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Posts Tagged ‘Motherwort’

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is not a native plant so I’m always surprised to see it growing here and there along the edge of the forest. I don’t see it in the wild often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. It’s an unusual and beautiful flower that does well in gardens.

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) trees can be messy but I’d still love to have one in my yard because they’re one of our most beautiful trees. Imagine a 100 foot tall tree covered in large white, orchid like blossoms and you’ll have a good mental picture of the catalpa. This native tree is used ornamentally, but it needs plenty of room because it gets very large.

At 1-2 inches catalpa tree flowers are large. Each flower will become a long, bean like seed pod 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. Some tribes used its inner bark to make a tea which had a sedative effect and is said to be mildly narcotic. The bark tea was also used to treat malaria.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like on 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. I like its wrinkled petals, which look like they were cut from crepe paper. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

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. The one pictured smelled just like those old cabbage roses.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has just 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. The flowers seem to be very darkly colored this year, or maybe that’s because they had just opened.

One of the native foods found here in New Hampshire is the cranberry. I usually find them in wet, boggy areas near ponds and that’s where these were. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat, and pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

Though the flower petals curve backwards on most cranberry blossoms you can occasionally find a blossom that wants to be different, as this one did.

Blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is almost a month late this year and there aren’t many of them. In the past I’ve found fields of these plants along roadsides and this year they are all gone, and that’s probably because are biennials which flower and die in their second year. Toadflax flowers have an upper lip that is divided into 2 rounded lobes, and a lower lip which is divided into 3 lobes that are rounded and spreading. They also have a long spur, which can be seen in this photo.Toadflax likes sandy soil and waste areas to grow in. It doesn’t last long but the cheery blue flowers are always a welcome sight.

Beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) has just started blooming. This is a plant that I’ve searched for many years for and could never find until I finally found some growing in an unmown lawn last year, and this year I’ve seen it in two places so I have hope that I’ll see even more plants next year. 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. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The small, bright white flowers look almost like snowflakes scattered across the forest floor.

The unusual, hairy twin flowers of partridge berry fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that will show where the flowers used to be. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the nearly tasteless berries.

The small furry white to light purple flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) are easy to miss. At a glance this plant might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed but I don’t see it that often and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 2 or 3 plants growing together.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is found along roads and in fields.

The tiny flowers of motherwort are very hairy and look like a microscopic orchid. They’re very hard to get a good shot of because of both their size and color and I don’t think I’ve ever been really happy with any photo I’ve taken of them. The ancient Greeks and Romans used motherwort medicinally and it is still used today to decrease nervous irritability and quiet the nervous system. There is supposed to be no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and it is sold in powdered and liquid form.

Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) has pale yellow flowers similar in color to those of the sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) but they can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. I always find it growing at the edges of corn fields at this time of year, not because it likes growing with corn but because it likes to grow in disturbed soil. Wild radish is in the mustard family and is sometimes confused with wild mustard (Brassica kaber,) but that plant doesn’t have hairy stems like wild radish. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

White campion (Silene latifolia,) can also be pink, but I didn’t see a blush of it on this example. Just to confuse the issue red campion (Silene dioica) flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa. The flowers have 5 deeply notched petals that have an easily seen fringe at their base. This example is a male flower.

Red campion (Silene dioica) likes alkaline soil with a lot of lime and that’s why we rarely see it here. That’s also why I’m fairly sure that this plant is a white campion, which can also be pink. It’s pretty, whatever it is.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are still in bloom and I couldn’t resist another photo. 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 but a reader wrote in and said she used to pick them for her mother and they thought they smelled like anise. 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.

I should like to enjoy this summer flower by flower, as if it were to be the last one for me.~ Andre Gide

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We haven’t been seeing a lot of sunshine yet this year but I did see a bit of it caught in the Ashuelot River recently.

By the time I pointed the camera at the sky though, it was gone.

We’ve seen slightly above average snowfall for the season and to show you how deep it is now I took a shot of this fire hydrant, which actually should have been shoveled out in case of fire. Anyhow, the snow is melting again now and by the time you see this quite a lot of it should be gone.

The weather hasn’t been all snow and cold all the time. We’ve had very up and down temperatures and a few days that were warm enough to send me out looking for witch hazel, which is our latest (and earliest) blooming flower. I found some color, but it came from what looked like two or three blossoms that had lost the battle to the cold. That was probably the last chance I’ll have to see our fall blooming witch hazel flowers (Hamamelis virginiana,) but the spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) will be along next month.

