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Posts Tagged ‘Native Wildflowers’

1. Toadflax

We’ve had August heat in May and that has coaxed many of our wildflowers into bloom, and some earlier than usual. Our humble little native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) has just come into bloom. 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.

2. Blue Flag

Our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) have appeared, so it must be June. Actually, they were early this year and bloomed the last week of May. The name flag is from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the cattail like leaves. Though Native Americans used this plant 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. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic.

3. Iris

Here’s an that iris has been in my family longer than I have. Before I was born my mother planted a few in the yard so I’ve known it quite literally my entire life, and now it grows in my own yard. Its name is Loreley, and it’s an old fashioned variety introduced in 1909. It’s one of the toughest irises I know of; truly a “plant it and forget it” perennial. It was bred in Germany, and the name Loreley (Lorelei) refers to the sirens who would perch on cliffs along the Rhine and entice sailors to their doom with their enchanting song, much like the sirens who lured Ulysses and his crew in the Odyssey.

4. Iris petal

Is it any wonder that Loreley is still grown 107 years after her introduction?

5. Bunchberry

Bunchberry plants (Cornus canadensis) grow right up into the V made by the two trunks of this oak tree near my house but the heat made them bloom early this year and I missed seeing all but two or three. 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.

6. Bunchberry

Bunchberry 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 which give it its common name.  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.

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. Though you can’t see them in this photo even the leaves show the same veining.

8. Azalea

Our native azaleas continue to bloom. The beautiful example in this photo grows in a shaded part of the forest and is called early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I usually find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet.

9. Azalea

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. Another common name, wooly azalea, comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

10. Lupines

Last year the highway department replaced a bridge over the Ashuelot River and widened the road leading to and from it. They put what I thought was grass seed down on the roadsides once the bridge was finished, but this year there are cornflower blue lupines (Lupinus) growing all along the sides of the road. Were there lupine seeds mixed into the grass seed or have the lupines been there all along? These are questions I can’t answer but it doesn’t matter; I’m happy to see them no matter how they got there.

11. 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. I like its spiraled center.

12. Sarsaparilla

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen.

13. Sarsaparilla

Each sarsaparilla flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard. Every now and then you’ll find a plant with flowers but no leaves over them. I don’t know if these leafless plants are a natural hybrid or how the plant benefits from having fewer leaves. Fewer leaves mean less photosynthesizing and that means less food for the plant.

14. Red Clover

Seeing the light of creation shining from a red clover blossom (Trifolium pretense) is something you don’t ever forget, and I look forward to seeing them every spring. But light isn’t all that flowers radiate; scientists have found that they also generate weak electrical fields which insects like bumblebees can sense through the hairs on their bodies. The electric field bends their tiny hairs and that generates nerve signals which the bees use to tell the difference between flowers.

15. Blue Bead Lily

It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. I like seeing both the flowers and the blue berries that follow them. It’s been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

16. Blue Bead Lily

At a glance it might be easy to confuse the large oval leaves of blue bead lilies with those of lady’s slippers, but they don’t have the pleats that lady’s slippers have, and of course once the flowers appear there is no doubt. The two plants often grow side by side and bloom at the same time. It can take more than 12 years for blue bead lily plants to produce flowers from seed.

17. Lady's Slippers

Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have come into bloom quickly and I think I’m seeing more of them than I ever have. I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be.

18. Lady's Slipper

For those who haven’t seen one, a pink lady’s slipper blossom is essentially a pouch called a labellum, which is a modified petal. The pouch has a slit down the middle which can be seen in this photo. Veins on the pouch attract bumblebees, which enter the flower through the slit and then find that to get out they have to leave by one of two openings at the top of the pouch (not seen here) that have pollen masses above them. When they leave they are dusted with pollen and will hopefully carry it to another flower. It takes pink lady’s slippers five years or more from seed to bloom, but they can live for twenty years or more.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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1. Trail

On Saturday I went to see some old friends and to get there I had to take a short hike down this rail trail in Westmoreland. It was a warm and beautiful spring day and I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many birds singing. The dark dot at the end of the trail is where we’re going. It looks like a tunnel in this photo but it isn’t.

2. Woods

The forest here is made up of nearly all hardwood trees; mostly beech, maple and oak, and there are some old, large examples here. The fallen tree shown in this photo doesn’t look like much because I was so far away from it, but it’s one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen.

