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Posts Tagged ‘Pale St. John’s Wort’

Beautiful blue ribbons of pickerel weed flow in the shallows of ponds, rivers and streams in July. Thousands of flowers draw bees and other pollinators in such numbers it sometimes seems like the plants themselves are humming. And of course they really are humming; vibrating with life force. Pickerel weed is easily one of our most beautiful aquatics and they appear in far larger numbers than any other.

Pickerel weed has small blue / purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the 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 seeds into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. 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.

One advantage of the drought has been the ability to walk up to plants that grow offshore and study them up close. This is a pickerel weed flowerhead in bud; something I doubted I’d ever get this close to. It’s amazingly fuzzy for a water plant. See how it spirals? Spirals are found everywhere; in the human ear, in entire galaxies billions of light years across, and in plants of many various species. Why? What is it about the spiral that makes it so special?

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow fringed loosestrife that I spoke of in a recent post. But fringed loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. Their name comes from the way their bright color lights up a swamp, just as they did here.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and 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 often streaked with red and the flowers are less than half the size as those of fringed loosestrife.

Floating heart plants (Nyphoides cordata) growing close enough to shore to get photos are very hard to come by but I got lucky this year because the water is low. In fact I found hundreds of examples of this tiny native waterlily very close to shore. They 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.  

This is the tiniest waterlily that I’ve ever seen; about the size of a common aspirin, but are still every bit as beautiful as the much larger fragrant white water lily blooms they resemble. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers.

Cattails (Typha latifolia) can form an impenetrable wall and can soar overhead in some places along the shoreline. I’ve seen them 8 feet tall or more. Cattails (Typha latifolia) were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread. Cattails are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the swamps, ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long white styles sticking out of the tubular flowers the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

Pipewort  grows in the mud just offshore. As the photo shows the stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum.) The quarter inch flower heads are made up of tiny white, cottony flowers. Another common name for them is “hat pins.” Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I’ve found that its flowers are close to impossible to get a good photo of.

When you see its leaves pipewort looks just like many other plants but its basal leaves normally grow underwater so you rarely see them. On this day the drought had left them high and dry. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize.

I bent a pipewort down to a penny so you could get an idea of size. It’s one of the smallest flowers you’ll find on pond edges. It is said that the water quality is good wherever this plant grows. 

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down. The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance. The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. Flowers are about an inch across. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

When I saw this plant growing at the edge of a beaver swamp I thought I knew what it was; swamp saxifrage, but something about it wasn’t right so I decided to wait and go back later to see what it did.

When I its flowers I knew it wasn’t swamp saxifrage. That plant has bigger and fewer flowers. After some searching I found that it was water plantain (Alisma subcordatum,) which is a plant I’ve never seen. I’ve read that it is also called mud plantain and its seeds are eaten by waterfowl. Native Americans cooked and ate its roots. Though it is a native plant I think it must be on the rare side in this area.

Water plantain’s tiny flowers have 3 green sepals, 3 white or pink-tinged petals, and several stamens and pistils, all packed into something half the size of a pencil eraser. Somehow nature can surprise, delight and amaze all at the same time.

Water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is on the rare side here; I only know of one pond it grows in. It is said to be a more northern species, so that could be why. 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.

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 but these plants grew just offshore with flowers above the water. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl.

A small St. John’s wort grows that grows right at the water’s edge is I believe pale St. John’s wort (Hypericum ellipticum,) according to what I’ve read. Oddly, the flowers of pale St. John’s wort aren’t pale yellow, they’re bright lemon yellow, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. To anyone. Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) also grows at the water’s edge but its flowers are about the size of a pencil eraser. Canada St. John’s wort comes next but it grows in dry meadows and it’s flowers are less than half the size of a pencil eraser. It has taken me years to sort it all out.

But in the end what does it matter? The flowers are beautiful and, as Amit Ray once said: “Beauty is the moment when time vanishes. Beauty is the space where eternity arises.”

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) has the ability to make time vanish for me, because it takes me out of myself. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful of all the milkweeds and is one of those flowers that I most look forward to seeing each summer. I recognize a truly beautiful flower as something that makes me quiet because I’m so dumbstruck all I’m able do is stand and admire it.

