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Posts Tagged ‘New Hampshire’

This woodland path was dominated by white wood asters and goldenrods on either side and I didn’t see anything else blooming there, but though in this part of New Hampshire asters and goldenrods sing the loudest right now there are still other flowers to see. You just have to look a little closer to see them at this time of year, that’s all.

I found some very dark purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) recently. I look for the darkest ones I can find each year and these might win the prize for 2017, but I’ll keep looking.

New England asters are large flowers and 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.

The pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) are blooming in my garden; one of the very last plants to do so. A friend gave me this plant many years ago and I think of her every time I see it bloom. That’s one of the best things about giving and receiving plants; they come with memories. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

It’s very hairy inside a turtlehead blossom. The hairs remind me of the beard on a bearded iris.

I was surprised to see common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) still blooming. The flowers are very small and hard to get a good photo of but they’re also very pretty and worth the effort. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries.

Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is a garden flower native to Mexico. The flowers are usually daisy like, but some have tubular petals. Cosmos is an annual plant that self-sows quite reliably. If you’re careful weeding in the spring and don’t pull all the seedlings, a six pack of plants might sow themselves and produce seedlings year after year for quite some time. I found this one at the local college.

Cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum ) are tall native perennials that can reach 8 feet, and with the flowers at the top I don’t get many chances to show them, but this plant had kindly bent over. It’s called cup plant because its leaf pairs-one on each side of the square stem-are fused together and form a cup around the stem. This cup usually has water in it. The plant produces resins that smell like turpentine. It was used medicinally by Native Americans.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) are still showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It is native to eastern North America.

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 plant 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 was very surprised to find sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) still blooming. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them this late in the year. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. Here in this area it could hardly be called invasive; I usually have to hunt to find it. This beautiful example grew in an unmown field.

This pink rose grows in a local park. I was going to call it the last rose of summer until I saw all the buds surrounding it. It’s a beautiful thing but unfortunately it has no scent. Plant breeders will often sacrifice scent in favor of larger, more colorful blooms but give me an old fashioned cabbage rose any day. I grew up with them and they had a marvelous scent that I’ve never forgotten.

Annual fleabane (Erigeron annuus) is an easy flower to ignore and I’m often guilty of doing so, maybe because it’s so common and I see it everywhere all through the summer, from June to October. At this time of year it would be easy to mistake annual fleabane for an aster if the fleabanes didn’t start blooming so much earlier. There’s also the fact that they just don’t have the “aster look” when you see the entire plant. There can sometimes be 40-50 small, half inch flowers blooming at the same time.

The white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is a plant that is so loaded with small white flowers along its stems that it doesn’t look as if you could fit one more on it. For that reason it has another common name; the many flowered aster.

There are many asters that look alike and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids, so they can be hard to identify. One of the features that help with the identity of the heath aster is how it has nearly every inch of free stem covered by a blossom, all of them on the sunny side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmown fields and pastures.

White heath aster blossoms are fairly small; 1/4 to 1/2 inch across at best. Asters were burned by the Greeks to drive away serpents, and the Romans put wreaths made of aster blossoms on alters to the gods. In this country Native Americans used asters in sweat baths.

Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) should have stopped blooming quite a while ago but every now and then I stumble on a plant still in bloom. Since it’s one of my favorites I had to get another photo of it. These little beauties get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun.

Phlox still blooms here and there but it’s about time to say goodbye to these beauties for another year. Late summer wouldn’t be the same without them. Native Americans used phlox medicinally to heal sores and burns. They were among the first wildflowers in the United States to be collected and exported back to Europe, where they became very popular.

I saw a large swath of yellow from quite far away and I supposed it was a large colony of Jerusalem artichokes or one of the other native Helianthus species, but as I got closer I could see by the leaves that I was wrong. I’d been by this area many times and had never seen these plants but this time I saw a sign that said the area was a wetland restoration project, and warned me not to harm the plants or wildlife.

The yellow flowers, many hundreds of them, turned out to belong to the long-bracted tickseed sunflower (Bidens polylepis.) This plant likes wet feet and partial shade and is considered a wetland indicator. It is said to be of special value to native bees and is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of them. It is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year and is a native, but I wondered if it had been planted since I’ve never seen it. In any event it’s a native plant with a beautiful flower so it doesn’t really matter how it got here. Native Americans used the plant to treat fevers and I’ve read that it can produce natural dyes in brown and orange. I’m going to have to return next spring and summer to see what else might grow here.

