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Posts Tagged ‘Native Orchids’

Here on my first day of retirement I don’t think the reality that I have nothing I have to do and nowhere I have to go has fully sunken in yet. Maybe I’ll need time to decompress after 50+ years of working. It was an odd career that went from gardener to mechanical engineer and then buildings and grounds maintenance. Though I started out fine with maintenance nearly 7 years ago I didn’t end fine. The job, always a dirty and dusty one, became increasingly difficult due to weakening lungs and I could feel myself slowing down, so it was time to go. One of the more pleasant memories of those last 7 years that comes to mind is of the many beautiful things I saw on those 25-mile drives to and from work; like clouds of mist rising up out of the forest in Marlborough, or the morning sunlight turning the snow-covered peak of Mount Monadnock to pink and orange. These sights were always unexpected and, though the drive wasn’t always welcome, they always were.

When I finally got to work each day, there on the shores of Half Moon Pond in Hancock, it wasn’t that uncommon to find something like this waiting. Each morning I would cross the road and stand on the shore in the quiet and watch as the sun rose behind me. It was a wonderful way to start the day and it wasn’t long before I felt that I had stumbled into paradise. I might not miss the work but I will miss the place.

You could feel an energy on the shores of the pond; an infectious childlike spirit, and that’s because children have come here for over 100 years to learn about and enjoy nature. The land, all 700+ acres, is known as The Sargent Center for Outdoor Education, owned by Boston University and currently in use by Nature’s Classroom, which is an outdoor environmental education program. Children, musicians, artists and other groups come from all over the world and the happy shouts and laughter of children can be heard all day every day, almost all year round. It was like music to me and I loved hearing them and seeing them having so much fun, but then covid came along and everything had to stop for a time. I can’t see that the place will ever stop attracting children though; after a fallow year in 2020 they returned for 10 weeks last summer and this summer looks like it will be even better.

The children come to what we call the camp to learn about nature and though that wasn’t my reason for coming, I learned right along with them. This was the first place I had ever seen dragonfly nymphs clutching the pond weeds, waiting to shed their exoskeletons. Once free they are apparently disoriented for a time. (I know how they feel) I had them land on me several times over the years and their empty shells, called exuvia, can be found here and there all along the shoreline.

This was the only place I knew of where I could get close enough to the big mother snapping turtles to see them laying their eggs. It was a slow, seemingly exhaustive process.

Before I went to work there, I had to drive for half an hour to see a rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) in bloom but that first year I found them along the shoreline. I was able to get to know them like I never could before. They’re one of our most beautiful early spring flowers and it was great to know that I could now find them with ease.

The same is true for sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). I used to have to drive for miles to find it and even then I had a hard time, but there it was right on the shore of the pond. This is another relatively rare and beautiful native shrub which blooms later than the rhodora. Our native laurels have 10 anthers that fit into tiny pockets and spring out when an insect lands on the blossom, dusting it with pollen. The thought of it always fascinates me.

Before I started working at the camp the only way I could see a beautiful marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) was from a kayak, and if you’ve ever tried taking photos while sitting in a kayak you know how that went. Here, I could walk right up to them and see them in all their beautiful glory. It’s a relatively rare plant so I was happy to find them growing right along the shoreline. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our others St John’s worts are yellow.

A little further up on shore I found my favorite milkweed, swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). As I watched over the years one plant became two, and the first plant grew more and more flowers. The pretty flower clusters always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Humble little Narrow leaf cow wheat plants (Melampyrum lineare) grew and bloomed by the hundreds there. I know of only one other place to find them and they don’t grow well there. This little, shoe top high plant may look innocent but it has a secret; it is a hemiparasite, which is a plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants. It seems to want more than its share. 

One year I cut a large area of brush right along the pond edge to open up a view and the following year I was surprised to find it full of wildflowers, including the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) above. This is one of the last of our spring ephemeral flowers to bloom and it’s a signal that it’s time to start looking for flowers out in the sunny meadows rather than in the woods. Other plants that grew in this spot were pink lady’s slippers, painted trillium, blue bead lily, and partridge berry.

In certain places in the camp woods you can sometimes find large colonies of painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum). Throughout my experience I have found only one or two plants here and there, so finding large numbers of them here in this place was surprising. And beautiful; painted trilliums are our most beautiful trillium, in my opinion. They will bloom in May, just about the same time as the rhodora we saw earlier.

I was also surprised to find so many broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) growing at the camp because I normally see so few of them. They were introduced from Europe in the 1800s and almost immediately escaped gardens and are now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. Scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature, and wasps have been seen moving away from it in a kind of staggering flight. Strangely, the plants have chosen to grow in the shade around building foundations.

Since I’m colorblind, before I started working at the camp I had seen only one cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and that was only because a kind reader had sent me directions to it. But it was across a stream, so I could never get close to it. When a red cardinal lands in a green tree it disappears to these eyes, so I almost stepped on the plant in this photo before I saw the red flower. It grew in a peaceful place beside a stream at the camp. It was a real treat to finally see them up close after so many years of looking for them but now I know that I should stop looking, because the only way I’ll ever find them is by luck. If I should happen to stumble across them again well, that will be a lucky day.

