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Posts Tagged ‘Mullein’

There is nothing special about this photo of a swamp, other than to mark the place where I heard the first red winged blackbird of this year. I haven’t seen any but I’ve heard them and that’s another sign of spring.

I hope the red winged blackbirds know what they’re doing because this frozen pond is right across the road from the thawed swamp in the previous photo. Our nighttime temperatures are still falling below freezing but I hear the birds each morning.

Half Moon Pond in Hancock certainly didn’t look very spring like after one of our many recent nor’easters. Before this cold came in March it looked like the ice would be gone in less than another week.

The wind blows strongly off Half Moon Pond almost all of the time, and this lake sedge (Carex lacustris) shows the direction. This sedge grows in large colonies near lakes, ponds, and wetlands and is native to Canada and the northern U.S. It is a pleasant shade of green in summer and can sometimes be the dominant plant along shorelines and in swamps. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds.

When I saw a mullein seedling (Verbascum thapsus) I realized that I had never seen another one, most likely because I wasn’t paying attention. It was every bit as wooly as its adult counterparts and ready to start photosynthesizing. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. This one was about the size of a baseball, or just over 9 inches.

I went to see my old friends the striped wintergreens (Chimaphila maculata) to see how they came through the winter and I was happy to see that they looked good and healthy. This is a plant I don’t see that often and I only know of three or four small colonies. Hopefully they will bloom and set seed in mid-July.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) grows near the striped wintergreens and also came through the winter looking well. This plant always reminds me of my grandmother because it was one of her favorites. The plant is also called mayflower and was once nearly collected into oblivion so the very fragrant blossoms could be used in nosegays, but it is now protected in many states. It relies heavily on a relationship with certain fungi mycelium in the soil and it absolutely refuses to grow anywhere that the mycelium isn’t present. Native Americans used to use the plant medicinally to break up kidney stones. It was so valuable to them that it was thought to have divine origins.

The basal leaves of hawkweed (and many other plants) often turn deep purple in winter. Many trees and other plants conserve a lot of energy if they don’t have to make  chlorophyll so in the fall many stop making it. When that happens other colors which were there all along start to show. Carotenoids make leaves orange and yellow and anthocyanins make them red, pink or purple. Anthocyanins can also protect leaves from getting sunburned in winter if they are evergreen.

Beaked willow gall is caused by a tiny midge laying its egg in a willow bud. The reddish galls usually form at branch tips in the fall and will house the fly larva all winter. It will eat the tissue in the gall until spring, when it will pupate and an adult midge will emerge. Winter is a great time to look for galls, which are often hidden behind leaves at other times of year.

I’m always amazed by how much red there is in highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and nothing shows it better than the witch’s brooms that are so common on these shrubs. On blueberries witch’s brooms are cause by a fungus that deforms branches or roots and causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. In my experience they don’t really harm the plant and can even be quite pretty with snow on them.

An old trick that gardeners sometimes use when they want to grow plants that aren’t hardy in their area is to plant the sensitive plats near a stone or brick wall. The mass of masonry absorbs the warmth of the sun during the day and releases it slowly at night, protecting the plants from frost damage. Sweet gum trees grow near such a sunlit wall at the local college and the above photo is of one of their seed pods (Liquidambar styraciflua.) Seeing these pods here seems very strange because sweet gum is thought of as a “southern tree,” and Massachusetts is the northern most point that it grows naturally. I never saw the seed pods as a boy but I wish I had because they’re interesting and hold their shape well when dried. They would have made a great addition to my collection of natural oddities.

The base of this eastern hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) was covered by what I think must be yellow green algae (Pleurococcus vulgaris.) These algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, on soil, stones and even on walls. Their closest relatives are said to grow in lakes and rivers, but these species can withstand some dryness. Fossil evidence shows that algae have existed for at least 540 million years.

A saw another hemlock that had a deep crack in its bark that ran straight and true from the ground to about 15 feet up. At first I thought it must be a frost crack but I’ve never seen one so long, so I’m guessing it must have been a lightning strike. Since it was an older wound there were no pieces of bark that might have been blown off lying around. I came upon a tree once that had been recently struck by lightning and there were strips of bark all over the ground. No matter how the crack was made I’m sure it made quite a loud noise when it happened.  On cold winter nights you can sometimes hear stressed trees cracking in the forest. It is sudden and sounds like a rifle shot.

