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Posts Tagged ‘Pearly Everlasting’

Our most beautiful time of year is almost here, when there are scenes like this just about everywhere you look. It’s much like living inside an impressionistic painting for a while until the hillside forests break into the full, blazing glory of fall.

Our late summer asters keep coming and the tall white aster (Doellingeria umbellata) is one of the most common and easily seen due to its 3-4-foot height. Large, mostly flat-topped flower heads give it another common name of flat-topped aster. They sway in the breeze and are usually covered with bees.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) seemed a little late this year but when I say that about a flower, I often find that it’s me who is expecting to see them earlier than they want to appear. In fact if I look back year to year on this blog, I find that most flowers are fairly consistent in their bloom times and jewelweed is no exception. It usually blooms in early to mid-August so it’s right on schedule.  

Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies pollinate these little flowers. You need a long tongue to reach all the way into that curved nectar spur but I watched an ant trying to come up with a way to get at that sweetness one day. Jewelweed typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

I think most people who read this blog know this, but for those who don’t; these are the jewels that give jewelweed its name. Raindrops sparkle like diamonds on the wax coated leaf surfaces. When you come upon a large colony of them after a rain it can be a very beautiful thing.

Since I’m seeing seedpods forming on our beautiful little eastern forked blue curl plants (Trichostema dichotomum) I’m going to say that it’s time we said goodbye, even though in a good year they might bloom through September. If so, it’ll be a bonus. When a heavy enough insect lands on that spotted lower lip those curved anthers, each carrying several white pollen grains smaller than grains of salt, will dip down and dust the insect with pollen. It’s another miraculous event in a world filled with them.

I found some low growing, potato like plants with lots of leaves and just a few small white flowers. It was obvious by the flowers that it is in the nightshade family but that’s about as far as I got. I think it might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

Do you see that tiny white flower to the right of center in this shot? All those leaves and one tiny flower? Clearly this plant doesn’t seem that interested in seed production.

But it does produce fruit, and these black berries are what leads me to believe it is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country so I doubt this is that plant. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

NOTE: A helpful reader has identified this plant as Eastern black nightshade (Solanum emulans,) so I can stop wondering about that. Thanks Sara!

Many of the plants in this post are not native and are considered invasive in many instances but only a few like purple loosestrife are truly pests in this region. In a large percentage of cases these plants were brought here because their flowers were beautiful and I can see that beauty, so I can understand the why of it. Many plants were also used medicinally and people went to a lot of trouble to get them here. Imagine bringing plants over on a wooden ship where extra deck space was nearly nonexistent. You’d have to present a very convincing argument I think, though in the case of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare,) which is pictured above and which has a long history of being used as an insect repellant, the ship’s captain might have been a little more understanding. Recent research shows that tansy repels ticks, moths, and other insects, so it might have gotten a free pass on deck space. And of course it might have arrived in the form of seed.

Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) is a plant I don’t have any memories attached to because before a year or so ago I never saw it growing here. Then all of the sudden there it was, and now I see it regularly. It’s a pretty little plant that Native Americans used to treat sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds, and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way. The name everlasting comes from the way the dried flowers will last for years in a dry vase. I keep forgetting to check these flowers for scent but the flowers of sweet everlasting smell like maple syrup.

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is another “invasive” that most pay little attention to in this part of the world, but I’ve heard that it can be a real pest in pastures. It was introduced from Europe as a garden ornamental and, as the old familiar story goes, has escaped and is now considered a noxious weed. A single hawkweed flower head can produce between 12 and 50 tiny black seeds, so when you do the math, it is obvious that these plants are here to stay. They are said to be much harder to control than dandelions. Though it’s easy to find many reasons to hate such a plant, we don’t have many orange wildflowers in this part of the country and I enjoy seeing it.

False dandelions (Hypochoeris radicata) are another imported plant but unlike orange hawkweed I see these plants almost everywhere I go at this time of year. If you look at the yellow flowers on tall wiry stems without paying attention to the foliage this plant might look like yellow hawkweed, but its leaves are very different and look more like narrow dandelion leaves. Yellow hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

Both dandelions and false dandelions have a rosette of edible leaves and a central taproot. The flower stems of false dandelion are solid, tall and wiry while those of true dandelions are hollow and much shorter. Another name for this plant is cats ear.

