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Posts Tagged ‘Northern Bugle Weed’

Last weekend was another hot, humid one so I spent some time at one of my favorite spots along the river. Due to our ongoing drought the water was as low as I’ve seen it get and some of the plants that grow here were looking parched. In spring I would have probably been in water up to my chest if I stood in this spot.

An invasive purple loosestrife plant (Lythrum salicaria) made a mistake and grew just a yard or so from the water. When the river fills and comes back to normal this young plant will be completely underwater.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows along the riverbank and I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of each dark purple berry. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Downstream a still pool looked inviting on such a hot day and if I were 12 years old again I would have been swimming rather than sweating. This river was very polluted when I was a boy but now children often swim right here in this spot and people also fish it for trout. I see an occasional bald eagle flying along the river and great blue herons often stand along its banks. We seem to have a shortage of herons this year though. I’ve only seen two this summer and one of them was standing in the middle of a road, slowing traffic.

Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed grew on the edge of the pool.

There is a lot of iron in the stones in this part of the river but I don’t know if that is what colored the riverbed in this spot or not. Whatever it was looked almost like algae.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. They bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

A wasp was busy pollinating boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum.) This is another plant that won’t be blooming too much longer.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries, even grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. Still, I can count the times I’ve found it in the wild on one hand, so it can hardly be called invasive. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

Tansy is a natural insect repellent and has historically been used as such but a crab spider was full of hope that an insect might be lured in by its bright yellow flowers.

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) grows prolifically here. This plant has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify. In fact, I’m never 100% sure that I’ve gotten it right.

I was very surprised to find marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) growing on the riverbank. This plant seems to be spreading quickly from place to place and I was happy to see it here because I often have to search high and low for it. Not only is this the only pink flowered St. John’s wort I’ve ever heard of; both its buds and seed pods are bright red.

Common St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) still bloomed here but I haven’t seen it anywhere else for a while now. This plant’s healing properties have been well known since ancient times.

What I call a spontaneous gift of nature stopped me in my tracks. The soft glow of the sun shining through the red leaves of a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) was beautiful. You can’t plan things like this; you simply have to be there and if you are you may see something you have never seen or even dreamed of.

Those silky dogwood leaves really shouldn’t be red this early, and neither should this burning bush leaf   (Euonymus alatus) be pink already. The first day of fall is nearly a month away unless it comes early, and some of the plants I’ve seen are hinting that it might.

These oak leaves weren’t hinting at an early fall; they were shouting it.

But on the other hand some oaks were just now working on continuation of the species.

Ducks and many other birds feed on the seeds of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and by the looks the ones on this plant were already gone. This native shrub grows all along the river and I see it fairly often. Each fertilized flower turns into a seed pod that hold two black seeds.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) bloomed along the river bank in shadier spots. This aster likes wet places and partial sunshine. It can grow up to 5 feet tall on unbranched stems, but these plants leaned out toward the river.

I didn’t know that fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) bloomed here until I saw the pretty seed pods. The flowers of fringed loosestrife 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 plant’s seeds. 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. I like the little stars around each seed pod.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants bloomed on the riverbank and it struck me when I saw them how so many plants grow and bloom in places that will most likely be completely under water in a few months. Indeed during spring thaws I’ve seen many feet of water cover the very spot I was kneeling in. It was a bit unsettling to think about and I’m not sure how such seemingly delicate plants can survive it.

It’s always nice to spend part of a day on the river I grew up just a few yards from and have known all of my life. I saw so many interesting and beautiful things in less than a mile of waterway, and that always makes me imagine what I’d see if I could explore the whole thing. Someday maybe.

Meanwhile I’m content with the beauty I know that I’ll always find when I come here, like this beautiful cedar waxwing caught in a ray of sunshine. It was another of those spontaneous gifts of nature. I hope all of you receive similar gifts.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

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

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

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

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

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

This nodding bur marigold plant (Bidens tripartita) grew along the river’s edge. As they age the flowers of the nodding bur marigold nod towards the ground and that’s how the plant comes by its common name. The flowers look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. I like their deeply pleated petals. The plants grow to about knee high, often in standing water at the edges of rivers and ponds. Another common name is nodding beggar’s tick, because its seeds are barbed and stick to just about anything that happens by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If the square stems and tufts of tiny pink / purple flowers in the leaf axils don’t ring a bell, then one sniff of a crushed leaf will tell you immediately that the plant is wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) Mint has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. Each time we see it we are seeing one of mankind’s earliest memories.

