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Posts Tagged ‘NH’

I’m starting this post on aquatics with blue vervain (Verbena hastata,) only because I like its color. It isn’t a true aquatic but every time you find it there will be water very nearby. Blue vervain provides a virtual nectar bar for many species of bees including the verbena bee (Calliopsis verbenae.) Butterflies also love it. It likes wet soil and full sun and can reach 5 feet when it has both. I find it in wet ditches, on river banks and just about anywhere where the soil stays constantly moist.

Wild calla (Calla palustris) is also called water dragon or water arum, and it is a true aquatic. It is an arum like skunk cabbage or Jack in the pulpit, both of which also like wet places. I don’t know if I could say this plant is rare but it is certainly scarce in this area. It’s the kind of plant you have to hunt for, and you have to know its habits well to catch it in bloom. Like other arums its flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. This plant is toxic and I’ve never seen any animal touch it.

I missed the tiny greenish white flowers this year. They grow along the small spadix and are followed by green berries which will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. This plant was in the green, unripe berry stage. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

Pickerel weed is having a bad year and gone are the beautiful ribbons of blue flowers along the river’s banks. I’m not sure what is causing such a sparse bloom but I hope it rights itself because large masses of this plant in bloom can be truly spectacular.

One of the things that always surprises me about pickerel weed is its hairiness. I don’t expect that from a water plant. Its small blue / purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the them into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

I haven’t seen any berries yet but elderberries (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have bloomed well this year so we should have plenty. This is another plant that doesn’t grow in water but it grows as close as it can to keep its roots good and moist. This native shrub can get quite large and its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

A floating plant that is attached by roots to the pond or lake bottom is an aquatic, and that description fits floating hearts (Nyphoides cordata) perfectly. Floating hearts have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from. The tiny but very pretty flowers are about the size of a common aspirin and resemble the much larger fragrant white water lily blossom. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers. This flower was having trouble staying above water because it had rained and the water level had risen.

Forget me nots are not an aquatic plant but I keep finding them in very wet places. This one grew right at the edge of a pond so its roots must have been at least partially in water. The ground they grew in was also so saturated my knees got wet taking this photo. Many plants that are thought of as terrestrial are able to tolerate submersion in water and can live where they’re exposed regularly to water and from what I’ve seen, this is one of them.

Water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is probably the rarest of all the aquatics that grow in this area. I still know of only one pond it grows in and there are only a handful of them there. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands. This year I saw only 4 or 5 plants in a small group. The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water. True aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments (saltwater or freshwater) and this one has adapted well.

I saw a strange looking bubble which had ripples coming from it, as if it were moving. It was in a pond, just off shore.

Of course if you go looking for aquatic plants, you’re going to see dragonflies like this widow skimmer.

I’m also seeing lots of what I think are spangled skimmers this year. On this day all of them were watching the water.

Pipewort plants (Eriocaulon aquaticum) are also called hatpins, and this photo shows why perfectly. Pipewort plants have basal leaves growing at the base of each stem and the leaves are usually underwater, but falling water levels had exposed them here. Interestingly, this photo also shows the size difference between a floating heart, which is there in the center, and a standard water lily leaf, which you can just see in the top left. Floating hearts are tiny in comparison.

Pipewort stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort. The quarter inch diameter flower head that sits atop the stem is made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers. I think it’s interesting how their leaves can photosynthesize under water.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter if there are any flowers in view. The light is enough.

I saw what I thought was a pretty clump of grass right at the very edge of the river bank but when I looked closer, I saw that it wasn’t any grass that I had ever seen before and I think it is reed sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima,) which is invasive. It is native to Europe and Western Siberia and is a semi-aquatic, perennial grass with unbranched stems that get up to 8’ tall. There is a reddish tint on the lower parts of the stems. This plant towered up over my head but I can’t swear it had red on the stems because I have trouble seeing red. Reed sweet-grass invades wetlands and crowds out natives, and is not suitable for nesting. It is also a poor food source for our native wildlife.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. It’s a common plant that I almost always find near water.

Meadowsweet flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. A close look shows that clearly, they belong in the spirea family. Before long their pretty purple cousins the steeple bushes will come along.

In my opinion swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is the most beautiful milkweed of all. It grows onshore but a few yards away from the water’s edge on land that rarely floods. Many insects were visiting it on this day. I know of only a single plant now, so I hope it produces plenty of seeds. The flowerheads always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are not true aquatics but they do grow close enough to water to have their roots occasionally flooded. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. Their name comes from the way their bright color lights up a swamp, just as they did here.

Swamp candles have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are also often streaked with red and this is common among the yellow loosestrifes. Reddish bulbets will sometimes grow in the leaf axils. I’ve read that our native yellow loosestrifes were thought to have soothing powers over animals so people would tie the flowers to the yoke of oxen to make them easier to handle.

Pretty little sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) will sometime grow in standing water but only when it rains and the water level rises. By choice they live right at the water’s edge. On the day I saw these I saw thousands of flowers blooming on the banks of a pond.

Here is a closer look at the flowers. Sheep laurel is part of the Kalmia clan, which in turn is part of the very large heath family, which includes rhododendrons, blueberries and many other plants. I know of only three Kalmias here and they are Mountain, Sheep and Bog laurel. The flowers of all three, though different in size and color, have ten spring loaded anthers which release when a heavy enough insect lands on the flower. It then gets dusted with pollen and goes on its way.

You can always tell that you’ve found one of the three Kalmias by looking at the outside of the flower. If it has ten bumps like those seen here you have found one of the laurels. Each bump is a tiny pocket that the tip of an anther fits into. If the flowers are anything but white it is either a sheep or bog laurel. If the flowers are white it’s a mountain laurel, though I’ve seen mountain laurels with pink flowers in gardens for the first time this year.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are having a good year, I’m happy to say. They’re one of our most beautiful native aquatics. If you could get your nose into one you might smell something similar to honeydew melon or cantaloupe, but getting your nose into one is the tricky part.

I went to a local pond and saw what I thought were two-foot-tall white flowers on an island offshore. The pickerel weeds growing near the island told me the water could be up to six feet deep, so I certainly couldn’t wade out to them. My only choice was the zoom on my beaten-up old camera so I put it on the monopod and gave it a shot. When I looked at the photo I was stunned to see that the flowers weren’t white, they were pink. That was because they were rose pogonia orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides,) a most rare and beautiful flower that I had been searching for in the wild for probably twenty years. And here they were, at a pond I had visited a hundred times. Why had I not seen them before? Because I had never come to this exact spot on the shore at this exact time of year before. That’s how easy it is to miss seeing one of the most beautiful flowers found in nature in bloom.

I’m sorry these are such poor photos but if you just Google “Rose Pogonia” you will see them in all their glory. This is a fine example of why, once you’ve started exploring and studying nature you feel that you really should keep at it, because you quickly learn that right around that next bend in the trail could be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. I hope you have found that this is true in your own walks through nature.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds. 
~
Edgar A. Guest

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On the fourth of July at just after 7:00 am I started the climb up Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. The sunshine hadn’t reached the trailhead yet so it seemed dark to the cameras.

There were many blueberries ripening there along the trail but they were small. So far, we’ve had a dry summer and since they are mostly water, they haven’t been able to plump up. There were lots of them though so if we get some rain, it’ll be a good year for blueberries.

Hay scented ferns had yellowing tips, meaning they were being stressed by dryness.

I was catching up to the sun. This was the first hike up this mountain in recent memory when I didn’t have to stop to catch my breath. I did stop to take photos of course, but the stopping wasn’t due to low lung power and that was encouraging.

Here in the meadow was where all of the sunshine was, and it was bright. I usually take this shot more to the left but that was impossible on this day. I think the light would have destroyed the sensor in my camera.

I could see cloud shadows on the distant hills. They’re something I’ve always loved to watch move over the land. What a beautiful morning it was. Just a little on the cool side made it perfect weather for climbing. I think it was 55 degrees F. when I started.

Mount Monadnock is the highest point in the region so no matter where you stand you are looking up at it, even if you’re standing on top of another mountain.

But I wasn’t at the top yet. I still had to negotiate the worst part of the trail. This leg has many stones and roots to trip over.

The state owns the 5 acres at the top of Pitcher Mountain and they tell you that, but I’d guess that about 99% of the people who pass this sign never see it.

There were potential blackberries but they were small and stingy like the blueberries. We really need to see some rain.

Orchard grass had bloomed itself out and now hung its head to drop its seeds.

Here was the final approach to the summit. The wide road finally becomes just a footpath.

There were lots of bush honeysuckles blooming along this section of trail. Not a true honeysuckle but a pretty splash of color just the same.

As I climbed the last few yards to the summit, I turned to take a photo of the ranger cabin and found that the sky had turned to milk. A strange light fell over everything for a time.

The views especially, were affected by the unusual light. I saw that the wind turbines over in Antrim were spinning as fast as I’ve ever seen them go, but I didn’t feel even a hint of a breeze.