Another plant that I had never seen before working at the camp was the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). Like the cardinal flower it is a plant I searched for for many years. I stumbled across it growing in a lawn, which is the last place I’d have thought to look for it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

As I think back on my time at the camp, I can see that it was really just one discovery after another, and I could probably fill two posts with all the “firsts” I saw, like the eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) above. Its “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. It has a spine that it can click and use to propel itself away from predators, and it used it to jump and hit me in the back, otherwise I’d have never seen it. One day a bobcat walked past a group of us from just feet away, and one morning I saw a young moose come up out of the pond. Several people told me that a black bear walked just 10 feet from me when I was blowing leaves one day, but I never heard or saw it. This was also the first and only place I ever heard the song of a whippoorwill. It really is a magical place that is filled with natural wonders, and I’m very grateful to have had the chance to spend time there.

Another wonder was the cluster of Dryocosmus deciduous galls I found on a red-oak leaf one day. These galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree. I remember how amazed I was when I read that about them.

One of the jobs I had at the camp was mowing a 13-acre meadow. The first time I mowed it I noticed that there were one or two chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) in it, so I started mowing around them. Year by year their numbers increased until last year there must have been 15 plants, all blooming together. Several people asked me about them over the years and I think everyone enjoyed the blue flowers, even though they looked a little odd out in such a big expanse of grass.

The meadow that I mowed was full of tiny black insects which I think must have been weevils. There were so many thousands of them I could feel them peppering any uncovered spot on my body as I mowed, so I had to always wear glasses and keep my mouth closed tight. But mowing was when I first noticed something strange; a group of dragonflies would fly alongside the tractor, a few on either side, and every now and then one or two would peel off for a moment or two before coming back to rejoin the group. I realized then that the dragonflies were eating all the insects that were being scared up by the mower. I also realized that they were intelligent creatures. They must also have some type of a memory, because they flew along beside me every time I mowed the meadow in summer. The one in this photo was so used to me mowing I rode right up to it and took this shot with my macro camera as it perched on a chicory plant. If a fish can learn to come when it is called at feeding time, why can’t a dragonfly?

Because I spent most of my time outside, I could keep a close eye on the local monarch butterfly population, which seemed to rise and fall quite a lot from year to year. Last summer seemed to be a good one for them and I hope the future will be kind to them.

I realize as I work on this post how much there was to see and discover in an area smaller than the center of an average small New England town. It’s just amazing, but it isn’t just the beauty of it all; it’s also the rarity of the things found here, like the dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) flowers above. I’ve seen them in exactly one other place in over 50 years of wandering through nature.  

And then there is the purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) I found growing beside a trail through a swamp one day. People had been walking by it without seeing it perhaps for years and if I hadn’t caught just a glimpse of color out of the corner of my eye, I would have done the same. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget how I felt that day. I think it has to be the most beautiful flowering plant I’ve ever seen in these New Hampshire woods.

All of the animals, plants, insects, and amphibians that have made this place their home is what makes it so special. Just think of all the children, more than a hundred years’ worth of them, who came to this place and might have seen one, two or all of the things in this post. Think of how much they might have learned. This place, full of beauty, wonder and enchantment, should always be here for them.

Last year a group of artists came to stay for a week and my co-workers cajoled one of them into doing an oil painting of the bog orchid, which they gave me on my last day. It was a great gift and it now hangs here where I’ll see it every day. Though I doubt I could ever forget the camp, this painting will make sure I don’t. I hope many people who pass through the camp will get to see and admire the flower that inspired it, especially the artist. He did the painting from a photo that I had taken.  

There was a time when I could sit in the quiet of dawn on a summer morning and listen to the birds sing through the open windows, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing again more than anything else. In the evening I can walk to the stream down the road and watch the sunset turn it to liquid gold, and then when it gets dark I can sit outside and watch the stars while listening to the the spring peepers. These are some of the things that are most important to me, and I’ll have time now to do them and anything else that comes to mind. The possibilities are infinite.

One sweet dream, came true today. ~The Beatles

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Distant Hills

There are great views of distant hills but that isn’t how Distant Hill Gardens gets its name. The property sits up on a knoll which was once called Distant Hill. What started out as 21 acres has now grown to 58 acres and includes its own Christmas tree plantation and a sugar bush that produces plenty of maple syrup each year.

2. Pond

There is a pond on the property along with several vernal pools and a cranberry bog as well.

3. Water Lily

I think this was the smallest water lily I’ve ever seen. It was a beautiful little thing that would have fit in a tea cup.

4. Bog

My favorite part of the property is the cranberry bog where round leaved sundews, pitcher plants, tawny cotton grass, cranberries, and rose pogonia orchids grow.  Originally a pond with a small island, the island has grown into a floating mat of sphagnum mosses that now covers a large area. I’ve never heard of this happening so quickly but it has all happened since Michael and his wife bought the property. Michael figures that nearly a foot of peat has been produced in a little over 30 years, and that is astounding. I’ve always read that peat takes many thousands of years to accumulate.