Native virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees. It is also called old man’s beard and devils’ darning needles. Both names refer to the twisted, feathery seed heads. 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 toxic plant that can cause internal bleeding so you have to know what you’re doing to use it.

Another name for virgin’s bower is traveler’s joy and I can say that it is that. Its small white but pretty flowers are another reminder that fall is near. Clusters of them often cover the entire plant. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is another white flowered vine that drapes itself over the tops of shrubs to get more sunlight. It climbs using tendrils like a grape vine, unlike virgins’ bower which climbs by curling its leaf stems (petioles) around whatever it is climbing. Both strategies work well and each vine gets plenty of sunlight. You’ll note that the leaves on wild cucumber are two or three times as big as those on virgin’s bower though, and that’s because this vine prefers partial shade over full sunlight.  

The flower spikes (Racemes) on wild cucumber grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

If you’d like a native shrub that will attract pollinating insects clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is a very good choice. It’s also called summersweet because of its sweet fragrance. If you have low spots in your yard that get wet occasionally, this is a good shrub to plant in them because it likes moist soil and grows naturally along stream banks and in swampy ground. Insects love it and this one was covered with just about every one that I could name.

Each long upright clethra flower head is packed with small white flowers. Small yes, but also very fragrant; it has the name summersweet for a reason. Some older nurserymen might also know it as sweet pepperbush; whoever gave it that name thought its fruits resembled pepper corns.

The flowers of blue vervain (Verbena hastata) bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. Sometimes a stray plant will make it to first frost but usually not. This is a plant that doesn’t mind wet feet and that’s a good thing because the field that it grew in was flooded by all the rain. I couldn’t get near it so I had to use a lot of zoom for this shot. I love the color of the flowers so I was happy to see so many on this plant.

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) has just about reached the end of its flowering season I thought, when I noticed the third of an inch, brown winged fruits forming. Each mature fruit has a loose skin covering a rather large starchy seed. Native Americans snacked on the raw seeds or roasted them and ground them into flower. They’re said to be quite tasty but you have to be quick, because they’re a favorite of waterfowl.

There are far fewer fragrant white waterlilies in this pond than last time I was here and that tells me that they’re nearing the end of their time with us for this year. They’re very beautiful and I’ll be sorry to not be able to visit them for a few moths. To sit with them is to learn; they ask for nothing but have everything.

He is richest who is content with the least, for contentment is the wealth of nature. ~Socrates

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We’ve had three nights in the 20s F. so I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do flower posts, but for now the hardiest fall flowers, like these I drive by each morning, are still blooming. Goldenrods and several different asters make up this scene. This is when our roadsides turn into impressionist paintings. Those that haven’t been mowed do anyway.

What I call the park aster survived the cold nights and is just coming into bloom.

After bragging a few posts ago how the pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii) in my yard never got attacked by disease this year it has mildewed and has very few flowers on it. Powdery mildew likes high heat, high humidity and poor air circulation, so with two out of the three available for months this year I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. But I am surprised, because in all the years I’ve had this plant it has never asked for a thing and has thrived on neglect.

In the woods under the trees, white wood asters (Aster divaricatus) are still blooming.

Now here is a plant that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never seen, or maybe I’ve just never paid attention to it. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is also called wormwood and it isn’t much to look at, but oh what a ride researching it has taken me on. It’s an herb that has been used by man for thousands of years; the earliest writings regarding it found 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. Here is the U.S. it is considered an invasive weed but since I’ve never seen it before now I doubt it’s very invasive in this part of the country.

One of the ways to identify mugwort is by looking at the underside of the leaves which should be silvery white, colored by downy hairs. I’ve read that the ridged and grooved central stem can be green, green with purple ridges, or purple but this one was green. The leaves of the plant are highly aromatic and if you run your hands over the plant you smell a strong kind of sage like odor which is quite pleasant. One of the reasons this plant has been considered sacred for centuries is because it has so many uses, from culinary to medicinal. It is used in China to flavor things like tea, rice cakes and seafood and is used to treat depression, indigestion and lack of appetite. It has even been used to make beer.

