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Posts Tagged ‘Narrow Leaved Speedwell’

We’ve had some hot weather lately and that always makes me want to be near water, and of course when I’m near water I can’t help noticing the plants that grow there. Cattails (Typha latifolia) are the easiest to see, sometimes towering to 6 or 8 feet tall. They can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. Of course, that doesn’t account for all the new plants that grow from seed.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing it’s best to just admire this one. This photo is of the last one I saw blooming this year.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly. I know of one small pond that started with 2 or 3 plants a few years ago and now nearly half the pond is being choked out by them.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were tiny flies crawling over most of the blossoms I saw on this day.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

Some of the aquatic plants that I like to see up close grow far enough out in the water to have to be photographed from a boat or by swimming out to them with a waterproof camera. If you really want to challenge your photographic skills, try photographing aspirin sized flowers from a kayak that you can’t keep still.

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and grew where I kayaked in great numbers. This rose, like many other plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. I saw a lot of swamp milkweed too, but I couldn’t get close enough for a photo.

One day I saw a couple of Canada goose families eating cherries from cherry trees that had bent low over the water. I didn’t know that they did this.

The adults seemed to be trying to teach the goslings how to get at the cherries but the little birds didn’t have the neck stretch it took to reach the fruit.

What I believe is creeping spike rush (Eleocharis macrostachya) isn’t a rush at all; it’s a sedge, so I’m not sure why it’s called a rush. As sedges go this one is very small; just a spiked stem with a brushy little flower head on top and a couple of basal leaves. It likes to grow in standing water at pond and lake edges, just off shore but I’ve read that it will also grow in ditches, vernal pools, and wet meadows.

The flower head of this sedge is called a spikelet and it is about a half inch long. The cream colored oval parts are the male flowers and the wispy white feathery bits are the female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look nearly identical so I could be wrong about its name. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, the only way to tell them apart is by their tiny fruits, and I doubt that I could even see them.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. Since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

One of the bonuses of looking for aquatics is that you see a lot of dragonflies, like this male common whitetail dragonfly. This dragonfly rests on twigs and grasses near the water, and sometimes on the ground. I haven’t seen one on the ground but I have seen them on stones. This isn’t a very good shot but he only perched long enough for one click of the shutter.

If only narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) would grow at the water’s edge. Instead it grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow and by the time I was finished taking its photo my feet were soaked. How odd it seems that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but we have had a lot of rain. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow whorled loosestrife that I spoke of in my last post. But whorled loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Though they are very hard to see in this example because of the bright light each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

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1. Crooked Stem Aster

This crooked stem aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) is one of the first blue asters I’ve seen this year. I found a small colony growing in a sunny spot in the woods, surrounded by many other white asters.  I don’t usually try to identify asters but the one inch diameter light blue flowers and zigzagging stems made this one easier than most. The Native American Iroquois tribe used this plant medicinally to treat fevers and other ailments.

2. Bigleaf Aster

Native large leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla) is another aster that is relatively easy to identify because of its big heart shaped leaves. The plant spreads by rhizomatous roots and can form very large colonies, especially on hillsides as these examples were. Its leaves are often as big as my hand and they can take a lot of shade. The plant seems to be blooming well this year in spite of drought so I’m assuming that they don’t mind dry soil. They don’t like being disturbed by human activity so I don’t see them close to roadsides often. These were separated from the road by a wide drainage ditch.

3. Bigleaf Aster

Most of the flowers that I find on large leaved asters are white but they can also be light blue or lavender. As in many asters the ray florets are irregularly spaced around the central disc florets. The tubular disc florets turn from yellow to orange-red as they age and then change to dark red before finally turning brown.

4. Mint

If the square stems and tufts of tiny pink / purple flowers in the leaf axils don’t ring a bell, then one sniff of a crushed leaf will tell you immediately that this plant is wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) Mint has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. Each time we see it we are seeing one of mankind’s earliest memories. I find it growing in the tall grass at the edge of the forest and I always have to smell it.

5. Narrow Leaved Speedwell aka (Veronica scutellata)

I never thought of speedwell as an aquatic plant until I met the narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata.) It is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense, because it grew in standing water in full sun at the edge of a field last year. This year there was no standing water but the soil was still saturated. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

6. Narrow Leaved Speedwell aka (Veronica scutellata)

Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there are many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice.

7. Forked Blue Curls

Tiny eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) has flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day, 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. 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. It’s a beautiful little thing that’s worth looking for, but getting a good photo of it is tricky. It took 8 tries to get this one.

8. Forked Blue Curls

Forked blue curl plants barely reach your ankle. The entire plant pictured could have easily fit inside a coffee mug.

9. Pilewort

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

10. Pilewort

This is all we see of a pilewort flower when it opens. It is made up of many disc florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. Once they go to seed they will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds. In some areas it is called burn weed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

11. Pipewort

The drought we find ourselves in is presenting many problems but also a few opportunities. Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep standing water but the water of this pond had receded enough so that I could walk right up to the plants shown without taking my shoes off. Since they grow with their lower stems submerged I’ve never been able to see the entire plant, but now I could.