5. Boardwalk

Technically the bog is really a fen, which has less peat and more plant species than a bog. A boardwalk lets you walk right out into it and get close enough to the plants to touch them.

6. Cranberry

There were plenty of cranberries to be seen though they were far from ripe at this time of year. When they ripen the Nerries will harvest them.

7. Tawny Cotton Grass

Tawny cotton grass (Eriophorum virginicum) is really a sedge and has tufts of silky hairs at the end of a long slender stem. These examples were just starting to bloom but as the season progresses the white hairs will grow longer until the whole mass looks like a ball of cotton at the end of a stick. The white hairs are actually the flower bristles and the “tawny” part of this plant’s common name comes from the way they are often tinted a reddish brown coppery color. It was great to be able to see it up close just as it was starting to bloom.

8. Eyelash Fungus

Near the cranberry bog is a seep where all kinds of fascinating things grow. I never would have seen this tiny eyelash fungus (Scutellinia scutellata) without Michael’s help because I have trouble seeing red and it wasn’t much bigger than a pea. This fungus gets its common name from the eyelash like hairs that grow around its rim. You have to look closely at this photo to see them, but they’re there. This fungus seems to like a lot of water; this example grew on a rotting twig that was lying in water. Another common name is Molly eye-winker.

9. Swamp Beacon

Another oddity that grew in the seep were swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans,) one of the only fungi that I know of that grows in water. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark and this photo shows how they are growing out of a saturated leaf. Another common name is “matchstick fungus” and that’s exactly what they remind me of because they are just about the size of a wooden match. I had never seen this fungus before my visit to Distant Hill Gardens but now I’m seeing them everywhere.

10. Pitcher Plant

Back in the cranberry bog a clump of northern pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) grew far enough from the boardwalk to be just out of reach. Michael said that these plants were dying and you can see the progression of their death in this photo, from bright red to brown to white, where they finally fall over and lay like sun bleached bones on the reddish moss. He said he suspects that the plants are struggling because the pH of the water has changed slightly. That’s the thing about bogs and fens; the plants that grow in them are very fussy about growing conditions. Everything has to come together perfectly, and that’s why these plants are rarely seen.

11. Round Leaved Sundew

Though many bog and fen plants are rarely seen, when they find a spot that they like their numbers can be amazing. Round leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) was a good example of that and grew everywhere you looked. This is another plant that I have trouble seeing due to its color and very small size, but now that I’ve seen them growing naturally I hope to see more. Since bogs and fens are so low in nutrients this plant and others like the pitcher plant have evolved to be insect eaters. By doing so they get all the nutrients they need.

12. Rose Pogonia

In just a short time at Distant Hill Gardens I saw more than a dozen plants and fungi that I had never seen before, and the high point was the rose pogonia orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides.) This is a plant that I’ve hoped to find for years so I was very happy to see it. They were there by the hundreds and it looked like the fen was alive with pink butterflies. Michael surprised me by saying that they hadn’t been there but for a few years. Once the island in the pond started to grow and form sphagnum mats the orchids just appeared, as if they had been waiting for just such an opportunity. They were beautiful things and I felt very lucky to be able to get close enough to smell their delicate fragrance.

13. Rose Pogonia

John Muir once found a rare calypso orchid and wrote “I never before saw a plant so full of life, so perfectly spiritual. I felt as if I were in the presence of superior beings who loved me and beckoned me to come. I sat down beside them and wept for joy.” As I knelt beside the rose pogonia with the water of the fen wetting my knees I knew just how he must have felt.

Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. ~Anonymous

Thanks for stopping in. If you’re able to I hope you’ll visit Distant Hill. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget, of that I am certain.

 

 

 

 

 

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1. Sign

I was lucky enough to be able to visit Distant Hill Gardens in Walpole, New Hampshire a few times this year. The gardens started out simply enough; in 1979 Michael Nerrie and his wife Kathy bought 21 acres of land in the hills of Walpole that had been farmed since as early as 1773. As landowners always do they started exploring their acreage and what they discovered is, if I had to describe it as simply as possible, mind blowing.

2. Stone Wall

One of the first things seen as you enter the property is the stone wall that marks the edge of the woodland. There are many different types of stone walls and fine examples of nearly all of them can be found on the property. What many people don’t realize about New England stone walls is that their original purpose, more often than not, was simply a way to get rid of the tons of stone that littered the landscape. In the 1600s instead of walls the stones were often just piled, usually in an unused corner of the property. These oldest examples of stone removal are very hard to find but they can be seen here at Distant Hill. I would call the wall in the above photo a “tossed wall,” which was built just as its name suggests. Stones were tossed out of the way to clear the field and over time became a sort of wall that usually marked the property line or was used to keep the cows out of the corn.

