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Posts Tagged ‘Mountain Laurel’

Last Saturday I decided to hike one of my favorite rail trails. Not only does it have wildflowers and flowering shrubs all along it, it has plenty of railroad history too. I hadn’t been out here for a couple of years because I had heard of a bear out here that seemed to have no fear of humans. A bear that has no fear of humans is a bear to fear, but bears and many other animals are most active early in the morning and in the evening, so when the clock reached mid-morning I grabbed my can of bear spray and out I went.

This is the first example of spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) that I’ve seen blooming this year and it’s about a month early. Dogbane 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. 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.

An Ox eye daisy bloomed in a sunny spot at the edge of the trail. It was notable because there was just one.

Invasive but very fragrant multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) grew up trees all along the trail. I just featured this plant in my last post if you’d like to know more about it.

If you’re on a rail trail and see a stream flowing under it, there’s a good chance that it is flowing through a culvert-possibly a very old culvert. The one in the photo is a box culvert, made up of two side walls, top or lintel stones, and a stone floor. In the mid-1800s railroad stone masons cut these stones from ledges or boulders found in the woods near the rail line. There were certain rules that they had to follow. One regarded the thickness of the lintel stones and by how many inches they had to overlap the side walls, and even how much soil would be packed on top of them. These lintel stones were at least a foot thick and supported the weight of locomotives twice a day for over a century.

According to a website I found called Historic Stone Highway Culverts in New Hampshire the difference between a bridge and a culvert is the length of the span. (Width of the opening) Anything less than 10 feet is a culvert, and more than that is a bridge. Most culverts are covered by earth fill and the amount of fill over a culvert plays a huge role in how much weight it can carry.

Though I grew up hearing everyone call this type of span a trestle, according to Wikipedia this is a Warren-type through-truss bridge. This type of bridge was made of wood, wrought iron, cast iron, or steel. We have several that cross and re-cross the Ashuelot River and for the most part they are cared for by snowmobile clubs, but I was dismayed to find that this one had seen no attention for a while. All the wooden side rails were missing and the floor boards were rotting enough so some had holes through them. I hope the snowmobile clubs haven’t abandoned this leg of the trail. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for working so hard to keep these trails open. They donate their time, tools and quite often their own money.

The view of the Ashuelot River from the trestle shows how low it is. We’re over 3 inches shy of average rainfall now, and I don’t think we’ve had a real rainy day for about a month.

I was surprised to find native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) blooming out here already. It’s about two weeks early and as this photo shows, it was wilting from the dryness and heat. 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.

This old train depot along the rail trail in Ashuelot, New Hampshire  isn’t as elaborately adorned as some that still stand in this area but it has been taken care of and seems to be fairly complete, except for the wooden platform it surely must have had. The train would have stopped just a few yards out from that red door. This was on the Ashuelot branch of the Cheshire Railroad, which was part of the Boston and Maine Railroad system. The Cheshire Railroad ran from Keene to Brattleboro, Vermont, and from there north into central Vermont or south to Massachusetts.

The town of Ashuelot has a beautiful covered bridge which was built in 1864, which is a strange time because the Civil War was still raging. I’ve read that it was originally built so wood could be carried across the river to wood burning locomotives, but I have no way to verify that. Anyhow, in spite of the fighting it was built in two spans and is 160 feet long. It’s a Town lattice truss style bridge, patented by architect Ithiel Town in 1820. The open lattice work sides were a big step away from the solid walled bridges that came before it. Now, instead of being dark like a cave covered bridges were filled with light and had better air circulation. They also often had covered walkways for pedestrian traffic, as this bridge has on the far side. I’ve crossed both styles and the difference is amazing. The change must have been a very welcome one to people of the 1800s.  At one time there were about 400 covered bridges in New Hampshire, but only 70 of them were left at the end of the 20th century. The Ashuelot Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

There are many plants growing in the few sunny spots found along the trail and some of the most beautiful on this day were the purple flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus) in full bloom. This shade tolerant plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, light gathering, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. The plant has no thorns but it does have a raspberry like fruit. The flower petals always look a bit wrinkled.