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

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

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

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

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

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1. Monkey Flower

Monkey see, monkey do, but I don’t see a monkey in you. Someone must have seen a smiling monkey’s face when they looked at this flower though, because that’s how the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) got its common name. This plant has a square stem and that’s how it comes by another common name: square stemmed monkey flower. It gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and isn’t all that common. I know of only two places where it grows.

2. Monkey Flower

I’m still not seeing a monkey. All I see is a beautiful little flower that is whispering summer’s passing.

3. Bugle Weed

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify. In fact, I’m never 100% sure that I’ve gotten it right.

4. Bugle Weed

The tiny flowers of northern bugleweed are about 1/8 inch long and tubular with 4 lobes, a light green calyx with 5 teeth, 2 purple tipped stamens, and a pistil. They are also very difficult to photograph because they’re so small. The plant is usually about knee high when I find it along the edges of ponds and streams. They often fall over and grow at an angle if there aren’t any other plants nearby to support them. Several Native American tribes used the tuberous roots of bugleweed as food.

5. Yellow Sorrel

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

6. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is a goldenrod that’s easy to identify because of its long slender, willow like leaves and its pleasant, vanilla like fragrance that is impossible to describe. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf. It is also called flat topped goldenrod.

7. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod

Insects of all kinds swarm over slender fragrant goldenrod and you have to be careful that you aren’t going to inhale one when you smell it.

8. Teaberry

My grandmother taught me a lot about plants and the one she started with was one of our native wintergreens that she called checkerberry. I call it teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens) and if you’ve ever chewed Clark’s Teaberry Gum you know exactly what the plant’s small red berries taste like. The fragrance of the oil is unmistakable and can be recognized immediately in toothpaste, mouthwash, pain relievers, etc. Another name for it is American wintergreen. Its evergreen leaves were once chewed to relieve pain because they contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin, and anyone allergic to aspirin should leave it alone. As the photo shows teaberry’s blossoms look a lot like tiny blueberry blossoms. The plants are having a good year; I’ve never seen so many blossoms on teaberry plants.

9. Tansy

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. Tansy is a natural insect repellent and was used as such in colonial times. Dried tansy added to the straw in mattresses was said to keep bedbugs away. Most tansy plants are seen in gardens but it had naturalized itself in New England by 1785 and can still be occasionally found growing along roadsides. It’s a good plant to use in vegetable gardens for pest control. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

10. Field Milkwort

I know of only one place to find field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) and it is always worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and that’s just what I usually do.

11. Field Milkwort

On field milkwort flowers what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

12. Indian Tobacco

I’ve shown 2 or 3 small lobelias with blue / purple flowers over the past few flower posts and here is another one. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) and the small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

13. Indian Tobacco

Indian tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering. Though Native Americans used this and other lobelias to treat asthma and other breathing difficulties they knew how to use what we don’t, and today the plants are considered toxic. They can make you very sick and too much can kill.

14. Coneflower

This purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seems to have dressed in the dark and thrown on any old thing. Its petals were all different sizes and one or two seemed to be missing, but at least they were all the same color. If the butterflies and bees don’t mind then I don’t suppose I should either. Purple cone flower is known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

15. Helborine

Broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore.

Scientists have discovered that the nectar of broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the intoxicating orchid for the buzz.

16. Steeplebush

Steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) seems more herb than shrub to me but it’s in the spirea family of many shrubs. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge.

17. Steeplebush

Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin.

18. Red Sandspurry

The beautiful little flowers of red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) are hard for me to see because they’re so small, so I take photos of them so I can see them better. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s and it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.  I’m not sure where the red in the common name comes from. I wonder if the person who named it was colorblind.

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.  ~Vincent Van Gogh

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