3. Stone Wall

Laid walls are another type of stone wall but considerably more effort was used to make them beautiful as well as functional. These walls were usually built in the front yard or other places that were seen by the public. This excellent example was built by Michael. I’ve built many dry stone walls and I can say that he did a fine job, especially since he had little experience in wall building when he built it.

4. Bird's Nest Fungus

Bird’s nest fungi are so small you could easily step on them without seeing them and that would be a shame because they’re beautiful and unusual little things. I think these examples are fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus.) They were growing on a bit of twig right in the lawn.

5. Bird's Nest Fungus

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores. These were the first examples of this type of fungus that I’ve seen.

6. Bronze Fern aka Botrychium dissectum obliquum

Something else I’ve never seen is the bronze fern (Botrychium dissectum obliquum.) Its common name comes from the way its sterile evergreen leaf turns from green to bronze in winter. It is also called the cut-leaved moonwort.  No matter what we might call it, it is a grape fern, so called because the fertile frond develops a cluster of tiny spherical spore cases (sporangia) that resembles a bunch of grapes. These ferns usually only have two leaves; one sterile and one fertile.  The fertile frond appears in late summer.

7. Cutleaved Grape Fern aka Botrychium dissectum

Michael is lucky enough to have discovered two grape ferns on his property. This one is the cut-leaved grape fern (Botrychium dissectum dissectum.) Its lacy, evergreen sterile leaf also turns from green to bronze in the winter but they look very different than those of the bronze fern. The sterile leaf withers away in spring when a new one appears. Both of these ferns are very rare in this area so seeing them was quite a thrill.

8. Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

There are also orchids here, and plenty of them. I’m very familiar with the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyeara pubescens) but I had never seen this one, which is in the same family. I’m not sure but I think it might be the dwarf rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara repens,) also called creeping lady’s-tresses, but it’s hard to be sure because there are several different Goodyeara species here and they could be producing natural hybrids. Something that surprised me about these little orchids was how they lacked the light or dark stripe down the center of each leaf that most plants in this family have.

9. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

This photo I took earlier of a downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyeara pubescens) shows the different colored line down the center of the leaf that is so characteristic of these orchids. Sometimes light and sometimes dark, seeing an example without it was surprising.

10. White Hepatica

Longtime readers of this blog most likely know that I’ve been looking for hepatica plants for a long time. I finally found them here and that’s because the soil is rich in limestone. Hepatica and many other plants prefer soil that is on the sweet side rather than the acidic soil found in most parts of our county. Walpole lies on the Connecticut River just across from Vermont and Michael and I were marveling at how, by just crossing the river, a completely different world of plants can be found. That’s because much of Vermont was once part of a sea floor and its sedimentary bedrock is made up of calcium materials extracted from tiny marine organisms that floated in the water. Much of New Hampshire is made up of mostly igneous granite but some areas like Walpole and Westmoreland are really more like Vermont, at least in their underpinnings and flora.

11. Purple Hepatica

I’ve waited a long time to see these little beauties. You really can’t tell much in the way of size from a photo and I was surprised by how small hepaticas were. That’s why visiting a place like this is so important if you want to go out and find plants growing in their natural habitat. There’s really no substitute for seeing where they grow, what time of year they blossom, how much sunlight they get, what other plants and trees they grow near, and whether or not they grow near water. Usually once you’ve seen a plant growing naturally it will become much easier to find more of them.  The fern guide that I use says that the same thing is true for the rare grape ferns we saw previously, and I hope to see many more examples of them as well.

12. Hepatica Stems

I had to laugh at the hairy stems and buds of the hepatica. It seems that something like this would be hard to miss but again, how are you supposed to know what time of year to look for them if you’ve never seen an actual plant? Now I have the exact date stamped on these photos, so next spring I’ll know when to start looking.

13. Perennial Beds

If you’re not one to go crawling through the woods in search of plants that you’ve never seen before there are plenty of other things to see at Distant Hill Gardens. For instance you’ll see some of the most well-tended flower gardens that you’ve ever seen. Michael has surrounded his house with flowering perennials and it is really something to see. I should mention that though the flower beds are full of mostly cultivated plants, the plants found in the wooded areas are natural and have had no human intervention. That’s one of the great things about the place; the native plants remain just as they were found.

14. Vegetable Garden

There are vegetable gardens too, and much of the produce grown here gets donated to local food pantries. This is something all of us with more vegetables than we can eat should consider doing.

15. Sculpture

I don’t know how Michael finds any free time but when he does he welds found objects into sculptures, and they can be seen throughout the property. There really is something for everybody here, especially in the way of plants. I saw more previously unseen plants and fungi in two hours than I have in the last two years, and there is much more to come in part two of this post.

There are many more things I’d like to show you but even with a two part post there is more to see here than space and time will permit, so I hope you’ll take the time to visit Distant Hill Gardens if you are able to. I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. I’ve put a permanent link to their website over in the “Favorite Links” section, but you can also find it here: http://www.distanthillgardens.org/

Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals. ~Aldo Leopold

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Common Wintercress aka Barbarea vulgaris

I’m starting off this post with water because there seems to be less and less of it to see each day as the drought goes on. Actually this is a “seep” which usually runs all year long and which hasn’t dried up yet. A seep is a place where water slowly oozes out of the ground and that describes this place perfectly. I thought the yellow of the common wintercress was beautiful against the blue of the water.