I went to see if there was any sign of willow buds swelling but instead of seeing furry gray catkins I saw furry gray willow pine cone galls. These galls appear at the branch tips and are caused by a midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laying eggs on them. Once the eggs hatch the larva burrow into the branch tip and the plant reacts by forming a gall around them. The galls are about as big as the tip of a thumb.

I saw this spider indoors at work one day and took a couple of photos and then let it be. Hours later at home it felt like something was crawling on my lower leg so I stamped my foot hard and out fell a spider that looked exactly like this one. I doubt very much that a spider could have been on my leg all day without my knowing it, but I still had to wonder where and when it had decided to hitch a ride with me. It’s possible that it was in my car but that sounds doubtful too. Maybe it was right here at home and I just didn’t see it. I guess I’ll never know. I haven’t had any luck identifying it, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

A waxy coating called bloom on juniper berries reflects the light in a way that makes the deep, purple black berries appear to be a bright and beautiful blue. This waxy coating is common on fruits like blueberries, on black raspberry canes, and even on some lichens. Though the fruit is called a berry botanically speaking it is actually a seed cone with fleshy, merged scales. Birds love them and I was surprised to see them so late in the season.

Many gin drinkers don’t realize that the flavor of gin comes from the juniper plant’s berry. It is the unripe green berry that is used to make gin. The ripe berry is the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice. Whole and / or ground fruit is used on game like venison, moose, and bear meat, and man has used juniper for a very long time. The first record of usage appears on an Egyptian papyrus from 1500 BC. Egyptians used juniper medicinally and Native Americans used the fruit as both food and medicine. Stomach disorders, infections and arthritis were among the ailments treated. Natives also made jewelry from the seeds inside the berries.

The maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) in my yard had a single, dark purple berry left on it. I was surprised how textural it was when I saw the photo. Birds seem to love these berries and most of them go fast, but I always wonder why they leave the ones that they do. They obviously know something that I can’t fathom. The shrub is also called arrow wood and some believe that Native Americans used the straight grained wood for arrow shafts.

This is the way the rest of the maple leaf viburnum looked; picked clean.

There are plenty of coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds left so the birds must be happy. I always let plants go to seed in my own yard because I don’t use bird feeders due to occasional visits from bears, and they feed a lot of birds. Speaking of bears, state biologists say the acorn crop was large enough to feed bears through the winter, so many of them aren’t hibernating. I can’t say that was wonderful news, but at least the bears aren’t starving.

The motherwort seeds (Leonurus cardiaca) have all been eaten now. A helpful reader told me that she has seen goldfinches eating the seeds of motherwort, so they must be doubly happy because they eat the coneflower seeds too. I hope one day to be able to see them doing so. They must come when I’m at work because I never see them.

I saw a young, beautifully colored hemlock varnish shelf bracket fungus (Ganoderma tsugae) growing at the base of a young hemlock tree. This mushroom has been used medicinally in China for centuries and is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese herbal medicine, including even ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential. The number of beneficial things growing in the world’s forests that we know nothing about must be mind boggling.

Honey mushrooms (Armillarea mellea) once grew on this tree and I know that because their long black root like structures called rhizomorphs still clung to the dead tree. Honey mushrooms are parasitic on live wood and grow long cream colored rhizomorphs between the wood and its bark. They darken to brown or black as they age, but by the time we see them the tree has died and its bark is falling off. The fungus is also called armillarea root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees. Fallen logs will often still have the black rhizomorphs attached to them.

A couple of posts ago I talked about poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and how it can grow as a shrub, creep along the ground, or climb like a vine. When the plant climbs as a vine it holds onto what it climbs with masses of roots all along the stem, but the example I showed in that post had only a few roots showing. The example above is more typical of what I see, with matted roots all along the stem. I can’t think of another vine that does this so I think it’s a good way to identify poison ivy.

It’s a good idea to leave any vine that looks like this one alone.

I saw this yellow something on the bark of a dying black cherry tree and at first thought it might be a large lichen colony, but it didn’t look quite right for lichen. I knew it wasn’t moss either, so that left one possibility: algae. A few posts ago I showed a hemlock trunk that was all red and another helpful reader helped identify it as a red algae growth, so after some research I found that there is also yellow-green algae, and this example is possibly one called Desmococcus olivaceous, which is also called Pleurococcus vulgaris.