The bud scales on many of the male alder catkins have gone from their deep winter purple to shades of pink, orange, red and brown. Soon the bud scales will open to reveal the yellow green flowers that will release the pollen to the wind. They become very beautiful at this time of year and sometimes when the light is right it looks like someone has strung ropes of multicolored jewels on all the bushes.

Boxwood (Buxus) is called man’s oldest garden ornamental because it has been used for hedges and specimen plantings for centuries. The early settlers thought so highly of it they brought it with them in the mid-1600s. The first plants were brought over from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. These examples I found in a local park were budded. They’ll bloom In late April or early May but so will many other flowers, so these small but pretty ones will probably be overlooked.

The willows seem to be in a holding pattern. They’ve had their fuzzy gray catkins for two weeks now but there are no signs of the bright yellow flowers yet. Maybe I’ll see some later today.

I was flabbergasted when I saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) still blossoming. They’ve been through three nor’easters and zero degree cold but there are at least five bushes still full of flowers, so I’d say they were well worth what it cost to buy them. I wish you could smell them. I’ve heard their scent compared to laundry taken in fresh from the line but another description I just read says a hint of citrus-maybe lemon-is there as well. They seem a bit spicy to me but it’s a very pleasant scent that you can smell from quite a distance.

It’s always nice to see budded daffodils in spring. These were coming along well in spite of the zero degree cold we’ve had. They grow near the brick wall of a building and I think the heat radiating off the wall keeps them warm at night, just like the sweet gum trees we heard about earlier.

Not all the daffodils were lucky enough to have a brick wall, and this is what happened to many of those that didn’t. This is the second year in a row that this has happened to these bulbs and I’m not sure if they’ll make it now. A bulb needs leaves to photosynthesize and build up the strength it needs to blossom the following year. With their first spring leaves dying off for two years now I doubt they have much strength left. If they were mine I’d dig and replace them with later blossoming bulbs. They’re a bit overanxious I think.

Sometimes sunlight on moss is really all I need. I pity those who spend their lives chasing after riches, all the while missing the incredible richness all around them.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy. ~Anton Chekhov

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Last Saturday the plan was for a quick visit the Ashuelot River to see if the burning bushes had all turned pink. I thought it would take no more than a half hour but nature had other plans, and I was there all morning. We’ve had close to ten inches of rain recently so as this photo shows, the river was quite high.

High water means good waves and since I Iove trying to get a good curling wave photo they drew me like a magnet.

Taking wave photos takes a while because the first step for me is watching and letting myself find the rhythm. Rivers have a rhythm which, without trying too hard, you can tune into. Once you’ve found the rhythm you can often just click the shutter button again and again and catch a wave almost every time. But they won’t all be perfect or blog worthy. This one was my favorite for this day.

This is what they look like when they’re building themselves up, getting ready to curl and break. My trigger finger was a little early in this case but you can’t win them all, even when you’re in tune with the river.

I finally remembered why I came and pulled myself away from the waves to see the burning bushes (Euonymus alatus.) They were very pink but not the soft, almost white pastel pink that I expected. They still had some orange in them, I think.

Though some leaves had gone white and had fallen from the bushes most looked like these. You have to watch them very closely at this time of year because hundreds of bushes can lose their leaves overnight. With it dark now when I get home from work it could be that I won’t have another chance.

They are very beautiful and it’s too bad that they are so invasive. As these photos show you can see hundreds of burning bushes and not much else. That’s because they grow thickly enough to shade out other plants and form a monoculture. Rabbits hide in them and birds eat the berries but few native plants can grow in a thicket like this. Their sale is banned in New Hampshire for that very reason.

The burning bushes grow all along this backwater that parallels the river. I don’t know how true it is but I’ve heard that this is a manmade channel that was dug so boats could reach a mill that once stood at the head of it, which is where I was standing when I took this photo. There is a lot of old iron and concrete rubble here, so it could be what’s left of the old mill. I had quite a time getting through the rubble and the brush to get to this spot but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, so I was determined.

On the way out a beautiful young beech lit by a sunbeam caught my eye.

It was a cool morning and several large mullein plants (Verbascum thapsus) looked to be an even lighter gray than usual with a light coating of frost.