2. Common Wintercress aka Barbarea vulgaris

Common wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) is also called yellow rocket and is in the mustard family. It is a biennial plant, meaning it forms leaves during its first year and flowers and then dies after its second year. The first year basal leaves are hardly noticeable but when it blooms you can’t help but see the bright yellow, foot tall plants. It is a native of Europe and Asia and, as the all too familiar story goes, it almost immediately escaped cultivation here and is now found on disturbed ground mostly is waste areas, so it is not that invasive.

3. Blue Eyed Grass

I think I would have named blue eyed grass yellow eyed grass, but that’s just me. No matter what it’s called, blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) has always been one of my favorite wildflowers. It’s in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light green leaves resemble grass leaves.  The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find. Native Americans had several medicinal uses for this plant.

4. Ox Eye Daisy

To me the ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) says that June has come but this year the warmth of May has brought them on a little early. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground.

5. Bunchberry

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) always looks like it has chubby cheeks to me but I can’t explain exactly why. It also always reminds me of dogwood and that’s because it is in the dogwood (cornus) family. It is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The large (relatively) white bracts surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries.  Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

6. Bunchberry

Bunchberry plants grow right up into the V made by the two trunks of this oak tree near my house. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

7. Dogwood

Here’s a dogwood blossom to compare to the bunchberry we saw previously. It has the same 4 larger white bracts with small greenish flowers in the center. Even the leaves show the same veining.

8. Iris

I’m not positive what this irises name is but I found it growing along a path in the woods. I think it might be a dwarf crested Iris (Iris cristada) that has escaped from someone’s garden. It stood only about 6 inches tall. It was very pretty and also unexpected.

9. Rhodora and Bog Laurel

On May 17, 1854 Henry David Thoreau wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that is exactly what this beautiful little plant does. I was kneeling when I took this photo, so though these shrubs look quite tall they really top out at no more than 2 feet.  There are actually 2 shrubs in this photo; one is the rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) and the other is bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia). Both normally grow in standing water and seem to be doing exceptionally well this year in spite of the drought that has left them with dry feet.

10. Rhodora

Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished. Rhododendron canadense was first described and pictured by Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau in the ‘Botanic Garden’ in Paris in March 1756, where it had been brought from Canada. It was a big hit and was introduced to England in 1791. This beautiful little shrub will take all the cold it can get but it has a hard time in hot, dry weather.

11. Bog Laurel

Bog laurel is another very beautiful native shrub but it is on the rare side and I don’t see it that often.  The small, dime size flowers are bright pink and very beautiful. Like many laurels bog laurel is poisonous enough to kill and no part of the plant should ever be eaten.  Legend has it that when a Native American wanted to end his life, this was the plant that was chosen to do the deed. It likes to grow along the edges of cool acidic bogs and often grows in shallow standing water. That makes it harder to get close to and in this case, that might be a good thing.

12. Mayapple

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this is another native plant that is toxic and should not be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

13. Blue Bead Lily

At a glance it might be easy to confuse the large oval leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) with those of lady’s slippers, but once the flowers appear there is no doubt. I saw a lot of plants with leaves but no flowers in this spot. It takes more than 12 years for new plants to produce flowers, so they must all be younger than that. Their cheery yellow flowers really light up the shaded forest floor and I’m always happy to find them.

14. Blue Bead Lily

A close look at the flower shows why blue bead lily is in the lily family; each one looks like a miniature garden lily. The flowers give way to a single electric blue berry, which is toxic. One Native American legend says that, when a grass snake eats a poisonous toad, it slithers in rapid circles around a shoot of blue-bead lily to transfer the poison to the plant. Blue bead lily seeds take 2 years or more to germinate and then another 10 to bloom, so growing this plant from seed would take great patience.

15. Lady's Slippers

Our native pink lady slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) seem to be thriving this year in spite of the dryness, and that surprises me. For centuries this plant has also been known as the moccasin flower, possibly because the Native American Ojibway tribe called it ma-ki-sin-waa-big-waan. Another name is whippoorwill shoes, because an old native legend says that when whippoorwills go courting at night, they wear lady’s slippers as moccasins. This pouch or “moccasin” has a purpose; once a bee gets inside the pouch it has to force its way out and the plant deposits a nice load of pollen on its head when it does. The problem with this strategy is the bees aren’t apt to fall for having to force their way out of the pouch twice because it uses up their energy, so a lot of pollen is wasted. One study in Pennsylvania showed that of 3,300 lady’s slippers only 23 were pollinated.

16. Lady's Slippers

Though the flowers of the lady’s slippers in the previous photo were light colored these were quite dark. Normally that wouldn’t be unusual except that the two groups were growing side by side. Things like that interest me and I always wonder what causes the differences that I see.

