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Posts Tagged ‘Mullien’

The longer I do blog posting the more I’m amazed more by what I don’t see than what I do, and here is a perfect example of that; pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea.) I’ve told readers before that they’d never see pearly everlasting on this blog because it didn’t grow here but what I should have said was I had never seen it. Now I’ve found it twice in two days in two different places.  According to the USDA the plant gets its common name from the “pearl-white involucre bracts that surround the yellow disk flowers.” You can just see one of those disk flowers beginning to show in the center of this flower head. Native Americans used pearly everlasting for treatment of sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way.

But it is that time of year when some of our smallest and most beautiful wildflowers show themselves and field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) is one of those. Its flowers are beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and that’s just what I usually do. Milkworts get their name from the ancient Greeks, who thought they increased milk production in nursing mothers. The polygala part of the scientific name comes from the Greek polugalon or “much milk.”

On field milkwort flowers what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant, including bumblebees. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

This shot from a few years ago gives you a sense of the size of a field milkwort flowerhead. Still, as small August flowers go, it’s among the biggest.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. Once the blossoms reach the very top of the flower spike the plant is done. Native Americans used tea made from its 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.

Mullein is a biennial so like burdock and many other plants it 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 I think it would be a prized garden specimen.

This photo is more about the red seed pods than the yellow flowers of Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) because some St. John’s wort plants have red buds and others have red seed pods, and it can get very confusing.

This photo is all about the flower of Canada St. John’s wort; the smallest of all the St. John’s wort flowers. Each blossom wouldn’t even hide Lincoln’s head on a penny. In fact you could pick a bouquet of them and hide it behind a penny, so small are the blooms.

And here is a Canada St. John’s wort blossom on a penny. It’s one of the smallest flowers I try to photograph.

Brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but it is relatively hard to find here. It’s an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) flowers look a lot like dandelions, but the rest of the plant doesn’t. Its flowers are held about 2 feet high on wiry stems, and its leaves have prickly edges. The seed heads look a bit like a dandelion seed head but are denser because of more seeds. This plant is considered a noxious weed in many places and comes from Europe and Asia. It was first reported in Pennsylvania in 1814 and is now in all but 8 states and most of Canada. This one grew right at the edge of a ditch I didn’t know was there and as I backed up to get a better shot I suddenly found myself lying on my back in the muddy ditch. Once I stopped laughing I came out of it feeling a little foolish but otherwise unscathed.

Here is a look at the edge of a sow thistle leaf. It feels as prickly as it looks.

When I started working where I do I found a single chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) growing in a 13 acre field that I mow each week. I mowed around the plant and let it be and then there were 3 or 4 plants, and then a few more, and now there is a forest of them. One recent day I found myself in the middle of this forest admiring all of these beautiful flowers and I suddenly had the strange sensation that I was lighter, almost as if gravity had been switched off and I was being carried away by the beauty that I saw. And for all of the rest of that day I felt light, as if I had little weight. It was very strange, but not uncomfortable. In fact I’d like for it to happen again. It reminded me of lying on my back in the grass as a boy, watching the clouds float past. Sometimes I felt as if I was floating then, too.

Beauty, according to Indian spiritual master Amit Ray, is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when the soul is satisfied he says, so on this day my soul must have been immensely satisfied.

And then I wondered if dragonflies like this Halloween pennant, perched atop a chicory plant, felt the same lightness I felt. And bees and butterflies? Do they have a sense of having any weight at all? Since they must know that they’ll float to earth if they stop moving their wings I’d guess the answer would be yes. Insects, especially dragonflies, do seem to have a certain amount of intelligence, because when I’m mowing this field dragonfly squadrons fly along on either side of me, knowing that the mower will scare insects up out of the grass. It’s an easy meal they don’t have to work too hard to get, and it’s always quite a remarkable thing to watch. No matter how fast or slow the mower goes they fly right along beside it.

Beautiful yes but every gardener’s nightmare come true, because creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is virtually impossible to eradicate. I worked for years trying to remove it from a garden I once worked in and last I knew the plants were still thriving. I think the new owners must have come to see the futility of it all.  

White avens (Geum canadense) are everywhere this year, more than I’ve ever seen. Each flower is about a half inch across with 5 white petals and many anthers. The anthers start out white and then turn brown and you usually find both on each flower. Each flower becomes a seed head with hooked seeds that will stick to hair or clothing.

I saw a hosta blossom that had to be in this post because it showed perfectly why hostas are in the lily family. In fact another name for the plant is the plantain lily.