Our indigenous herbalists say to pay attention when plants come to you; they’re bringing you something you need to learn. ~Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Or at least this post is. As this early morning view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows, our trees are starting to change into their fall colors. The trees on the far side of the pond start very early and that’s my signal to start watching for color wherever I go. Our foliage colors usually peak around the first week of October, but warm weather can slow down the process and cool weather can speed it up.

Right now the colors are spotty and seen just here and there but changes can happen fast so I usually keep a camera close at this time of year. I thought this red maple was worth a photo or two.

Another maple was yellow. Maples are usually our most colorful trees in the fall and come in reds, yellows and various shades of orange.

I could see the sky and the clouds and the earth and the shining sun in this mussel shell. Raccoons regularly fish in the Ashuelot River and one of them probably ate the mussel and left the shell for anyone who happened along to admire. Its colors were beautiful.

Also beautiful are pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana) when they ripen to their deep purple-black. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Heavy with ripe red fruit is false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa.) I see large bunches of these berries everywhere I go, so it’s going to be a good year for birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters. These berries are bright red when fully ripe and speckled green and red as they ripen. You can still see 3 or 4 unripe berries in this bunch. Soil pH can affect fruit color and not all berries will be the same shade of red. Native American’s used all parts of this plant.

Most staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are still green but this one had already gone to red. Sumacs are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between.

The reason invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) have been so successful at spreading throughout the countryside is because people have planted them extensively for fall color, making it easy for birds to find the berries for food. Most burning bushes start out red like this example.

As fall progresses burning bushes in the wild will turn from red to a pinkish magenta…

..and will finally turn the palest pastel pinkish lavender just before the leaves fall. These three photos of burning bush foliage were taken at the same time and place but the 3 branches were on different plants.

Our native highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are a good alternative to invasive burning bushes. They also often turn bright scarlet in the fall, but will also show shades of orange, yellow and plum purple. Purple is a common color in the fall. A Washington Post article last year said that “Studies have suggested that the earliest photosynthetic organisms were plum-colored, because they relied on photosynthetic chemicals that absorbed different wavelengths of light.”

Even poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) turns purple occasionally but it is more common to see it wearing red in the fall.

Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) go from green to white and then from white to blue. Once they are blue and fully ripe birds eat them up quickly, so I was surprised to see them.

Bright red bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny Roma tomatoes, but they’re very toxic and shouldn’t be eaten. Red has the longest wavelength of all the colors and it is the easiest color to distinguish, unless you happen to be colorblind.

Blue is my favorite color and I was able to see plenty of it in this view from a cornfield in Keene. I read recently that 40 percent of people choose blue as their favorite color. Purple is next with only 14 percent.

There are other places to see the color blue as well; many plants like the black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) pictured here use the same powdery, waxy white bloom as a form of protection against moisture loss and sunburn. On plants like black raspberries, blue stemmed goldenrod, smoky eye boulder lichens, grapes and plums, the bloom can appear to be very blue in the right kind of light. Finding such a beautiful color in nature is always an unexpected pleasure.

The bloom on grapes and plums can mean they’re ripe, and these grapes were. Soon the woods will smell like grape jelly from all the fermenting grapes.

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) isn’t offered by nurseries but I’ve always though it should be. It’s a very low growing shrub; I think the tallest one I’ve seen might have reached 3 feet. It has white flowers at the branch ends in the spring but I’ve always thought that fall was when it was most beautiful because of the amazing range of colors in its leaves.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) has started its long, slow change from green to red. Though some trees and bushes seem to change color overnight, Virginia creeper won’t be rushed. This example was just entering its bronze stage.

This beautiful shade of red is what most Virginia creeper vines will look like before their leaves fall.

This pale tussock moth caterpillar was very hairy, and very beautiful. I don’t see as many of these as I do the hickory tussock moth caterpillar. That one is everywhere this year and I see several whenever I go out for a walk.

I’m happy to say that, over the past 3 or 4 weeks, I’ve seen many monarch butterflies. I can’t say if they’re making a comeback but I’ve seen more this year than I have in the past 5 years combined. I’ve seen at least one each day for the past couple of weeks.

