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Posts Tagged ‘New England Aster’

In 2010 Keene built a new middle school at the edge of a 500 acre wetland called Tenant Swamp and the building sits on a high terrace that overlooks the swamp. To create an “outdoor classroom” for the students a boardwalk leading into the swamp was also built. I frequently drive by tenant swamp at this time of year and note the beautiful fall foliage that can be seen from the road and I’ve always wondered what the fall foliage would look like from inside the swamp. That’s what this trip would be about on this beautiful day.

A sturdy bridge built over a seasonal stream leads into the swamp.

An 850 foot boardwalk meanders through the swamp. It’s sturdy and well-built and about a foot or two off the ground. When it was being installed 9-12 feet of peat was discovered in some places. Two feet of peat takes about a thousand years to form so this peat has been here for a very long time. I’m tempted to call this a peat bog because of these discoveries but technically because it is forested, the correct term is swamp.

I was happy to see that there was some nice fall color here inside the swamp in addition to the beautiful colors I had seen on the outer edges.  

The swamp is left to itself as much as possible and when trees fall they lie where they fell.

I saw lots of New England asters in sunny spots and I’m guessing that this swamp must be full of them and many other plants that I’d love to see.

There were lots of blueberry bushes here as well, and most were wearing their beautiful fall red.

Black raspberries are also plentiful here.

I’ve never seen so many winterberries growing in a single place before and every bush was loaded with fruit. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native plant in the holly family and is toxic, but birds love the berries. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

I saw many spruce trees here and that immediately told me something about this place was different, because I don’t see many spruce trees in the wild. Spruce trees like it cool and they prefer the boreal forests further north. There are at least two species here and I think they were probably red spruce (Picea rubens) and black spruce (Picea mariana.) Neither one minds boggy ground.

Cattails (Typha latifolia) were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the swamps, ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

Before the new middle school could be built here an archaeological sensitivity assessment had to be done, and by the time the dig was completed it was found that Native Americans lived here at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,000-12,000 years ago. The dig also found that the Ashuelot River once ran through here; about a half mile east of where it now flows. Since the site evolved into a swamp it was never farmed or built on so it was valuable enough archeologically to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are a few diagrams like the one above placed here and there on the boardwalk to help people understand exactly what went on here 12,000 years ago.

I thought this was interesting.

500 acres of swamp boggles my mind and I know that if I hopped off the boardwalk and bush whacked my way into the swamp, I’d probably be lost in under an hour. Once you get turned around and start wandering in circles it’s all over, and in November of 1890 that’s exactly what happened to George McCurdy, who died of exposure. I’ve heard stories about another man who went into the swamp and was never found. I’ll stay on the boardwalk but the swamp is very enticing and I’d love to explore it.

There are lots of birds in the swamp and benches are placed here and there along the boardwalk for people who like to sit and watch them.

It’s not hard to find evidence of woodpeckers here. This hole was made by a pileated woodpecker sometime in the past.

This hole was fresh and was probably made by one of the smaller woodpeckers, like the downy woodpecker.

There are lots of cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) growing in the swamp. They like wet feet and I usually find them near water. The common name for this fern comes from its upright reddish brown fertile fronds which someone thought looked like cinnamon sticks. It often turns bright pumpkin orange in the fall.

There were many fallen leaves on the boardwalk.

The fallen leaves made me look up, and when I did I was surprised to see bare branches on some of the maples already. Fall must pass quickly here.

A black birch (Betula lenta) showed how beautiful it could be. This tree is also called sweet birch and its numbers were once decimated because of its use as a source of oil of wintergreen. The bark looks a lot like cherry bark but chewing a twig is the best way to identify it; if it tastes like wintergreen then it is black birch. If not then it is most likely a cherry.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) has a strong presence here and this one was very beautiful in its fall colors. Royal fern is one of the most beautiful of our native ferns in my opinion, but often fools people by not really looking very fern like. Royal fern is in the family Osmundaceae, and fossils belonging to this family have been found in rocks of the Permian age, which was about 230 million years ago. There is also a European species of royal fern called Osmunda regalis.

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. ~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for coming by.

 

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I know of only three places to find gentians and only one place to find bottle or closed gentians, and that place is along the Ashuelot River in Keene. Last year I got upset when I went looking for them and found that the Keene Parks and Recreation Department had sent someone out here with a weed wacker, and that person had cut down countless beautiful wildflowers all along the trail, including the gentians. I didn’t know what I would find this year but last Saturday down the trail I went.

One of the first things I noticed was how ripe the false Solomon’s seal fruit (Maianthemum racemosum) was getting. It goes from mottled to solid red and many of these were red. They’re very pretty berries that are said to taste like molasses.

Virginia bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus) bloomed all along the trail. This is a close relative of water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and looks much like it except for its purple tinged leaves.