This very beautiful rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) grows just off the side of an old dirt road at the edge of a swamp. At least I think it is rosebay willowherb; there seems to be some confusion among sources about the regions it grows in. According to the USDA it doesn’t grow in New England, but the University of Maine lists it in its database. Another name for the plant is fireweed and Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it in 1857, so I’ve been wondering for years now if the USDA map is incorrect. If you live in New Hampshire and have seen this plant I’d love to hear from you.

Narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis) grow alongside the same road that the rosebay willowherbs were on. Gentians of any kind are extremely rare in these parts and I’m always as excited to see them as I would be to see a field full of orchids. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often, because our soil is generally acidic. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I hope this small colony will spread. I’ve heard of other hidden colonies of it here and there as well.

Never has the earth been so lovely or the sun so bright as today. ~Chief Nikinapi

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Stone walls, it is said by author Robert Thorson, are much easier to explore in January when the leaves are off the trees and bushes. “Like a negative to a photograph,” he says, “walls are most visible when life is most invisible.” I agree, and that’s why I do these stone wall posts in winter. But as you can see by the above photo, this post was made even easier by the lack of snow. Not only did a January thaw melt it all but the huge old pine trees overhead keep much of the snow off this particular wall, even in mid-winter.

Unusual about this spot are the parallel double walls with a space big enough between them for a horse drawn wagon or a cow herd to pass through with ease. None of the trees seen here would have been here when the wall was young. Tree seeds fell into or very near stone walls and grew and few people ever did anything about it.

I’m guessing that there were animals involved in the path through the double walls because holes were drilled into stones and steel rods inserted into them to increase the wall height by about a foot and a half. As the steel ground against the granite over the years the holes were made bigger so cut nails were driven in beside the rods to keep them straight. The cut nails seen here date the steel rods to sometime between 1800 and 1900, but the wall itself has been here since the mid-1700s.

Each steel rod has a flattened tip with a hole in it. The hole most likely had wire passed through it. This would have all been done by the local blacksmith.

If wire was passed through the hole in the rod it could have been used to hold up barbed wire. Barbed wire would have been used to keep animals from jumping the wall and it can be found strung all along it.

You can occasionally find cut stones on this wall. I think this rectangular example is a granite fence post that broke off at ground level and was thrown on top of the wall to get it out of the way. The most common stone walls in this area are “tossed walls.” Farmers worked from dawn to dusk in Colonial New England and tossed walls required the least amount of time and effort because smaller stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. In the early years getting rid of the plentiful stones quickly and efficiently was more important than enclosing the fields and boy, did famers get rid of them. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England.

Rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis) look like melted candle wax to me. They are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty. They must like it here because they cover entire lengths of this wall.

In the story books of my childhood the stones in stone walls were all colors including blue, orange and yellow, so I knew right off that whoever wrote the books had never seen anything built of stone because, as everybody knew, stones were gray. As I grew older and started paying closer attention to the world around me I realized once again that I didn’t know what I was talking about because, as whoever illustrated those books knew, stones could indeed come in many colors. Usually in this area only the oldest stone walls are colored in this way, and of course what grows on them depends on exposure, so they may not be as wonderfully colorful as this one.

The yellow color in the previous photo comes from sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s a very soft, pale yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

The white on this tree is caused by a lichen called, appropriately enough, whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This lichen is usually found on the bark of hardwood trees and is fairly common. It makes the tree look as if it has been painted white, and that’s where its common name comes from. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white as this one is.

I saw a stone with a forest of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) on it. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

I saw some pixie cup shapes that were unusual; the one on the left is a double one, with two cups grown together. The one on the right has one cup growing out of another. I don’t know if this is common behavior or not but I haven’t ever seen it.

Here was a large stone covered by a carpet of Hedwigia ciliata moss. This moss is common and is also called white tipped moss.

The white leaf tips drawn out to long, fine points help confirm the identity of Hedwigia ciliata moss. It’s one of those mosses that you almost have to run your hand over.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter many plants like this mullein (Verbascum thapsus)  like to grow along them. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall. Native Americans used tea made from mullein’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.

Bristly or swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves usually live under the snow all winter but these exposed examples were beautifully colored purple. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition, and this plant certainly seems to benefit from it. Swamp dewberry looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands, but I’ve seen it growing in dry waste areas many times. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly.

It was no surprise to find the European Vinca (Vinca minor) growing in the wall, because in the 1800s Vinca was a plant given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three still blooming beautifully off in the middle of nowhere. They grow thickly together and sometimes form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through. It has been here long enough to have erased any memories of it having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship, and people like it. Another name for it is Myrtle.

The beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes (Rubus occidentalis) is always a welcome sight in the winter. The blue color is caused by the way light is reflected off the powdery, waxy white crystals that cover the canes. The crystals are there to protect the young canes from moisture loss and sunburn and many other plants including blueberries, plums, grapes and blue stemmed goldenrod also use the same strategy. The color is often like that of a blue jay.

There are some very old white pine trees (Pinus strobus) here. I’d guess this one had to be approaching 300 years old. It was huge and had deeply furrowed bark. Sometimes I lay my hands against great trees like this one to feel their power. The power of creation just seems to hum through them like an engine.

My grandfather was the town blacksmith for years in Westmoreland, New Hampshire and the old wrought iron hardware I sometimes find in stone walls always makes me think of him. A blacksmith might make a dollar a day in the early 1800s but very little cash changed hands in colonial America, so he most likely would have been paid in food, charcoal for the forge, lumber, or something else he needed. I’d guess my grandfather made more than a colonial blacksmith, but probably not by much. The ring seen here most likely held a chain.

Since history and botany are my favorite subjects it all comes together for me here, and on the historical side of things this chain hook is one of my favorite bits of antique iron work that I find here. A link from a chain would have been hooked over it and then another link hooked over a similar hook a certain distance away. Chains were (and are) often hung across roads or driveways as a way to say “no admittance.”  What I like about this example is the way the blacksmith tapered the hook over its length and finally ended it in what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to make such a utilitarian object as beautiful as a dragon’s tail, but he did. It’s a beautiful thing which, if I owned it, would be considered a work of art.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

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Anyone who has been to an outdoor drive in theater has probably heard the “It’s showtime folks!” announcement coming through the speaker that hung on their car window. It came right after the film clip showing all the delicacies found at the snack bar, I think.

Keene had a drive in theater and though this isn’t a photo of that screen it’s very much how I remember it. The drive in held 400 cars and once you paid the entrance fee you parked wherever you wanted. Each of the poles seen in this photo would have held 2 speakers. You parked beside a pole, rolled the window down about half way and hung the speaker on it. I don’t know how many people drove off after the film with the speaker still on their window but I’d be there were a few.

This is what the Keene drive in looks like today; an open meadow full of flowers, birds and insects. I decided to explore it last weekend just to see if I could find anything interesting. There is a gate that is locked but since there is a big missing part of the fence right next to the gate it was easy to walk right in. There were no signs telling me not to.

I found these few photos of Keene Drive In memorabilia, apparently uploaded by Charles Dean, online. I couldn’t find the date the drive in opened but it must have been in the 1940s after the war ended. That was a popular time for drive ins and that’s when many of them opened.  The prices on this menu are certainly from a few years ago. I can’t remember ever paying as little as 35 cents for a hamburger.

But I was here to see nature doing its thing and I wasn’t disappointed. St. Johnswort plants grew here and there. I think these grew somewhere near where the projection booth originally was.

Drive ins did their best to keep people from sneaking in without paying but it was a right of passage for a teenage boy and I went through the main gate in the trunk of a car more than once. Many others did the same and I don’t think I ever heard of anyone climbing the fence. That’s a good thing, by the looks of all the barbed wire.

The grasses were waist high. Even yarrow couldn’t out grow them.

In this spot something had flattened the grass just like a bedding deer would, but it could have been a human. As few as 10 years ago this piece of land had grown up to be almost completely forested and a sizeable homeless population lived in here. I came through once a few years ago just to explore and found a small town of tents and tee-pees tucked into a back corner. The town (I think) came in and cut all the trees and brush and evicted the homeless and now the place is mown once each year. It’s a shame that anyone has to be homeless in this, the richest country on earth, but the reality is almost every town in America has a homeless population.

I could see the old crushed gravel parking surface in places.

But mostly all I saw were grasses and flowers, like this ox-eye daisy. I also saw more blue toadflax here than I’ve ever seen in one place.

Can you see the little hoverfly on the extreme right of the hawkweed blossom on the right? I saw lots of insects here including dragonflies, which seemed odd since there isn’t any water close by.

I saw my first mullein (Verbascum thapsus) blossoms of the year here. Native Americans used tea made from its 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.

I saw a paved area but I couldn’t figure out if it was part of the original entrance road or if it was where the screen stood. It’s hard to navigate when there are no landmarks to go by but I think I remember the screen being on this end of the lot.