I wasn’t happy when I got home and saw this photo on the computer. What? I said to myself, the sky didn’t look like that. And the shading on the hills isn’t right! All the grousing and whining I was doing reminded me of a quote by artist Justin Beckett that I’ve always liked very much. He said “I could paint these mountains the way they look, but that isn’t how I see them.” So true, and I had to laugh at myself. In the end the photo stayed just the way it was. Not what I saw, but reality instead.

Finally the milky sky passed and things were back to blue again. I was surprised to find that I had the entire summit all to myself on a holiday. For a while, anyhow; it wasn’t long before a gentleman about my age came up the trail. I told him that the only other time I’d had the summit to myself was in winter. In January two or three years ago was the last time, I believed. “You come up here in January?” he asked. “Isn’t it a little icy?” “It can be, yes.” I told him. “I’ve had to crawl up those last few yards on my hands and knees.” By the look on his face you’d have thought I had just told him that I was from the crab nebula. I should probably have just kept my mouth shut. Only another nature nut could understand someone clawing their way up a mountain in January. In any case it wasn’t long before I had the summit to myself again.

I could just make out the cuts for the ski slopes on what I believe is Stratton Mountain over in Vermont.

The view of the near hill is being blocked by growth. Every now and then someone, or a group of people, comes and cuts the undergrowth to restore the views. I like to see the near hill. It rises up out of the forest like an ancient burial mound.

The old dead birch was still standing. It has become like a landmark to me so when it falls, I’ll miss it.

The morning light turned some of the mountain cinquefoil flowers in this shot blue but they are actually white. This plant also called three toothed cinquefoil because of the three large teeth at the end of each leaf.

They’re also very small. Just about the size of an aspirin I’d guess, but though small they certainly aren’t dainty. They survive some nasty weather up here; everything from being coated in ice to baking in the sun.

Common goldspeck lichens cover the exposed bedrock of the summit beautifully. If you want to talk toughness, I can’t think of another living thing as tough as a lichen. Science says they are about as close to immortal as any earth-bound being can be. They’ve even survived the vacuum of space.

In all the years I’ve been coming up here I’ve never seen the depressions in the bed rock that I call the bird baths dry up. Even in the bad drought we had three years ago there was water in them but now, all but this one had dried up, and this one looked like was going fast. There were lots of small birds like chickadees and juncos in the bushes watching me, just waiting for me to leave so they could use it, so I didn’t hang around the area long.

The blueberries on the summit were ripening quickly but they were small. Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries and many people and families come to pick them each year.

I thought I saw a dragonfly on a fern but it was a tiny feather. I get fooled by feathers a lot but this one was worth being the fool for. I thought it was beautiful and I wished I had seen the bird that dropped it. It must have been beautiful as well.

And then it was time to go down. When I got here earlier, the first thing I saw was three college age men running down this trail at full tilt. I suppose they must have run up it first, and that would have been near the twilight of dawn. More power to them. I was young once, too. May they all lead long and healthy lives.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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In July all the big flowered sun lovers like chicory (Cichorium intybus) start coming along. The plants, originally from Europe, are considered roadside weeds by many but chicory is one of my favorite summer flowers because of its beautiful color. They seem to be having a good year this year and are flowering well. I found this one right on the side of a very busy road and every time a car went by it would blow back and forth, so this shot was a challenge. Each flower is about as big as a half dollar, or about 3/4 of an inch. They will close up and look like a shriveled bud in the early afternoon and then open again the next morning. Chicory plants like full sun all day long, so you’ll only find them growing where they get it.

This plant prefers shade. Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) is the largest and latest blooming of our native yellow loosestrifes. It can grow in large colonies of knee-high plants, and can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. The flowers are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground.

Luckily the plant’s stem is flexible and can be gently bent back so you can get a good look at the pretty flowers. The flowers are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, which can just barely be seen in this shot.

This tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) was used to help keep a road embankment in place. It’s a native plant that gets its common name from the way its seeds cling to clothing like ticks. The plant is also called lance leaved coreopsis and that is where the lanceolata part of the scientific name comes from. Coreopsis is found in flower beds as well as in the wild and can form large colonies if left alone. You should take note of that fact before planting one in your garden. I’ve spent a lot of time pulling the seedlings in the past. The yellow flowers are about an inch across and stand at the top of thin, wiry stems.  This plant has a cousin known as greater tickseed that grows in the south.

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is another plant with seeds that like to stick to clothing using little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods. Though its flowers weren’t fully open it’s still easy to tell that this is another plant in the pea family. There is no nectar to be had but bumblebees collect the pollen. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals.

The big bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) have come into bloom and are as full of thorns as ever. I remember at the end of the growing season one year I saw a single flower left on a plant but it was right in the middle of the plant, and I paid for that photo with a few drops of blood. These plants are originally from Europe and are considered invasive but since nobody really want to touch them, they have been fairly successful. Goldfinches will be along to eat the seeds later on.

What I believe was a halictid bee was covered in thistle pollen. I loved its metallic sheen. These tiny bees are also called sweat bees, and when I did some reading about them, I was astounded to find how many of our fruits and vegetables they pollinate. It seems safe to say that if it wasn’t for them, we’d be eating a lot differently, and possibly a lot less.

Our native wintergreens are blooming now and the first to bloom is usually shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica). I saw only a few blooming though; this seems to be a bad year for the wintergreens. Where I usually see hundreds of blossoms, this year I’m lucky to see a dozen. Shinleaf’s common name comes from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds. Like several other native wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used to soothe many ailments.

The big J shaped flower styles of shinleaf make it easy to identify. Since it persists through winter it is even a help when the flowers aren’t blooming.

Pipsissewa (Chimaphilla corymbosa or Pyrola umbellata) is also having a bad bloom year. It is related to the shinleaf and striped wintergreen that also appear in this post and like them it likes things on the dry side. I find it in sandy soil that gets dappled sunlight. It is a low growing native evergreen that can be easily missed when there are only one or two plants, but pipsissewa usually forms quite large colonies and that makes them easier to find. The leaves are also very shiny, which also helps.  The white or pink flowers are almost always found nodding downwards, as this photo shows.

If you very gently push the stem back with a finger you can get a look at the dime size, pretty flowers. They often show a blush of pink, as this one did. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of the wintergreens, in my opinion. This plant, like many of the wintergreens, is a partial myco-heterotroph, meaning it gets part of its nutrition from the fungi that live in the surrounding soil. Odd that a plant would be parasitic on fungi, but there you have it.

In the summer striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is almost invisible, and even though I knew right where to look for it I had to walk back and forth several times to find it. It is a plant that is quite rare here; I know of only two or three small colonies. It likes to grow in soil that has been undisturbed for decades and that helps account for its rarity. Like other wintergreens It isn’t having a good year this year. There were maybe 8 plants here and this was the only one with flower buds, but its buds look as if they’re failing, so this plant probably won’t blossom.

Puffy, pretty little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) has been blooming for a while now. This is another plant in that huge pea (legume) family of plants. It was imported from Europe for use as a forage plant, but it has escaped cultivation and is now found just about everywhere. Its common name came about because someone thought its seedpods looked like a bird’s foot.

I mentioned a few posts ago that, as far as I knew plant breeders hadn’t been able to come up with a truly black flower, but nature has. I’ve looked at the flowers of black swallow wort (Cynanchum louiseae ) in all kinds of light and they always look black, not purple to me. This is a very invasive plant; a vine that likes to grow in the center of shrubs and will twine around the shrub’s branches, climbing up to the top where it can get more sun. The plant is in the milkweed family and like other milkweeds its flowers become small green pods that will eventually turn brown and split open to release their seeds to the wind. It also has a sharp, hard to describe odor that is noticed when any part of it is bruised. It originally came from Europe sometime around 1900 as a garden specimen and of course has escaped. In places it has covered entire hillsides with its wiry, tangled stems and is called the dog strangler vine.

Narrow leaf cow wheat is blooming right on schedule and forest floors are covered with it. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite, and that’s what cow wheat is, a cute little thief.

Cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I mostly find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests.

The coneflowers seem to be blooming early this year, but it’s probably just me. It’s another plant I think of as a fall flower, so seeing them in June is a bit of a jolt. I’m really not ready to think of fall just yet.

Hollyhocks are a great old fashioned garden flower that used to be used in the backs of perennial borders and the like, but I don’t see them used much anymore. It’s too bad because they have beautiful flowers.

This hollyhock had so much pollen it was falling off before the bees could get to it.

I found this purple bee balm in a local park but I’m of two minds about the flowers. They’re much fuller and robust than the native red bee balms but I think I still like the red flowers best.

Though I found a good size colony of it at the local college last year I’d still say that Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) is rare here. The single plant I knew before I found this colony had a single small flower. From the photos I had seen I always thought the flowers would be as big as a tradescantia blossom, but it was only half that size. It is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive in this area because I just never see them. I love its colors.

I’m still waiting for our native Canada lilies to start blooming but that doesn’t mean I’m not seeing any lilies. This one was in a public garden and was very beautiful, I thought. I used to grow lots of lilies here but then the lily beetle came to town and that finished that.