The name “forget me not” (Myosotis) comes from the original German “Vergissmeinnicht” and the language of flowers in 15th century Germany encouraged folks to wear them so that they wouldn’t be forgotten by their loved ones. Mozart wrote a song about the flowers and Franz von Schober wrote a poem about them. It seems that the plant has always been associated with romance or remembrance; Henry IV had forget me nots as his symbol during his exile in 1398, probably so his subjects would remember him. Surely they must have; he was only gone for a year. Only Myosotis scorpioides, native to Europe and Asia, is called the true forget me not. The plant was introduced into North America, most likely by early European settlers, and now grows in 40 of the lower 48 states. In some states it is considered a noxious weed though I can’t for the life of me understand why. I hardly ever see it.

In several places the sides of the trail had grown in so much there was barely room for two people to pass, and that gave me another sinking feeling that there had been no maintenance here for a while. I do hope I’m wrong.

This view of the river shows how low it really is. In a normal spring you would hardly be able to see a single stone here.

The last time I was out here a hawk circled overhead for quite a while as I walked so I wondered if this time a hawk didn’t snatch up a woodpecker, because I can’t think of any other birds with feathers like this. I hope the birders among you might have a better idea. The feather wasn’t very big; maybe about an inch or inch and a half across.

June is the month when our native mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) bloom and they are one of the reasons I wanted to hike this trail, because they bloom along quite a good length of it. The wood of this shrub twists and turns and can form dense, almost impenetrable thickets when it grows in suitable locations like this area. An older name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

Like the bog laurel I showed in my last post the pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel have 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. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them. Though related to the blueberry, all parts of this plant are very toxic.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom on mountain laurels. This rear view shows the cups that the anthers fit into. The way that these flowers work to make sure that visiting insects get dusted with pollen is really amazing.

New Hampshire used to have a lot of paper mills but many have gone out of business. This one seems to be slowly crumbling. I’ve watched buildings like this crumble before and it always seems to start with an unrepaired leak in the roof. The water coming through the roof rots the roof rafters, floor joists and sills, and finally the rotting building is too weak to handle the snow load and, usually after a heavy snowfall, down it comes.

I know that a lot of freight was hauled over these rails but I was surprised a few years ago to find these old boxcars slowly sinking into the earth outside the old abandoned paper mill. There was a lumber yard and warehouses across the tracks from my grandmother’s house and when I was a boy I used to play in and on boxcars just like these. That was back when the trains were running so I also used to get chased out of them frequently.

The old knuckle couplers still held the boxcars together after all this time. After a three mile walk I’d seen enough and it was time to turn around and walk the three miles back to my car. I spoke with several homeowners along the way who were out doing yardwork and every one said yes, they had seen bears out here, but I didn’t see one and that made for a fine hike.

After all this talk of railroads I thought you might like to see one of the trains that ran through here. A sister train to the Flying Yankee pictured here carried passengers on the Cheshire Railroad from 1935 until its retirement in 1957. The gleaming stainless steel streamliner with “Cheshire” on its nameplate ran over 3 million miles in its history as a state of the art diesel passenger train. Its second car was a combination baggage / mail / buffet dining car and the third car was coach seating and had a rounded end with 270 degrees of glass for observation. It carried 88 passengers.

Human history and natural history are visible from trails. The old railroad routes through a town can show a lot about how the town developed, what it was like long ago. When you go through a town on an old railroad route, the place looks very different than from the customary perspective of the car and the highway. ~Peter Harnick

I’m sorry this post is so long, but I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping in.

 

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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. Catalpa

Imagine a tree 100 feet high and 50 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.

2. Catalpa Leaf

For those who have never seen a catalpa leaf, here is my camera sitting on one. I took this photo last fall.

3. Heal All

And since we’re thinking about orchids, here is our old friend heal all (Prunella lanceolata,) whose tiny hooded flowers also 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.

4. Knapweed

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.

5. Partridge Berry

The unusual 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. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the berries.

6. Mt. Laurel

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms. The pentagonal flowers 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. You can see flowers with relaxed anthers in the upper center and left parts of this photo. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them.