There was just a single light pole left, with its light still on top. These lights used to ring the lot and when they were turned on you knew the show was over and it was time to go. There used to be 2 films shown but I can’t remember if the lights were turned on during intermission or not. I do remember some dark walks to the snack bar and then trying to find the car in the dark afterwards.

There were lots of bristly dewberry plants (Rubus hispidus) growing here. Bristly or swamp dewberry is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves live under the snow all winter. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition, and this plant certainly seems to benefit from it. Swamp dewberry looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands, but I’ve seen it growing in dry waste areas many times. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly.

I was surprised that there wasn’t more vetch growing here. I saw just a few plants. Hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa) was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire. This might have also been cow vetch (Vicia cracca,) but I didn’t check the stems for hairs. Cow vetch is also invasive.

There was lots of rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense.) You have to look closely to see the almost microscopic white flowers poking out of the feathery, grayish-pink sepals on these flower heads. These feathery sepals are much larger than the petals and make up most of the flower head. This plant is in the pea family and is used to improve soil quality. It is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered an invasive weed. It gets its name from the fuzzy flower heads, which are said to look like a rabbit’s foot. 

You can see the tiny white flowers in this shot. This bee (I think) was gathering a lot of yellow pollen from the clover plants. Its pollen sacs looked to be full of it.

Other clovers attracted other insects. I saw this little skipper on a red clover but I haven’t been able to identify it.

This program is from the year I was born but I don’t remember ever seeing any of these films. The only drive in movie I remember seeing at the Keene Drive In was the original Star Wars. Since it came out in December of 1976 I’m guessing it must have been the summer of 1977 when I saw it. For its time it was an amazing movie. I think I was driving a Volkswagen Beetle at the time. I like the way the program says “Air conditioned by nature,” which was a good thing since my Volkswagen didn’t have air conditioning. Unfortunately it didn’t have heat either so winters were a little more exciting than usual.

In the 1950s, there were around 4,000 drive-in theaters around the United States. Today, there are only an estimated 300 left, and only two or three are in New Hampshire. Most closed because film companies went digital and stopped delivering the films on 35mm reels.  Digital film projectors cost many thousands of dollars and many drive in owners simply couldn’t afford the changes. The Keene drive in closed in 1985 and the screen, snack bar and projection booth were removed shortly after. Now it’s a meadow which, if it was no longer mowed, would return to the original forest that was here before the drive in was built. And it wouldn’t take long; I saw it go from drive in to forest to meadow in my own lifetime.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

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Spring is happening, but ever so slowly this year. April showers have come along right on schedule and though they’ll take care of the remaining snow they’ll also enhance mud season, which has already been a bear. The ground froze deeply this year and the deeper the freeze the worse the mud. None of this has anything to do with the above photo of juniper berries but I love their color and I was surprised that the birds hadn’t eaten them yet.

From a distance I saw what looked like a patch of small yellow flowers. I couldn’t even guess what yellow flowers besides maybe coltsfoot or dandelions, would be blooming in March.

But they weren’t flowers at all. They were the fruit of horse nettle plants, hundreds of them. Carolina horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) isn’t a true nettle but instead is in the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and potatoes and many toxic plants. This plant is also toxic, enough so to be named devil’s tomato. It contains alkaloids that can make you very sick and which have caused death. There are also spines on the leaves which can break off and embed themselves in the skin. Skunks, pheasant, and turkeys are said to eat the fruit but it didn’t look to me like a single one had been touched. Nothing seems to eat the stems or foliage.

I saw these pretty buds on a small ornamental tree in a local park. It had a weeping habit and couldn’t have been more than six feet tall with many weeping branches. I thought it might be some type of elm but elm buds are flattened, not round, so in the end I’m not sure what they were.

This shows what happens when a sap spigot, actually called a spile, isn’t removed from the tree after sap season. The tree has almost grown completely over this one and has squeezed what should be round into a teardrop shape. The crushing power of the wood must be incredible.

This photo that appeared in a previous blog post shows what a spile looks like when the tree hasn’t grown over it. Things like this inside trees are a woodcutter’s nightmare. Spiles started out as simple wooden pegs which were hammered into a hole in the tree to direct the sap into the buckets which were hung from them but these days they are made from galvanized steel.