None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones. ~Forbes Watson

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It had been about six years since I followed an old class 6 road in Swanzey and something brought it to mind the other day, so I thought I’d give it a go. I remembered it being very shaded and since it was a hot, humid day shade was called for. Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town so traveling it could be rough going. Though they are public ways they are roads that are more or less forgotten except by hikers and snowmobilers. This one dates from the mid-1800s and if you walked it for maybe 2 days, you would eventually come out on the road to Chesterfield, which is now route 9.

The road follows along a brook which is named California Brook, for reasons I’ve never been able to uncover. It has its start in the town of Chesterfield and runs southeast to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. There were at least two mills on the brook in the early 1800s, and it was said to be the only waterway in Swanzey where beavers could be found in the 1700s. They’re still here, almost 300 years later.

The forest is made up of young trees, mostly hemlock but some maple and birch as well.

Stone walls tell the story of why the forest is young. This land was all cleared at one time and I’ve read that at least three families lived out here. Most likely in the 1800s. It might have been sheep pasture, which was a common use for this stone filled land.

But the road was very different than it was the last time I was out here, and I wondered who would go to all of the expense of making an old abandoned road useable.

The road had been hardened with 1-inch crushed stone, which is terrible stuff to walk on if it hasn’t been compacted. This hadn’t been compacted so in places it was almost like walking on marbles.

Even the old rotted bridge had been replaced. There is only one reason someone would go to all this trouble and expense to get out here.

And the reason is logging, just as I suspected. It looked like they were taking the softwood and leaving the hardwood to grow. In any event, it certainly wasn’t the first time this land had been logged off and I couldn’t worry about what was being done on someone else’s land.

Colonies of heal all (Prunella lanceolata) grew on both sides of the road and I was happy to see them. They are also called self-heal and have been used medicinally since ancient times. They are said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how the plant got its common name. In fact the plants were once thought to be a holy herb sent by God to cure man’s ills. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Maybe happiness is a large part of the cure that heal all brings to man. Seeing them certainly brightens my day. Their happy faces and wide-open mouths always seem to be cheering life on. I can almost hear them shouting yay! As I’ve said before, I think all flowers are happy simply because they’re alive; they exist. All of nature is in a state of ecstasy because it simply is. We could learn a lot from its example.

Hobblebushes have set fruit. The berries will go from green to bright red and then deep, purple black as they grow and ripen. They won’t last long once ripe.

I saw a big, soccer ball size burl on a red maple. It would have been the perfect size to make a bowl out of. They’re valuable to woodworkers because just about anything made from burl is beautiful and commands top dollar. A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. That’s the theory, anyhow.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) grew all along the roadside in large numbers. This one still had a raindrop on it.

Coltsfoot also grew in great numbers out here and if I can remember that, next spring I’ll come back and find some of the earliest blooming flowers.

My find of the day was this many headed slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) I saw growing on a log beside the road. It was in its plasmodium stage and was quite big.  When slime molds are in this state, they are usually moving-very slowly. Slime molds are super sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. It was a hot and humid day and this particular spot was very shaded, so it was just right for slime mold activity.

Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. They are fascinating beings that behave like a flock of birds or a school of fish, and science just can’t seem to figure them out.

I was hoping that I might also see some fungi out here but all I saw were these tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius) on a very dead beech. They do like beech trees. I see them more on beech than any other tree. This one was so old its bark was flaking off but the fungi were still able to get what they were after from it. Since woodpeckers had been at it too, I’m sure it was full of insects. Most likely carpenter ants. Tinder polypores produce huge amounts of spores; measurements in the field have shown that they release as many as 800 million spores per hour in the spring and summer.

The first time I came out here I saw the biggest beaver dam I’ve ever seen. It was high enough to be over my head in height, but the last time I came out here it was gone. I thought that if the dam had let go there had certainly been some serious flooding somewhere, but I’ve never seen any signs of it.  Anyhow, here was another beaver pond. I couldn’t see the dam but they’re at it again.

I should say that I’m not happy with many of the photos that I took with my new cell phone. I went into a phone store hoping they could fix a small issue I was having with an app on my Google Pixel 4A phone and the person behind the counter noticed that I had a 3G sim card in the phone. “You really should have a 5G sim card,” he said. “This is a 5G phone.” To make a long story short the 5G sim card he put in apparently destroyed the Pixel’s ability to connect to the internet, so they had to give me a new phone of “equal or greater value.” Well, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE they gave me as a replacement is indeed of greater value because it cost $200.00 more than I paid for the Pixel, but the Samsung’s camera can’t touch the Pixel’s camera, and for that reason it has little value to me. In my opinion it’s okay for making phone calls, but not much else.

There are ditches alongside the road and since it had rained that morning they had water in them, and they also had northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing beside them. This plant is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. Soon the plants will have tiny white flowers blooming where the leaves meet the stem. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food. I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed and I almost always find it near water.

I saw lots of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and I ran my hands through it hoping for lucid mugwort dreams, but I can’t remember anything special. Mugwort is supposed to make dreams much more vivid and also increases the chances that the dreamer will rmember their dreams. A year or two ago I ran my hands through it a few times and really did have some wild dreams, so there must be something to it. The plant has mild hallucinogenic properties and is considered a “magic herb.” It has been used by man for thousands of years; the earliest writings regarding it are from 3 BC. in China. It is also one of the herbs recorded in the Anglo-Saxon nine herbs charm from the tenth century and by all accounts was and still is considered a very important plant. If you enjoy reading about plants mugwort lore could easily fill an entire book. When you have a spare hour or two just Google “mugwort.”

Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) grew in the shadiest places because the big, hand size, light gathering leaves lets it do so. Its common name comes from its fruit, which looks like a raspberry but is about as big as the tip of your thumb. I tasted one once and tasted nothing but there are people who say they’re delicious.

I was happy to see this cave at the side of a still pool in the stream again. From a distance it looks big enough to walk into by ducking a little, but not small enough to have to crawl into. Every time I see it, it calls loudly to the hermit in me, but it also looks big enough to easily hold a bear or two so I haven’t ever dared go near it while out here alone. Maybe if someone was with me to get me back if anything happened, or maybe if I had a rifle and a strong flashlight, but not alone. It’s too bad; I wouldn’t mind spending some time here. It’s an idyllic spot with the stream running just outside the entrance and a mossy bank to lounge on, and a cave to stay dry in. Inside myself I know living here for a while wouldn’t be a hard choice to make but this is known bear country, so I suppose you would always wonder what was going to come through that entrance, and that might be a hard way to live. I’ll just have to live it in a dream, I guess. Maybe a mugwort dream.

I was surprised to see that branch still sticking out of the tree on the right. It has been that way for many years, but when I first came out here the branch was still attached to the tree on the left. I think the tree with the wound grew up through the branches of the tree on the left and the wind made the wounded tree rub against the other’s branch. Over time the tree grew and its wound got deeper until now it has partially healed over the offending branch. When I first saw it, I thought that one day it would heal over completely but now I doubt it. It’s an unusual thing to see and this is the only time I’ve seen it happen.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected to everything. ~Alan watts

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a happy 4th!

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It wouldn’t be summer without black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and here they are, right on schedule. I’ve noticed over the past few years though, that they have seemed to bloom earlier each year and what was once July has now become June. Since I’ve always thought of them as a fall flower, their early arrival always comes with mixed feelings. Cheery yes, but let’s not rush into fall, has been my main gripe. At least this year they waited a bit.

This plant was always believed to have been given its common name by English colonists, but that caused a real conundrum among botanists who all agreed that it was a prairie native. Though everyone still agrees that it is a prairie native, recent research has shown that it was growing in Maryland in the 1600s. In other words it was most likely growing in all parts of the country then, just as it does today.

One day probably 40 years ago a kind man who was the director of the MacDowell artist’s colony in Peterborough at the time told me if I could name the plants that made up his hedge, he’d hire me as his gardener. I got the job, and I think of him and that day we stood on his lawn every time I see a purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus.) It is in the rose family and at a glance you might think you were seeing a rose, until you saw the big maple shaped, light gathering leaves that allow it to grow in shade. The 2 inch diameter flowers always look like they need ironing, so that’s another hint that what you’re seeing isn’t a rose

Our native dogwoods are starting to bloom and I think this one is a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa). Gray dogwoods are large shrubs that can get 12-15 feet tall and at least as wide. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Shrub dogwoods can be difficult to identify at times but gray dogwood flowers clusters tend to mound up in the center enough to appear triangular, and other dogwoods have flower clusters that are much flatter. Both gray and red osier dogwoods (Cornus sericea) have white berries. Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) has berries that start white, have a period of blue and white, and then finally ripen to blue.

One of my favorite “weeds” is crown vetch (Securigera varia). It is in the pea family and was imported from Europe and Asia for soil erosion control. The long, wiry vines can be found along roadsides and in fields, and I’ve even found it in forest clearings. This plant is toxic and has killed horses, so you might want to watch along roadsides before you let your horse stop for a snack.