I think that to one in sympathy with nature, each season, in turn, seems the loveliest. ~Mark Twain

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A recent view along the shore of a local pond shows asters mixing in with boneset and narrow leaf goldenrod. The asters have just started and the others are just about finished blooming. I think the aster might be the purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum,) which is also called the swamp aster or glossy leaved aster, and I think that because it was growing near water and has a somewhat crooked, dark purple stem. The flowers are about half the size of those of New England aster.

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

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. I think it must have taken me at least 5 or 6 tries to get a useable photo of them. The tiny things are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) have just started blooming. This is our largest and most showy aster, and also among the last of the aster family to bloom. Each blossom is about an inch and a half across and sits atop a four foot stem. The plants prefer full sun but will still bloom with less.

I always look for the darkest New England aster that I can find each year and so far this one wins the prize for 2017, but I know there are darker ones out there. They’re a very beautiful flower, no matter how dark they happen to be.

This nodding bur marigold plant (Bidens tripartita) grew along the river’s edge. 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. Another common name is nodding beggar’s tick, because its seeds are barbed and stick to just about anything that happens by.

Though smooth gerardia (Agalinis purpurea) is also called false foxglove, I don’t see it. The flowers are tubular like foxglove but that’s where the similarities end. The flowers are much smaller than foxglove blossoms and point upwards instead of downwards like foxglove. I find gerardia every year on the flanks of Mount Caesar growing in hot, dry sand but these 1 inch long examples that grew along the Ashuelot River were twice as big as those.

I’ve never seen a foxglove blossom that looked like this. Two upper lobes, two side lobes, and a lower lobe spread from the mouth of a smooth gerardia blossom. The inside of each blossom is very hairy and has two yellow patches with dark purple spots that serve as nectar guides.

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 two places where it grows but each year there are many new plants. 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.

The flowers are among the smallest that I try to photograph and each year I tell myself that I have no hope of getting a good photo of them, but each year I try again. One of these times I’ll get it right.

This is an example of the strange jointed stem of sand jointweed, for those who have never seen the plant.

I often find purple stemmed beggar’s ticks (Bidens connata) growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers. This example was growing in standing water at the edge of a pond.

Purple stemmed beggar’s ticks have curious little yellow orange ray-less disc flowers that never seem to fully open and dark, purple-black stems. It is closely related to bur marigold (Bidens tripartita), and is also called water hemp because of the leaf shape. The name beggar’s tick comes from its barbed seeds that stick to fur and clothing like ticks. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year.

This is what the purple stem of purple stemmed beggar’s ticks looks like. The name fits.

White campion (Silene latifolia,) can also be pink, but I didn’t see a blush of it on this example. Just to confuse the issue red campion (Silene dioica) flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa. The flowers have 5 deeply notched petals that have an easily seen fringe at their base.

Thanks to a friend sending me this photo I’m able to illustrate the difference between a male and female white campion blossom. The previous photo was of a male flower and this one is a female, and we know that because of the 5 long, curved styles. Male and female flowers are on separate plants.

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 the 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.

White meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) is still blooming but its time is coming to an end. This plant likes moist ground and I usually find it near water. Its flowers have long stamens that always make them look kind of fuzzy.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) blooms in the tall grass of unmown meadows, and this is the last one that was blooming in what is a large colony near a pond. This plant isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle but it does have small spines along the leaf margins and stem. Despite its common name the plant is actually a native of Europe but has spread to virtually every country in the northern hemisphere. It has a deep and extensive creeping root system and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold. For that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states.

A single bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) blossomed along the Ashuelot River where I’ve never seen it before. I don’t think of this plant as being naturally attracted to water like many other plants, but maybe a bird dropped a seed or two along the shoreline. No matter how it got there, I imagine bull thistles will be seen along that stretch of river for a long time to come.

Bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) grow along a trail in Keene that I’ve hiked probably a hundred times or more, but I never saw them until just a couple of years ago. My only answer for having never seen them is I must have always been there at the wrong time of year. In any event they are relatively rare in this area and are well worth searching for. Their usual color when mature is a very beautiful deep violet purple. The flowers never open beyond what is seen here so it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to pry them open and get at the pollen.