Pleurococcus algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, and on rocks and soil and sometimes even on walls if they’re damp enough. Their closest relatives grow in lakes and rivers but they can withstand dryness. There is fossil evidence of algae colonies existing even 540 million years ago so they’ve been here much longer than we have, and they haven’t changed much in all that time.

Raccoons, so I’ve always thought, are nocturnal animals rarely seen during the day, so my first thought when I saw this one was that it might be sick. Unfortunately they can and do get rabies and it isn’t all that uncommon in this area to hear of people or pets being attacked by rabid raccoons. But this one was eating and after I thought about it I didn’t think if it were sick it would be eating with such gusto. After a little research I found that raccoons often go out in search of food and water during the daytime, especially nursing mother raccoons, usually in the spring.

From what I’ve read you can tell that a raccoon is sick because it will look sick. They’ll be lethargic and stagger when they walk and sometimes will even fall over. If they look alert and bright eyed and run and walk normally then you can be almost certain that they don’t have rabies. I saw this one walking around and it looked fine so I doubt that it was sick. I couldn’t tell if it was a mother raccoon or not but it sure was cute with its little hands looking as if it were begging for more food. For those who’ve never seen one raccoons are slightly bigger than an average house cat. Maybe a chubby house cat; males can weigh 20 pounds. I’m sorry about the quality of the photos of it. All I had for a camera when I saw it was the small point and shoot I use for macros so they aren’t great, but since they’re the only shots I’ve ever gotten of a raccoon they’ll have to do.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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Well, we survived the coldest stretch of weather I’ve ever seen and now we’re in the midst of a January thaw, but I didn’t think I’d ever thaw out after going out on January 7 th to take many of these photos. It was a brisk 14°F but the sun was shining and I didn’t think it would be too bad, but it still felt frigid because of a breeze. Anyhow, anyone who lives here would know how cold it must have been just by seeing this photo of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey frozen from bank to bank. I think this is the first time in two or three years that this has happened.

Downstream from the previous photo ice shelves were forming but the river was open.

You could see how much ice had formed since the last snow. But the last snow was just 3 days before this photo was taken.

Close to a foot of snow fell and plowing it made mountain ranges.

After the snow storm dragged down more arctic air it got even colder; too cold to be outside for more than just a few minutes.

On New Hampshire’s tallest peak Mount Washington, a tie score for the second coldest place on the planet was recently recorded. At -36 ° F. with a wind chill of -94 °F. it was just two degrees warmer than Yakutsk Russia. What an honor.

Birches bent under the weight of the snow, which fell on top of the ice from the December ice storm. It has been so cold that the ice from that storm weeks ago has never melted.

The birches were giving up their seeds to the wind and to the birds too, probably.

Birds are definitely eating the seeds from eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) cones. Chickadees, pine siskins and other small birds eat them, and several species of warblers nest in the dense foliage. Larger birds like turkeys, owls, and grouse will often roost in the branches, possibly because hemlocks are excellent at shedding water. You can stand under large hemlocks in a pouring rain and barely feel a drop. Deer will eat the foliage.

By September the small cones and seeds of eastern hemlock are ripe but are still green, wet and oily. Once the cones begin to turn brown the seeds will be dry and birds can get at them as soon as the cone opens like the one pictured. Hemlock seeds are often lacking in viability, with less than 20% of them viable. Hemlock trees can live to 800 years old and reach a height of 175 feet. Native Americans used the inner bark, roots, and needles of hemlocks medicinally. They contain antiseptic properties and were used to treat wounds and in sweat lodges to treat colds and rheumatism. When food supplies were low the inner bark was often eaten.

Bird tracks under the hemlocks reveal their value to wildlife.

The birds have eaten all the coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds. Since these coneflowers were mostly planted by the birds the seeds belong to them and I don’t cut them or other plants back until spring. The more seeds they eat and spread around the yard, the more plants I’ll / we’ll have.

A motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) stem poked up from the snow and I thought it was interesting how I could see where all the little tufts of tiny flowers had been much easier without its leaves in the way. Of course the flowers are now seed pods. Though I’ve searched to find out which birds eat the seeds of motherwort I didn’t have any luck at all. It could be because the plant isn’t native, coming originally from Asia. It was brought here because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is said to be useful as a heart medicine, hence the cardiaca part of its scientific name. It has a sedative effect and is also said to be useful to treat anxiety and muscle spasms.