3. Oak

For every fallen tree there is a new one coming along to replace it and the oaks were just unfurling their new leaves when I was here.

4. Ledges

Here we are already. This is the dark spot that looked like a tunnel at the end of the trail in that first photo. For a short time there are ledges on either side of the trail made by the railroad blasting their way through the bedrock 150 years ago, and some remarkable plants grow here.

5. Ledges

Almost every crevice has some type of plant or tree growing out of it.

6. Columbines

And these are the old friends that I came here to see; the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis.) They like to grow on partially shaded rocky slopes so this area is perfect for them. How they got here is anyone’s guess but their numbers have been steadily increasing since I first found them. Though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen them.

7. Columbine

They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

8. Columbine

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. From this viewpoint you can see the 5 funnel shaped holes that are the start of the nectar spurs. Long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

9. White Ledge

Columbines like sandy, well-drained soil on the poor side that has limestone in it, so seeing them is a good indication of what type of soil is in the area.  Some of the stone faces here are covered by grayish white deposits of something I’m assuming is limestone leaching out of the stone. At first I thought there were lichens covering the stone but the powdery deposits rub off easily with a finger and I’ve never seen a lichen do that.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

You can tell that there are pockets of somewhat deep soil on the ledges because Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) also grows here. They have a root that forms a corm, which is a kind of flattened bulb much like those found on gladiolus plants, and they need a few inches of soil to grow well.

11. Trillium

At the base of the ledges purple trillium (Trillium erectum) and many other plants grow. It is near the end of its brief time with us and this one was just about done blooming. If pollinated a three part seed capsule will form.

12. Poison Ivy

It’s easy when photographing flowers and other ground dwellers to become so absorbed in the subject at hand that you don’t pay attention to your surroundings and just kneel or lie wherever you need to be to get the best photo. That wouldn’t be wise here because poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also lives here and I’ve ended up with itchy knees by kneeling on leafless vines in the early spring. Luckily I’m not very sensitive to it and the rash usually just stays on my knees without spreading, but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it, so I try to always watch for it.

13. Stone Wall

When the railroad had to blast through a hillside they used the stone to fill in low spots, but if they had too much they simply piled the excess in the woods. Local people often took the stone to build with and this landowner built a stone wall with it. You can tell exactly where the stone came from because there isn’t a rounded edge on a single one. Our natural stones are almost always rounded.

14. Concrete Pad

There are reminders of the railroad all along this trail. I’m guessing that a signal box once stood on this concrete pad, because an old road once crossed the tracks up ahead.

15. Wires

Whatever the signal was it took 6 stout wires to control it.

16. Tie Plate

I flipped this tie plate over to see if there was any writing on it. I’ve seen them with a maker’s name and date but this one didn’t have a mark on it.

17. Fallen Beech

One of the biggest beech trees I’ve seen fell last year and shattered some oaks as big as watermelons when it did. Last summer I heard a tree fall in the woods close to where I was but not close enough to see. I’ll never forget the sound it made as it crashed its way to the forest floor. This beech fell right across the rail trail and I’m glad I wasn’t nearby when it happened. I see a startling number of fallen trees; usually at least one each year in every location that I visit regularly, and often many more.

18. Trail

I was going to take you on a climb up a new (to me) hill for this post but there were high wind gusts forecast for Sunday so I stayed out of the woods for most of the day and visited meadows instead. I’m very grateful that I got to see such a rare sight and I hope you enjoyed seeing the wild columbines as well. For me this walk has become an annual spring rite and I always look forward to it.

Gratitude turns anything into enough, puts past to rest, brings tranquility to our hopes of tomorrow, and blesses today with harmony and bliss. ~ Joseph Rain

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1. Trillium

Spring is moving onward quickly now and the warmer temperatures are bringing out the flowers and tree leaves. Trilliums (Trillium erectum) couldn’t seem to make up their mind for a while but here they are in all their glory. This one is our red or purple trillium, which is also called stinking Benjamin because of its less than heavenly scent. “Benjamin,” according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word benjoin, which was an ingredient that came from a plant in Sumatra and was used in the manufacture of perfume. Apparently it looked a lot like trillium.

2.Trillium

Whatever you call it it’s hard to say that purple trilliums flowers aren’t beautiful. Just don’t get close enough to smell them.