I found this mullein plant (Verbascum thapsus) growing up through the pavement in an old abandoned parking area. It’s in the process of shedding its large old, outer leaves from last year to make room for the its new leaves. This plant stays green all winter long under the snow and starts growing quickly in spring as soon as it melts. Another name for this plant is flannel leaf because of its large soft, fuzzy leaves. Pliny the elder of ancient Rome used the warmed leaves as poultices for arthritis and Roman legionnaires dipped the long stalks in tallow and used them as torches. The plant is originally from Europe and is considered invasive.

I see this plant in a flower bed every time I go looking for spring bulbs blooming at the local college, but I’ve never seen it bloom. I think it’s a hollyhock but I’m not sure, whatever it is it’s very tough and stays green all winter long. I like the pebbly texture of its leaves.

I’ve written about Edgewood Forest in past posts. It lies near the Keene airport and there always seems to be a controversy boiling over the trees there. The Federal Aviation Administration says the trees are tall enough to pose a hazard to planes, but the original documents that deeded the land to the city says that the land should be left as is, with no cutting of trees. What this has amounted to is trees being cut all around the deeded parcel called Edgewood Forest, leaving it a kind of forested island. The place shown in the above photo was forested until not too long ago but then all the trees were cut, all the stumps pulled and this-whatever it is- was built. Picnic tables were placed here and there. Apparently the higher powers thought that people would flock there and love it enough to even want to picnic there, but I’ve been by it hundreds of times and have never seen a soul there, picnicking or otherwise. Since there are hundreds of trees that are taller very nearby this seems like a total waste of effort and money to me.

This kind of thing is happening all over and town governments can’t seem to get the fact that people go to these places to enjoy nature. They stand and scratch their heads, wondering why the people don’t still flock to the same places after they’ve been “improved” like this one. Instead of attracting people they are driving them away, and I’m sure the income from tourist dollars is going to start reflecting that, if it hasn’t already. Meanwhile we’ll have monuments like this one to shake our heads at as we pass by in search of places that are more open and welcoming to nature lovers.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) is one of the plants that grew in that forest before it was turned into a lawn. Luckily I know where there are more of them. Native Americans showed the early settlers how to use goldthread to relieve the pain of canker sores and it became an extremely popular medicine. At one point in the 1800s more of it was sold on the docks of Boston than any other plant and that meant that it was severely over collected. Now, 200 years or so later It has made a good comeback and it will always be with us if we stop turning forests into lawns. It gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. It will bloom in late April with a pretty little white flower. I love its leaves, which look like they were hammered out of sheet metal.

When a sunbeam picks out something specific in nature I usually pay close attention, thinking that maybe I’m supposed to see that thing for whatever reason. On this day a sunbeam picked out this beech leaf, which was perfect and unblemished. It was a beautiful thing, as the things picked out by sunbeams almost always are. A sunbeam showed me how incredibly beautiful a red clover blossom was once and completely changed my opinion of what I always considered an ugly, unwanted weed.

A sunbeam also fell on this single turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) and its dominant blue color just happened to be my favorite. Turkey tails can vary greatly in color and I think I’ve seen them wearing just about every shade this year.

I’m hoping this is the last of this winter’s ice I’ll have to show here. Both day and nighttime temperatures are rising and ever so slowly the white is disappearing.


If you’ve never looked through a knothole this photo is for you. Knotholes like these happen when branches die and their wood shrinks faster than the surrounding wood of the tree. Eventually they fall off the tree, leaving a hole behind. The part of the tree that protrudes and surrounds the branch is called the branch collar and it should always be left intact when pruning. As can be seen, the tree leaves it behind naturally.

Other “improvements” I’ve seen lately involved cutting all the alders and other native shrubs from the banks of a small local pond, but since this pond is used as a water source in case of fire I can understand the thinking behind wanting to keep the brush cut back. I thought this stump, cause by two young alders growing together, looked like the face of an owl.

I had the face of this barred owl to compare the stump to. A few years ago I met a barred owl sitting in the middle of a trail. It just sat there, staring directly into my eyes while I walked to within 5 feet of it. I stood for several minutes, feeling as if I was being drawn into those big brown eyes that were much like my own, until I finally turned and left. The last time I saw that owl it still sat on the ground, which is a very odd thing for an owl to be doing. It was a strange experience and seeing this owl reminded me of it. This owl was much bigger than that one but sat quietly in the same way, letting me take as many photos as I wanted. The photos would have been much better had it been a sunny day but you can’t have everything, and being able to look into the eyes of an owl should be enough.

If you’d like to see what it’s like to stare into the eyes of an owl, look at the beautiful photo of a saw-whet owl that Montucky recently posted on his blog. You can see it by clicking on the word HERE. Its eyes are yellow instead of brown like a barred owl, but the effect is the same.