Looking at the pond all I could think was that it is an incredible thing how a whole world can rise from what seems like nothing at all. ~Sarah Dressen

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Now is the high point of the year for the flower lovers among us in this area. You don’t have to look very hard to find them. They’re in lawns, meadows, river banks and waste areas; really just about everywhere. Now is the time to see Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) which don’t have the jagged red ring around their center like a maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) and bloom later than maiden pinks; usually in July. The flowers are also smaller and the plant, rather than growing in large clumps of 40-50 flowers out in the open like the maiden pink, blooms shyly in threes and fours at the edges of meadows. It’s a pretty little thing that I wish I’d see more of. Though it originally came from Europe it can hardly be called invasive.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) has just started blooming and is a common late summer sight in the meadows. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name.

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals it is said, the older the flower.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant as this one did, and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love thistle blossoms; I had a bumblebee swoop right over my shoulder and almost push me out of the way to get at this flower.

Globe thistle (Echinops) is a garden thistle that isn’t very prickly at all compared to a bull thistle.  This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony.  On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. Finches might.

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susan and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of some of the more than 43 varieties of Liatris. They are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

There are a few orchids blooming now and one is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) These orchids 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, though the pleated leaves are close to those of false hellebore.

Scientists have discovered that the flowers of the broad leaved helleborine orchids have a secret; their nectar 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 orchid for its intoxicating nectar.

I’ve been watching the only northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) I know of for weeks now, waiting for it to bloom. Finally it did and I felt lucky to be able to be there to see it. I found this plant by accident two years ago when it bloomed in this same spot. Last year there was no sign of it so I assumed that I’d never see it again, but here it is.

Though the flowers of the northern club spur orchid aren’t at all showy in my experience the plant is rare, so showy or not I’m happy to see it. It is small at about eight inches tall and grows in very wet soil in the dark of the woods, and that gives it another common name: the small green wood orchid.

Each flower on this orchid has a long, curving spur that extends from the base, and that is where its common name comes from.

Brittle stem hemp nettle is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but is hard to find here. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

Common quickweed (Galinsoga quadriradiata) comes from Mexico originally and how it happens to be in New Hampshire is a mystery. It is also called hairy galinsoga and is considered a weed even in its native range. It is said to be able to reduce crop yields by as much as half if left unchecked. The small flowers are about 3/8 of an inch wide and have five white ray florets widely spaced around the tiny yellow center disk florets. Another common name for the plant is shaggy soldier because of the very hairy stems.

We have many different varieties of St. John’s wort but this is a first appearance on this blog for pale St. John’s Wort (Hypericum ellipticum.) That’s because for years I thought it was dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) until I took a closer look. Both plants grow in the wet mud at pond edges, often side by side, but dwarf St. John’s wort flowers are smaller and the plant is very branched, while pale St. John’s wort is not. The color of the flowers is a bit paler than other varieties but unless I saw them side by side I doubt I could tell.

Bright red seed pods help identify pale St. John’s wort. Oddly, Canada St. John’s wort has flower buds that are the same color, but that plant is much smaller and doesn’t usually grow near water.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) 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. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.) Pokeweed was called pocon by Native Americans. The Delaware tribe used the plant as a heart stimulant and other tribes made a salve from it and used it as a cure for rheumatism. If it isn’t used correctly pokeweed can be toxic.

Though as a boy all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) it has gotten to the point where I see these bicolor ones as often as the plain white ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves. This flower was full of tiny insects, which are the black spots at the base of its throat.

I found some beautiful purple phlox growing on the unmowed side of a road. The flower heads were quite large and anyone with a garden would have been happy to have had them in it. I’m guessing that’s just where it escaped from; I doubt that it’s native but it certainly is beautiful. We do have a native phlox called Phlox paniculata but its flowers are blue. Native Americans used phlox medicinally and they were among the first wildflowers in the United States to be collected and exported back to Europe, where they became very popular. Wherever you happen to be in this world I hope that you are able to see beauty like you’ve seen here each day.

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

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