It was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods and I petted dogs, talked to strangers, and was happy to be in a place I’ve known since I was about 10 years old. To think I was walking a trail which was, in high probability, a Native American fishing trail which has probably changed little in thousands of years. Remains of settlements dating back 12,000 years have been found very near here and it boggles the mind to think about all that might have gone on in this place.

I always seem to see something I haven’t seen before out here, even though I’ve walked this trail for over 50 years. On this day it was a nice colony of one of our prettiest native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule.) I wonder if I’ll remember where they are next June when they’re in bloom.  

One of the lady’s slippers still had last year’s seed pod on it, and on that was a spider’s egg sac.

The branches of this fallen tree always make me think of the ribs of an ancient sunken ship. Indeed, at one time sections of this river were dredged so that river boats could navigate it, but the railroad coming to town put a stop to that.

Other trees might add to the hazards in the river; I could see right through this hollow red maple (Acer rubrum.)

There was lots of duckweed on the backwaters where the current is almost nonexistent.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) grew on the sunny parts of the riverbank. The skullcap part of the common name comes from the calyx at the base of the flower, which is said to look like a medieval skull cap. The plant was once thought to cure rabies, and that is where the “mad dog” part of the common name comes from. There is powerful medicine in many skullcap species and when Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. The small blue and white flowers always grow in pairs in the leaf axils on mad dog skullcap but you have to look closely because sometimes one bloom will fall off before the other, which is what has happened with this example.

The seed pods of fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) are unusual and hard to confuse with any other plant. I saw hundreds of seedpods but only one flower left, growing out of reach down the river bank.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) hasn’t changed into its fall yellow yet. When they are near a water source royal ferns can grow quite large and appear to be a shrub, but this one was young and on dry ground so it wasn’t very big. The royal fern is found on every continent except Australia, making it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over 100 years. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are also in the Osmundaceae family and also grow here. It is thought that the genus might have been named after King Osmund, who ruled in the British Isles in the eighth century. Royal ferns are one of my favorites because they are so unlike any other fern.

I think, in the eight years I’ve been doing this blog, that I’ve only show beech nuts (Fagus grandifolia) one other time and that’s because I rarely see them. But on this day I stumbled onto hundreds of them that must have just fallen, because many of the kernels were still inside the prickly looking husks seen here. If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards.

I put a kernel on a penny so you could get a sense of scale. A penny is 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Chipmunks and squirrels and even bears love the kernels, so you usually find more empty husks than anything else.

As I’ve said so many times, spring and fall really begin on the forest floor, much earlier than many of us realize. This wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is a good example of that. It might be leafless before many of the trees it grows under have even started to turn color. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There was a single blossom on what looked like an all but dead St. John’s wort plant (Hypericum perforatum.) I haven’t seen these blossoms for a few weeks now so I’m going to say this may be the last one I see this year. It’s a beautiful thing. This plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun but will stand some shade as it did here.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) climbed up over the shrubs along the trail. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers a bit of shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem.

When those maples on the other side of the river turn scarlet in the fall this is an awesome view, but it isn’t really so bad in green either.

I saw a single New England aster blossom (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) As I’ve said in previous posts, they are our biggest, most showy aster. Some tower up over my head but this one had bent down to about knee level.

I was very surprised to see turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) blooming out here. I’ve never seen them here before this day.

And there they were; one of my favorite shades of blue is found on bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but I don’t see many because they are quite rare here. This is the only place I can find them so you can imagine my delight when I found that they hadn’t been cut down again. When they start to go by theses flowers become even more beautiful by turning very dark blue and then a kind of purple. They closely resemble narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) but that plant has much narrower leaves. Why anyone would cut such a rare and beautiful thing is beyond me.

I’ve been here enough times to know that the only thing beyond this bridge is a highway, so this is where I turn and go back. As I chose what photos to use for this post I was amazed that I saw so much on what is a relatively short walk of only an hour or so, and once again I was thankful that it hadn’t all been cut down again, because it’s a beautiful walk.

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring- these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ~ John Burroughs

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Last Saturday I went into the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland to see if I could find some turtlehead blossoms. I know two or three places where they grow but when I checked the other locations I didn’t even see the plants, much less the blossoms. This man made canyon was blasted out of the bedrock in the mid-1800s by the railroad and it has become a hidden gem of nature, with plants growing here that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The section shown above is the northern section; what I think of as the “sterile” part, where it’s too dark for all but a few mosses to grow. I had to boost the ISO on my camera as high as it would go just to get this shot, and it was a sunny, bright day.