Crown vetch is very beautiful, in my opinion. Each flower head looks like a bouquet of orchids. All flowers make me glad I’ve found them but some go beyond that and absorb all that I am for a time, and this is one of those. It’s such a beautiful place to get lost in.

I found knapweed growing near the crown vetch, which seems right considering it was also imported to stop soil erosion on roadsides. That’s where it grew in great numbers, but the plants had just started blooming. I think this is brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) but I could be wrong. The plant is very invasive in some states but this particular colony of plants has been here for years and really hasn’t grown any larger.

Since they grew in a small weed patch in back of our house hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) have been with me my entire life, but not this one. The ones I grew up with were pure white, but now most of those I see are pink and white like this one. It doesn’t really matter what color it is though because these blooms are in my genes. They played a large part in my lifelong love of flowers. I’d watch them open, watch which insects visited them and how they twined around the other plants, and for a while it seemed that I knew them better than I knew myself. That’s why I often call a flower or plant an old friend; because they really are.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) on the other hand, is a plant that I can’t call an old friend because I never saw it until I became a gardener and started working over in Peterborough. Just 20 miles away they had it, but we here in Keene didn’t, or at least I never saw it. It seems to be one of those plants which, like pokeweed,  just kind of snuck in unnoticed but are now everywhere you go. I’m sure if they had been here when I was a boy I would have seen such a pretty flower. I got around, always in a ditch or pond or meadow somewhere, and I was always watching for new plants.

Tall thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) gets its common name from the way its seed head grows into a shape and size that resembles a thimble. It’s a pretty flower that isn’t real common here, but I do see it now and then. They are about and inch across and are easy to miss once the white sepals have fallen off. Eventually they’ll release white cottony seeds to the wind. I’ve read that Native Americans burned the seed heads to revive the unconscious, but I don’t know how true it is. Like all plants in the anemone family it is toxic and can burn the mouth and throat if eaten.

I saw more lupines blooming beautifully on a roadside, along with many other flowers.

A smooth rose (Rosa blanda) grew by a road that ran through a cemetery. It is a native rose with almost thornless stems. It’s very pretty and has a nice fragrance, and I would have liked it in my yard.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a plant I haven’t seen for probably 40 years or more but I found this one in a public garden recently. It’s a very pretty flower that reminds me of an ox-eye daisy but it is much smaller. According to Mount Sanai hospital “This member of the daisy family has been used for centuries to treat headaches, arthritis, and problems with labor and childbirth. Ancient Greek physicians used it to reduce inflammation and treat menstrual cramps. Although it was once used to treat fevers, as its name suggests, it was not very effective. It is now used to prevent migraine headaches, and several scientific studies suggest that it works well for that purpose.” I’m always fascinated by the uses plants have but I’m even more fascinated by how the use was discovered. How do you reach the point where you say well, this plant has a nasty odor and tastes bitter and might kill me, but I have the worst headache I’ve ever had so I’m going to make tea out of it? There are very many plants (and fungi) which could make that cup of tea the last one a person ever had. Did they draw straws? Short straw gets to drink?

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is another plant that can cure or kill. Or at least, the compounds in it can. I’ve had the plant in my gardens forever and it has never hurt a fly. It’s all in how you use them, and if you happen to have cardiac arrhythmia, the digoxin made from the plant could save your life. Digitalis  means finger-like and speaks of the shape of the flowers. I’ve read that herbalists used to, back in the 1700s, pick and dry the leaves and then rub them down into a fine green powder, which could then be used in an infusion to treat many ailments. But I wouldn’t play around with doing that, because it is a very toxic plant that has been known to kill. I just watch the colony that I have in the back yard grow each year and enjoy seeing them. Sometimes I even stick my finger in one, just to see if it fits.

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is our second native yellow loosestrife to bloom, coming right on the heels of swamp candles. At about a foot tall it isn’t much taller than swamp candles but it is bushier. This plant doesn’t have as much of a need for water as swamp candles but I’ve seen it near water occasionally. Its common name comes from the way its leaves are whorled about the stem, meaning each group of four leaves all radiate about the stem in the same plane. If you picture looking at the edge of a plate while holding it parallel to the floor, that is what you see with whorled leaves. Four small yellow flowers grow out of the four leaf axils. It’s a pretty plant, especially when massed as they often are.

The old orange “ditch lilies” (Hemerocallis fulva) have come into bloom. This daylily is so common I see it everywhere I go, including in roadside ditches, and that’s where the common name comes from. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. Today it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s for use as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes.

Just after I said that I never saw mock orange (Philadelphus) anymore I saw one on the roadside. This is a very old-fashioned shrub that gets its common name from its wonderful fragrance, which smells like citrus. No yard should be without one in my opinion, but it seems to have fallen out of favor. I have a huge old example that bloomed beautifully but I had to move it and all it has done since is sulked. Normally they are a care free, plant it and forget it kind of shrub that can give many years of pleasure without asking for anything in return.

I’ve wondered for years now whether this campion is a true rose campion or if it is a white campion (Silene latifolia) with a pink blush. I’m fairly certain it is a blushing white campion but I’ve never really known for sure. In either case it’s a pretty flower.

I saw a scabiosa blooming in a local garden, trying to entice insects. It’s a busy but beautiful thing.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is also called creeping thistle, but it is also called cursed thistle, mainly because of its deep and extensive creeping root system. The plant is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold and for that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states. It isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire but it is on the watch list. Wherever I’ve found them growing, they haven’t spread at all. I think the flowers are pretty, but I’m not the one trying to dig them out of my pasture.

I saw one of the smallest violas I’ve ever seen. It couldn’t have been any bigger than an aspirin, and it had just a blush of blue on it.

These are some roadside flowers that caught my eye. They are all lowly weeds and none is native but if you can put all that aside and just love them for what they are you’ll enjoy the outdoors a lot more.

Finally, because I won’t get another flower post in before the 4th of July, I thought I’d show you some of nature’s fireworks in the form of flowers. The male blossoms of tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” I hope everyone will have a safe and happy 4th.

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness. ~Michelangelo

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I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog lately that I’ve been doing a lot of walking, so I thought I’d show you some of the things I see on these walks. If I choose to go this way, I can see a pond full of water plants like burr reed and yellow pond lilies. The big circular plant colonies are all yellow pond lilies, and they appear to be trying to take over the pond.

I’ve seen lots of hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) on an old hemlock stump and the pile of logs beside it. For the first time I’ve had a chance to see these mushrooms grow day by day and I can now understand that they grow quite fast. This one went from looking like a piece of dough to what we see here in less than two weeks. It’s about the size of a salad plate; less diameter than a dinner plate but more than a saucer. It 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.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) burned brightly in roadside ditches. This is our first yellow loosestrife to bloom each year and I sometimes see them in great numbers. They like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. In fact my knees were getting wet so this isn’t a very good shot.

Soft or common rush (Juncus effusus) also grew in a ditch alongside the road. Ditches are always a good place to find a variety of plants that like wet feet, like rushes and sedges. Soft rush can form large clumps and are easy to grow. They’re interesting if placed here and there around garden ponds.

Sedge stems are triangular and have edges but soft rush stems are smooth and cylindrical, with a light pith inside. They feel soft if you pinch them, not sharp. The flower head, shown in the above photo, looks like it grows from one side of the stem but the stem actually ends at the flowers. Anything appearing above the flowers is a bract, not part of the stem. The flowers are tiny and not showy, but overall the plant is pleasing to the eye.

Gray’s sedge (Carex grayi) always reminds me of the spiky mace weapons that knights used in the Middle Ages. A botanist would say this about that: each spikelet consists of a globoid cluster of perigynia that radiate in all directions. A perigynium is a fleshy cup or tube, which in this case comes to a point or beak. Coming out of each beak are the flowers, which are what look like threads in this photo. They start out white and brown as they age. Gray’s sedge is named after Asa Gray, who wrote Grays Manual of Botany in 1848. I read my copy about 50 years ago and have used it many times since that initial reading. If you have trouble sleeping at night just read Asa’s manual for a half our or so before bedtime. You’ll sleep like a stone.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) had recently flowered and I knew that because the tiny threads at the ends of the perigynia were still white. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds.

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) has flowered and is now producing its tiny winged seeds, which look a bit like stalks full of flakes.

If you look closely, you will see that each flake, which is more like a wing, has a tiny seed on it. It looks like a seed pearl at this stage but as they ripen and age the seed and its wing will turn brownish. Finally they will fall from the plant and the wind will catch the tiny wings and blow them to new places to grow. They will often persist through winter and fall the following spring. Since March is the windiest month, it is a sensible strategy for a plant that depends on the wind to get around.

Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) is another ditch loving plant that likes full sun and wet feet. This one had a fern ball on its tip. Fern balls appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like what the photo shows. Inside the ball is a caterpillar, which has pulled the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tied it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the fern leaflets and live completely in the fern ball until they are ready to become a moth. Emily Dickinson once wrote “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else,” and I wonder if she didn’t see a fern ball just before she wrote it.  