The ice on most lakes and ponds is safe now, probably thicker than it’s been in years, and fishermen have begun setting up their bob houses. Some of these small, garden shed size buildings are quite elaborate, with all the comforts of home included. This fisherman built his out of clear corrugated plastic, probably hoping for some solar gain. I’d have to want to catch a fish pretty badly to stand on the ice all day, even if it was in a bob house.

When you approach a frozen over pond with snow covered ice you often can’t tell where the land ends and the water begins, so I look for cattails (Typha latifolia.) They always tell me right where the water starts.

Japanese knotweed stems (Fallopia japonica) looked red in the bright sunshine. It’s too bad this plant is so invasive, because it is pretty through much of its life cycle.

Milk white toothed polypores are resupinate fungi, which means they look like they grow upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. This is a common winter fungus with “teeth” that are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and break apart and turn brown as they age. This fungus can be found on the undersides of hardwood tree branches. They don’t seem to mind the bitter cold temperatures we’ve had.

When I was in high school I had an art teacher who knew how to paint winter scenes. She taught me how to paint snow on tree branches and have it look realistic, and how to paint snowy landscapes. She was a professional artist as well as a teacher so she knew her way around an easel, but I still questioned her when she said that my gray winter shadows should be blue. I told her I painted them as I saw them, and I saw gray. I don’t know if it was colorblindness or some other reason that I saw gray but whatever it was has corrected itself and now I see blue winter shadows, just as Miss Safford said they should be. What makes them blue? The ice crystals that make up the snow reflect the ambient blue light from the sky. The color of a shadow is determined by the amount of light reaching the area that is in shade and light from the blue sky will even illuminate shaded areas. If the sky is gray, the shadows will appear gray.

It was so cold on this day that even the window frost seemed contracted, like each crystal had been held back by an icy grip, so instead of large, elaborate and beautiful frost feathers what formed were blocky, clunky crystals.

Here is an extreme close up of some window frost crystals. They didn’t have the beauty of frost feathers but this example reminded me of Aztec and Inca carvings I’ve seen photos of. It looks like a figure with a headdress, a long nose or beak, and wings. Or maybe it just looks like ice. I’ll let you decide.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt, and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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Did everyone see fireworks on the 4th? I did, but not in the traditional sense. Mine came in the form of tall meadow rue flowers (Thalictrum pubescens,) which always bloom close to the 4th of July and which always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” These are the plant’s male flowers; starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.

I don’t see tall meadow rue in meadows unless the meadow is very wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream. It was down an embankment, which is the only way I could have gotten this view because it often grows 7-8 feet tall and towers over me. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance. In spring the plant’s young leaves fool many into thinking they’ve found wild columbine.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is not a native plant so I’m always surprised to see it growing along the edge of the forest like these examples do. I don’t see it in the wild often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. There were maybe a dozen plants in this group and they were beautiful.

I like to try to get a bee’s eye view of foxglove blossoms. The blossom in the foreground shows whiter spots than the younger blossom on the right. They apparently start life with yellow spots which turn to white as they age. The lower lip protrudes a bit to give bees a landing pad, and from there they follow the spots, which are nectar guides, up to the top of the blossom where they find the nectar. While the bee is busy with the nectar the anthers above it rub on its back and deposit the flower’s pollen, which will then be taken to another blossom.  If successfully pollinated a foxglove plant can produce from one to two million seeds.

Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it has a secret; it is a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite. This little plant wants it all.

Narrow-leaf cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I usually find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests but I’ve also seen it recently on roadsides. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The tiny flowers bloom at about shoe top height.

The small, furry, white to light purple flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) are easy to miss. At a glance this plant might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed but I don’t see it that often and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 2 or 3 plants growing together.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is found along roads and in fields.

The tiny flowers of motherwort are very hairy and look like a microscopic orchid. They’re very hard to get a good shot of because of both their size and color and I don’t think I’ve ever been really happy with any photo I’ve taken of them. The ancient Greeks and Romans used motherwort medicinally and it is still used today to decrease nervous irritability and quiet the nervous system. There is supposed to be no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and it is sold in powdered and liquid form.

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape, especially near brooks and streams. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

Common elderberry flower clusters look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. Each flower is tiny at only 1/4 inch across, and has 5 white petals or lobes, 5 yellow tipped stamens and 3 very small styles that fall off early after blooming. Each flower will be replaced by a single black (dark purple) drupe. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a single seed like a peach or cherry. Native Americans dried the fruit for winter use and soaked the berry stems in water to make a black dye for basketry.