3. Spring Beauties

It’s almost time to say goodbye to some of my favorite springtime friends, like these spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) Their time is brief and maybe that’s why they are so loved by so many. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder, but I doubt that I would like them any less if they stayed all summer. They’re beautiful little things and seeing a forest floor carpeted with them is a breathtaking sight that you don’t forget.

4. Sessile Leaved Bellwort

In botanical terms the word sessile describes how one part of a plant joins another. In sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) the leaves are sessile on the stem, meaning they lie flat against the stem with no stalk. These leaves are also elliptic, which means they are wider in the middle and taper at each end.  New plants, before the flowers appear, can resemble Solomon’s seal at a glance. The plants I find always have just a single nodding, bell shaped pale yellow flower but they can sometimes have two. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats.

 5. Shad

Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) gets its name from the shad fish. Shad live in the ocean but much like salmon return to freshwater rivers to spawn. Shad was a very important food source for Native Americans and for centuries they knew that the shad were running when the shadbush bloomed. In late June they harvested the very nutritious shad fruit, which was a favorite ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of dried meat, dried fruit, and animal fat.

6. Shadblow Flowers

Shadbush is our earliest native white flowered tall shrub, coming into bloom just before the cherries. Another name for it is serviceberry, which is said to refer to church services. One story says that its blooming coincided with the return of circuit preachers to settlements after winter’s end and the resumption of church services. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when it’s fruit ripens.

7. Common Blue Violet aka Viola sororia

The common blue violet (Viola sororia) likes to grow in lawns, and that’s exactly where I found this one. The markings on its lower “landing pad” petal are there to guide insects to its nectar but it is actually visited by very few insects. This violet doesn’t take any chances though, and in summer self-pollinating (cleistogamous) flowers without petals produce more than enough seeds to ensure future generations.

8. Green Hellebore

I saw another hellebore flowering in some friend’s garden. This one leaned toward olive green, which seems an odd color for a flower but is still beautiful.

 9. Trailing Arbutus

Trailing arbutus flowers (Epigaea repens) are also called Mayflowers in this part of the country and this year they lived up to their name by refusing to bloom until May first. The small, pinkish flowers are very fragrant and were my grandmother’s favorite wildflower. At one time Mayflowers were collected nearly into oblivion and laws had to be passed to see that they didn’t disappear altogether. I’m happy to report that it is making a strong comeback. This plant was thought to have divine origins by many Native American tribes.

10. Fly Honesuckle Flowers

The unusual joined flowers of the American fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) are a little late this year but still, there are few shrubs that bloom as early as this one, which usually starts blooming during the last week of April. Its unusual paired flowers branch off from a single stem and if pollinated will become joined pairs of reddish orange fruit shaped much like a football, with pointed ends. Many songbirds love its fruit so this is a good shrub to plant when trying to attract them. I see it growing along the edges of the woods but it can be hard to find, especially when it isn’t blooming.

11. Anemone

Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) is very similar to false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum.) but false rue anemone doesn’t grow in New England. True rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is also similar and does grow in New Hampshire, so the two plants can easily be confused. It’s complicated, so I try not to think about all of that and just enjoy the sometimes huge colonies of delicate white flowers.

12. Hepatica

This is the first time a hepatica flower (Hepatica americana) has ever appeared on this blog because this is the first one I’ve ever seen. These small plants are limestone lovers and since most of our soil in this part of the state is very acidic, they are rarely seen here. I was lucky enough to be shown this plant and many others that I’ve never seen in the woods of Distant Hill Gardens in Walpole, New Hampshire recently. In 1979 owner Michael Nerrie and his wife Kathy bought the property and, after finding so many beautiful and rare plants in the woods, graciously opened it to the public. We’ll be hearing a lot more about the plants found in the Walpole woods in the future but for now, if you live in this area you should definitely visit Distant Hill Gardens. You can find directions and much more by clicking on the word here.

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. 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. Canada Lilies

Off in the distance in the underbrush I spotted yellow Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) poking up above the choking growth. To get to them I had to fight my way through a tangled mass of grape vines, Virginia creeper, oriental bittersweet, and virgin’s bower, and once I reached the lily plants I was in undergrowth up to my shoulders. I was surprised to see that the lily plants were at least seven feet tall-easily the tallest lilies I’ve ever seen.