7. Mt. Laurel from Side

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 wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

8. Hedge Bindweed

I saw a beautiful bicolor hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) flower one day. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds these bicolor ones have become more numerous over the last few years. 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 arrowhead shaped triangular leaves.

9. Red Sandspurry

This is the first time that red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) has appeared on this blog, maybe because it is so small I’ve never noticed it. The tiny flowers aren’t much bigger than a BB that you would use in an air rifle, but grow in groups that are large enough to catch your eye. I find them growing in sand at the edge of roads and parking lots.

10. Red Sandspurry

The pretty little flowers of red sandspurry are pinkish lavender, so I’m not sure where the red in the common name comes from. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s. An odd fact about the plant is that it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.

11. Silky Dogwood

Silky dogwood has just started blooming. One way to tell that it’s a dogwood that you’re looking at is to count the flower petals. Dogwoods have 4 and viburnums have 5. What I like most about this shrub are its berries. They start off white and slowly turn deep blue, but for a while they are blue and white and remind me of Chinese porcelain. In fact I’ve always wondered if the Chinese got the idea for blue and white porcelain from these berries. This shrub is also called swamp dogwood. I usually find it growing on the banks of rivers and streams.

12. Columbine

I saw these beautiful wine red columbines in a friend’s garden. I think they probably started life as flashy bicolor hybrids and now the seedlings reverted back to one of the parents.

13. Sulfur Cinquefoil

Five pale yellow heart shaped petals surround a center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils in a sulfur cinquefoil blossom (Potentilla recta.) Close to the center each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I like seeing its pale yellow flowers among the purple maiden pinks and white ox-eye daisies.

14. Tulip Tree Blossom

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) gets its common name from the way its flowers resemble tulips, at least from the outside. As the photo shows, the inside looks very different. The fruit is cone shaped and made up of a number of thin, narrow scales which eventually become winged seeds. Another name for this tree is yellow poplar. It is the tallest hardwood tree known in North America, sometimes reaching 200 feet. Native Americans made dugout canoes from tulip tree trunks.

15. Crown Vetch

I love all flowers but some seem to have a little extra spark of life that makes me want to kneel before them and get to know them a little better. One of those is the lowly crown vetch (Securigera varia.) I know it’s an invasive species that people seem to either despise or ignore but it’s also beautiful. In fact if I had to design a beautiful flower, I don’t think I could do better than this.

If you love it enough, anything will talk with you. ~George Washington Carver

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1. Flowering Raspberry

Native flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is in the rose family but they look like roses that didn’t have time to iron their petals before they put them on. Still, they are one of my favorites. Each blossom is an inch and a half to two inches across. Later a red fruit that looks like a large raspberry will form, but the fruits are on the dry side and don’t taste much like raspberries.

2. Crown Vetch 2

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) is terribly invasive but also very beautiful, with its rounded clusters of pea like, purple and white flowers. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, it was imported in the 1950s to be used for erosion control and almost immediately began to spread until today it is present in every US state except North Dakota, and throughout much of Canada.

3. Mountain Laurel

June is the month when our native mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) bloom. The wood of this shrub twists and turns and can form dense, almost impenetrable thickets when it grows in suitable locations. An older name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

4. Mountain Laurel Front

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel have 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. You can see a flower with relaxed anthers in the upper left part of this photo. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them. Though related to the blueberry, all parts of this plant are very toxic.

5. Mountain Laurel Side

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom on mountain laurels. This side vies shows the cups that the anthers fit into. The way that these flowers work to make sure that visiting insects get dusted with pollen is really amazing.

 6. Black Eyed Susan

I have mixed feelings about black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) because, even though I like seeing the cheery flowers they remind me of how fast time is passing. It’s as if they mark the half-way point of the warm weather, if only in my mind.

7. Heal All

Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Its tiny flowers have an upper hood and a lower lip which are fused into a tube. Tucked up under the hood are the four stamens and forked pistil, placed perfectly so any visiting bees have to brush against them. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt.