Despite the cold, the mullein bloomed.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) grow along a path that follows the river and though I followed it I didn’t see a single witch hazel blossom, but I did see these beautiful witch hazel leaves. Witch hazels don’t seem to be having a good year in this area. I’ve only seen three or four blossoms.

This was surprising. The bit of land I had been walking on has always been a long, narrow peninsula; a sharp finger of land pointing into the river and surrounded on three sides by water, but now the river has made the peninsula’s tip an island. When I was a boy I knew of a secret island in the Ashuelot which I could get to by crossing a fallen oak tree. The last time I visited that spot I found that the river had washed the island away without a trace, and I’m sure that the same thing will happen to this one eventually. I was a little disappointed; there was a large colony of violets that grew right at the base of that big tree on the right, and I used to visit them in the spring when they bloomed.

I saw the startling but beautiful blue of a black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) at the edge of the woods. It’s a color you don’t expect to see unless there are blue jays nearby. On this day there did just happen to be a blue jay there and he called loudly the entire time I was looking at the black raspberry. I wondered if he was jealous.

The river grapes (Vitis riparia) looked like they were becoming raisins, but this is normal. The birds don’t seem to eat them until they’ve been freeze dried for a while. River grapes are also called frost grapes because of the extreme cold they can withstand. Many cultivated grape varieties have been grafted onto the rootstock of this native grape and it’s doubtful that cold will ever kill them. River grapes have been known to survive -57 degrees F. On a warm fall day they can make the forest smell like grape jelly, and often my nose finds them before my eyes do. Native Americans used grape plants for food, juice, jellies, dyes and basketry. Even the young leaves were boiled and eaten, so the grape vine was very important to them.

I missed a blooming dandelion but I was able to enjoy its sparkling seeds.

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) bloomed everywhere near the river, even though slightly frost covered. The rabbits that live here come out in the evening to feed on these clover plants and their constant pruning makes for healthy, bushy clover plants.

The goldenrods (Solidago) were still blooming here and there but they’re looking a little tattered and tired.

A few Queen Anne’s lace plants (Daucus carota) were also still blossoming and looked good and healthy but the flower heads were small. I didn’t see any bigger than a golf ball, but they still provide for the few insects that are still flying.

Most Queen Anne’s lace flower heads looked like this. Nearly stripped of seeds already, even though I’ve read that the seeds are saturated with a volatile oil which smells faintly of turpentine and which discourages birds and mice from eating the seeds. The seeds are carried by the wind and snow.

I thought I saw a feather on a twig but it turned out to be a milkweed seed blowing in the wind. The wind was quite strong but the seed refused to release its hold.

So much for a quick trip to the river. Instead I got another lesson in letting life happen instead of making it happen. It’s always good to let nature lead because when you do you are often drawn from one interesting something to another, and time spent in this way is never wasted.

There is always another layer of awareness, understanding, and delight to be discovered through synchronistic and serendipitous events. ~Hannelie Venucia

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How strange it seems to be able to do a flower post this late in October, but the weather people say we’re on the way to the warmest one ever. Bluets often start blooming in early May. They have quite a long blooming season but I was still surprised to find a small clump in bloom this late in the year. As many other flowers do right now, the bluets looked smaller than normal, and stunted. It’s as if they know they shouldn’t be blooming but decided to give it a halfhearted try anyhow.

False dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) is a plant that is still thriving and I see it blossoming everywhere I go. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The yellow flowers are smaller than the dandelion’s and stand atop wiry, 6-8 inch long stems. The leaves look like miniature versions of dandelion leaves and are nowhere near as wide or as long.

I still see various species of goldenrod blooming here and there but the huge fields of them I saw in August and September are finished for this year. I think this one might have been downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula,) which I’ve seen growing in this place before. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches, and it has been used for centuries to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections.

A hoverfly on the goldenrod was willing to pose for a photo.

I found this pretty little dianthus growing in a garden. Dianthus are much loved garden flowers that are often called “pinks.” Maiden pinks and Deptford pinks are two members of the family that have escaped and are found in the wild in summer.

Pee Gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) blossoms are still turning into their fall pink and when that is done they will go to brown. Eventually each flower petal will start to disintegrate and for a short time will look like stained glass. If cut at the pink stage however, the color will hold for quite a long time.