Flowers carry not only beauty but also the silent song of love. You just have to feel it. ~Debasish Mridha

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Last weekend I remembered that I hadn’t climbed any hills in a while so I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. The trail starts in a meadow / hayfield and I was surprised to see a path starting to wear into the grass. I suppose it must be becoming a popular climb even though I rarely meet anyone here.

There was a nice display of big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) and gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) along the edge of the field. The big, hand sized, heart shaped leaves helped me identify the asters.

The trail starts out narrow and level but before long it widens and angles uphill.

A ray of sunshine had found a colony of shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) and made it shine even more. This clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina cristata) grew on the side of the trail. Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips and these tips will often turn brown, but these examples were still nice and white. It had rained all day the day before so it might have been very fresh. I’m not sure what the tiny yellow fungus in the background was.

The names pinwheel and horsehair mushroom are interchangeable and go by the scientific name of Marasmius rotula. They grow on decaying leaves and decaying wood and can appear overnight after a good rain. They are very small and rarely grow larger in diameter than a pea. This one grew on last year’s leaves and was easily the largest I’ve ever seen with a diameter equal to that of an aspirin.

Another record mushroom in my book was this hemlock varnish shelf fungus (Ganoderma tsugae.) It was larger than a dinner plate and I’d guess quite old. Its common name comes from its shiny cap which usually looks like it has been varnished, but this example was very dirty. This mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

The trail goes gently uphill until we near the summit where the grade is steep. It’s very dark through this section of forest because of the overspreading evergreen branches of pines and hemlocks.

If you look closely at the tree to the left of the trail in the previous photo you can see that it is full of woodpecker holes. This photo shows how the wind carried mushroom spores into one of those holes and they grew there, fruiting on this day or the day before. This is how fungi infect and almost always kill the trees they grow on. All it takes is a small wound, and that’s why wounds on expensive ornamental or fruit trees should be quickly treated.

When trees die they eventually fall and I saw several down across the trail. This hemlock was the largest. Note all the tree roots on the trail where the soil has washed and worn away. They can be very slippery after a rain and I slipped on them a few times on my way down the hill.

Hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) and crowded parchment fungi (Stereum complicatum) battled for space on a fallen limb. There was plenty of room for both to the right and left but crowded parchment fungi often covers entire logs, so it wants all the space.

Yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia) gets its common name from the yellow bits of the universal veil on its orange cap. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it eventually breaks through the membranous veil and pieces of it are left behind on the cap. Rain can wash them off so I was surprised that they have stayed in place on this example. This mushroom is in the amanita family and is considered toxic. The amanita family contains some mushrooms that can kill if eaten, so I never eat any mushroom that I’m not 110% sure is safe. In truth I’m not crazy about mushrooms anyhow so their toxicity is a non-issue for me.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) was showing its fall colors. This plant has small black berries but this example didn’t have any. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber. I accidentally scared a turkey away and I wondered if it was that bird eating all the berries. I also saw plenty of blueberry bushes but not a single one had a berry.

This fungus grew right on the ground and looked like it was pretending to be a pizza. I haven’t been able to identify it.

I didn’t expect the views to be very good due to the previous day’s heavy rain, so I wasn’t disappointed when they weren’t. It was very hazy but you can still see the trees; countless thousands of them. I didn’t see much leaf color yet though some seemed to be lightening up to a yellow green.

Out of several shots of the views I took this is probably the best as far as lack of haze.

As I stood scanning the trees for signs of fall color a large shadow crossed over me and when I looked up I saw a flock of what I think were turkey vultures circling silently above me. They looked to be huge, and there had to have been 7 or 8 of them. Big birds flying across the skies; throwing shadows on our eyes. These words from Neil Young’s song Helpless played in my mind as I watched them soar.

These aren’t very good photos but my getting-photos-of-birds-in-flight skills are just about nonexistent. What struck me most about these birds other than their large size was how absolutely silent they were. They never made a sound the whole time I watched them; there wasn’t even the sound of wind in their feathers even though they flew so close once or twice it seemed like I could have reached out and touched them.

Because of the previous day’s rain many of the little toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) that live up here were their natural green color and plump with plenty of moisture. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present in the lichen comes through on the surface. The tiny black specks in its lower left corner are its disc shaped fruiting bodies, called apothecia, where its spores are busily being produced so a new generation of toadskins can get their start.