Just a note: This post is the first I’ve done on my new computer and I’m having trouble getting photos to look right on the new monitor, so if things look a little stranger than usual that might be why. It’s a nice big monitor that’s easy to see but it’s also very bright so photos look like they were overexposed. I hope you’ll bear with me.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

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Actually stone walls can talk, but you have to speak their language to be able to decipher what they’re saying. Having built a few myself this one was relatively easy to understand. It told me that its builder didn’t have time for tight joint stone masonry and in any case most likely didn’t know how to build with stone anyway. He needed a field to plant crops in so he and his family could survive and these stones were in the way of the plow, so he tossed them in a long undulating pile, and that became what is now called a tossed or thrown wall, because the stones were literally just thrown on top of one another with no time or eye for intricacies.

The landowners on either side of the wall didn’t have time to patrol the wall and pull tree seedlings so many of them started growing down in the wall where their seeds fell. Some saplings were too close to stones to cut with an axe or saw so they grew to massive size, sometimes pushing the wall stones apart ever so slowly  to make room for the huge trunk. Now, over 250 years later they shade the wall and keep it from being covered in deep snow. Some, like the white pine shown above, still stand even after being struck by lightning. The old split in its bark runs from the top of the tree all the way down its trunk, following a root right down into the ground. I’ve found trees like this one soon after they were struck and the ground around them was covered with narrow strips of bark, blown right off the wood by the lightning bolt.

You can see many interesting things if you look at our stone walls carefully, like this blacksmith made hitching ring where someone would have hitched up a horse. The odd thing about it is its location in the wall. It’s in an empty place where it doesn’t look like there would have much going on but 250 years ago it could have been a community information hub, for all I know. Most likely it was simply a shaded place for the horse to rest while the rider did whatever they had to do here.  I’m guessing it involved a lot of work.

My grandfather was the town Blacksmith in Westmoreland which is to the north west of here, so I’m always fascinated by iron work. The chain hook shown here is one of the best examples of 18th century blacksmithing I know of. I like it because it shows hand hammered marks and shows the fine workmanship and talent of the smith. He didn’t have to make such a utilitarian object as beautiful as a dragon’s tail, but he did.

This stone in this wall is only the second place I’ve found a beard lichen growing on stone. I’ve seen thousands of beard lichens but they were growing on wood 99% of the time. I think this one might be a bushy rock lichen (Ramalina intermedia.) Lichen communities grow in succession with many varieties of crustose lichens as pioneers. Foliose lichens come next as intermediary species and finally fruticose lichens like this one are considered climax species. What I don’t know is, how much time is between pioneer and climax? Climax communities of lichens are considered “old growth” communities.

As this stone shows stone walls absorb a lot of heat from the sun and release it slowly all night long until the sun shines again the following day.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter many plants like this mullein like to grow along them. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall.

There are many ferns growing along this old wall. Some are evergreen and others, like this one, are trying to be.

Many types of trees grow along the old wall including shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) which is named, not surprisingly, for its shaggy looking bark. These trees drop large amounts of hickory nuts each fall so I thought I’d find one and show it to you.

Unfortunately the squirrels had already found all the nuts and I didn’t see a single one.

I did see a lichen on the bark of the hickory that I’ve never seen before though, made up of a grayish body (Thallus) with tiny black fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) I think it might be the tiny button lichen (Amandinea punctata) which grows on wood and has a grayish, barely perceptible thallus and flat, disk shaped, black apothecia. Each black dot seen here is very small; about the size of a period made on paper with a pencil.

At the base of the hickory was a stone with a forest of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) on it. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

Shield lichens have become kind of a ho-hum lichen for me because I see thousands of them, but the way this one seems to overlap like shingles and the way it grows in concentric circles is different, and I’m not so sure it’s a shield lichen at all. I’m leaning towards the zoned dust lichen (Lepraria neglecta) but I’ll have to go back and have another look to be sure. It also resembles the shingled rock shield (Xanthoparmelia somloensis.) Like any other part of nature, stone walls have their own mysteries.

Another lichen that I don’t see often is what I believe is the rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) seen here. Its rosy or orange apothecia are large and pad like and I’ve read that though it usually grows on wood it can grow on stone as well. It could also be a scattered rock posy lichen but I don’t think so.

Sometime I can be fooled into thinking I’m seeing lichens when I’m really seeing something else. In this case I’m not sure what the green “something else” was but possibly algae. Why it was here in this spot and nowhere else along the wall, I’m not sure.