17. Lady's Slipper

This photo is for all of you who have never seen a lady’s slipper blossom up close. They’re very beautiful things and people will gladly drive and / or walk miles to see them at this time of year. That makes me feel very grateful to have a few volunteers growing right here in my own yard.

For 99 percent of the time we’ve been on Earth we were hunters and gatherers, our lives dependent on knowing the fine, small details of our world.  Deep inside, we still have a longing to be reconnected with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and dance, our sense of the divine.  ~Janine M. Benyus

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1. New England Aster

It wouldn’t be fall in New England without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) but this one seems to be rushing things just a bit. I didn’t see its little hoverfly friend until I looked at the photo.

2. Turtlehead (2)

White turtlehead (Chelone glabra) is another plant that says fall but it isn’t as noticeable as New England asters. It likes wet feet and doesn’t mind shade and the example in this photo was growing in dark, swampy woods that had been flooded not too long before the photo was taken.

On the other hand, many years ago a friend gave me a piece of her pink turtlehead plant (Chelone oblique) and it grows in a shady spot in my garden that stays moist, but isn’t particularly wet. In my opinion you couldn’t ask for a plant that required less maintenance. I haven’t touched it since I planted it.

3. Summersweet Shrub

Native clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is also called summersweet because of its sweet fragrance. If you have low spots in your yard that get wet occasionally, this is a good shrub to plant in them because it likes moist soil and grows naturally along stream banks and in swampy ground.  Bees love it too, and this one was covered with them.

 4. lady's Thumb

Lady’s thumb (Polygonum Persicaria  or Persicaria maculosa) gets its common name from the dark spot that appears on each leaf. Legend has it that a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently) left the smudge like mark on a leaf and it has been there ever since. The tiny flowers are packed into a long raceme and can be white, red, pink, or a combination of all three. This plant is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered a noxious weed. It likes to grow near water and is usually found along pond and stream banks.

5. Boneset

At a glance boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) looks like white Joe Pye weed. That’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side, but boneset blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here.

6. Dewdrop

I was happy to find another spot much closer to home where dewdrops (Rubus dalibarda) grow. I used to have to drive for 45 minutes to see them but now it’s down to about 20. This plant likes to grow in shady woods and seems to need undisturbed soil to thrive. Each spot I have found it in hasn’t been touched by man for a very long time, if at all. It is also called false violet because of the leaf shape.

7. Wild 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.

8. Slender Gerardia

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) a shy acting little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of meadows. It has the unusual habit of dropping all of its flowers each afternoon. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day, which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

 9. Slender Gerardia

Slender Gerardia is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the leaves. The blossom in this photo was just about ready to call it a day and fall off the plant, so it isn’t in its prime.

 10. Silverrod

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only native white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast. I always find it in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods at the end of August. Silverrod isn’t seen anywhere near as often as the yellow goldenrods.

 11. Partridge Pea

To me the most interesting thing about partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate) is how its leaves fold together when they are touched, much like the tropical mimosa, called “sensitive plant.” Its yellow flowers have a splash of red and both bees and butterflies visit them. The common name comes from the way game birds like partridges like to eat its seeds.

 12. Pilewort aka Erechtites hieracifolia

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is an odd plant with clusters of flowers that seem reluctant to open. Even after they do 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. In some areas it is also called fireweed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

13. Pilewort aka Erechtites hieracifolia Open Flower

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.

 14. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

Last year each little rosette of downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) leaves sent up a flower spike but this year I’ve seen only one. It doesn’t matter though, because plants often rest after a bountiful year and its leaves are my favorite part of this native orchid. They are evergreen and each one will last about four years. You can tell that each plant is very small by comparing their size to the curled beech leaf on the right.

15. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

Each white flower on the downy rattlesnake plantain is no bigger than a pea. The pubescens part of the scientific name means downy or hairy, and all parts of the plant above the leaves fit that description. Even the flowers are hairy. It is thought that a small bee called Augochlorella striata might pollinate them. Though it might not win any prizes at flower shows this little orchid is always a real pleasure to find in the woods.

Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought? –  Sophie Scholl

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1. Summer Flowers

This is the time of year that our roadside landscapes begin to look like a Monet painting. Right now purple loosestrife dominates with sprinkles of goldenrod here and there. Soon we’ll see the pink of Joe Pye weed and the white of asters and boneset.

2. Groundnut aka Apios americana

The chocolaty brown flowers of the groundnut (Apias Americana) are among the most unusual flowers seen at this time of year. They are borne on a vine that twines its way among other sunny meadow plants. This plant is also called potato bean because of the walnut sized, edible tubers that grow along its underground stem. They are said to taste like turnips and were a favorite of Native Americans.

3. Spotted Touch Me Not

I tried to get a bee’s eye view looking into a spotted touch me not blossom (Impatiens capensis.) When I saw the photo I could see that I had failed that but I was surprised when I saw so much red on the lip of the blossom. It looked like candle wax had dripped on it. This plant gets its common name from the way its seed pods snap and release the seeds when touched. Other names include orange Jewelweed, common jewelweed, spotted jewelweed, and orange balsam.  The name “jewelweed” comes from the way that raindrops sparkle on its wax coated leaves.