These are the flower buds which I’ve been watching for a few weeks, impatiently waiting for them to open. Another way mugwort is used is to ease childbirth and to treat other women’s issues such as menopause. The plant can cause miscarriage however, so it should never be used during pregnancy.  

And then the buds became bright red, and very fine filaments appeared. These filaments reminded me of the tiny female flowers found on alders in spring. I’ve seen photos online of the flowers and these don’t look like those but I think that’s because they hadn’t fully opened when I took this photo. They should become tiny greenish yellow “insignificant” blooms, and I’ll be watching for them. I can say that they were much more aromatic than the leaves and the pleasing scent they left on my hands lasted until I washed it off. In fact I wish I could bottle that scent because it was really very pleasing and not at all overpowering. I’ve read that some are allergic to the plant and can get a rash from it but though I have allergies, it hasn’t bothered me at all.

Mugwort leaves, at least the ones on this plant, turn red in fall. I’m sorry that I’ve spent so much time on mugwort but I’m very interested in this plant. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what it is supposed to be able to do.

I had to go out and see the bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) growing in their moist, shaded spot along the banks of the Ashuelot River. Their numbers seem to be increasing despite being weed whacked and stepped on. Normally I would say that I love their beautiful blue color but these were so purple even I could see it. How odd, I thought. Though I know their usual color when mature is a very beautiful deep violet purple I’ve always seen them as blue until now. Maybe my colorblindness is going away. 

Closed (bottle) gentians are indeed closed and strong insects like bumblebees have to pry them open to get inside. I’ve read that these plants won’t tolerate drought so we’ll have to see what next year brings.

I saw just one single peached leaved bluebell  (Campanula persicifolia) blossom. A survivor.

How can you go 60 plus years and never see a plant and then, all of the sudden, see it everywhere you go? That’s what I ask myself every time I see pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea.) I’ve now found it in four different places. Last year I would have told you it didn’t grow here but I’m glad it does. It’s a pretty little plant.

I’ve discovered by watching the plant that pearly everlasting flowers close each night and open when the sun finds them the following day. Native Americans used pearly everlasting for treatment of sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way. The name everlasting comes from the way the dried flowers will last for years in a vase.

Heart leaved asters (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) are just coming into bloom. They are pretty little things that are also called blue wood asters, and they last quite late into the fall season, especially if they’re under trees. I often find them along rail trails.

The flowers are quite small; this one might have been a half inch across, but is no less pretty because of it.

It isn’t hard to understand how the heart leaved aster got its name, but the leaf shape can be variable from the bottom to the top of the stem. They have sharp coarse teeth around the perimeter.

A goldenrod that I see a lot of is downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula.) The leaves have a downy coating and that’s where its common name comes from. They reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil, often in colonies of 15-20 plants. The bright yellow 1/4 inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.

Every time I say goodbye to coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) for the year more appear, and that’s a good thing. 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.

Nodding bur marigold plants (Bidens cernua) still bloom at the water’s edge at rivers and ponds. Though they might appear fragile these plants are tough. I’ve seen them still bloom even after being walked on and crushed. The pretty lemon yellow flowers look like a miniature sunflower. I like their deeply pleated petals.

Since I like the color blue so much it’s hard not to like vetch, even though it is invasive and is probably responsible for more than a few gray hairs on this head. Once it gets in a garden it is close to impossible to eradicate by pulling alone, and I know that because I tried many times in many gardens over the years. It’s especially annoying when it gets into shrubs. Various vetch species were originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as cover crops and for livestock forage. They’re now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire.