There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

8. Yarrow

Another plant that was known well in ancient times for its medicinal qualities is common yarrow (Achillea millefolium.) 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. I think yarrow must be the plant with the most common names, probably because it has been known for so long. Some of them are: Bad man’s plaything, bloodwort, carpenter’s grass, carpenter’s weed, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, dog daisy, fern weed, field hoop, herb militaris, knight’s milfoil, little feather, milfoil, nosebleed, old man’s pepper, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort, squirrel tail, staunch grass, staunch weed, thousand-leaf, thousand-seal, thousand-weed, and yarroway.

 9. Tulip Tree Flower

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) gets its common name from the way its flowers resemble tulips, at least from the outside. As the photo shows, the inside looks very different. The fruit is cone shaped and made up of a number of thin, narrow scales which eventually become winged seeds. Another name for this tree is yellow poplar. It is the tallest hardwood tree known in North America, sometimes reaching 200 feet. Native Americans made dugout canoes from tulip tree trunks.

10. Tradescantia

Spiderwort flowers (Tradescantia virginiana) are usually blue or violet blue, but not this one-it looked very purple to me. Since I found it in a local park I wondered if it might not be a cultivar of the native plant. This plant always reminds me of my father who, when I was a young boy, used to wonder why I was “dragging all those damn weeds home.” I often found plants growing along the railroad tracks and transplanted them to our yard. This was one of my favorites, but he didn’t seem to care much for them.

 11. Maple Leaf Viburnum

Maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium) have started blooming. The size of the flower heads on this shrub can vary greatly depending on how shaded they are. This one was the size of a golf ball but I’ve seen some as big as a grapefruit. They are valuable plants to wildlife. Many songbirds eat the berries and beavers, rabbits, deer and moose eat the bark, twigs and leaves. What I like most about this plant is the way its leaves change colors in the fall. They can go from deep maroon to orange red to light, pastel pink and can be mottled with several different colors at once.

 12. Sulfur Cinquefoil

If you’ve ever seen sulfur then it will make perfect sense why this plant is called sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta.) The flowers are pale yellow, just like the mineral they were named for. This very hairy plant is a native of Europe and Asia and is considered a noxious weed in many parts of the U.S., especially in states with a lot of pastureland. Sometimes its flowers can be white or deeper yellow.

13. Wild Radish

Another sulfur colored flower is found on wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), but these blossoms have only four petals instead of five like sulfur cinquefoil. The flowers of wild radish can be white, sulfur yellow, or light purplish pink. The petals often have purple veins, but they weren’t very noticeable on the ones in this photo. I find this plant growing at the edges of cornfields.

 14. Milkweed Flowers

I could spend a lot of time and effort explaining how complicated the process of pollination is for a milkweed blossom, but I won’t do so today. That information is easily found elsewhere and I’d rather readers just appreciate the beauty of these blossoms, found on a plant that so many consider a weed not worth looking at. Sometimes by losing ourselves in the natural beauty of this world we find ourselves, and begin to see that the observer and observed are one and the same.

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

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Here are a few more examples of what we have blooming here right now.

1. Black Eyed Susan

Really? I thought. Black eyed Susans already? I like these flowers but at the same time I’m never in any hurry to see them because to me they represent the top of the hill we have been climbing since the last of the snow melted. Once Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) bloom we start down the other side of that hill towards autumn, and I’m in no hurry to get there.  These plants are native to the U.S. anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, and introduced west of them.

2. BlueToadflax

Dry, sunny, sandy roadsides suddenly turn blue when blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) blooms. Tiny, pale blue and white flowers sit on thin, wiry stems. This native plant was introduced to Europe and has naturalized in some areas, including Russia. It is in the snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison.

3. Tall Buttercup

I’ve tried several times to get a photo that shows the waxy shine on common buttercup (Ranunculus acris) petals, and I think this one might be it. This shine is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed.

4. Catalpa Blossoms

The orchid-like flowers of the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) tree have opened. These native trees grow to 70 feet or more and often the branches are so high up that you can’t see the flowers closely, but I was lucky to find an immature tree. Each flower is made up of petals that fuse to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple can be seen in the throat. Flowers will give way to long, thin pods that we used to call string beans when I was a boy.