4. Showy Tick Trefoil

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is a legume in the bean family. This plant gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals.

5. Gray Goldenrod

Gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) always looks like it has been in a strong wind with all of its flowers blown over to one side of the stem, but this is the way it grows naturally. It is one of the earliest blooming goldenrods, coming along right after early goldenrod (Solidago juncea.) It can be seen leaning out of the growth at the edge of forests, reaching for the sun.

6. Joe Pye Weed

I think our native Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is at its most colorful when it is in bud, just before it blooms. There are many varieties of Joe Pye weed and some are sold in garden centers. They can get up to 7 feet tall and often tower over other plants. They are named after Joe Pye, who the latest research says was a Mohegan sachem (chief) that lived in western Massachusetts and saved early European settlers from typhus by brewing a tea made from this plant. Joseph Pye was educated by Samson Occam, himself a Mohegan herbalist and Christian convert who kept an extensive diary.

7. Yellow Toadflax

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) was imported from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental and, as the all too familiar story goes, escaped cultivation to become a noxious weed. It’s a pretty weed though, and in this area isn’t as prevalent as our native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis.) Blue toadflax seems to be having a banner year. I’ve never seen so much of it, or seen it bloom for so long. Yellow toadflax is very similar to Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica,) another import, but Dalmatian toadflax has broad, heart-shaped leaves and yellow toadflax has long, narrow leaves.

8. Tall Blue lettuce

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) is an odd plant that can reach 10 feet tall in some cases, with a cluster of small, pencil eraser sized, light blue flowers at the tip of the long stem. I always wonder why the plant needs such a tall stem and such large leaves if it is only going to produce tiny flowers, but that’s nature-it always leaves me guessing. This plant is very similar to wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans.

9. Hedge Bindweed

When I was a young boy the only hedge bindweed flowers (Calystegia sepium) that I saw had simple white flowers, but over the last few years I’m seeing more with pink and white bi-colored flowers. Each flower usually only lasts for a day, so you’ve got to be quick with the camera if you see one that you like. Hedge bindweed is another plant that was introduced from Europe. As invasive as it is, it isn’t as bad as field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis,) which is close to impossible to eradicate. Bind weeds are so hard to get rid of because they are perennials, while true morning glories (Ipomoea) are annuals.

 10. Steeple Bush

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) gets its common name from the shape of its flower clusters. The only other shrub that blooms at the same time and has similar shaped flower clusters is meadowsweet (Spiraea alba,) but it has white flowers. It’s easy to see that steeplebush is related to the Japanese spireas that are used in gardens; the flowers look much the same. Steeplebush likes to be near water and can be found at pond and stream edges. Native Americans used tea made from the plant’s leaves as a medicine.

11. Red Clover 2

There were red clover plants (Trifolium pretense) growing in the shade all along the edge of a field, but this single flower head had a ray of sun pointing right at it, so of course I had to see what made it so special. As I knelt before it to take its photo I could see that it was such a beautiful thing that it was no wonder the sun had chosen to illuminate it.

12. Field Milkwort

On field milkwort plants (Polygala sanguinea) 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. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green.

13. Club Spur Orchid

Long time readers of this blog know that part of the reason I spend so much time walking through the woods is because I’m hoping to find orchids. They don’t just grow along the sides of the road here like they do in England and Scotland; here you have to search long and hard to find them, and if I’m lucky I find one new one each year. This year’s find is the northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) pictured above.

14. Club Spur Orchid

The northern club spur orchid will most likely never win a blue ribbon at any flower shows but it is a native orchid and I was very happy to find it. This plant has a single leaf and a single flower stalk that grows to about 4 inches tall. The flowers are tiny-no bigger than a pencil eraser-and have long, curved nectar spurs. If the nectar doesn’t work and insects don’t pollinate the flowers the plant can self-pollinate. Its seeds are like dust and are carried by the wind. One unusual thing about the flowers is the slight twist they have in relation to the stem. It is one of the smallest Platanthera species in the northeastern U.S. and likes to grow in wet woods and bogs.

15. Where The Orchids Grow

I’ve tried off and on for years to show you an accurate depiction of what the deep woods of New Hampshire look like but have rejected every attempt. Finally, this photo that I took to lead me back to the northern club spur orchids is the one that shows them best. An old tree fell and opened a gap in the canopy that let in a little sunlight, and that’s probably why the orchids chose to grow here. The forest is a quiet, peaceful place where you can hear the true music of life played as it has been for millions of years.

I did find Calypso [orchids] — but only once, far in the depths of the very wildest of Canadian dark woods, near those high, cold, moss-covered swamps. I felt as if I were in the presence of superior beings who loved me and beckoned me to come. I sat down beside them and wept for joy. ~John Muir

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Here are just a few of the flowers that I’ve seen recently.