When I enter the trail I turn south to follow the part of the trail seen here. It starts with huge retaining walls on both sides of the trail, and they answer the question of what the railroad did with all the stone they blasted out of the canyon. This is a good lesson for all the wall builders out there; you can see how the wall tilts back into the hillside, usually at about 10-15 degrees. This adds to the strength of the wall. Behind most retaining walls here in the northeast you’ll find sand, gravel or other porous material so water will drain away from the wall. In this climate the last thing you want behind your wall is wet soil, because when it freezes and expands in the winter it will tear your wall apart. These walls have stood for 150 years and I’m guessing they’ll still be here hundreds of years from now if people leave them alone.

Lush growth is what you find when you walk south on this trail. Every inch of the trail is filled with plants and it doesn’t end there, because the canyon walls are also covered with plants of all kinds.

One of the first thigs I found was a big, yellow spider. I think it was one of the orb weaver spiders (Argiope.)

Possibly a marbled orb weaver, but I haven’t been able to pin it down. It was weaving with plenty of silken threads as I watched. I know that  some of you get creeped out by spiders but if you can just try to put that aside for a moment and just appreciate their various forms and colors and the intricacies of their webs, and realize that they have a right to a place in this world as much or maybe even more than we have, maybe someday you will be able to get along. With me it isn’t spiders but rats, and I’m trying too.

I saw lots of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) along the trail and I noticed that the flowers with the deepest shade of blue were those that grew in the deepest shade. The ones that grew in the sunnier spots were much lighter in color. I’ll have to remember that when I look for them next year.

There are also lots of purple flowering raspberry plants (Rubus odoratus) here. Because they have large light gathering leaves they can grow in surprisingly shaded places, and even bloom as this one was doing.

The fruit of the purple flowering raspberry looks, not surprisingly, like a giant raspberry. They’re about the size of the tip of your thumb. I’ve heard that it is close to tasteless but some say if you put a berry on the very tip of your tongue it will be delicious, so I tried it. I can’t say it was tasteless but it seemed a bit sour, with a flavor that is hard to describe. It didn’t taste like a raspberry and I can’t say it was delicious, but that might have been because I was chewing peppermint gum, which I often do on hikes to give my breathing a boost. The gum is very sweet and that might account for the sourness of the berry. I’ll have to try again without the taste of peppermint fresh in my mouth.  

And I saw turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia); in fact I saw more blooming plants than I’ve ever seen anywhere else, so they obviously like it here. Turtlehead plants seem to have a problem with diseases and pests. Quite often I see the leaves and flower buds at the top of the plant curl and deform, and there are at least two different species of sawfly larvae that feed on the plant, but nothing seems to bother them much here.

The turtlehead plant gets the first part of its scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. I have a friend who said he immediately thought of a turtle when he saw these flowers but for some reason I never see a turtle when I look at them. I’ve always thought it was interesting how two or more people could look at the same thing and give very different descriptions of what they had seen.

In my last flower post I showed hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata) blossoms. What I didn’t mention was how I had to search high and wide to find them in bloom, and here they were blooming more prolifically than I’ve ever seen. Great handfuls of the small flowers hung from the undersides of the vines.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) turn from green to red and for a short time they are speckled with both colors, as these were.  I’ve read that soil pH can affect the fruit color. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

Can you be happy and heartsick at the same time? If you’re a summer lover who has just found New England asters blooming the answer is yes, because though the flowers are beautiful they also mean that fall is very near. It’s a season that always seems to sneak up on me and I’m not sure that I’ve ever really been ready for it.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are our biggest and showiest native aster and the large, inch and a half diameter blossoms come in varying shades of purple. Some can be almost white and some are very dark. I like the dark ones but I don’t need to see them right away.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) also bloom here in great profusion. Though it is very wet here this plant is known for its drought tolerance, and it will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant. The small, half inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

When I was a boy I loved to read about far off jungles and I dreamed of being a plant hunter. Off I’d go to places no one had ever heard of and I’d bring back plants so beautiful tears of joy would fall when people saw them, and mere words couldn’t describe them. One of the places I read about was fictional but it was still my kind of place, and this place reminds me of it; the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote about in his book Lost Horizon. He described Shangri-La as an earthly paradise, and that’s what this place seems to me. It sends me away; out of myself into a waking dream, and the beauty and the dream draw me back here again and again.

This is a place where coltsfoot grows on stone, and it can do that because of the constant drip of groundwater. Every plant here has a never ending supply of rich minerals and water, and that’s what makes the place so lush.

The smaller plants growing around the coltsfoot in the previous photo are great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum,) and they grow here by the thousands. They are one of the plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and they’re one of the reasons I come here.

To get close to the liverworts you have to be willing to walk in the drainage ditches and I wear rubber boots to get through them, but there’s nothing I can do about the falling rocks. You can see them scattered around in this photo and apparently they fall quite regularly. I’ve only seen them fall a couple of times though so I cross my fingers and don’t dilly dally when I’m near the liverwort ledges; a couple of quick photos and I’m out of there.