5. Crown Vetch

Crown vetch (Coronilla varia) has an interesting flower head made up of up to 25 individual flowers. The standard is upright and deeper pink than the 4 lighter petals that make up the keel. Flowers have a typical pea-like shape. This plant was introduced as a forage crop and has escaped to the point where it is found regularly along sunny roadsides.

6. Indian Cucumber Root Flower

The flowers of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) can be challenging to photograph. Out of more than 20 shots this is the only one worth posting. It shows how the yellow-green petals curve backwards to reveal a long, spidery style and 6 stamens, all in crimson and plum. When these plants aren’t flowering they are sometimes mistaken for starflower because of the way the leaves whorl around the stem. The root of this plant tastes like cucumber and Native Americans used it for both food and medicine. People seem to feel the need to taste the plant’s root and because of it Indian cucumber is now endangered in many areas. Please admire them and let them be so the rest of us can also admire them.

7. Dogbane

Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) is supposed to be toxic to dogs so the Apocynum part of the scientific name means “Away dog!” The second part of the scientific name, cannabinum, means “like hemp,” which helps explain the plant’s other common name of Indian hemp. Dogbane has white, sticky sap that is toxic, so animals avoid it. Native Americans made thread and cord from dogbane and used it for nets and snares because the fibers hold their shape and do not shrink when they get wet. Dogbane fibers have been found in archaeological sites that are thousands of years old.

 8. Mountain Laurel Flowers

Our woods are full of native blooming mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) right now. Many believe that these evergreen shrubs are related to rhododendrons, but they are actually more closely related to blueberries. The white to pink flowers of Mountain laurel each have 10 pockets or depressions in the petals that the anthers bend to fit into. When a pollinator lands on the blossom the anthers spring from these pockets and dust the insect with pollen.

 9. Mountain Laurel Flower Backs

This view of the back of mountain laurel blossoms shows the unusual pockets that the anthers fit into. Mountain laurel is very toxic and has been known to kill livestock that have eaten it.

10. Yellow Rattle aka Rhinanthus minor

Yellow rattle box (Rhinanthus crista) is a very strange plant that is, in botanical terms, “hemi parasitic” on pasture grasses. This means that even though it creates its own food through photosynthesis its roots attack the roots of other plants and literally suck the life out of them. If enough of them grow in a pasture they can destroy the grasses in it. This plant is from Europe and gets its common name from the way the dry seeds rattle around in the round, flat pods that form behind each flower.

 11. Lobelia

There are so many lobelias that it is often hard to tell, but I think this is pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata.) Lobelias usually prefer moist places so I was surprised to find it in a small, dry clearing on the side of a hill. I was also surprised that the flowers on some plants were such a deep blue, because they usually range from pale blue to white. Flowers are found on a thin, wiry stem. When I was looking for information on this plant I was surprised to find that it is listed as rare in New Hampshire. In my experience it is quite common. Lobelias are toxic so no part of the plant should ever be eaten.

 12. Lobelia-Single Flower

Each flower of Lobelia spicata has an upper lip that is divided into 2 lobes and a larger lip that is divided into 3 lobes. A dark blue stigma sits between the upper 2 lobes. The petals are fused and form a tube. At a glance it might be easy to confuse this plant with blue toadflax.

 13. Flowering Raspberry

The petals of our native flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) always look like somebody forgot to iron them before they put them on. If this flower reminds you of a rose, that’s because it is in the rose family. The 2 inch wide flowers are fragrant and attract butterflies. If pollinated, they are followed by large berries that are said to taste good, but have too many seeds to be useful. The red to orange fruit is shaped like a thimble and that gives this plant another common name-pink thimble berry.

Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.  ~John Ruskin

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I don’t know why, but for the last two or three months I’ve had the urge to go places I’ve never been and see things I’ve never seen. Recently I walked into a forest in Winchester, New Hampshire, which lies south of Keene on the way to Northfield, Massachusetts to see a waterfall called Pulpit Falls.

 1. Stream and Bedrock

The directions weren’t the best; follow an old logging road until you hear running water, and then bushwack your way upstream until you see a waterfall. In other words, once I left the logging road there was no trail-just me and the woods.