The unusual, hairy twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants.

Here is a better view of how partridge berry flowers are joined at the base to form a single ovary and a single berry. The berries are rather tasteless but ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white footed mice eat them. Native American women made a tea from the leaves of partridge berry to promote easy delivery in childbirth. Tea made from the berries is said to have a sedative effect on the nervous system.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) has just started blooming in the tall grass along roadsides. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem and that’s how it comes by its common name. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem.

Both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl on whorled loosestrife, because where each leaf meets the stem (axils) a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. Many plants grow flowers in the axils of the leaves, but most do not grow in whorls. Almost all species of loosestrife with yellow flowers often have a lot of red in them as this example had.

A view looking down on a whorled loosestrife shows how the leaves and flowers are arranged in whorls around the stem. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. This example seems to have had 4. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.

There are a few lobelias that look similar but I think this one might be pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata,) which gets its common name from its small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, as I was lucky enough to do on this day. There is also a purple variant but I’ve never seen it. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma. The plant must have worked well because early explorers took it back across the Atlantic where it is still used medicinally today. It has to be used with great care by those who know how to use it though, because too much of it can kill.

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that; it’s a very sharp, almost acrid odor and on a hot summer day your nose will tell you that you’re near this plant long before you see it.

Black swallowwort is a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. It is believed to have come to North America from Ukraine in the 1800s.  Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level. In Canada it is called the dog strangling vine and Canadians are testing the use of Hypena opulenta moth caterpillars as a means of biological control. So far they say, the results look promising. The caterpillars come from Ukraine and are a natural enemy of the plant. This plant illustrates the biggest danger of importing plants; the animals and insects that control them are left behind in their native lands, and once they arrive in their new home they are able to grow unchecked.

Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is toxic to both dogs and humans, but insects love it. It’s closely related to milkweeds and has milky sap like they do. Monarch butterflies drink the nectar but I rarely see one on them. Though it is an herbaceous perennial its growth habit makes it look like a 3 foot tall shrub. The Apocynum part of its scientific name means “away from dog.” Not only dogs but most other animals avoid it because of its toxic sap.

Native Americans used spreading dogbane medicinally and used its strong fibers to make thread and cord. The plant’s milky white sap is very sticky and I wonder how they removed it from the thread they made.

Spreading dogbane’s bell shaped flowers are very fragrant and I love to smell then when I can find one without an insect in it. They’re also very pretty, with faint pink stripes on the inside. They remind me of lily of the valley flowers but are quite a lot larger. The ant traveled from blossom to blossom as if trying to make up its mind which was best.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The brown / black dots on its 5 yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along riverbanks and roadsides growing in full sun.

I should like to enjoy this summer flower by flower, as if it were to be the last one for me.~ Andre Gide

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1. Hedge Bindweed

This beautiful hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) blossom hints at the rain we finally got last weekend. It wasn’t enough but it helped. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds it has gotten to the point where all I see now are these bicolor ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves.

2. Pipsissewa

Our native wintergreens are starting to blossom and chief among them is pipsissewa, in my opinion. Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) flowers often show a blush of pink. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of our other native wintergreens. Pipsissewa flowers are from 4-6 inches tall and nod toward the ground, which can make getting a good photo a challenge.

3. Pipsissewa

Pipsissewa grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer for up to 4 years before new leaves grow to replace them. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. It was also used medicinally by Native Americans. The word Pipsissewa is from the Native American Cree tribe and means “It-breaks-into-small-pieces,” referring to the belief that tea made from the dried leaves can break up kidney stones. It is still used by herbalists to treat urinary tract problems.

4. Basswood

American basswood trees (Tilia americana) are members of the linden family. Though they are native trees I rarely see them. They belong to the same genus as the lime trees commonly seen in Europe and England. Its flowers are very fragrant and it’s a nice looking shade tree but unfortunately it is also an insect magnet and among the insects it attracts are Japanese Beetles in the many thousands. Bees are also attracted in great numbers and the honey produced from basswood foraging bees is said to be choice and highly sought after.

5. Basswood

Each of the basswood’s flower clusters (cymes) clings to the middle of an elongated whitish green floral bract. Each small flower is about a half inch in diameter with 5 cream-colored petals, 5 cream-colored sepals, a pistil with a white style, and several stamens with yellow anthers. They were hard to get a good photo of for some reason, though I tried several times. The seeds are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for the tree and made rope from its tough inner bark. Freshly cut bark was also used as bandages. Syrup was made from the sweet sap and young leaves were eaten in the spring. Not a single part of the tree was wasted.