Common speedwell was enjoying the warmth from the wall and looked as good as it does in early June but of course it wasn’t flowering. This European native is common here and has been used medicinally for centuries. Its leaves have also been used as a tea substitute.

I think a lot of us believe that winter is a very wet season and it can be when the snow melts, but when it is cold and there isn’t any melting going on it can be very dry, and this white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) reminded me of that. When dry it pulls its tiny needle like leaves in close to the stem and if dry enough it looks like strands of string or clumps of worms, and this gives it another common name of medusa moss. It hadn’t reached that point when this photo was taken but it was quite dry, even with snow on it.

Stone walls will give many gifts to those who walk slowly along their length and look closely. One of the greatest gifts they give me is green leaves in winter, even when there is snow on the ground.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

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Because I have trouble seeing red I doubted I’d ever be able to show cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) on this blog but finally, after years of searching for them, here they are. Judy from the New England Garden and Thread blog wrote and told me she had seen them along a stream up in Stoddard and her excellent directions led me right to them. The color red when it is against the color green becomes invisible to me, but these bright red flowers were against gray stones and blue water and for the first time in my life I saw cardinal flowers. Though I couldn’t get close they were even more beautiful than in photos.

Here’s a closer look. Unfortunately because of all the rain the stream had come up on the stems and the plants swayed back and forth wildly, which made getting a photo almost impossible. Out of probably close to 50 attempts I got exactly one useable photo and this one is cropped out of that single shot we saw previously. But the beauty of it all is now I know what the plants look like, where they grow and when they blossom, so I’ll be able to go back and see them next year. Thank you Judy, it was worth the drive!

I can’t think of a single time that I have found northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing away from water. It’s an odd little plant that might get knee high on a good day, and often leans toward the water that it grows near. Its tiny flowers grow in round tufts at each leaf axil and remind me of motherwort, which has the same habit. It is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. It is also closely related to American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and the two plants are easily confused. Paying close attention to leaf shape helps tell them apart. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food.

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. The tiny things are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed. I think this is the earliest I’ve ever seen it flower.

Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) have just started to bloom. I love their bright color and always look forward to seeing them as soon as August arrives.

Eastern forked blue curls have beautiful flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day and the entire plant barely reaches ankle high, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can just see the white pollen granules on the ends of the arched stamens in this photo.

The insect is guided by the spotted lower lip of the flower. This plant is an annual that grows new from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and sometimes roadsides, and sometimes in my own yard.

This very beautiful rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) grows just off the side of an old dirt road at the edge of a swamp. At least I think it is rosebay willowherb; there seems to be some confusion among sources about the regions it grows in. According to the USDA it doesn’t grow in New England, but the University of Maine lists it in its database. Another name for the plant is fireweed and Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it in 1857, so I’m wondering if the USDA map is incorrect. If you live in New Hampshire and have seen this plant I’d love to hear from you.

Narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis) grow alongside the same road that the rosebay willowherbs were on. Gentians of any kind are extremely rare in these parts and I’m always as excited to see them as I would be to see a field full of orchids.

Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often, because our soil is generally acidic. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I hope this small colony will spread. Luckily readers have told me that there are also other hidden colonies of it in Nelson as well.

It isn’t uncommon to see a carpet of knee high, white blooms in the woods at this time of year. White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is known for its drought tolerance and will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant. The small, one inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

A roadside stream was filled with fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) and I had to stop and see.

It’s hard not to just sit and stare at something so beautiful, lost in the fire that burns at its center.

I first met the beautiful little marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) when I was in a kayak and I remember what a time I had getting a photo of them then. Luckily though, I found them growing in the wet soil at the edge of a pond so getting their photo is easier these days. Sort of, anyway; this plant closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine the following afternoon, so you’ll never find them blooming on a cloudy day or in the morning.

This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow. The plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline. The flowers are small, about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This beautiful little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

Like the cardinal flower seen earlier the club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata) has never been seen on this blog, because I’ve never seen one until very recently. I jumped a roadside ditch, looked down and discovered that I was almost stepping on a group of 5-7 plants. They’re small plants, no taller than 6 inches, and the flowers are also very small. Each plant has a single leaf at the base of the stem and another about half way up.

The flowers of this orchid seem to go every which way, spiraling up the stem as they do, so getting a photo of just one is impossible. I couldn’t even seem to get a shot looking into one. My orchid books say this orchid is “occasional“, meaning it isn’t rare but it isn’t common either. It self-pollinates so it doesn’t have to rely on insects. Orchids are notorious for disappearing from one year to the next but I hope to see these again.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. Once the blossoms reach the very top of the flower spike the plant is done. Native Americans used tea made from its 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.