2. Canada Lilly 2

After fighting my way through the closest thing to a jungle that you’ll ever find in New Hampshire I visited a local cemetery and found Canada lilies growing everywhere, just at the edges of the mown lawns. They’re beautiful enough to warrant having to work a little harder to get close to, I think. They were big, too-this single bloom must have been 5-6 inches across.

3. Swamp Milkweed

I visited the three places that I know of where swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) grows and the plants were either gone completely or weren’t flowering, but then I found a new colony that looked good and healthy. These are extremely beautiful flowers that seem to glow from within when the light is right. They are of the kind that you can lose yourself in and suddenly discover that you’ve been admiring their beauty for far longer than you had intended. Time might slip away but as the bees taste the nectar, so can you taste the place of deep peace from which flowers come.

4. Canada Thistle

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is small flowered thistle native to Europe and Asia and has nothing to do with Canada except as an invasive, noxious weed. It is taken care of quickly by farmers because once it becomes established in a field it is almost impossible to get rid of. Its roots can spread 20 feet in a single season and pieces of broken root will produce new plants. As thistles go its flowers are small; less than a half inch across, even though the plant itself can reach 5 feet tall. The leaves are very prickly.

5. Chicory Blossom

One of my favorite blue flowers is chicory (Cichorium intybus,) but none of the plants that I’ve seen in the past grew this year. I found this one growing beside a road and it’s now the only chicory plant that I know of. I’m hoping that it will produce lots of seeds.

 6. Bee Balm Blossom

Red flowers can be tough to get a good photo of and this year I found that the background played an important part in the end result. Green seemed to work well for this bee balm (Monarda didyma,) but so did an old weathered gray board. The Native American Oswego tribe (Iroquois) showed early colonists how to make tea from bee balm leaves, and it has been called Oswego tea ever since. Its leaves are also used as an ingredient in other teas as well.

7. Purple Loosestrife

It really is too bad that purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is so invasive. It’s hard to deny its beauty, but I’ve found it on the banks of the Ashuelot River poised to turn them into a monoculture. It would be a terrible thing to lose the diversity that is found along that river, so my admiration of its beauty is tempered by concern for the native plants that have lived there for so long.

8. Creeping Bellflower

One way to tell that you have a creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) rather than another campanula is by noticing the curious way the flowers all grow on one side of the stem, and the way that the stem almost always leans in the direction of the flowers. This plant is originally from Europe and is considered an invasive weed. It can be very hard to eradicate.

 9. Queen Anne's Lace Center Flowers

Nobody really knows why, in the center of some Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) flower heads, a purple flower will appear. Botanists have been arguing over the reason for over a century and a half, but none have an answer. Some believe the purple flowers are there to fool any insects flying by into believing that there is another insect on the flower head. Since what is good for one is good for many, they land and help to pollinate the flowers. But that is just a theory. Some ancients believed that eating the purple flower would cure epilepsey.

10. Dewdrop

I had quite a time getting both the flower and leaf of this dewdrop (Rubus dalibarda) in focus. I thought it was important though, because someone once thought its leaves looked like violet leaves, and from that comes another common name: false violet. It likes to grow in moist coniferous woodlands and doesn’t need a lot of sunshine. This plant is quite rare in these parts. I know of only one small colony of plants in Fitzwilliam. It is considered extremely rare in Connecticut and “historical” in Rhode Island, meaning it is just a memory there. It is also threatened in many states, including Michigan and Ohio.

11. Dewdrop Blossom

The odd thing about the dewdrop plant is how most of the flowers that appear above the leaves are sterile and produce no seeds. The fertile flowers appear under the leaves and can’t be seen, and every year when I take its photo I forget to look for them.

 12. 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.

 13. Monkey Flower Side

No matter how I look at an Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) I don’t see a smiling monkey’s face. This is a side view. I can’t help but wonder; if I came upon a wildflower that I had never seen before, would I be thinking of monkeys? I don’t think so. I rarely think of monkeys and I don’t think I’ve ever thought of them while admiring wildflowers. The way that flowers find their common names is an endless source of fascination for me. This little monkey likes wet, sunny places and is also called square stemmed monkey flower.

14. Monkey Flower Front

Even a front view of Mimulus ringens doesn’t show me a monkey’s face, but someone once thought so. The mimulus part of the scientific name means “buffoon,” but I don’t see that either. All I see is a very pretty little wildflower that I wish I’d see more of.