6. Dwarf St. Johnswort

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.

7. Pale Spike Lobelia

There are a few lobelias that look similar but I think this one might be pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata,) which gets its common name from its small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, as I was lucky enough to do on this day. There is also a purple variant but I’ve never seen it. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma. The plant must have worked well because early explorers took it back across the Atlantic where it is still used medicinally today. It has to be used with great care by those who know how to use it though, because it can kill.

8. Canada Lilies

Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are sometimes very tall and can tower over a person of average height. There must have been fifty plants in this location, some 8 feet tall and all in full bloom, and it looked like someone had hung yellow chandeliers from the trees. It’s a beautiful sight that I wish everyone could see but unfortunately mowing of the meadows that they like to grow in and digging up of the plants means scenes like that above are rarely seen. I’m very lucky to know of this place.

9. Canada Lily

The flowers of Canada lilies are as big and as beautiful as the garden lilies I think we’re all familiar with and they come in red and orange as well as yellow. Their habit of nodding towards the ground can make getting a photo difficult, but I (very gently) tilt the stem back with one hand while I take the photos with the other. It’s not the ideal set up but it lets me show you the brownish purple spots on the inside throat of the trumpet and the huge red anthers. Speaking of anthers; many have found out the hard way that the pollen from those and other lily anthers will stain a white tablecloth permanently. The flower buds and roots were gathered and eaten by Native Americans. The scaly bulbs were cooked and eaten with other foods, such as venison and fish. They were also cooked and saved for winter use. They are said to have a very peppery flavor.

10. Orange Daylily

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s 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. These days it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. 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.

11. Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) 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. I usually find it near water.

12. Purple Loosestrife

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is an invasive perennial 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 but will grow just about anywhere.

13. Purple Loosestrife

It’s hard to deny the beauty of purple loosestrife, especially when you see a meadow full of it growing alongside yellow goldenrods. Such a sight can be breathtaking but the plant chokes out natives including goldenrod, and creates monocultures. I know of 2 places where you now see nothing but purple at this time of year.

14. Motherwort

The small, furry, white to light purple flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) are easy to miss. At a glance this plant might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed but I don’t see it that often and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 2 or 3 plants growing together.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is found along roads and in fields.

15. Motherwort

The tiny flowers are very hairy and look like a microscopic orchid. They’re very hard to get a good shot of because of both their size and color. I had to go back to this plant 3 times and I’m still not really happy with the results. The ancient Greeks and Romans used motherwort medicinally and it is still used today to decrease nervous irritability and quiet the nervous system. There is supposed to be no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and it is sold in powdered and liquid form.

16. Spreading Dogbane

Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is toxic to both dogs and humans, but insects love it. It’s closely related to milkweeds and has milky sap like they do. Monarch butterflies drink its nectar and I saw one fly off a plant just a few days ago. Though it is an herbaceous perennial its growth habit makes it look like a 3 foot tall shrub. The Apocynum part of its scientific name means “away from dog.” Not only dogs but most other animals avoid it because of its toxic sap. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and used its strong fibers to make thread and cord. The plant’s milky white sap is very sticky and I wonder how they removed it from the thread they made.

17. Spreading Dogbane

Spreading dogbane’s bell shaped flowers are very fragrant and I love to smell then when I can find one without an insect in it. They’re also very pretty, with faint pink stripes on the inside. They remind me of lily of the valley flowers but are quite a lot larger, as the ant in the blossom pictured shows. I don’t know if the ants were looking for nectar or the honeydew left by aphids, because aphids also love the plant.

18. Vervain

I know I showed blue vervain recently but it’s a beautiful thing and I can’t resist taking a photo or two when I see it. I found this example on a sandy part of the Ashuelot River Bank.

Flowers carry not only beauty but also the silent song of love. You just have to feel it. ~Debasish Mridha

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1. Daylily Seed Pod

I found what was left of a daylily seed pod at work one day. An insect had eaten all of the soft tissue and left the tougher veins, creating a work of art in the process. Sometimes I have to wonder if creating works of art aren’t their primary purpose; I’ve seen some amazing things done by insects. The engraver beetle for instance, creates some beautiful and intricate calligraphy on tree branches.