And then I can come home and admire these beautiful things in a photo. The reptilian appearance is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

The great scented liverwort is like one of those plants I used to dream I’d bring back from far away places. It’s such a beautiful thing and it somehow manages to look both plant and animal at the same time. Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and I saw lots of it.

I’ve walked this trail a hundred times I’d bet, and in all those times I’ve never seen white snakeroot growing here. It wasn’t flowering but that doesn’t matter, because I’d like you to see its leaves. Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.

Individual white snakeroot flowers are small, bright white, and fuzzy, much like those of the boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) flowers shown here. But look closely at the leaf shape and then scroll up and look at the leaves of white snakeroot again and you’ll see that they’re very different. The reason I’m harping about this is because boneset is used medicinally, and if you mistake snakeroot for boneset you could find yourself in dire straits, even in Shangri-La.  

I wonder if everyone who comes through here marvels at the staying power of the old lineman’s shack. It has been slowly picked apart over the years by those wanting boards to bridge the drainage ditches and every time I come here I expect it to be down, but here it stands to this day, over a hundred years later. It’s a testament to the quality workmanship of the railroad workers who once populated this place.

I know paradise has many gates, just as hell does. One has to learn to distinguish between them, or one is lost. ~Henning Mankell

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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I saw this view of purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and goldenrods along a roadside recently. In my last flower post I showed the very dark purple New England asters that are my favorite but I’ve noticed that bees seem to prefer the lighter colored ones.

There’s little that’s more cheery at the end of summer than a New England aster.

I didn’t see the crab spider on this white campion (Silene latifolia) blossom until I saw it on the computer, and that happens more than I would have ever guessed. Crab spiders change color to match the color of the flower they live on and they can be hard to see. White campion flowers have 5 deeply notched petals that have an easily seen fringe at their base. This example is a female flower.

I’ve seen exactly two white turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) flowers this year and this is one of them. They seem to be having a tough year. I’ve seen plants with the tops eaten off and I assume deer did that, and I’ve also seen some type of caterpillar eating the flower buds. The plant gets the first part of its scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. I have a friend who said he immediately thought of a turtle when he saw these flowers but for some reason I never see a turtle when I look at them.

Here is one of the caterpillars that I’ve seen eating the turtlehead blossoms. There are two different species of sawfly larvae that feed on the plant but I don’t know if this is one of those.

This nodding bur marigold plant (Bidens tripartita) grew in the wet mud at the water’s edge at a local pond. This is another flower I’ve had trouble finding this year. That seems odd because I usually see them everywhere. I’ve even seen islands in the river covered with them. As they age the flowers of the nodding bur marigold nod towards the ground and that’s how the plant comes by its common name. The flowers look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. I like their deeply pleated petals. The plants grow to about knee high, often in standing water at the edges of rivers and ponds.

Lady’s thumb (Polygonum Persicaria or Persicaria maculosa) is also blooming near water just about everywhere I go. The plant is one of the smartweeds, so called because your tongue will smart if you bite into it. This plant is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered a noxious weed. It was first seen near the Great Lakes in 1843 is now found in nearly all of the lower 48 states. It likes to grow near water and is usually found along pond and stream banks.

Lady’s thumb 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. In my experience it is rare to find one as open as this one was.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) appears early on in summer but waits until September to bloom. Its stems grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, as if to show off the yellow blooms that grow in tufts all along the stem. This plant isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod get their blue color from the same natural wax coating that is found on grapes, plums, blueberries and other plants. The coating is called a bloom and plants use it as a form of protection against moisture loss. It’s made up of tiny powdery, whitish crystals which reflect and scatter light in ways that can make the surface that they cover appear very blue. The wax crystals can be washed off by rain or melted by the sun but though we’ve had some very hot and wet weather this summer many stems were still blue.

This nice colony of white wood asters (Aster divaricatus) blooms by an old stone wall every year where I work. They last for quite a while and I’m always happy to see them. Most of their cousins will have gone to brown and finished for the year but they’ll often still be blooming.

I always find silverrod in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods near the end of August. It’s hard to get a photo of because it’s usually surrounded by other plants and rarely grows alone. It grows about knee high and isn’t seen anywhere near as often as the yellow goldenrods.

I think almost everyone knows what goldenrod looks like but not everyone has seen 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. The small flowers almost always have at least one ant on them.

I think it’s just about time to say goodbye to beautiful little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum,) because I’m seeing more seedpods than flowers. This plant is an annual so it will have to grow again from seed next year. These little beauties are usually barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun.

Sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) is a curious little plant that gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. I know of only one place where it grows but each year there are many new plants there. It is an annual so each year’s plants have to produce plenty of seed. They grow to about knee high and this year there are plenty of tiny white blooms, so hopefully strong seed production will continue.

Some of sand jointweed’s flowers have plum colored anthers and some have white anthers. Why that is I don’t know, unless they color with age. The flowers bloom from the bottom of the stem upwards, so I suppose it’s possible.

Sand jointweed’s flowers are about 1/8 of an inch across, or about the same size as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny, as this photo I took earlier shows. They’re darn near impossible to get a good shot of.

This photo shows the curious jointed stem that gives sand jointweed its common name.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) starts blooming in late July and is usually finished by now, but you can still see the odd flower head here and there. That’s a good thing because monarch butterflies love these flowers.

I was surprised to find a Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) blossom because this plant usually blooms in July. I think this is the latest I’ve ever seen one but I was happy to see it because they’re beautiful little things. They don’t have the bold, jagged red ring around their center like their cousin the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) and bloom later than maiden pinks. The flowers are also smaller and the plant, rather than growing in large clumps of 40-50 flowers out in the open like the maiden pink, blooms shyly in threes and fours at the edges of meadows. Though it originally came from Europe it can hardly be called invasive.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

Thanks for coming by.

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It’s time to say goodbye to chicory (Cichorium intybus) I think, though I have seen it blooming in late September before. I found these plants still blooming along a roadside. The flowers were small for chicory at about 3/4 of an inch across, but their beautiful shade of blue more than made up for their small size. Chicory is one of my summer favorites.

I found the first dark purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) of the season recently. I look for the darkest ones I can find each year and these were beautiful but New England asters are very beautiful, no matter what shade of purple they are. When light and dark flowers grow together the bees always seem to prefer the lighter ones but in this area there were no lighter ones so I had to hope I didn’t get stung. There were bees everywhere, and they were loving these flowers as much as I was.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I see them still blooming here and there. This one looked as fresh as they do in July. There are still plenty of pollinators about so I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) are very tall with large flower heads (panicles) and weak stems, so when all the flowers bloom the stems often bend and the flowers end up at ankle level. This is one of the earlier, more showy asters that spreads by underground rhizomes and usually grows in large colonies of plants. I see them on forest edges.

I liked this pond-side view with its patch of wildflowers blooming.

When our native yellow loosestrifes have all bloomed then it’s time for purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) to start in and despite the belief that they need wet places to grow in I found this river of loosestrife at the edge of a dry cornfield. Purple loosestrife is an invasive that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant is becoming very difficult.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) still blooms on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Its common name comes from the way the leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.

Individual white snakeroot flowers are small, bright white, and fuzzy. The plant seems to prefer moist, shaded locations and doesn’t mind disturbed ground. It can often be found quite deep in forests and blooms from August to September. If you should happen to have farm animals you should know it well.

It’s also time to say goodbye to the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea.) This one looked like it had been through the wash. Its color had faded and its dry petals felt like paper.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) must be one of the longest blooming wildflowers we have here. It usually starts blooming in May and I’m still seeing it in quite large numbers here in September. You can’t ask more from a flower than that. I love the shade of blue that it wears.

There are about 15 different species of agrimony but I think this one is woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata.) The small, bright yellow flowers grow in long spikes (racemes) on a small, knee high plant. The last time I showed its flowers I forgot to show the foliage, so this photo corrects that oversight. If you know it as something other than woodland agrimony I’d love to hear about it.

Woodland agrimony is also called roadside agrimony, and that is just where this one grew.  Agrimony has been used medicinally for many thousands of years, dating back to at least ancient Egypt, but though woodland agrimony is native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans.

I saw these beautiful chive blossoms in a friend’s garden. I think they must have been garlic chives (Allium tuberosum.)

Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small and beautiful, but it’s a plant that comes with a lot of baggage. As the story goes author and forager Samuel Thayer calls them ground beans rather than hog peanut because he claims that the name “hog peanut” was a racial slur against Native Americans. He says that the Europeans came to a point where they refused to eat them because even though the small legumes saved many of their lives they insisted they were only fit for hogs (implying that Native Americans were hogs.) Personally I find this story hard to believe because anyone who has ever raised pigs knows that they root around in the soil looking for just the kinds of legumes that grow on these vines, and it isn’t hard to imagine colonials, who raised pigs, saying “look, the hogs have found some peanuts.” I call it hog peanut here not to slander anyone but because nine out of ten people will use a plant’s common name when they look for it in field guides, and field guides call the plant hog peanut. If Samuel Thayer can get them to change that, then I’ll be happy to call it a ground bean.

Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds. Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good a tripping up hikers.

I tried many times to get a photo looking into these tiny but pretty flowers, but this is the best I could do.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I don’t know if this was tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) but it was a tall goldenrod that stood feet above the other plants in the surrounding meadow. Its height was amazing.