Native Americans called blueberries star berries, and now you know why; the blossom end of each berry forms a five-pointed star. They used blueberries, and also the plant’s leaves and roots, medicinally as well as for food. They cultivated the bushes and made a pudding out of corn meal and water and added the blueberries to it. They then baked it, and it saved the life of many a European settler, as did their pemmican.

I see several native catalpa trees (Catalpa speciosa) on my walks and right now they’re in full bloom and very beautiful. It’s like looking at a tree full of orchids.

Catalpa flowers are big; your index finger will fit right in there. The trees they grow on are also very big and a mistake I see people make over and over again is planting them too close to their house. Catalpa, for all its beauty, is also a messy tree. First the spent flowers fall by the thousands in early summer, and then in fall the giant heart shaped leaves turn yellow and fall. In the spring the seedpods come down. These are like two-foot-long string beans and they make quite a mess. It is a tree that creates a lot of work if planted where everything that falls from it has to be raked up but in spite of all of this if someone asked me if they should plant a catalpa I’d say absolutely, just keep it away from the house. Plant it at the edge of the property, or by a pond if you have one.

I saw a bittersweet nightshade plant (Solanum dulcamara) coming up out of the center of a yew, and it was loaded with its pretty blue and yellow flowers. It might be pretty but it’s a real stinker, and if you break the stems, you’ll smell something unusual. It produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic, so that might account for the smell. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. It’s originally from Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes. The fruit is a red berry, which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. I wouldn’t eat one though.

I like the flowers when they’re fully open like this one but you have to be quick to catch them this way because the petals recurve quickly. You can see that most of them have done so in the previous photo. Cranberry flowers do the same thing.

A button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) was budding up and preparing to flower. It will have a perfectly spherical flower head that looks a lot like a pincushion before it is through. I’ve seen lots of button bush flowers but apparently, I’ve never paid any attention to the buds. These reminded me of the game Jacks that we used to play long ago.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) flowers open in rings as they circle their way up the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else but I see more of it each year.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) has just started blooming. This now common plant wasn’t always common in this area. When I was a boy, I had a transistor radio and at night I used to fall asleep listening to it. One of the songs I could count on hearing every night was Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White. It was about a poor southern girl who had only pokeweed to eat because her mother was on a chain gang and her grandmother was eaten by an alligator. Her father and brothers were lazy, so all they had were the poke greens. Of course all of us school kids talked about both the song and the plant, but when we asked our parents what pokeweed was, they didn’t know. They just said it must be a southern plant, but no more; now it’s an everywhere plant, and it is big and noticeable.

Pokeweed flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. Native Americans called the plant pocon and used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses. People still use it to dye wool today. If you’d like to hear the song about Polk Salad Annie that I used to hear in 1969, just click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCSsVvlj6YA

Pokeweed is toxic unless you get the early spring shoots and I’ve read that it can make you kind of crazy if you eat too much of it, so that might account for all the grunting and oohing you hear from Tony Joe White.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is having an amazing year and the plants are huge. It starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. This plant was once so highly valued that it was traded among all the people of the earth, but now we hardly give it a glance. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it was found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and its value was most likely due to its ability to staunch the flow of blood. The Achillea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek god Achilles, whose soldiers it is said, used the plant to treat their wounds. Because of its being so freely traded it is one of just a few plants that now grow on every continent except Antarctica. I see it everywhere I go.

Poplar seeds fall from the female trees and often find each other in the wind, and then roll into a ball of what looks like cotton. This is the reason the trees are also called cottonwoods. A tree 100 feet high and five feet across can grow from a seed just 5/32 of an inch long. For a certain amount of time in spring the air is filled with them.

Back when I was a boy everyone said that when the wind blew hard enough to show the bottoms of the leaves on trees like silver maple, it meant that it was going to rain. I have since learned that what it really means is that the wind is blowing, and nothing more. The strong wind might be caused by a front passing through, but that doesn’t always mean rain. On this day all the leaves were showing silver but we didn’t see a drop fall.

I like to watch grasses flower and turn purple, and one of the most purple of them all is Timothy, named after farmer Timothy Hanson, who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720. Each tiny flower on Timothy grass has three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. I spent a lot of time when I was a boy chewing on a piece of this grass hanging while I walked the railroad tracks and as I’ve mentioned before, it is the grass I think of when I hear the opening line of the song Ventura Highway by the band America, which starts Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road… I just listened to it and it still sounds as good as it did in 1972. It reminds me of simpler times.

These are the leaves of staghorn sumac, which I see just about everywhere I walk and which in spring remind me of bamboo. Later on they’ll remind me of palm trees. If I’m lucky I’ll see them wearing bright red in the fall.

I hope you enjoyed this walk, just one of several that I do. There is nothing easier than walking; you don’t even have to choose where to go because the paths are just there and going right or left really doesn’t matter. I’ve always been more of a walker than a driver but until now I never really paid attention to the health benefits. I’m losing weight, my legs and knees feel better and I can breathe much easier than I could just a few months ago. I don’t think of distance or destination or anything else. I just walk until I’m ready to stop. If you’re healthy and interested open your door and start walking, and just see what you see. Give yourself the time and freedom to wander. You might be surprised by what you find.

The only way to understand a land is to walk it. The only way to drink in its real meaning is to keep it firmly beneath one’s feet. Only the walker can form the wider view. ~Sinclair McKay

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The pale, sulfur yellow petals of sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) have a deeper yellow splash in the center as if egg yolk had been spilled on them. This is a two-foot tall, rough looking plant that is said to be invasive, but I hardly ever see it and when I do, never in great numbers. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides and in waste places and it is said to out compete grasses, but I don’t know where. I think it’s a very pretty flower and it’s big enough to be seen from a distance.

I have found orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) growing in a meadow in Hancock, and I’ve also found it growing in another meadow in Walpole, but I’ve never seen it here until I found it growing in a roadside ditch. The meadows are hot and dry places in summer, with poor soil, but the roadside ditch has wetter soil so it’s hard to figure out what this plant prefers. Orange is a hard color to find in nature, so I’d love to see more of them. It’s from Europe and is considered invasive but I’m not sure where it is invasive.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) have just started blooming. Their tubular, pale yellow flowers grow near the ends of arching branches that can hang down almost to the ground, so many people don’t even notice them. They are low growing shrubs that are especially interesting because of the orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It’s a pretty little thing that is native to eastern North America.

The flowers of bush honeysuckle have a single long, hairy petal that serves as a landing pad for insects. The hairs give them something to hang on to, presumably. Another interesting feature of these flowers is the big (relatively) red, mushroom shaped pistil.

There are quite a few plants in this post that I’ve never seen before, and one of them is the dwarf mallow (Malva neglecta) that I found growing along the foundation of an old mill building. From what I’ve read it is also called button weed or cheese plant. The leaves and flowers can be used to treat throat irritation and bronchitis. The seeds contain 21% protein and 15.2% fat and are eaten. In fact from what I’ve read the entire plant can be eaten.

A couple of years ago I found another mallow, but it was an upright plant that was about 5 feet tall. It bloomed in the fall and with help it was identified as marshmallow. This one is very low growing, almost creeping, but that could be caused by where it grows. It might have been “trained” to creep the way it does by being repeatedly weed whacked. In any event it’s a very pretty little flower, maybe an inch across. The identification comes from Google lens which isn’t always correct, so if you disagree, I hope you’ll let me know.

The milkweeds are starting to bloom, and native spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is related to them. If you break a stem white latex will drip from it, much like milkweed. It is a wildflower that is a bit woody and looks like a two-foot-tall shrub. It likes growing in sandy soil along sunny forest edges, or in clearings. Many species of butterflies rely on it, so it should be left to grow whenever possible.

Spreading dogbane has pretty little small, light pink, bell shaped flowers that have deeper pink stripes on their insides. They are fragrant but their scent is hard to describe. Spicy maybe. It is pollinated by butterflies and the flowers have barbs inside that trap short tongued insects. That’s how it gets another of its common names: flytrap dogbane. Each flower is just about big enough to hold a pea.

Common milkweed has also just come into bloom. It’s a very beautiful flower that few pay any attention to. I’ve known it for such a long time. One of my earliest memories includes watching big black and yellow garden spiders catch insects in the webs that they stretched across adjoining milkweed plants.

Common sage flowers (Salvia officinalis) have never appeared on this blog and that is mostly because I never paid them any attention. For thousands of years many Native American tribes have used sage as an incense and a purifying herb. It is burned before traditional ceremonies as a spiritual cleanser, and is one of the herbs included in medicine bundles and amulets. I once worked for a lady who was studying homeopathic medicine and she had me grow armloads of sage that I cut, hung and dried for her. She used it medicinally and also as incense. Her house always smelled like thanksgiving.

But this time I have come for the flowers, and they’re very pretty. I won’t ignore them any longer.

White wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) is having a good year from what I’ve seen, though I only know one place where it grows. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It is considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it.

White wood sorrel goes to great lengths to attract insects, with its yellow spot on each petal and purplish guide lines. All things point right at the center where the treasure is found.

I found Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) blooming by the roadside on one of my walks. Its flowers are smaller than their cousins maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) and bloom a bit later. They don’t usually have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center, but this one did. These plants will get quite tall and don’t seem to have the clumping habit of maiden pinks. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide shyly just at the sunny edges of the forest.

As far as I know plant breeders have yet to come up with a truly black flower, but this columbine certainly looked black when I saw it. The camera saw it differently though, and I saw deep purple when I looked at the photo. It’s amazing how different it looks now compared to how it looked in the garden it grew in.

It was beautiful no matter how you looked at it, but it wasn’t black.

I don’t know what is going on with mountain laurels this year but I’m suddenly seeing pink ones. I’ve seen pink sheep laurels and bog laurels, but never a pink mountain laurel growing in a garden. They’ve always been white as long as I’ve known them. But I do like the pink ones, and I think I like them even more than the white ones.

This is something I’ve never seen a peached leaved bluebell (Campanula persicifolia) do. It is normally a bell-shaped flower in the campanula family but this one opened like a daisy. The name campanula comes from the Latin campana meaning bell, but this flower didn’t want any part of it and shrugged it off and became something new. I applauded its nonconformity.

Here is what a conventional peach leaved bluebell flower looks like. Until I saw the flower in the previous photo, I would have said that they had five lobes. The name “peach leaved” comes from its leaves resembling those of the peach tree. It is very easy to grow-literally a “plant it and forget it” perennial and it is said to be an English cottage garden classic. I’ve read that it grows in the Alps and other mountain ranges in Europe, but its natural habitat is woodland margins, rocky outcrops in broad-leaved woods, meadows and stream banks. It’s a very pretty, old fashioned flower that should really still be used in any perennial bed. I’d love to see a field full of them.

I saw a late blooming orange azalea in a local park. Some orange “flame” azaleas can shout, but this one barely whispered.

Here was another plant I’ve never seen before called wide or willow leaf eastern blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia). I love the star shaped blue flowers on a plant which reminds me of garden phlox, in a way. Its shape and height seem similar. It’s a native plant that is a member of the dogbane family, and it has a white, latex sap. From what I’ve read the sap makes it unappetizing to rabbits, slugs and deer. There are butterflies that like it very much though, so it sounds like a winner. I found it in a local garden.

I go by a house fairly regularly when I walk and the yard is mostly flowerless, but then one day there was this large mass of foot tall blooms which my color finding software tells me are violet or orchid colored. They grew right beside the road and I was surprised to see when I walked over to them that they were catchfly plants (Silene armeria). This plant is originally from Europe and is also called sweet William catchfly. It is said to be an old-fashioned garden plant in Europe and is supposed to be a “casual weed” in New Hampshire. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. It’s a very pretty flower that really makes a statement when massed as these were, but I rarely see it.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron strigosus) is suddenly everywhere. And I do mean everywhere; I’ve even seen this plant off in the woods in any spot that happens to get enough sunlight. Often if you find it in the shade the flowers will appear purple to the camera but in this bright sunlight on this day, they were white.

The forest floor is dotted here and there with small white, four pointed, furry stars and that means it’s partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) time. The flowers are always twinned, so there are two pair here. The tiny flowers are unusual in how they share a single ovary, and the red berry they produce will have two dimples where the flowers were. My favorite part of the plant is its leaves, which look like they were hammered out of metal. I hope you have such wonders where you are.

Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music. They relax the tenseness of the mind. They dissolve its vigor. ~Henry Ward Beecher.

Thanks for coming by. Happy summer!

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June is when the big female snapping turtles come up out of the ponds and swamps to find some warm sand to lay their eggs in. This one had just done so and still had wet mud clinging to her when I saw her on one of my walks. Egg laying seems to be quite a project for the big reptiles but every year many thousands of eggs are lain, so they always find a way.

Seeing this garter snake might have stopped the snapper in its tracks, because they are omnivores and eat snakes, frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, plants, birds, small mammals, and even other turtles. It was on another walk that I saw this snake and what was really odd about it was how it was out in the open in daylight. They often come out to the edge of the woods to sun themselves during the day but are always within easy reach of cover, and will slither off quickly if you approach them. This one had no cover at all, not even high grass.

I kept trying to get a shot of the snake with its forked tongue out, but I missed every time. Garter snakes are timid and nonpoisonous, so they are nothing to worry about. Still, if my grandmother had been there, she would have been up a tree. Garter snakes eat crickets, grasshoppers, small fish, and earthworms. They do have teeth, but they’re no real danger to humans. I’ve read that the saliva of some garter snake species contains a mild neurotoxin that causes paralysis, making small prey easier to swallow.

While I was taking photos an 85 year old lady stopped and rolled down her car window and told me how she was deathly afraid of snakes but, she said, when she was just a girl she once let them drape a boa constrictor over her shoulders at a circus for a free candy bar. I told her she and my grandmother would have gotten along quite well.

That garter snake probably would have like to have met Mr. bullfrog, but I doubt it could have swallowed him. This was a big frog, but I never would have seen it if it hadn’t croaked loudly after a neighboring frog did the same. They do talk to each other. One will start it off and then they’ll all start croaking, one right after the other. It can be quite loud.

On the same day I saw the frog in the previous shot I saw a bullfrog jump right out of the water and snatch something out of the air before landing with a splash, and I think it might have been a cousin of this spangled skimmer dragonfly. The “spangles” are the black and white markings on its wings, otherwise it closely resembles the slaty skimmer, which is what I thought it was at first. It was quite far away when I took this shot. I also saw lots of pretty twelve spotted skimmers on this day but I couldn’t get a shot of any of them.

I saw 3 or 4 eastern swallowtail butterflies probing the damp sand at the edge of a dirt road recently. They’re pretty things and at about the same size as a monarch butterfly, big enough to see easily. They often show up just before the mountain laurels bloom and I see them hanging from the laurel flowers almost every year.

Usually I have to wait for butterflies to fold their wings but this time I had to wait for this one to unfold them. I was hoping it would have more blue/purple on its wings than it did.

I hike in the woods but I walk on roads, and on one of those walks a hawk flew out of the woods, swooped down right over my head, and landed on a wire ahead of me. I thought as soon as I got too near it would fly off but no, I walked over and stood right under it and it didn’t move. I don’t carry my “big” camera with me when I walk because I walk fast and its constantly bumping into my chest bothers me, so I had to get this shot with my small macro camera. That’s why it isn’t a very good shot, but it does show a hawk. I’m not very good with birds but it might be a cooper’s hawk. If you know what it is for sure I’d love to hear its name because I think it lives here and I’m fairly sure I’ve seen it before.

In this shot I took of the evening sky with my phone camera there was a bird flying up there to the right that I never saw until I looked at the photo. I wondered if it could be a hawk, but the detail isn’t fine enough to tell. It’s just a silhouette.

I saw a familiar sight on an oak branch on a recent walk. Wooly oak galls are usually about the size of a ping pong ball when I find them, but have a kind of felt feel, like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and they only appear in spring.

There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls. What I want to point out about these galls though, is how books will tell you that they will only grow on white oak trees, and that isn’t true. Though they almost always do grow on white oaks I’ve also seen them on red oaks, so don’t be fooled by the galls like I have been; check the leaves. One thing I’ve learned from studying nature is the words always and never do not apply.

White pine (Pinus strobus) pollen cones have come and have opened, and have released their yellow-green pollen to the wind. It settles on everything, and if you leave your windows open you find that it even comes into the house. My car is covered with it but luckily it is like dust and just blows away.

This year I went looking for red pine pollen cones (Pinus resinosa) and the ones I found before they had opened were very beautiful, but they were also in someone’s yard so I didn’t get a shot of them. Then I remembered where there were others that I could get close to and here they are in this photo, but they had already opened. They are much bigger than white pine pollen cones.

Pollen cones are the male flowers of the tree and this photo shows the female flowers. When the male pollen finds them, if all goes according to plan they will be fertilized and will become the seed-bearing pine cones that I think we’re all familiar with. Some flowers on coniferous trees are very small; so small that sometimes all I can see is a hint of color, so you have to look closely to find them.

The Ashuelot River gets lower and lower and still no beneficial rain comes to refill it. I’m starting to get the feeling that it may not be a good year for mushrooms, but I hope I’m wrong.

Another name for royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers. You can see them here on the fern in the photo but though they are often purple they don’t look much like flowers to me. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species.

Here is a closer look at the spore capsules of the royal fern. They aren’t something that many people get to see.

For the first time, this year I was able to find and get a shot of a royal fern fiddlehead. Even at this stage it’s a beautiful fern. In the fall, at the other end of its life, it will turn first bright yellow and then will become a kind of beautiful burnt orange color.