2. Barberry

I had to tangle with a Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) at work recently. The plant was quite old and some stems were bigger around than my thumb, which is unusual. Usually they are no bigger than a pencil but in this case the large size made the chrome yellow inner bark much easier to see. Barberry is the only shrub I know of with such vibrant color under its bark.

3. Barberry Stem

When Japanese barberry bark is injured the bright yellow color of the inner bark is easily seen. I decided to whittle the bark off a piece of stem to see what it would look like. When I put it against my black coat to take a photo it seemed to glow, so bright was the color, and in the photo it almost doesn’t look real. Not surprisingly, a bright yellow dye can be made from chipped barberry stems and roots and apparently this is true of any barberry, not just the Japanese variety.

4. Barberry Berries

If the inner bark doesn’t convince you that you have a barberry the fruit and thorns (actually spines) will. These small red berries are what make the Japanese variety so invasive. I’ve seen impenetrable thickets of it in the woods that not only crowd out native plants but also prevent all but the smallest animals getting through. Its sharp spines will tell you which variety of barberry you have. European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) both have clusters of 3 or more spines but since American barberry doesn’t grow in New England it comes down to European or Japanese here, and only Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) has single spines.

5. Birch Polypore

Something I’ve never noticed before is animals eating birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus,) but this year I’m seeing half eaten ones everywhere. Scientists have found that this mushroom is effective in treating intestinal parasites and I wonder if animals eat them for that reason or simply as food. Since chipmunks aren’t active during the winter it would probably be squirrels, deer or porcupines. I read that these fungi smelled like green apples and, though I’m not sure what green apples smell like the mushroom does have a strong but pleasant scent.

6. Maple Scae

I found this starburst scar on a maple trunk and can’t imagine what made it. The way the bark has turned platy reminds me of target canker on maples, but that isn’t shaped the same. It could have simply been caused by a boy with a pocket knife, but I don’t suppose that I’ll ever know.

7. Beech Blister

This bark deformity I know well, unfortunately. Beech bark disease is caused by beech scale insects (Cryptococcus fagisuga) that pierce the bark and leave a wound. If the spores from either of two fungi, called Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, find the wound and grow, cankers form. These cankers are what look like blisters on the bark of beech trees, as can be seen in the above photo. The disease originally came from Europe and the first case in the United States was reported in 1929 in Massachusetts. By 2004, the disease had spread as far west as Michigan and as far south as western North Carolina. There is no cure and infected trees will ultimately die.

8. Hobblebush Bud

I start watching buds closely at this time of year and one of those I watch are the naked buds of hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium.) They are naked because they have no bud scales to protect them but they make up for the lack by being covered with a multitude of fine hairs. In this photo the flower bud is in between two leaf buds that stand up like wings. In about mid-May the flower bud will become one of our most beautiful native viburnum flowers.  This understory shrub gets its name from the way its sprawling stems can trip up or “hobble” a horse, but it isn’t just horses that get hobbled; I’ve gotten my feet tangled in it a few times. I’m guessing that the white hairs seen in the photo are from a deer, so apparently the stems don’t hobble them.

9. Striped Maple Buds

Hobblebush and striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) often grow side by side. Deer had eaten the buds off many of the striped maples that were growing near the hobblebush in the previous photo, but they missed this one. Striped maple buds are on my list of things to watch at this time of year because when the red or pink bud scales open and the leaves emerge they are easily one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

10. Striped Maple Buds

Just to give you a little preview of why my pulse quickens in spring, here is a photo from last April of striped maple buds after they had just opened. The chance of seeing beauty like this again is what gives me spring fever.

11. Ice Fall

But not so fast; there are a few things that nature has to take care of first, like this ice fall that I saw in the woods the other day. It was big.

12. Motherwort

The combination of a mild winter and growing near a stone chimney kept this motherwort plant (Leonurus cardiaca) green through the winter. Motherwort is originally from Europe where it has been used medicinally for centuries. It is said to calm the heart and nerves as the cardiaca part of its scientific name implies. The ancient Greeks gave it to pregnant women, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Colonists brought it to North America, which is a sign that it was very highly regarded.

13. Rose Moss

The lack of snow this winter has meant rough times for our mosses, but rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is still pretty even when it’s as dry as paper. Each rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. It’s one of the most beautiful of all the mosses, in my opinion. Even when dry it sparkles as if with an inner light.

To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.  One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. ~ Oscar Wilde

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Even in winter there is still plenty to see in the woods. These are a few of the things I’ve seen lately that didn’t fit into other posts.