I tried and failed to get a shot of a single goldenrod flower for you, but it’s close. I think there are two here.

One of the things I like most about native pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is the way a child’s face will light up and break into a smile when they crush it and smell it. Usually when I tell them that it smells like pineapple they don’t believe it, so it’s a surprise. The conical flower heads are easiest to describe by saying they’re like daisies without petals, or ray florets. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and the leaves are also scented and have been used to make tea. The plant was used by Native Americans in a tonic to relieve gastrointestinal upset and fevers. The Flathead tribe used the dried, powdered plants to preserve meats and berries. It is said to make a nice pineapple flavored tea.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. Its flowers are sparse at this time of year but I find it blooming here and there. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heavens? ~ A.J. Balfour

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I think, in the seven years that I’ve been doing this blog, that this is only the second time I’ve been able to do two full flower posts in October. Though we’ve had a couple of morning frosts it is still very warm here, and some days could even be called hot. Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) aren’t just blooming right now; they’re thriving, and I’m seeing them everywhere.  Is there any wonder I always think of them as fall flowers?  When they appear in June it always seems to me that they’re trying to rush things along a bit, but life would be a little less cheery without them so I don’t begrudge their early arrival too much. I think they must hold the record for our longest blooming flower; almost a full 5 months this year.

This purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) looked like it had been through the wash. Its color had faded to a kind of pinky brown and its dry petals felt like paper, but the camera saw what it wanted to see and voila; a new flower was born! Now if only I could learn how to make the camera do those kinds of things when I wanted it to.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I found a small colony of plants blooming away under some trees at the edge of the woods. Apparently they didn’t get the message that their time was up because they looked as fresh as they do in July. There are still plenty of pollinators about too, and I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Most knapweed plants (Centaurea jacea) in this colony dried up from the heat and then were mowed down, but they’ve come back with renewed vigor and several were blooming, much to the delight of all the bees and butterflies that were swarming around them. Brown knapweed is very invasive in some states but we don’t seem to have much of a problem with them here. This is an established colony that has been here for years but it doesn’t seem to get any bigger. When I need to visit with knapweed this is where I come.

Perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea) is in the same family as knapweed, so it’s no wonder they look so much alike. I found this one growing in a local park. This plant self-seeds readily and can take over a garden corner if its seedlings aren’t pulled.

There are a few things about the Stella D’ Oro daylily (Hemerocallis) that don’t appeal to me. Though it’s supposed to be a “re-blooming daylily” after its initial flush of bloom in late spring it blooms only sporadically throughout the rest of summer. It is also very short, which isn’t a problem in a bed full of daylilies but it always seems to look out of place in the front of a bed of mixed perennials. The third thing that doesn’t appeal to me is its over use. I see it everywhere I go; banks, gas stations, malls, and anywhere else that someone wants flowers but doesn’t want to have to fuss with them. But I can easily forgive all of that at this time of year because quite often they are the only flower still blooming. It’s a tough plant; I’ll say that for it.

Native wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) are still blooming but instead of in the woods this one bloomed in a local park. Native Americans used these plants medicinally in a tea to treat toothaches and as a nerve tonic. The seed pods have long beaks and for that reason the plant is also called crane’s bill. It has quite a long blooming period and is very hardy.

When I first saw this plant blooming while snow was falling a few years ago I thought it was a Shasta daisy on steroids, but it turned out to be the Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) which is a Japanese creation also called the Nippon daisy. It is extremely hardy; I’ve seen it bloom after a 28 degree F. night and it is also a very late bloomer. It would be an excellent choice for a fall garden.

The bumblebees were certainly happy to see the Montauk daisies blooming. The warmth has kept the bees going but it hasn’t kept many flowers blooming so now when I see a plant in bloom it is almost always covered with bees.

Polyantha roses still bloomed in another park. This small flowered rose usually blooms from spring through fall, often covered in flowers. It is usually disease resistant but this example’s leaves were covered in black spot, which is a fungus, and were tired looking. In general they’re good low maintenance roses that are small enough to be used in just about any size garden. A good fungicide would take care of the black spot on this one, but the leaves should also be raked up in the fall and destroyed.

We do love our asters here in New Hampshire, enough to grow them in our gardens even though the meadows are full of them. This hybrid version of a dark purple New England aster grew in a local park.

I found this New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) blooming even though it was only about 3 inches tall. It was on a roadside that had been mowed earlier, but even after being cut it still bloomed. I’ve seen other plants do the same.

I had never seen an azalea blooming in October until I saw this yellow evergreen azalea doing just that. It had about a dozen flowers on it, and I wonder if it will have a dozen fewer in the spring.