Three bracken fern fronds (Pteridium aquilinum) appear at the end of a long stem and flatten out horizontally, parallel to the ground. They also overlap and shade the ground under them. These growth habits and their ability to release chemicals that inhibit the growth of many other plants means that almost nothing will grow under a colony of bracken fern. They will not tolerate acid rain, so if you don’t see them growing where you live you might want to check the local air pollution statistics.

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is not a fern that I see a lot of. It likes damp ground and shade but even beyond that it seems to be very choosy about where it grows. It’s a very beautiful fern that I wish I’d see more of.

Ostrich fern fronds are narrower at the tip and base and wider in the center. The leaf stalk of an ostrich fern is deeply grooved, much more pronounced than others. Sensitive, interrupted fern and cinnamon fern have grooved leaf stalks but their grooves are much shallower. If you like to eat fern fiddleheads in spring you should get to know ostrich fern by that groove.

In some plants the same pigments that color leaves in the fall when they stop photosynthesizing also color their leaves in the spring before the leaves have started photosynthesizing. Once they start producing more chlorophyll, they’ll quickly turn green. This coloring of new spring leaves is a form of protection from the weather that some plants and even trees use. Heavy cloud cover, cold snaps, and even too much sunlight can cause some leaves to slow down their greening process in spring, but plants like the Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) seen in this photo do it almost every year, I’ve noticed.

Another plant with purple leaves in spring, every spring in my experience, is the native clematis called virgin’s bower or traveler’s joy (Clematis virginiana). It won’t be long before its small white flowers decorate the roadside shrubs as it climbs over them to reach optimum sunlight but by that time all of its leaves will have turned green. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

There are many grasses starting to flower now and I hope you’ll go out and see them. Never mind your hay fever; I have allergies too. Nature doesn’t mind being sneezed at. Take a pill, grab some tissues and become one of those who sees the beauty that most never see. Even if you have to see it through watery eyes now and then, it’s still beautiful.

A native smooth carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea) grew beside a trail and it seemed as if it just flung itself into existence and went wild, with leaves and tendrils and great arching stems everywhere. I thought it was a beautiful thing, and it stopped me right in my tracks. No matter what is going on in life, no matter where you are, there is always beauty to be seen. You don’t even have to search for it; it is just there, like a dandelion blooming in a crack in the sidewalk as you hurry along, or a white cloud floating across a blue sky reflected in the glass of your car window. It is there I think, to remind us to just slow down a little and appreciate life more; to take the time to enjoy this beautiful paradise that we find ourselves in.

If you Love all Life you observe, you will observe all Life with Love.  ~Donald L. Hicks

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Since I started the last flower post with blue flag irises, I thought I’d start this one with yellow flags (Iris pseudacorus.) There is a difference other than the obvious color difference; this one is originally from Europe and is very invasive, while blue flags are native. It was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant but of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire. As you can see though, it doesn’t care a hoot about being banned and grows in the Ashuelot river in Keene. I’ve seen it take over entire ponds so only time will tell what it does in the river.

Just up the river bank from where the invasive yellow iris grow is a garden bed with more yellow iris in it, but these are not invasive; they were planted. I don’t know for sure but I believe they are a Japanese Iris called “Rising sun.” (Iris ensata v. Rising sun.) You can see how the petals have pointed ends, rather than the rounded petals on the yellow flags. It’s a beautiful thing.

You might not think that forget me nots would be water lovers but the largest colony of forget me nots I’ve ever seen was growing on a river bank that flooded regularly. This small clump also grew on the riverbank, maybe a foot from the yellow flags. It might become a large colony one day.

Last year a machine came along and cut the one bristly locust (Robinia hispida) plant that I knew of that grew along a rail trail, but when I went back this year there had to have been a dozen of them. I believe new shoots grew from the roots of the original plant, which is a habit that locusts seem to have. In any event I was happy to see them because the flowers are beautiful. Bristly locust is more shrub than tree, though it can reach 8 feet. What sets this locust apart from others are the bristly purple-brown hairs that cover its stems. Even its seedpods are covered by hairs.

A close look at a bristly locust shows that it is in the pea family. It is native to the southeastern United States but has spread to all but 7 of the lower 48 states, with a lot of help from nurseries selling it for ornamental use. The beautiful pinkish purple bristly locust flowers are very fragrant and bees really love them. Every time I’ve see it in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees but this year there were just a few buzzing around.

Fawn’s breath I think is a great name for a flower, and it has just come into bloom. The flowers dance at the end of long, slim stems in the slightest breeze, as in the breath of a fawn. It is also called bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) but though I search each year for the origin of that name I’ve never been able to find it. I like the asymmetrical appearance of the flowers. They look as if a chubby fingered toddler had glued them on. This is a native plant that really should be used more than it is, in my opinion. I know of just one place where it grows.

Ox-eye daisy blossoms (Leucanthemum vulgare) appear in June and very rarely before then, in my experience. It’s another European native that escaped gardens and is now found in meadows in every state in the U.S. including Alaska and Hawaii. A vigorous plant can produce up to 26,000 seeds. In tests 82% of those seeds remain viable even after being buried for 6 years, so don’t look for this one on the endangered list any time soon. I see them everywhere and I’m happy that I do.

The highway department planted the daisy in the previous photo alongside a highway in town, and when they did, they also planted lupines. The daisies thrived but the lupines did not, and now there are only five or six plants left. The flowers in this photo may be the last I see in this spot but thankfully I do see them in other places.

I saw more single flowered pink roses but these had a white eye. I believe they are another rugosa, the old standby, and just about the toughest rose known.  

I saw a white allium but the Olympus macro camera saw it differently.

I’ve heard that pretty maiden pink flowers (Dianthus deltoids) get their common name from the way the petals look like they were edged with pinking shears, but did pinking shears exist when they were named? This plant is a European native that has escaped gardens and can be found in lawns and meadows in many states in the U.S. A very similar plant is the Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) but its flowers have much narrower petals and it blooms a bit later.

What I think might be cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. I like its color and I think it’s pretty. I enjoy seeing it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses.

Arrow wood viburnums (Viburnum dentatum) have come into bloom. These shrubs get large, often growing to 6-8 feet tall and 10 feet wide at the edge of the forest, but each individual flower is hardly bigger than a pencil eraser.  An easy way to identify viburnums is to look for the five petals (or lobes) that they all have. Native dogwoods, which should be blooming any time now, will always have 4 petals.  The glossy, toothed leaves are a good indication that this plant is an arrow wood viburnum. The name “arrow wood” comes from just what you would expect; the straight, hard wood is excellent for making arrow shafts. The white flowers are followed by small, dark blue fruit that birds love.

Maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium) have also started blooming. They and most of all the other viburnums are valuable plants to wildlife. Many songbirds eat the berries and beavers, rabbits, deer and moose eat the bark, twigs and leaves. What I like most about this plant is the way its leaves change colors in the fall. They can go from deep maroon to orange red to light, pastel pink and can be mottled with several different colors at once. Note how different they are from the viburnum dentatum leaves we saw in the previous photo. But also notice how alike the flowers are.

Clematis have also just started blooming. Unfortunately I don’t see many of these beautiful flowering vines.

Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) has just started blooming but you have to search for the flowers under the very large, heart shaped leaves. The vine has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today, but most don’t see these small flowers. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly, and other insects.

But I think an insect would need a very long tongue to get in there. The heavily pebbled, rough surface must be to help insects hang on, I would guess. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some south eastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s. All it needs is something strong to climb on. I would definitely not fertilize it, because once it gets going it grows fast.

I find goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis) growing in a meadow in full sun. This is an oddly behaving flower that closes up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” I remembered to go and see them at around 11:30 am, and many had already hung out their do not disturb signs. Why the one in the photo was still wide open, I don’t know. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify and its spring buds are said to be good in salads, but since a kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s latex sap you may find your salad is a bit chewy. It is a biennial, which means it grows a low basal rosette of leaves the first year and then flowers and dies the second year. It is native to Europe, Central Asia and Turkey but it could hardly be considered invasive here; I have a hard time finding it. It has a large, fuzzy seed head similar to a dandelion seed head and that’s where the “beard” part of the name comes from.

Yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum) is blooming better than I’ve ever seen it this year and I’m seeing large clumps like this one wherever I go. They should bloom right into October.

There was a time when I hated having to deal with red clover but I once was blind, and now I see.

I found a small group of blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) and every plant was covered with insect webs. They looked more like a spider mite than a spider web. I almost always find blue toadflax growing in hot sandy waste areas and along roadsides but I’ve even found it on mountain tops and in woodland clearings. It will bloom all summer, right up until a killing frost.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) is blooming better than I’ve ever seen it. This creeping “weed” is a European native that is very common here in lawns, pastures and along roadsides, which is where I found the one in the photo. It has been used medicinally for centuries in cough medicine and its leaves have also been used as a tea substitute. In France they call it “Europe tea.”