When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily.  Like many lichens they also change color when they dry out, like the dry example in the above photo shows. The warts on its surface are called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. Each lichen is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, so this is an umbilicate lichen. This example’s belly button is the bright spot that looks like a sun in a solar system.

I’ve written several posts about Tippin Rock, which is the 40 ton glacial erratic that lives up here, so I was going to just pass it by without taking a photo, but then I saw something I hadn’t seen before. At first I thought I had come upon one of those benevolent forest sprites whose job is guiding creatures who pass through the woods and protecting the forest, but instead it was Gus. “Are you tipping that rock?” I asked, and Gus giggled and said no, it was his father making it tip. Gus is a happy little guy who was overcome by bursts of great joy each time his father made Tippin Rock tip. It’s truly amazing to see 40 tons of granite rock gently back and forth like a baby cradle and Gus was having a ball riding the huge stone but truth be told, his dad was looking a little winded. From what I gathered Gus and his dad and their dog Annie had come up here specifically to tip the rock, and tip it did, again and again and again. Once I thought it might actually tip off its natural keel and never move again but Gus rode it out and everything was fine.

I don’t get many chances to show a person’s size in relation to the big boulder so I was grateful when Gus’s father graciously said that I could take a few photos. Gus is a very bright, joy filled five year old who is as cute as a button. He told me that he likes school and loves his teacher very much, and I told him that I’d bet that his teacher loved him right back. Gus also told me that he and his family were having a dinner party the following evening and said that I should come so he could show me around, but I left the family to their fun and headed off down the hill.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how I harp about people getting into the woods so it was a real pleasure meeting Gus and his dad and their dog Annie up there; easily the high point of my entire weekend. I hope Gus grows up to be a great lover of nature; he’s certainly off to a great start.

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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We’ve still got some roadside color but many plants are now done blossoming for the year. Though there is purple loosestrife in this photo even that has mostly gone to seed, so we’ll see more asters and goldenrods than anything else from now on. Our largest and most showy aster, the New England aster, should be starting to bloom any day now.

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 tolerates shade and seems to prefer places where it will only get two or three hours of sunlight. It 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, so many stems will be green before the plant blooms. You can see in the above photo how the blue color has gone in some places on the stem.

A flower head of woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata) looks a lot like goldenrod from a distance and since it blooms at about the same time these are the only things that I can think of to explain why I’ve lived so long without ever seeing it until recently. The plant is also called roadside agrimony and that’s exactly where I found this example.

The small, bright yellow flowers of woodland agrimony grow in long spikes (racemes) on a small, knee high plant. It is said to be rare in parts of New England and I wonder if it is here, because this is only the third time I’ve ever seen it. It was growing in quite a shady area. 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.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snake root’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 or ate the meat 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 what is believed to have been 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 snake root 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 into September. If you should happen to have farm animals or want to use boneset medicinally you should know it well.

White snake root should not be confused with white rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba,) which is an entirely different plant in the aster family. This plant is not toxic, at least not enough to kill; the Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of it in a tea that they used to relieve pain.

Beech drops (Epifagus americana) usually grow in deep shade and can be hard to photograph. This isn’t a good shot but it does show the plant’s growth habit and lack of leaves, which is what I’d like you to see. Beech drops grow near beech trees and are a parasite that fasten onto the roots of the tree using root like structures. They take all of their nutrients from the tree so they don’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. Beech drops are annuals that die off in cold weather, but they can often be found growing in the same place each year. Science doesn’t know much about which insects pollinate this plant but I often find spider webs on them so there must be insect activity on or near them. If you look closely at the plant in the above photo you can see a web on its top part.

Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish or reddish stripe are the only things found on a beech drop’s leafless stems. On the lower part of the stem are flowers that never have to open because they self-fertilize. They are known as cleistogamous flowers. On the upper part of the stem are tubular chasmogamous flowers, which open and are pollinated by insects.

Jewelweed or spotted touch me not (Impatiens capensis) is still blooming but the lack of rain over the last couple of weeks has made them wilt badly. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

When jewelweed flowers first open they are male, but then change to female. The way to tell is by looking for white pollen. If white pollen is present the flower is male. Female flowers will have a small green pistil in place of the pollen. In this photo the flower on the left is in the female stage and the one on the right is in the male stage. The flowers are dichogamous, meaning that the male and female parts mature at different times. That guarantees that the flowers can’t be self-pollinated. According to an article in the International Journal of Plant Sciences, when nectar is taken from a flower pollen collecting hairs are stimulated and the duration of the male phase of the flower is shortened. From then on it enters its female phase and waits for a visitor to dust it with pollen from another male flower. It’s no wonder these plants can produce so many seeds!