If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.  ~Richard Jefferies

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1. Foamflowers

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. These cheery plants usually form large colonies and are quite common in this area. There are also many hybrids available and they are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

 2. Poet's Daffodil

The poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) is such an ancient plant that many believe that it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on. It can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and can be found in unmown fields. It is very fragrant and it is quite remarkable to realize, as you sit admiring its spicy fragrance, that the Roman poet Virgil once did the same thing.

3. Quince Blossoms

It’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves. If you don’t like the color of the flowers in the photo there are also red, pink and white flowered cultivars. The plant is in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. It is also the toughest shrub I know of. If you have a sunny spot where nothing will grow just plant a quince there and your problem will be solved. It is indestructible and 100% maintenance free, unless you feel the need to trim it. In the 1800s this plant was often called simply Japonica.

4. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) have also just started blooming. It’s hard to beat the sweet fragrance from these tiny white bells and it’s hard to imagine a New Hampshire garden that doesn’t have at least a few of these plants in it. The majalis part of its scientific name means “belonging to May,” and that is when it blooms.

All parts of lily of the valley are very toxic even in small amounts, so small children should be watched closely when near their bright red berries. Every child should have a chance to express their love by thrusting a fistful of wilting lily of the valley blossoms out to mom or grandma, though. I can remember doing so as a boy and I was never harmed by them.

5. Striped Maple Flowers

Flowers that I rarely see are those of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), which is a smallish understory tree that might reach 30 feet every once in a blue moon. Most are 10-15 feet or less, probably because they grow in shade, but I’ve read that they are opportunists that will suddenly shoot upward when a gap opens in the canopy. The tree gets its name from the way the green bark is striped with white when it is young. I like the long and pendulous flower heads. They sway gently in the slightest breeze, especially when a camera is pointed at them.

6. Striped Maple Flowers

The yellowish striped maple flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers. I wonder which insects the tree hopes to attract with flowers this color.

7. Wild Sarsaparilla

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) sets flower buds just as its leaves have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from deep bronze to green. At this stage people sometimes confuse the plant for poison ivy because the young leaves can appear to be very similar. One easy to remember difference is the woody stem seen on poison ivy is not seen on this plant.

8. Wild Sarsaparilla Flower Head

A closeup of a wild sarsaparilla’s flower head. Each flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard.

9. Painted Trillium

Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) comes along just as purple trillium (Trillium erectum) finishes blooming. Its flowers are much smaller but also showier than those of purple trillium. Each white petal has a pink V at its base. These plants like cool shaded slopes and often grow under conifers like eastern hemlock. The undulatum part of the scientific name comes from the wavy margins of the petals.

10. Mayapple Flower

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) are up and blooming but are difficult to get a good photo of. This one happens to grow in a local park and the color in the background is from fallen PJM rhododendron petals. The ones that I see in the woods don’t seem to bloom very often. 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 plant is toxic and should not be eaten.

 11. Starflower

I like to keep an eye out for starflower plants (Trientalis borealis) with multiple blooms when I walk through the woods at this time of year. Even though books will tell you that two is their limit I think my record is four flowers on one plant. These plants are very common and can be seen in any forest in this part of the state. They get their common name from how their 5-9 pointed petals form the shape of a star. The Trientalis part of the scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin and describes the plant’s four inch height perfectly.

 12. Hobblebushes

Some of our most beautiful native shrubs are in the viburnum family and hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is queen among them in my opinion. This is the first of the native viburnums to bloom here. High bush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), and maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) will soon follow. Hobblebush flower heads are flat and bright white and can be seen from quite a distance. They like to grow along roadsides so the blooms can be easily seen at this time of year.

13. Hobblebush Blossoms

Hobblebush flower heads are large-often 6 or more inches across. They are made up of small, fertile flowers in the center and larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge. All have 5 petals. The large sterile flowers do the work of attracting insects and that’s why many viburnums have this kind of arrangement. If the great variety of fruit I see each summer is any indication, it works well.

 14. Fringed polygala

I start looking for the ground hugging, orchid like fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) as soon as I see violets bloom. No other flower in the northeast looks like this one, so identification is easy. They are also called gaywings and are among the most beautiful and interesting flowers in our forests. Each spring when I first see them I feel like I could sit and look at them for hours, absorbed by their beauty.

 15. Fringed polygala

Fringed polygala flowers are made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen. That pollination happens at all seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance. There are unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand. ~Jose Ortega Y Gasset

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