The cultivated speedwell I found in a garden last summer was still blooming. This is an attractive plant, about two feet across with hundreds of the small blue flowers shown all blooming at once. I haven’t had much luck identifying it yet. I think it must be a hybrid of germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys.)

I wonder what Native Americans would have thought of seeing wild strawberry blossoms (Fragaria virginiana) in October. I think they would have been happy to see them, though probably a bit confused. Strawberries were an important food and were eaten raw or mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. They were also dried and preserved for winter, often added to pemmican and soups. Natives also made a tea from the mashed berries, water and sassafras tea.  It was called Moon tea in honor of the strawberry moon in June. A tea made from strawberry leaves was used to clean teeth and stimulate the appetite.

A spaghetti squash grew in the compost pile where I work.  It’s late for squash plants to be blossoming but stranger than that is how nobody can remember a spaghetti squash ever having been cooked or eaten there. How the seeds got into the compost pile is a mystery. We picked one good squash but the one in the photo looks like it has slug or some other kind of damage, so it’ll probably stay in the compost pile.

This bumblebee’s pollen bags were full of yellow pollen but I don’t know if it came from this globe thistle flower head (Echinops) or not. It was working the long tubular blossoms over furiously. Even though globe thistle is originally from Europe and Asia our native bees love it. It should be done blooming by now but this plant had this blossom and three more buds on it.

If you were found growing monkshood (Aconitum napellus) in ancient Rome there was a good chance that you’d be put to death, because the extremely toxic plant was added to the water of one’s enemies to eliminate them. It was used on spear and arrow tips in wars and in hunting parties. It is also called winter aconite and is so poisonous its aconitine toxins can be absorbed through the skin of some people. I’ve touched it many times with no ill effects but I wouldn’t pick it or rub the sap on my skin. People who have mistaken its roots for horseradish have died within 4-6 hours after eating them. Knowing all of this I shudder each time I see this plant, because it grows in a local children’s butterfly garden.

When the blossoms are seen from the side it’s easy to see why this plant is called monkshood. It is also called friar’s cap, leopard’s bane, wolf’s bane, devil’s helmet, and queen of poisons. In 2015 an experienced gardener in the U.K. died of multiple organ failure after weeding and hoeing near aconite plants.

Though I’ve seen dandelions blooming in January witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is considered our last flower of the season and they’ve just started blooming. The flowers are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths. The moths raise their body temperature by shivering, and can raise it by as much as 50 degrees F. This allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.

 

There’s nothing more cheering on a cold fall day than coming upon a thicket of witch hazel in bloom. They might not look very showy but their fragrance makes up for that lack. Tea made from witch hazel tightens muscles and stops bleeding, and it was used for that purpose by Native Americans. You can still buy witch hazel lotion. My father always had a bottle of it and used it on his hands.

Chances are there will be flowers popping up here and there in future posts, but this will most likely be the last post devoted entirely to flowers this year. Now, though it is supposed to be sunny and 70 degrees today, we wait for spring.

Beauty is something that changes your life, not something you understand. ~Marty Rubin

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I don’t get to do many flower posts in October but we’ve had such a warm September and October that it seems like anything might be possible this year. I recently stumbled into an area where quite a large colony of chickweed still bloomed. I think it was star chickweed (Stellaria pubera) but I’m never one hundred percent sure with chickweeds. I didn’t see them when I took the photo but this example was covered with tiny black insects. Pollen eaters, I’m guessing. That they’re still busy is as much of a surprise as seeing the flowers they’re on.

Cosmos is a garden annual that is grown new from seed each year. It self-seeds readily and usually the gardener finds a few cosmos volunteers the following spring, but I’ve never known it to escape gardens until now. I found this example growing at the edge of the forest. Cosmos can be large plants; I’ve seen them reach six feet tall, but this one wasn’t even knee high. It had a single white blossom that was also very small for a cosmos plant; probably only about an inch across. Cosmos were first introduced from Mexico somewhere near 1880. They were an instant hit and have been grown in summer gardens ever since.

Silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla anserina) still blooms along roadsides and in waste places but the plants aren’t as robust as they were in June, so instead of fifty blossoms on a plant you might see two or three. This plant is originally from Europe and is considered invasive in some areas, but I see it only occasionally here. Its leaves are deep green on top but bright silvery white underneath, and that’s how it comes by its common name.

Even in the rain the inner light shines from purple morning glory blossoms (Ipomoea purpurea.) This morning glory is an annual that grows new from seed each year unlike the bindweeds, which are perennial. I found this example on a fence at a local restaurant.

I’ve never paid attention before to what happens when a purple morning glory blossom is finished, but this is what they do. It’s an amazing color change. These plants were full of seed pods so I took a couple in the hopes that it might grow here at home. It might find it too shady here in the woods, but we’ll see.