Friends of mine grow this beautiful daylily in their garden. It’s a very late bloomer for a daylily and would be a good one for a daylily grower wanting to extend the season. I think its name might be Athlone, an older variety introduced in 1942. Athlone is also a town in Ireland on the River Shannon.

Both dandelions and false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) have a rosette of edible leaves and a central taproot, but the flower stems of false dandelion are solid, tall and wiry while those of true dandelions are hollow and much shorter. False dandelion leaves are also much smaller and narrower than the dandelion’s leaves. The plant is a native of Europe.

The flowers of false dandelion look almost the same as those of true dandelions in a photo, but in the field they are much smaller and stand on 6-8 inch long, wiry stems. The plant is also called cat’s ear, possibly because of the bracts along its stem that look like tiny cat’s ears. I see them almost everywhere I go at this time of year.

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.

I always find silverrod in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods at 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. The flowers are quite small but pretty.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) sometimes has a second blooming period into October. Though the flowers are smaller and not as tall they can almost fool you into thinking that it’s summer again.  When freshly cut Queen Anne’s lace flowers will change color depending on the color of the water in which they are placed, so if you put a bouquet into purple water you’ll have purple Queen Anne’s lace. There is already purple on this one though. If you look closely you can see a tiny purple flower in the center of this flower head.

Legend says the tiny purplish / reddish flower at the center of the flower head is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators, but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. It’s very difficult to get a good photo of because it’s so small.

They grow an ornamental datura (Datura metel) at the local college.  I’ve seen Datura many times, but never as beautiful as this. I think this one is a black Datura hybrid called Datura metel Fastuosa “Double Purple Blackberry.” A native Datura found here is called Jimson weed, which is a corruption of the original Jamestown weed, signaling where it was first found. Each blossom opens in the evening and lasts until about noon the following day.

I was there at evening when this blossom opened but these datura blossoms are doubled with many ruffles and they never really seem to be open. Bees in the know crawl in from the side and then down into the trumpet but I didn’t see any on this day. Datura contains several powerful toxic compounds and even the honey made from its flowers can sometimes lead to poisoning. The seeds and flowers are the most toxic parts of the plant, but they were used in sacred rituals for many thousands of years by Native American shamans and the plant is still called “Sacred Datura” by many. Native Americans knew the plant well though, and knew what dosages would and wouldn’t kill. Many with less experience have died trying to test the hallucinogenic effects of the plant.

Summer is leaving silently. Much like a traveler approaching the end of an amazing journey. ~Darnell Lamont Walker

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I decided to take a walk through my neighborhood recently. I do this now and then when I don’t feel like driving anywhere, but also because it’s a good way to learn about everything that grows in my area. As I’ve said before if someone knocked on my door and asked where to find any one of a hundred different plants, there’s a good chance that I could lead them right to it. That’s when you know that you know a place well. The old road in the above photo cuts through a mixed hard and softwood forest of the kind that is so common here. It makes a pleasant place to walk and look.

There is a small pond nearby which over the years has gotten smaller and smaller due to the rampant growth of American burr reed (Sparganium americanum.) The plant has now cut the pond in half and I expect the far half to be completely filled in a few more years.  I’ve seen many ducks, geese, and great blue heron here in the past but they don’t seem to come very often anymore. I’ve also seen this small pond grow to 3 or 4 times its size after a heavy rain, so full that it overran its banks. That can get a little scary, because that means the one road in and out of the neighborhood can be under water.

There is a small grove of gray birch (Betula populifolia) near the pond and I often search their branches to see if any new lichens have moved in. Gray birch doesn’t have the same bright white bark that paper birches do, but lichens seem to love growing on their limbs.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) bloomed near the pond. This is one of our longest blooming wildflowers. It usually blooms from June right up until a hard October frost.