The last time I saw brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) blooming was in August I think, but apparently after a rest it has decided to bloom again. Either that or new plants have grown from seed. This is an annual plant that is originally from Europe and Asia. It is considered highly invasive in some regions but I hardly ever see it here. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls at the top of the plant.

The flowers of brittle stem hemp nettle have a 3 part lower lip for insects to land on. From there they can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom, brushing against the 4 pollen bearing stamens along the inside of the upper lip as they do so. The small 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on the outside of the upper lip and the square stems are also hairy. It is a very brushy, bristly looking plant but the soft hairs don’t embed themselves in your skin, thankfully.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. This blossom was at the very top of the flower spike, meaning this plant is done.  Mullein is a biennial which flowers and dies in its second year of growth. Native Americans used tea made from this plant’s large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

This tiny lobelia flower known as Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) is the first I’ve seen in a while now. Most of these plants have long been brown but this one must have wanted to give it one more go. I’m sure the insects appreciated its efforts. I was glad to see it too.

Indian tobacco gets that name from its inflated seed pods that are said to resemble the pouches that Native Americans used to carry their smoking materials in.

I was hoping to see some orange hawkweed once more this year but I didn’t see any members of the family blooming except this yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum.) Yellow hawkweed starts blooming in June here and is fairly common, but not in October. I think this is the latest I’ve ever seen it bloom. This plant had several more buds on it too, so it will bloom for a while yet.

I’m still seeing roses blooming away like it was high summer. I keep thinking I should call them the last rose of summer when I show them here but summer seems to just go on and on this year. And I’m not complaining about that.

I found a large colony of pink knotweed (Polygonum pennsylvanicum) still blooming, mixed in with grasses and clovers. It was very small and short but it had also been mowed so it was probably stunted because of it.

Pink knotweed is also called Pennsylvania smartweed. The flower heads are made up of many petal less flowers that grow densely on the stalk. Smartweeds get their name from the way your tongue will smart if you bite into them. Native American used smartweeds medicinally to treat a variety of ailments, and also used the chopped plants as a seasoning, much as we use pepper today. Some species are extremely hot while others are said to be milder. I almost always find smartweeds near water but these examples were not.

I think this is the first time scabiosa has been on this blog, mainly because I don’t see them very often. This example was growing in a local park and seemed to be doing well, with many flowers. Actually I should say many flower heads, because what you see in this photo is a flower head containing many small florets. I’ve read that the name scabiosa comes from the plant’s use in the past to treat scabies, which causes a severe itching. It is native to Africa, Europe and Asia.

If you ever want to see a child’s face light up and break into a big grin, just squeeze a blossom of pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) and have them smell it. They’re always surprised when they find that the humble little weed that they’ve never paid attention to smells just like pineapple. I’m guilty of not paying attention too; I realized when I saw several plants blooming that I had no idea what its normal bloom schedule was. I know that it starts blooming in June here and according to what I’ve read blooms for about two months, so it is well past its normal blooming period. It is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year so I wonder if next year’s seed supply is growing now, in this extra warm fall.

Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) is in the same family (Oleaceae) as lilacs and that should come as no surprise when you look closely at the small flower heads. What is surprising is that it was blooming at all, because they usually bloom in May or early June. Privet is a quick growing shrub commonly planted in rows and used as hedging because they respond so well to shearing. Originally from Europe and Asia it is considered invasive in some areas. It has been used by mankind as a privacy screen for a very long time; Pliny the Elder knew it well. Its flexible twigs were once used for binding and the name Ligustrum comes from the Latin ligare, which means “to tie.”

Common chickweed (Stellaria media) likes cool weather so it was a bit surprising to find it blooming. The plants looked like they were suffering though, with small, stunted flowers that looked as if they had never made it to full size. Chickweed is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year. It’s originally from Europe and is considered a lawn weed here. I usually find it in the tall grasses at the edge of woods. This one had tiny friends visiting.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is often thought of as a warmth loving southern plant but here it is blooming and making berries in October in New Hampshire. Pokeweed flower clusters (Racemes) are unusual because you can often see ripe fruits at the bottom and new flowers at the top.