2. Stream

Being so late in the year there was little actual bushwacking to do. What few shrubs grew near the stream were easily skirted. Since there was no trail the meandering stream became the trail.

3. Mt. Laurel Thicket

Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia) grew here and there. These native shrubs often grow in large impenetrable thickets that are always best to walk around rather than through. This place must be beautiful in the summer when the laurels are covered with pink and white blossoms. Native Americans used to make their spoons out of the wood, which is why it is also called spoon wood.  This plant was first recorded in this country by the Swedish / Finnish botanist Peter Kalm in 1624.

4. Pulpit Falls

We’ve had such a dry summer that the falls themselves weren’t much to write home about, if indeed this was them. But, easily seen was evidence that this small stream could become a raging torrent several yards across. I’ve seen pictures of the falls when the stream is running like that and it would be worth the hike to see it. I’ll come back during the spring rains, if we have them.

5. Boulders at Pulpit Falls

Upstream from the falls, the stream appears from under these huge pieces of stone. The biggest of them was as big as a delivery truck. I didn’t see anything that looked like a pulpit, so I’m not sure where the name Pulpit Falls came from. Uphill above these boulders was nothing but forest-no stream or any sign of a stream, so it must go underground somewhere uphill and then reappear here. What bothers me is that this area doesn’t look like the pictures I’ve seen. The rocks are much flatter than round in those pictures.

6. Fern on Stream Bank

A thin shaft of sunlight fell through the trees and lit up this fern as if it were on a Broadway stage. It was growing on a boulder at the side of the stream and I think it was a polypody fern, also known as rock cap fern. These ferns are evergreen.

7. Clubmoss Fruiting

The clubmosses here were covered with fruiting “clubs” where spores are produced. I think this is common ground pine (Lycopodium dendroideum) which is native and which the U.S.D.A. lists as rare. The people at the U.S.D.A. have obviously never hiked through the woods of New Hampshire, because this plant is everywhere now. It was once endangered after being over collected for use as Christmas greenery. The dried spores of this plant were also once used in photography as flash powder before flashbulbs were invented.

 8. Beard Lichen

I found a tree branch on the ground that was covered with lichens, so I put it on this mossy boulder and took a picture.  I think the larger hairy examples are bristly beard lichens (Usnea hirta.) The others are foliose lichens that I don’t recognize.

9. Ledges

On my way home from the falls I stopped to get a few pictures of a local hill that has had its heart torn out by a construction company, which crushes the rock and sells it. To give you an idea of how massive this really is-the “shrubs” on top of the hill in the upper left hand corner are actually white pine trees (Pinus strobus.) White pines can grow to around 160-190 feet tall are the tallest trees in eastern North America, but the youngsters in the photo were probably closer to 100 feet.

10. Icy Ledges

You know it’s cold when stone doesn’t absorb enough heat from the sun to melt the ice that clings to it. But at least we saw some sunshine!