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 I think that it would be a prized garden specimen.

The Shasta daisy was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank over 100 years ago and was named for the white snow of Mount Shasta. These plants are a hybrid cross of the common roadside ox-eye daisy and an English field daisy called Leucanthemum maximum. They are one of the easiest perennials to grow and, other than an occasional weeding, need virtually no care. Dwarf varieties are less apt to have their stems bent over by heavy rains. I haven’t seen many of them this year, and this one was quite late.

I’m still seeing scenes like this one here and there along roadsides and I always try to stop and get a photo when I do. That leads to a few curious stares from people but I hope they also notice the flowers when they stare. Next time maybe it will be they who will stop and take photos.

Many people have never learned to see the beauty of flowers, especially those that grow unnoticed. ~Erika Just

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Wildflower posts are bound to get shorter soon, but for now there’s still plenty to see.

 1. Black Eyed Susan

Our native black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) can be found in all fifty states and all across Canada. It is believed that they got their start in the great prairies and moved to other locations from there. They were noted in Maryland in colonial times and became that state’s state flower. I saw my first one this year at the end of June and here they are, still blooming.

2. Blue Vervain

Blur vervain (Verbena hastata ) is almost done blooming. You can tell that by the way the flowers are at the tip of the flower stalk. They start at the bottom, a few at a time, and work their way up the stalk. Once done flowering the stalks look almost reptilian.

 3. Bladderwort on Shore

This is something I wasn’t expecting-a bladderwort growing in soil. Apparently, from what I’ve read, this aquatic plant will grow in soil if the conditions are agreeable, but what I don’t understand is how it gets any nutrition when it does. Bladders on its underwater leaves have small trap doors that open quickly to trap insects, making it a carnivorous plant, but if those underwater bladders are buried in soil, then how do they work?

 4. Bladderwort on Shore

This is a close up of the strange terrestrial bladderwort (Utricularia.) It looks like any other bladderwort.

 5. Chicory

Another thing that I never thought I’d see is chicory (Cichorium intybus) blooming in August, but here it is.

 6. Burdock Flowers

Burdock is another import that has escaped and is commonly seen on roadsides and in waste places. Its flowers aren’t real big and showy but they are beautiful. Once the flowers are finished the round, barbed seed heads that we all know so well appear. I read recently that burdock seed heads were the inspiration for Velcro. Unfortunately they can also act as snares and catch small birds that often aren’t able to free themselves.

7. Common Mullein

Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus ) is known as a pioneer plant, meaning that it is often first to colonize burned or disturbed areas. Each plant can produce 100,000 or more seeds each year. Another name for it is flannel leaf because of its large, soft, fuzzy leaves. At one time the plant was thought to be useful in fighting leprosy and Pliny the Elder of ancient Rome used the warmed leaves as poultices for arthritis. Its tall persistent seed stalks really stand out in winter. These seed stalks were dipped in tallow and used as torches by Roman legionnaires. This plant is from Europe and is considered invasive.

 8. Ground Nut Blossoms

The strange, brownish flowers of groundnut (Apios americana) remind me of the helmets once worn by Spanish explorers. Swollen underground stems on this vining plant form small tubers that look like potatoes but have three times the protein that potatoes do. Groundnuts were a very important food source for Native Americans and the Pilgrims survived on them when their corn supply ran out in 1623. Henry David Thoreau wrote that they tasted better boiled than roasted. The only thing keeping the groundnut from becoming a commercially viable food crop is the two to three years it takes for its tubers to form.

9. Hog Peanut Flower

 Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small but beautiful. Like the groundnut in the previous photo the plant is a legume in the bean family.  Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds.

10. Hog Peanut Foliage

Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good a tripping up hikers.

11. Morning Glory

I found this morning glory (Ipomoea) growing at the town landfill. I love its deep blue color but I find the ones that have more white in their throat, like “heavenly blue” more visually pleasing.

12. Tansy

 Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers-almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. Tansy is a natural insect repellent and was used as such in colonial times. Dried tansy added to the straw in mattresses was said to keep bedbugs away. Most tansy plants are seen in gardens but it had naturalized itself in New England by 1785 and can still be found growing along roadsides like the one pictured was doing. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but it should be considered toxic.

13. Rabbit's Foot Clover

Rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) has appeared here a few times, but not bejeweled with dew like this one.

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher

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