12. Pipewort

I’m not sure what I expected to see but the leaves surprised me. With leaves the pipewort looked just like many other plants but its basal leaves normally grow underwater, which seems a little strange. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize. The stem has a twist to it with 7 ridges and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort.

13. Pipewort

Most pipeworts grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of very tiny white, cottony flowers. Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which of course is exactly what pipewort looks like. Pipewort is wind pollinated. It is also called hat pins, for obvious reasons.

14. Wild Cucumber

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees and hangs on using tendrils like a grape. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers partial shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. These plants are annuals and grow from seed each year.

15. Wild Cucumber

The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

16. Wild Cucumber fruit

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of the wild cucumber have a watermelon shape. Though the spines look menacing they are quite soft and children have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. The fruit is not edible. The example shown here hadn’t grown to full size yet.

17. Toadflax

Little native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) has been blooming since May and is one of our longest blooming wildflowers. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers. They sparkle like sugar candy in the sunlight.

18. Chicory

Last year the Town of Swanzey cut down all the plants and shrubs along a short stretch of the Ashuelot River and one of those plants was the chicory (Cichorium intybus) in the above photo. It gets mowed regularly now, so I was surprised to see a normal size flower on a plant no more than three inches tall. It looks a little stressed, whether from drought or being mowed I don’t know but it’s a beautiful flower, and stronger than I ever knew.

Beauty does not linger; it only visits. Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm; it calls us to feel, think and act beautifully in the world: to create and live a life that awakens the beautiful. ~ John O’Donohue

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1. Flowering Raspberry

Many plants that can take a lot of shade have large, light gathering leaves and the shade tolerant purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) shows that very well. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at a glance. It has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it as much as roses, as you can see by how they’ve eaten parts of the maple shaped leaves. They’ve even eaten holes in the flower petals as well. The fruit looks like a large raspberry but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

Flowering raspberry once got me a job as a gardener, so it holds a special place in my heart. A man called me to his house and asked me a few plant related questions and finally said that if I could tell him what the plants in his hedge were, he’d hire me.  I told him they were flowering raspberry and he hired me right there on the spot, and I worked for him for many years afterwards. That was back when I could remember the names of most plants. This native shrub makes a great landscape specimen, especially in shade gardens, and it’s too bad that more people don’t use it. It attracts both birds and butterflies and can take anything that a New England winter can throw at it.

2. Cow Wheat

Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite.  Its long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests.

3. Enchanter's Nightshade

While we’re on the subject of small flowers, I can’t think of many that are smaller than those of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.)  This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in late July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

4. Enchanter's Nightshade

Each tiny flower has 2 deeply lobed white petals, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a slender style. They can be very hard to get a useable photo of, both because of their small size and because they grow in heavy shade. They’ve taught me a few things about flower photography over the years.

5. Deptford Pink

Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) flowers are smaller than their cousins maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) and bloom at least a month later. They don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center, and that’s a good means of identification. These plants will get quite tall and don’t seem to have the clumping habit of maiden pinks. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide shyly just at the sunny edges of the forest.

6. Pale Spike Lobelia

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

7. Lobelia

Each small, 1/4 inch flower of Lobelia spicata has an upper lip that is divided into 2 lobes and a larger lower 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. This plant reminds me of blue toadflax, which is also blossoming now.

8. Narrow Leaved Speedwell

A tip from a friend about a field I had never visited led me to this narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata); a plant that I’ve never seen before. It is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense because it grew in standing water in full sun at the edge of a field. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelia, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

9. Narrow Leaved Speedwell

Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice.

10. Creeping Bellflower

Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) has pretty flowers that all grow on one side of the stem, which almost always leans in the direction the flowers grow in. This plant is originally from Europe and Siberia and is considered an aggressive invasive weed. It shouldn’t be allowed to spread because it chokes out natives and once it forms colonies it can be nearly impossible to eradicate. Just a small piece of root left behind will become a new plant. I usually find it on forest edges.

11. Rabbit's Foot Clover

Each year at this time soft pink ribbons about a foot or two wide line the edges of our roads, made up of thousands of rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) plants. These plants are annuals which, judging by how many plants grow and blossom each year, must produce a fair amount of seed. This plant was introduced from Europe and Asia but nobody seems to know when, how or why.

12.. Button Bush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) has unusual spherical flower heads that are about the same size as a ping pong ball. It is made up of tiny cream colored, tube shaped flowers. Each flower has four short stamens and a long white style that makes the whole thing look like a pin cushion. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

13. Pipsissewa 3

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is one of our native wintergreens that grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer.

The plant forms a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids.

14. Pipsissewa

Pipsissewa flowers often show a blush of pink. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of the wintergreens in my opinion.

15. Meadow FlowersThe goldenrods have started blooming and when they grow alongside purple loosestrife they make our roadsides breathtakingly beautiful for a time. Soon we will be at the peak of summer bloom and the unmown meadows will look like Monet painted them.

It is the mind which creates the world around us, and even though we stand side by side in the same meadow, my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours, my heart will never stir to the emotions with which yours is touched. ~George Gissing

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