Spiderwort blossoms (Tradescantia virginiana) usually close on rainy or cloudy days so I was surprised to find an open blossom just after a rain one day. Though the sprawling plants aren’t much to look at I love the blossoms, and have since I was a very young boy. They used to grow along the railroad tracks and since I just about lived on those tracks this plant goes deep into my earliest memories. I’m always happy to see them, even though I find it hard to recommend them for a garden.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) has been in this country for a very long time, having been brought over as a garden flower by a Welsh Quaker in the late 1600s. It was also used medicinally at least since the 1400s and modern science has shown the plant to have diuretic and fever reducing qualities. As if that weren’t enough it’s also used as a cut flower by florists because they are so long lasting when cut. I found these examples still blooming by a cornfield and I enjoyed seeing them.

Rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) has formed pink ribbons along our dry, sandy roadsides as it does each year, but it’s starting to look a little ragged. This annual plant is said to be invasive but few plants want to grow where it does, so I don’t think it out competes any natives in this area.

Most goldenrods (Solidago) have given up the ghost for this year but I still see them blooming here and there. Any flower blossoming at this time of year will be covered with bees, just as this one was. All but one very determined one flew away though, as soon as I poked a camera at them.

New England asters are also turning in for their winter sleep. Once pollinated they have no need for flowers and are now putting all of their energy into seed production.

I know a place where thousands of wild thyme plants grow and here they were still blooming in October. I usually look for them in May but the bees don’t care when they bloom; they love at any time of year and they were all over these plants in large numbers.

If you feel the need to make yourself crazy, just try photographing a single thyme blossom. It’s among the smallest I’ve ever tried. I’m not going to tell you how many tries it took to get this photo because if I did you might think I really was crazy.

Nobody seems to know how shaggy soldier (Galinsoga quadriradiata) got from Mexico to New Hampshire but everyone agrees that it’s a weed; even in its native Mexico. The plant is also called common quick weed or Peruvian daisy and is common in gardens, where it can reduce crop yields by as much as half if left to its own devices. The tiny flowers are about 3/8 of an inch across and have 5 white ray florets widely spaced around tiny yellow center disc florets. This one was every bit as challenging to photograph as the thyme blossom was.

Yellow sorrel flowers (Oxalis stricta) seemed as huge as garden lily blossoms after dealing with thyme and quickweed flowers. I’m still seeing a lot of these little beauties and I expect that they’ll probably go right up until a frost. Speaking of frost, our first one usually appears during the third week of September on average, but we haven’t seen one yet. In October we get freezes, and that finishes the growing season. This year, who knows?

I saw a zinnia at the local college that looked like it had frosted petals. It was very pretty I thought, but the butterflies were paying it no mind. Every time I see a butterfly or bee reject one flower in favor of another I wish I could see what they see, just once.

Friends of mine still have string beans blossoming in their garden. In October. If that doesn’t show how warm it’s been here then nothing will.

I found a small tick trefoil growing in an area that had been mowed. The plant was quite stunted and looked more like clover than anything else, but the flowers gave it away. Note how they resemble the bean blossom in the previous photo. That’s because both plants are in the legume family, which contains peas, beans, and a long list of other plants and trees. Because of the leaf shape I think this one might be a panicled tick trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) that had been stunted so its flowers couldn’t grow in a long panicle as they usually would. It was growing beside a pond in moist soil.

Finding a forsythia in bloom was a real surprise and showed just how confused by the weather some plants are. Normally this garden shrub would bloom in early spring but a cool August followed by a hot September is all it took to coax this one into bloom. There are others blooming in the area too. I have to wonder what they’ll do next spring. Forsythia was first discovered by a European growing in a Japanese garden in 1784 by the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg.

Yes those are blueberry blossoms, specifically lowbush blueberry blossoms (Vaccinium angustifolium,) but there isn’t really anything that odd about this native shrub re-blooming in October because they do occasionally re-bloom. The surprise comes from when I think of the super crop of blueberries we had this year; I wouldn’t think the plants would have strength left to re-bloom after being so berry laden. This plant had the smallest blueberries I’ve ever seen on it; they were no bigger than a BB that you would use in an air rifle. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plants medicinally, spiritually, and as a food source.  They made a sort of pudding with dried berries and cornmeal which helped them survive the long winters.

All of the meadows full of flowers that I’ve been lucky enough to find and show here have passed now but I still find surprises, like this nice colony of whorled white wood asters. They really shouldn’t be blooming now but I was happy to see them. Most of their cousins have gone to brown and are finished for this year. I hate to see them go but it’s one of the things that makes spring seem so special.

When the goldenrod is yellow,
And leaves are turning brown –
Reluctantly the summer goes
In a cloud of thistledown.
~Beverly Ashour

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