Flat topped white aster (Doellingeria umbellata) also bloomed near the pond. This aster can get 5 feet tall and has smallish white flowers. Its common name comes from the large, flat flower heads. Butterflies and other pollinators love it and I often wander down to where it blooms to see if there are any butterflies on it. It likes moist, sandy soil and plenty of sun, and it often droops under its own weight as it did here.

Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) winds itself among the tall stems of the flat topped white asters. It is said that bindweed purifies and cleanses the body and calms the mind. Native Americans used the plant medicinally for several ailments, including as an antidote to spider bites.

The small pond that I showed a photo of previously eventually empties into a large swamp, which is called a wetland these days. I’m guessing that beavers and muskrats keep the water way open through it; it has been this way for as long as I’ve lived in the area.

I’ve seen two odd things on staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) this year that I’ve never seen before. First, when the berries were ripening they went from green to pinkish purple to red instead of from green to red, and now they are a dark purple, which from a distance looks black. I wonder what is going on with these plants. I’ve never seen this before.

A bumblebee worked hard on Joe Pye weed blossoms. Soon the cooler nights will mean that bumblebees will be found sleeping in flowers in the morning.

Native rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) is one of the last of our many hawkweeds to bloom. An unbranched single stem rises about knee high before ending in a terminal cluster of small yellow flowers. The plant blooms in full sun in late summer into early fall for about 3-4 weeks. Many species of hawkweed, both native and introduced, grow in the United States and I’d guess that we must have at least a dozen here in New Hampshire. Some of our native hawkweeds bleed a bitter white latex sap and Native Americans used to use it for chewing gum. I’m guessing that they had a way to remove the bitterness and probably found ways to flavor it too.

There is a lot of sand in this area and it is one of only two places that I know of where sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) grows. I didn’t see any of the tiny white flowers on this walk but I did see the plants. They should be blooming any time now and will appear in a future flower post.

I’ve found that it is close to impossible to get a photo of a forest while you’re in it. I’ve tried many times but it never seems to work. There’s just too much going on.

So since I can’t get a good photo of the forest itself instead I take photos of the things that live there, like this purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides.) Purple corts are having an extended fruiting time which is now in its fourth week, I think. I’ve never seen so many and I’ve never seen them fruiting over such a long period of time.

Something else that’s is strange in the fungi kingdom this year is how jelly fungi like this witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica) has fruited all summer long. I usually only see it in early spring, late fall and winter when it is colder. It could be because of all the rain I suppose; jelly fungi are almost all water. I almost always find them on stumps and logs; often on oak. After a rain is always the best time to look for them because they’re at their best when well hydrated.

We’ve had at least a day of rain each week all summer but it’s been on the dry side over the past couple weeks, so I was surprised to see this white finger slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa) growing on a log. The log was very rotten and held water like a sponge, so maybe that’s why.

There is a small glade of lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) out here and I like to stop and admire the lacy patterns they produce and how they wave in the breeze like they were on this day.

Bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum) are starting to show some fall color. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns; fossils date it to over 55 million years old. The plant releases chemicals which inhibit the growth of other plants and that is why large colonies of nothing but bracken fern are found. Some Native American tribes cooked and peeled the roots of bracken fern to use as food but modern science has found that all parts of the plant contain carcinogens.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is also starting to turn. These plants sometimes turn a deep purplish maroon in fall but more often than not they go to yellow. Native Americans used the root of this plant as emergency food and it was also once used to make root beer.

Giant foxtail grass (Setaria faberi) grew in a sunny spot at the edge of the forest. This is a big annual grass that can form large colonies. Its nodding, bristly, spike like flower heads (panicles) and wide leaves make it easy to identify. The flower heads go from light green to straw colored as they age.

This walk ends in a meadow full of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium,) which is one of my favorite grasses. I hoped to show you its flowers but it was a little early for it to be blooming. Little bluestem is a pretty native grass that is grown in gardens throughout the country. It’s very easy to grow and is drought resistant. Purplish-bronze flowers appear usually in August but they’re a little late this year here.

This was one of those perfect New England days in late summer where the spirit of autumn takes a first stealing flight, like a spy, through the ripening country-side, and, with feigned sympathy for those who droop with August heat, puts her cool cloak of bracing air about leaf and flower and human shoulders. ~Sarah Orne Jewett

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We still have plenty of flowers blooming as this view of a local pond side shows, but from this point on we’ll have very few new ones coming along. There will be a few more asters and a goldenrod or gentian or two but for the most part what you see here is the season finale for wildflowers.