1. Bull Thistle aka Cirsium vulgare

The spiky basal leaf rosettes of bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) form the first year and the plant sends a flower stalk up the second year, so when you see its flower you are looking at two years of work. This means it is a biennial, rather than an annual or perennial. The introduced, invasive plant can spread only by seed and does not reproduce vegetatively.

2. Little Floating Bladderwort

The swollen, air filled, modified leaf stems of the native little floating bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) radiate out from a point on the stem like the spokes of a wheel. These modified leaf stems do more than keep the plant afloat-each has small hairs on its end that trigger a trap door when touched by an insect. Once the insect has been sucked inside, the trapdoor closes and it is digested.

 3. Little Floating Bladderwort Blossom

The flowers of bladderworts are one of the hardest to photograph of any that I know of.

 4. Swamp Milkweed

Our native swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate) is such a beautiful color that I find myself just staring at it when I see it. I can’t think of another flower that can quite match the beautiful, deep pink color. My color finding software sees rose pink, orchid, plum, and hot pink. I find this plant growing near ponds but it is rare in this area. I know of only two small colonies.

 5. Purple Loosestrife

Purple loosestrife is a beautiful bot terribly invasive plant that can be found near just about any pond, lake, stream or river. According to the USDA, it grows in all but 7 states and seems bent on national domination. As is often the case, the plant was brought over from Europe. In New Hampshire it is illegal to produce, sell, or import it. Two species of beetle have been introduced to try and control the plant but what usually happens in such cases is, once the introduced plant has been brought under control by the introduced insect, the introduced insect becomes the problem that then needs controlling.

6. Meadow

No matter how invasive it may be I still have to say that when I see purple loosestrife blooming with yellow goldenrod, white boneset, and pink Joe Pye weed, I feel like I’m walking into a Monet painting.  There are few scenes more beautiful than a meadow full of wildflowers, in my opinion.

 7. Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium,) as one story goes, was named after a Native American herbalist named Joe Pye. Another version says that Joe was a doctor. Whatever the story of how the name came to be, Joe Pye Weed is known to have been used medicinally by Native Americans for centuries. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum) which has a purplish stem that is hollow. Sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum) smells like vanilla. Three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium) has a purple-speckled stalk and smaller, deep purple flowers. Spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum) has a flower cluster that is flatter than the others.

 8. Dewdrop

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) is also called false violet because of its leaves, and I think that might be part of why I’ve missed it until recently. Its small white flowers dot the forest floor like so many other small white flowers, and that also makes it easy to pass by with just a glance. A closer look reveals something different though-this plant produces other flowers that don’t open but still produce seeds. They are called cleistogamous flowers and are hidden beneath the leaves. The showy flowers like the one in the photo are mostly sterile.

 9. Dewdrop Colony

Though I found a large colony, dewdrop is endangered or threatened in many states.

 10. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain aka Goodyera pubescens

I found this downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) about 6 weeks ago, but I wasn’t sure if it would blossom until, two weeks later, it started to send up a single flower stalk. Four weeks after that it finally bloomed. I like the evergreen, silvery leaves on this plant even more than the flowers because they’re so unusual. This is supposed to be the most common orchid in New England, but I’ve only seen it once in my life.

 11.Downy Rattlesnake Plantain aka Goodyera pubescens Flower

After waiting so long for them to appear I have to say that the tiny white flowers were kind of anti-climactic but still beautiful, as most orchids are. They are also very hard to photograph in the dim conditions they like to grow in. The pubescens part of the scientific name means downy or hairy, and the photo clearly shows how the plant got that name. The plantain part of the common name comes from the way the leaves resemble those of plantains, and the rattlesnake part of the name comes from the color and pattern of the leaves. Native Americans used this plant to treat snakebite.

12. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain aka Goodyera pubescens

With its flower stalk present downy rattlesnake plantain might stand 6-8 inches tall. Note the blue bead lily and bunchberry plants that grow alongside it. If you compare the size of its leaves to those of a well-known plant like bunchberry, (just above the orchid) you can get an idea of how small it really is.  This helps explain how I walked by without seeing it so many times last year-a single oak leaf could cover the entire plant.

13. Broad Leaved helleborine aka Epipactis helleborine

The second orchid I found wasn’t a surprise because I saw it here last year. This one is called broad leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) and it is an introduced species that originally hails from Europe. According to the USDA it was first found in North America near Syracuse, New York, in 1878 and has now spread to 31 states. The plants that I found stand about knee high, but they can get taller with more light. Its leaves, though smaller, closely resemble those found on false hellebore and the name helleborine in Latin means “like hellebore.” What I find odd is that neither false hellebore leaves nor the leaves of this orchid look at all like hellebore leaves to me.

14. Broad Leaved helleborine aka Epipactis helleborine Flower

These flowers, about as big as a pencil eraser, seemed huge after trying to photograph the tiny downy rattlesnake plantain flowers. Last year the flowers on these plants had much more purple in them, but color change among flowers is common on this plant. In fact, two plants growing side by side can have completely different colored flowers. Personally, I like the purple version more than the one pictured here.

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom.  They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful.  ~Jim Carrey

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