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Posts Tagged ‘Pale St. John’s Wort’

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

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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