Garden flowers on the other hand, will steal the show until the foliage begins to show color. Many will bloom right up until a hard frost but chances are this sunflower that I saw in the garden of some friends won’t make it quite that long. Sunflowers are a very pretty flower and I wish I’d see more of them but not many people seem to grow them.

If I said “St. John’s wort” chances are good that most people would think of a yellow flower with a lot of stamens, but marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) is very pink. As its name implies this plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline of ponds. The flowers are quite small; about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day, but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

The bright red flower buds of marsh St. John’s wort are as pretty as the flowers.

This crooked stem aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) is the first blue aster I’ve seen this year. I found this plant growing in a very wet, sunny meadow. I don’t usually try to identify asters but the one inch diameter light blue flowers and zigzagging stems make this one easier than most.

In my last flower post I showed the purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) which, if I was going by color and flower size alone would look identical to me, but my color finding software says that the flower on that one is purple and this one is blue. That and the zig zag stems lead me to the crooked stemmed aster. The Native American Iroquois tribe used this plant medicinally to treat fevers and other ailments.

It’s already time to say goodbye to my beautiful little friends the eastern forked blue curls, which surprised me by following me home and growing in my own yard. I spend a lot of my free time searching for flowers and trying to remember where each one of them grows, so any that choose to grow here are very welcome indeed,  especially when they’re as beautiful as this one.

It’s also time to say goodbye to brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea.) Since the plant is so invasive in certain places I suppose I should be glad that it hasn’t followed me home, but I do like its flowers. They’re colorful and unusual and I enjoy seeing large colonies of them all blooming at once. They really don’t seem very invasive here.

Nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) gets its common name from its drooping flower heads and the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. It doesn’t seem to bother ducks, geese, and all of the other animals that eat it, though. The plant is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never seem to fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles.

Another name for nodding smartweed and some other Polygonum species is lady’s thumb, and they get that 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. There are over 200 species of Polygonum.

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

Even after they open pilewort flowers still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely. This photo shows about all we can see of them. The flower is made up of many tiny florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. In some areas it is called burn weed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

Once they go to seed potential pileworts will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds.

I find spearmint (Mentha spicata) growing in the sunshine at the edge of the woods. Like wild mint (Mentha arvensis) spearmint has been used since before recorded time both medicinally and as a flavoring. Pliny wrote of it and the ancient Romans cultivated it to scent their bath water. Spearmint is originally from Europe but the Pilgrims brought it on their first trip to America, so valuable was the plant to them.

Instead of growing in the leaf axils as they do on wild mint, spearmint flowers appear at the top of the stem. They are said to be pink or white but these were white, blue, pink and lavender. Their scent is very refreshing on a hot summer day and always reminds me of spearmint gum. Imagine; you are seeing flowers that people admired 2000 years ago.

Native common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is unusual because it grows in woods or meadows and I see it in both. It’s considered a weed by many and is largely ignored by most, but it’s a very interesting plant. Its raw leaves can be chewed as a thirst quencher if you forgot to bring water on your hike. The Native American Kiowa tribe called it “salt weed” and used it that way for long walks. Its seed capsules can also be chewed but they can also explode when mature and can fling seeds up to 13 feet away. They are said to be tart with a flavor similar to rhubarb. The plant is high in vitamin C and it can be pressed to make a passable vinegar substitute.

August is when many of our asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata.) It gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaf arrangement of this aster really doesn’t fit the definition.

Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like the edge of a dinner plate but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length, and that means they aren’t in a whorl. Indian cucumbers have tiers of whorled leaves as do some loosestrifes. This plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall. Something I didn’t know about the plant is how its leaves have a faint smell of spearmint when they’re crushed. Many thanks to blogging friend Kenneth Posner for that interesting bit of information.

Whorled wood aster is one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time and because the narrow white ray florets look like they were glued on by chubby fingered toddlers. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths. I love the beauty of asters but I don’t like their message of summer’s passing, so when I stop and admire them I always feel a bit of wistfulness and wonderment that a season could pass so quickly.

Many flowers have a visible inner light but few shine it out as brightly as this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow. Maybe the postal workers stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just as I do.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~Lydia M. Child

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