but I’ll keep checking. Cinnamon ferns get their common name from their cinnamon brown fertile fronds that appear in spring.

17-cinnamon-ferns

This is what I was hoping to see in the cinnamon fern grove. Seeing that many ferns wearing this color is kind of amazing.

18-ashuelot-scene

There is a spot on the Ashuelot River to the north of town where one tree turns color before all of the others. I can’t get close enough to it to know for sure but I think it’s a maple. It certainly is bright, whatever it is.

19-along-the-river

There is still more green than other colors along the river, but pink, yellow, and orange can be seen here and there. This is one of my favorite places to walk in the fall. Before too long the colors here will be astounding.

20-half-moon-pond

Since I started with a photo of Half Moon Pond I’ll end with one too, taken with my cell phone just 2 days ago in the early morning light. It shows the promise of things to come, I think. Everyone has been wondering what this extended drought would do to the fall colors but from what I’ve seen so far things look to be fairly normal.  One theory says that fall will be colorful but brief and that could prove to be true, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile I’ll enjoy being inside this beautiful kaleidoscope of colors.

An autumn forest is such a place that once entered, you never look for the exit. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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There is a pond to the south of Keene that comes with a lot of historical baggage. It’s called Wilson Pond and it’s one of my favorite places to swim and kayak, so I thought that it was time I told you about it. Though I’ve done a bit of research I haven’t been able to find out who the Wilson was that the pond is named after, but I do know that Wilsons are mentioned as living in the area as far back as the mid-1700s. I’m not going that far back though; I’ll start at about 1900.

1. Keene Electric Railway Trolley

Once upon a time, back at the turn of the century, Keene had an electric railway. One of the places the railway went was south to what is now North Swanzey, but was then called Factory Village because of all of the mills that used to be there.

2. Recreation Grounds

The Keene Electric Railway company seems to have had financial problems from the beginning, mostly due to the lack of passengers, so in 1911 the company bought a large piece of land on the shore of Wilson Pond in Swanzey near the end of the trolley line. To entice customers to ride the trolley the company built a large recreational park on the property. It was about 15 minutes from Keene by trolley and was called the “rec” by locals. A six cent trolley ride would take you to a place where you could go bowling, shooting, roller skating, swimming, boating, attend a band concert, dance in a dance hall, and even watch a movie at an outdoor theater. On the fourth of July the town’s fireworks celebration were held there and by all accounts it was a very popular spot.

3. Outdoor Theater

Though it was a popular playground for the people of Keene most of them visited the rec center only on weekends, so the Railway Company still lost money and continued doing so until in 1926 when the rail lines were finally abandoned. Busses took the place of the trolleys and people still went to the rec center until it fell out of favor and finally closed down. On December 21st, 1965 it burned until there was little left. The above photo is of the large outdoor theater. One local said that it would have been a great idea except for one thing: mosquitoes.

4. Amphitheater

The remains of the outdoor theater can still be seen today if you know where to look, but it looks considerably different now. Nature is slowly reclaiming the land.

5. Projection Booth

I’m guessing that the old building that once housed the movie projectors lost its roof in the fire. Nature is having its way with what is left.

6. Swamp Roses

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) now grow where the rowboats and canoes were once moored.

7. Pond View

Back in the days of the recreation center this land must have been treeless but now it is almost jungle like and many species of birds sing from the trees.  I love kayaking through here because there are many canals and small islets to explore. There’s no telling what you might find in the way of plants and I’m often surprised by what I see.

8. Marsh St. Johnswort

On this trip I was surprised by the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum,) the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink instead of yellow flowers.  It was a beautiful little thing but I had quite a lot of trouble getting a photo of it because of the bright sunshine. When I went back a second time when the sun wasn’t shining on it all of its flowers were closed, so I’m guessing that they only open on sunny days.  As its common name implies it prefers wet areas and is considered a wetland indicator, so if you see it you’ll know that you’re in a wetland. This is the only time I’ve ever seen it and the only way I can get to see it again is by kayak.

9. Skullcap

Skullcap (Scutellaria) is another marsh plant that does well here. The cheery little blue and white flowers can be seen by the hundreds growing on the grassy hummocks.

10. Arrowhead

There are many aquatic plants here too including one of my favorites, arrowheads (Sagittaria latifolia.) This plant is also called duck potato because ducks love to eat the potato like tuberous roots. On this day I saw many ducks in the area, and I wondered if they were waiting for me to leave so they could get at them. Native Americans also held thee roots in high regard as a food source.

11. Wilson Pond Showing Sprague Mills

This old hand colored postcard shows the pond’s island and the factories that once stood at its southern end. The factories produced mostly woodenware like boxes, pails, barrel staves, and chairs but there was also a grist mill and sawmill there. At one time the entire 72 acre pond was owned by the Keene Gas Company and a dam and hydro power turbine produced electricity.

12. IslandThis is a view of the island from near the same spot today, and I’m happy to say that there isn’t a factory to be seen. There used to also be a floating island in the pond but it was deemed a hazard to navigation and was towed to shore by a 33 horsepower motorboat, and then a steam shovel picked it out of the water piece by piece and it was hauled away by truck.

13. Blueberries

The island is known today for its bountiful blueberry bushes. In fact you can walk the shores of just about any lake or pond in New Hampshire and find blueberry bushes lining their shores. Though they are also fund on dry ground the shrubs seem to love growing near water. With a kayak and some patience you can pick them by the pail full.

14. Dance Ticket

Nowadays there is a different kind of recreation going on at Wilson Pond than there once was; now nature seems to be what draws he crowds. And the crowds still come; on any given summer day you can find them swimming by the boat landing near where the factories once stood, fishing from the pond’s shores, or floating along in kayaks like I do. All in all it’s a peaceful, serene place, and maybe that is what the real attraction has been all along.

Time takes it all, whether you want it to or not. ~Stephen King,

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