Pokeweed flowers are about a quarter inch across and have no petals but do have 5 white or pink sepals surrounding green carpels that fold and meet in the center. These green carpels will become a shiny, 8-10 chambered, purple-black berry. The carpels are surrounded by 10 white stamens. Though they were once used to color cheap wines the berries are poisonous and have killed children. People eat the leaves and spring shoots but adults have also been poisoned by eating plants that weren’t prepared properly. There are some powerful toxins in parts of the plant and scientists are testing it for its anti-cancer potential.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

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1. Touch me not

Except for very late bloomers like witch hazel, late September is really more about which flowers are still blooming rather than which are just starting. Spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis) is a good example of flowers that will bloom right up until a good frost. As day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

2. Touch me not

When spotted touch-me-not flowers first open they are male, but then change to female. The way to tell is by looking for white pollen. If white pollen is present the flower is male. Female flowers will have a small green pistil in place of the pollen seen in this photo.

3. Black Eyed Susan

I used to think that black eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia hirta) were the longest blooming of any wildflower but once I started paying attention I found that wasn’t true. But it is a marathoner rather than a sprinter and can bloom from June right up until a hard frost.

This plant was always believed to have been given its common name by English colonists, but that caused a real conundrum among botanists who all agreed that it was a prairie native. Though everyone still agrees that it is a prairie native, recent research has shown that it was growing in Maryland in the 1600s. In other words it was most likely growing in all parts of the country then, just as it does today. I can’t understand why botanists thought that a prairie native would simply stay there. Why wouldn’t it have spread far and wide, just like plants do today?

4. Knapweed

Knapweed is terribly invasive and hated by pasture owners but even though I know all of that its flowers win me over every time. This was one of just a few left in a large group of plants that had all withered and turned brown.

5. Mullien

I was surprised to see this mullein (Verbascum thapsus) plant blooming so late in the year. I wonder if it will have time to set seeds. Mullein is a biennial and flowers and dies in its second year of growth. It is considered a weed but if all of its flowers opened at once along its tall flower stalk it would be a prized garden specimen.

6. Big Leaf Aster

By the time I got to the spot along the Ashuelot River in Gilsum where big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) grow they had almost all gone by, but I did find one or two that were still hanging on. The big leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify.

This plant taught me a good lesson; the photo I took of it last year was chosen by the State of Georgia for inclusion in its new wildflower guide because it showed both the flowers and leaves, so if you think that you might like to sell your wildflower photos try to include some foliage whenever possible.

7. Phlox

Even phlox, a plant known for its late bloom period, has almost gone by now. There are many varieties of phlox but I think the one pictured is Phlox paniculata, which is native to the eastern United States.

8. Tear Thumb

Arrow leaved tear thumb (Polygonum sagittatum) has small tufts of pinkish white flowers at the ends of long, weak stems. It is usually found sprawling on and around other stronger stemmed plants that help support it. It loves to grow near water.

9. Tear Thumb Stem

The reddish, 4 sided stems of arrow leaved tearthumb have tiny, backward pointing prickles that the plant uses to hang onto other plants when it crawls over them in search of more sunlight. These prickles are plenty sharp enough to tear into the flesh of your thumb (or any other body part) if you try to pull at the plant without gloves on, and that’s where the common name comes from.

10. Yarrow

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has a period of bloom in June through August and then rests for a while before giving it another go.  Mankind has had a relationship with this plant since before recorded history and dried sprigs of it have been found in Neanderthal graves. The ancient Greeks used it on wounds to staunch blood flow and so did Native Americans.

According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffey, in England if a boy put a sprig of yarrow in his nostril and twisted it around three times and got a nosebleed, he was sure to win his sweetheart. It is said that the boys in Suffolk call the plant green ‘arrow and recite the following rhyme:

Green ‘arrow, green ‘arrow you bears a white blow;
If my love love me, my nose will bleed now;
If my love don’t love me, it won’t bleed a drop;
If my love do love me, ‘twill bleed every drop.

11. Purple Morning Glory

I know that this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) isn’t a wild flower but I had to sneak it in because of the amazing light that seemed to be shining from it.

Autumn asks that we prepare for the future —that we be wise in the ways of garnering and keeping. But it also asks that we learn to let go—to acknowledge the beauty of sparseness. ~Bonaro W. Overstreet

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