If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere ~Frank A. Clark

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I thought I’d show a few more flowers that grow in my garden and also some interesting ones that I’ve found in local parks.Last year I spotted this meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegiifolium) at a small greenhouse in Northfield, Massachusetts. The owner said they didn’t have any for sale right then. He must have sensed that I was disappointed, because he divided one of his own and gave me a piece of it. What you see above is why I wanted it-such an unusual flower and quite larger and more colorful than the meadow rue I find growing wild. This plant is very unusual in that it doesn’t have a flower petal on it. The flowers in the photo are made up completely of male stamens. I grow this in my back yard in front of an old piece of picket fence because it gets so tall that I was afraid I might have to tie it to something. Butterflies love this plant. I know-it has been done to death and has become a cliché but this pink rose grows next to the meadow rue and it had just stopped raining when I took the picture. Here is the same rose fully opened on a drier day. This goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus ) grows in a shady corner of my yard.  This plant was just planted last year so it hasn’t reached full size yet. When it does it will be a large, 3-5 foot tall mound with feathery white blossoms reaching up above the leaves. This is another unusual native plant that should be used in gardens more than it is, because it does well in shade. Insects swarm over it. The rhododendrons have come and gone quickly. I saw this white one in a local park and went back a week later to find it without a blossom on it. I think the early heat made short work of flowers that usually appear when it’s cool.Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is an evergreen plant that many believe is in the rhododendron family, but it is actually more closely related to blueberries than rhododendrons. Though I saw this one in a park Mountain laurel is native to the east coast and soon the woods will be full of their white, pink or red blossoms. If you look at the back of a mountain laurel blossom you can see 10 depressions or pockets that the flower’s 10 anthers bend over and fit into. When a pollinator lands on the flower the anthers spring out of their pockets and bang against the insect, dusting it with pollen. This plant is extremely toxic and has killed livestock. The leaves are said to have been used by Native Americans wishing to destroy themselves. This plant is also called Lambkill, Spoonwood, and Calico bush. This plant goes by many common names but I’ve always called it peached leaved bluebells (Campanula persicifolia) which comes from its leaves resembling those of the peach tree. It is very easy to grow-literally a “plant it and forget it” perennial. I planted one in my garden years ago and not only is it still growing, but many seedlings from it are also growing all over the property. I usually give several away each summer to family and friends, but I’ve given it to so many people that now they say “no more.” It’s a good choice for someone just starting a garden.This is a very unusual plant that is seldom seen in the garden. So unusual in fact that I don’t think it has a common name. Its scientific name is Rogersia pinnata, variety “Elegans.” This plant likes it moist and shady but will grow in sunnier spots if it is given plenty of water. it is useful around ponds and other garden water features. I took this photo on May 27th just after it began to bud so as to show the unusual leaves.  The leaves turn a beautiful red / bronze in the fall.Here is the flower of Rogersia pinnata. It is quite tall-about chest height-and the plant is close to 2 feet across, so it needs plenty of room. The one shown here grows in the shade of trees in a local park.The feathery petals of the perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea montana) add interest to a garden. This is another plant that is very easy to grow. It prefers full sun but can stand partial shade. These plants self-seed easily and before long will have spread to all beds in the garden.  Deadheading will prevent this, or any other plant, from self-seeding. Some call this perennial cornflower.  Another plant that isn’t often seen is the penstemon (Penstemon digitalis) or beardtongue. I grow the variety pictured, called “husker red,” more for its deep maroon leaves than the flowers. This is yet another plant that is very easy to grow. The one pictured here grows in a park, but I planted it at home years ago and have done virtually nothing to it since, other than keeping the bed it grows in weeded. It likes full sun and dry soil. Hybrid cultivars like husker red were developed from the native penstemon. This bearded iris is so old that it has no common name. It is one of the plants that live far back in my earliest memories because it always grew on a corner of our lawn when I was a boy. It is a tough plant-quite often in winter the snow plows would tear it out of the ground and in spring my father (after considerable grumbling) would stuff it back into its hole and stomp on it a couple of times. (My dad wasn’t known for his gardening abilities!) After a short recovery period it would grow and bloom as if it had never been touched.  The one in the photo grows at my house now and isn’t near enough to the road or driveway to be plowed up. Many years ago a lady I gardened for gave me a sucker from her mock orange (Philadelphus.) I plunked it down in the shade near the outside faucet when I got it home, thinking I could keep it watered easily until I found a place to plant it. Well, I never did find a place to plant it until last year, when I rolled the 12 foot tall, 6 foot wide plant onto a tarp and dragged it across the lawn to its new home. Whew-was that heavy! But it was worth it because now it can be seen from several locations both inside and out, and this year is blooming better than it ever has. Mock orange is one of our most fragrant shrubs, and its citrus-spice fragrance can’t be matched. It is a great choice for someone who doesn’t want to fuss with their shrubs. When I was a boy we had a hedge of pink / purple Rugosa roses which were so fragrant that you almost couldn’t stand it because they were all you could smell for weeks. Scents can be very powerful things and can evoke strong memories; even more so than sight or sound. This is called involuntary memory, or the Proust effect.  I now have white rugosa roses growing outside my office and when I open the windows memories come floating in with the scent and transport me back in time to a place where life went by at a much slower pace and summers seemed to go on forever.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order~ John Burroughs

I hope you enjoyed seeing a few flowers that grow in gardens for a change of pace. Thanks for stopping by.

 

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