1. Foliose Lichen On Birch

I don’t know the name of this beautiful foliose lichen but I found it in a birch tree that I’ve visited many times.  I thought I had examined every lichen  within reach in that tree but I was obviously mistaken. My failure to see it even after so many visits helps illustrate the difference between seeing a thing and knowing it. I would have told you that I knew this birch tree like the back of my hand, but now I wonder what else I’ve missed.

2. Blackberry Thorns

Another illustration. This one shows why it’s best to wear old clothes when picking blackberries.

3. Motherwort Seed Head

The tiny pink flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) grow in circular tufts spaced up the length of the stem. Each flower produces 4 triangular brown nutlets, and in this instance the birds have eaten almost all of them. The scientific name cardiaca means “for the heart” and motherwort was once used to remedy nervousness and dizziness.  Whether it has any medicinal effect on birds is anyone’s guess.  The male black capped chickadees seem very excited this year so it doesn’t seem to be calming them down any.

 4. Purple Coneflower Seed Head

Birds have also been after the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds.  This is one reason I let plants go through their natural cycle and don’t cut them back until spring. Another reason is plain old laziness, which I’m sure the birds appreciate.

 5. Squirrel Tracks

If the question is “Does a squirrel slip in the woods?” the answer has to be yes.

6. Black Sooty Mold from Beech Wooly Aphid

Wooly aphids are sap sucking insects that secrete sweet honeydew on branches and leaves of plants. The honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold. Since the mold only grows on the aphid honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. In fact, the aphids will do far more harm. This mold feels hard and brittle when dry and soft and pliable after a rain. The example in the above photo was growing on alder, but it can also be found on beech, magnolia, maple, oak, elm, basswood, willow, walnut, white pine and hemlock.

7. Barberry Fruit

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is native to Japan. In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, recently “barberry has been implicated in the spread of Lyme disease. Researchers have noted higher densities of adult deer ticks and white-footed deer mice under barberry than under native shrubs. Deer mice, the larval host, have higher levels of larval tick infestation and more of the adult ticks are infected with Lyme disease. When barberry is controlled, fewer mice and ticks are present and infection rates drop.”

8. Foliose Lichen

I think this might be a tube lichen (Hypogymnia physodes) but I find that these gray / green lichens are one of the hardest to identify. Identification is made even more difficult by their habit of changing color between their wet and dry state. When wet the algae in some lichens (known as chlorolichens) “bloom” and turn the body of the lichen green. The algae are the photobiont part of the fungal and algal symbiotic pair that makes up a lichen, which means that the algae do all the photosynthesizing.

9. Green Shield Lichen

This common green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) lives on an old hemlock tree just outside my back door, so I know it well.  The recent rain and snow have got it looking just about as good as it ever does so I thought I’d take its photo. Lichens have several ways of reproducing and one of them is vegetatively.  The granular bits in the center of this lichen are called soredia, and are made up of intertwined fungi and algae granules. They will eventually fall to the ground and will be blown or carried to another place where, if all goes well, another lichen will grow.

In the book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer mentions an experiment that showed that many mosses spread by sticking to the bottoms of the tiny feet of chipmunks. I wouldn’t be surprised if lichens were spread in the same way.

10. Honey Locust Seed Pods

The ground beneath an old honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) was littered with thousands of long, flat seed pods. Considering that each one of these was once a flower, this tree must have been very beautiful last June. The reason I was surprised enough by these to take a photo is because the seed pods when fresh contain sweet pulp that is loved by animals, including livestock. Native Americans used the pulp for food as well. Some say it is very sweet and tastes like the fig in a Fig Newton cookie. You do not want to just go munching on seed pods to find out though-black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) seed pods are very toxic.

 11. Honey Locust Seed Pod

Honey locust seed pods look a lot like giant flat string bean about 9-12 inches long and often curled. Some of them look like polished mahogany and others can be purple.

12. Unusual Jelly Fungus

I’ve seen two red jelly fungi in my life and this is one of them. I should say red-ish, my color finding software sees salmon pink, dark salmon, rose, orange, rosy brown, and chocolate brown. I think it might be a purple jelly disc (Ascocoryne sarcoides) but I’m not completely sure. Whatever it is, it is rare here.

 13. Snow Cone

Here is a question to ponder: How does the wind sculpt a perfectly circular feature in the snow? Wouldn’t it have to blow from every direction at once to do so?

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~ Anaïs Nin

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