The flowers are tiny, fused into a tube with the lower petal (lobe) smaller than the others as is common in all speedwells. They grow in a spike (raceme) and can be white, blue or purple with darker stripes. They are about 1/4 inch across and have 2 stamens and a single pistil. They’re very pretty little things and masses of flowers like I’m seeing this year can put on quite a show.

In this area fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) start to bloom in June, and I know of a pond near a highway that has many hundreds of them in it. I’ve noticed over the last two or three years that more and more people are showing up there when they come into bloom. Some just walk slowly, some fish, some take photos and some just sit. With a busy highway so near you couldn’t really call it a tranquil spot but still they come, and several of them have become regulars now, I’ve noticed. It’s always nice to see more people getting outside and I wouldn’t wonder that they’d come out to see such a beautiful thing.

I’ve seen great blue herons, geese, ducks, all kinds of songbirds, and even a mink here. I know there are beavers here too, though I’ve never seen one. The naked flower stalks with all the flowers and leaves gone tell me there is also a woodchuck living here and I always hope to see it. Of course I also come to see the waterlilies, and I always look for that one might be tilted just right so I can see the beautiful golden flames that burn in its center. I can’t say why the others come but I come for the beauty of the place and I always find it, in all seasons.

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

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What I would have to call my favorite rail trail was calling to me and had been for a week or two, but I had resisted its pull until this day. Like getting a song out of your head by playing it, I had to walk this trail to stop it from calling, so here we are. Since I love jungles, I was happy to see that the area had almost become one. I hadn’t been here since last February and of course I didn’t see how overgrown it had become then.

The first thing I noticed was orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) flowering along the side of the trail. Orchard grass is a pretty little grass. In my opinion a kind of architectural grass, if there could be such a thing. It was introduced into this country over two hundred years ago as a forage crop and of course it immediately escaped and is now everywhere I go. That’s fine with me because it’s very pretty when it flowers, as can be seen in the photo.

I followed the railroad tracks that were here when I was a boy every chance I had and one of my favorite things to do as I walked along in summer was to eat the raspberries that grew here. Last summer when I came here I didn’t see any, but there were plenty on this day. Not ripe yet but they’re coming along.

Blackberries are also waiting in the wings.

My biggest surprise on this day was finding ragged robin flowers (Lychnis flos-cuculi) growing along the trail. I’ve never seen them in any other place than in Hancock where I used to work, and I searched for many years before I found them there.

It’s a very unusual flower that is hard to find and amazingly, here it was right where I first flowered. I hope to one day see many of them here. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields.

Multiflora roses (Rosa multiflora) have just started blooming and the pollen eaters aren’t wasting any time. Though this small flowered rose from China is very invasive it is also highly fragrant and I’ve always loved smelling it as I walk along. Birds plant it everywhere and I’ve met people who fertilized it, not knowing what it was or where it came from, but thankful for its wonderful scent. I’ve seen it climb 30 feet up into trees without any fertilizer, so personally I’d just let it be.

This is where as a boy I discovered that the best walks are unplanned. They are those with no purpose, when you have nothing to gain and no destination in mind. You just surrender yourself to the unknown and wander the countryside, and over and over again you stop, you see, you wonder, you learn. This is where I discovered the value of empty space and silence, and first found the solitude that was to become a life long friend. My grandmother worried about my being alone out here and thought I was “brooding,” as she put it. She thought I was deeply unhappy because I didn’t have a mother, but had I been older I would have asked her, how can you miss what you’ve never known? I was too young and didn’t have the words to explain to her that what I really felt out here was pure unencumbered bliss.

I tell these stories hoping that they will resonate with the parents and grandparents out there. Let your children and grandchildren run free in nature. Let them wander and wonder. Or, if you can’t bear to cut them loose, go with them. If you can’t bear that send them off to a nature camp. Nature will become their teacher, and they will be all the better for it. Just be prepared to find them books on botany, biology, entomology, nature study, etc., etc, because their heads will be full of questions. They’ll want to know everything; not about the latest video game but about life and their place in it.

I went down the embankment to see what was once a cornfield, but what is now forest. Nothing but silver and red maples, and sensitive ferns. All of it has sprung up over the last 50 years or so, which means that I’m older than everything in this photo. The way the flooding of the river and Ash Brook happens now I doubt this will ever be farmland again.

I was surprised to find bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) out here because I’ve never seen them here before. Next May I’ll have to come back and see their flowers.

I could tell that the plants had bloomed because they had seedpods on them. They also had poison ivy growing all around them and I knelt right in it. As of this writing my knees aren’t itching but since I end up with a poison ivy rash every year I won’t be surprised if they do.

Something seemed to be ravaging the new buds on American hazelnuts (Corylus americana), which will mean no nuts this year on this bush.

I can’t blame this tiny creature for the damaged hazelnut buds but it was the only insect I found on the plant. After a bit of searching I have been able to identify it as the larva of an Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) so it was not eating the hazelnut buds. It will actually eat the aphids that do harm to so many plants.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) were flowering in high numbers and I was happy to see them. I hope the grapes will draw the Baltimore orioles back to the area. There used to be lots of them when I was young but I never see them out here anymore. Grape flowers are among the smallest I see but when thousands of them bloom together their wonderful fragrance can be smelled from quite a distance. I’m sure many have smelled them and not known what they were smelling. The vines climb high into the treetops by using tendrils, and you can just see one over on the left, looking for something to cling to.

Other plants have different strategies when it comes to climbing. Native climbing false buckwheat (Fallopia scandens) does it by sending long shoots straight up, hoping to find something to twine itself around. This one missed the mark by a few feet but it will just fall over after a bit and grab on to whatever it can. Eventually it will get to where the most sunlight is. This plant is also called climbing bindweed and there are invasives that resemble it.

A bicycle built for two had ridden over the trestle just before I reached it. I saw lots of people on bikes out here on this day including an old friend I hadn’t seen in many years. I was glad to see so many people using the trail. That means it will stay open and will be cared for.

I went down beside the trestle, which is something I used to do regularly years ago, just to explore. The banks seem to have narrowed quite a lot between the stream and the abutments since those days but I suppose it’s in the nature of a stream to want to widen over the years. I wanted to go under the trestle but I didn’t trust the mud there. When conditions are right you can sink into it quickly. I saw animal tracks but no human ones, so I stayed away.

I tried to get a good shot of the entire trestle but low hanging silver maple limbs were in the way. Since when I was a boy I had to cross another trestle near my house to get to this one, this will always be the second trestle to me. Its sides are much lower than the first trestle for some reason, maybe only as high as the bottom of a rail car. For that reason I also think of it as the small trestle. When I was a boy, I could and often did sit out here all day long and not see another person. The brook meets the Ashuelot river just around that bend and there is a high sand bluff where bank swallows used to nest, and I would sit and watch them for hours, wondering how a bird could dig a hole.

Ash Brook was calm and shallow and behaving nicely on this day but I wasn’t fooled by its calm demeanor. I’ve seen it rage and swell up and pour over its banks too many times. This was a good place to learn about the true power of nature.  

As you get closer to the brook the trees get bigger because this land was never cleared like the land from a few photos ago was. It wasn’t cleared for planting because it has always flooded, but never like it has lately. You can see where the waterline shows on some of the tree trunks from the flooding last February. The water here would have been up to my chest in this spot, I’d guess, which is deeper than I’ve ever seen it. I remember standing on the embankment listening to the hissing, creaking and cracking ice. Of course deeper water means it spreads further over the land, and that’s why there is no corn grown anywhere near here now. It takes too long for the soil to dry out so planting can begin.  

The undergrowth in the photos of the forest is made up almost entirely of sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis). Many thousands of them grow here, for as far as the eye can see. They, like the trees, don’t mind wet ground and in fact they are a good wetland indicator. Their rhizomes branch and creep and as this photo shows, this fern can form large colonies. I know this fern is toxic to cattle and horses but I don’t know if it is toxic to wildlife. I do know that Deer and muskrats won’t eat it. The only animal I’ve ever seen have anything to do with it was a beaver that was swimming down the river with a huge bundle of fronds in its mouth one day. I supposed it would use them for soft bedding rather than food.

Though there were so many ferns you couldn’t see the ground, more were still coming. I’ve heard that you can eat the spring fiddleheads but I certainly wouldn’t.

Can you see the wind when you look at this nodding sedge (Carex gynandra)? See how the hanging seed spikes aren’t hanging perfectly vertical? The breeze came from the right and the camera had to stop the motion.

On the way back I saw lots of stitchwort blossoms (Stellaria graminea) that I hadn’t seen on the way out. They’re pretty little things and I’m always happy to see them, even if they are a weed.

I also saw plenty of fuzzy staghorn sumac buds (Rhus typhina). Soon they will be tiny green fuzzy flowers that will become first pink and then red, fuzzy berries. This was the first time I’ve noticed that the buds spiral up the stem. The spiral is nature’s way of packing the most flower buds into the least amount of space, but that’s only one example of how nature uses spirals. I see them everywhere all the time, in everything from trees to snail shells to coiled snakes. It’s just another one of those many things in nature that makes you wonder and seek answers.

Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.  ~David Polis

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