It is said that the name Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) was borrowed from the biblical Song of Solomon but others say that it was a mis-translation of the Hebrew “Chavatzelet Ha Sharon,” which was a crocus or daffodil. It could also have been a tulip, or a Madonna lily. What all of this tells me is that nobody really knows where the name came from. Even the syriacus part of the scientific name is inaccurate because the plant isn’t from Syria, it’s from somewhere in Asia. The thing is though, when you see the beauty of the flower you really don’t care what its name is or where it came from; at least, I don’t. I’m increasingly convinced that what makes nature so complicated is our inability to find the correct words and ways to describe it. Nature isn’t complicated. It is we who complicate it.

I was very surprised to see that tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants were having a re-bloom. In the mid-1600s this plant was discovered in Virginia by John Tradescant and shipped off to England. I wonder what they thought of John when they realized how aggressive it could be in a garden. In any event native Americans had been using the plant both medicinally and for food for thousands of years before any European saw it. According to the USDA they ate the young spring shoots and mashed the stems and rubbed them onto insect bites to relieve pain and itching. Something else I read recently is that tradescantia has been proven to be an effective botanical watchdog for high radiation levels. The cells in the stamen hairs in the center of the plant mutate and turn from blue to pink when exposed to radiation such as gamma rays. Will wonders never cease.

I’ll leave you with some more of those roadside flowers. Long may they bloom.

Many people have never learned to see the beauty of flowers, especially those that grow unnoticed. ~Erika Just

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The longer I do blog posting the more I’m amazed more by what I don’t see than what I do, and here is a perfect example of that; pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea.) I’ve told readers before that they’d never see pearly everlasting on this blog because it didn’t grow here but what I should have said was I had never seen it. Now I’ve found it twice in two days in two different places.  According to the USDA the plant gets its common name from the “pearl-white involucre bracts that surround the yellow disk flowers.” You can just see one of those disk flowers beginning to show in the center of this flower head. Native Americans used pearly everlasting for treatment of sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way.

But it is that time of year when some of our smallest and most beautiful wildflowers show themselves and field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) is one of those. Its flowers are 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. Milkworts get their name from the ancient Greeks, who thought they increased milk production in nursing mothers. The polygala part of the scientific name comes from the Greek polugalon or “much milk.”

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, including bumblebees. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

This shot from a few years ago gives you a sense of the size of a field milkwort flowerhead. Still, as small August flowers go, it’s among the biggest.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. Once the blossoms reach the very top of the flower spike the plant is done. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

Mullein is a biennial so like burdock and many other plants it flowers and dies in its second year of growth. It is considered a weed but if all of its flowers opened at once along its tall flower stalk I think it would be a prized garden specimen.

This photo is more about the red seed pods than the yellow flowers of Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) because some St. John’s wort plants have red buds and others have red seed pods, and it can get very confusing.

This photo is all about the flower of Canada St. John’s wort; the smallest of all the St. John’s wort flowers. Each blossom wouldn’t even hide Lincoln’s head on a penny. In fact you could pick a bouquet of them and hide it behind a penny, so small are the blooms.

And here is a Canada St. John’s wort blossom on a penny. It’s one of the smallest flowers I try to photograph.

Brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but it is relatively hard to find here. It’s 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.

Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) flowers look a lot like dandelions, but the rest of the plant doesn’t. Its flowers are held about 2 feet high on wiry stems, and its leaves have prickly edges. The seed heads look a bit like a dandelion seed head but are denser because of more seeds. This plant is considered a noxious weed in many places and comes from Europe and Asia. It was first reported in Pennsylvania in 1814 and is now in all but 8 states and most of Canada. This one grew right at the edge of a ditch I didn’t know was there and as I backed up to get a better shot I suddenly found myself lying on my back in the muddy ditch. Once I stopped laughing I came out of it feeling a little foolish but otherwise unscathed.

Here is a look at the edge of a sow thistle leaf. It feels as prickly as it looks.

When I started working where I do I found a single chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) growing in a 13 acre field that I mow each week. I mowed around the plant and let it be and then there were 3 or 4 plants, and then a few more, and now there is a forest of them. One recent day I found myself in the middle of this forest admiring all of these beautiful flowers and I suddenly had the strange sensation that I was lighter, almost as if gravity had been switched off and I was being carried away by the beauty that I saw. And for all of the rest of that day I felt light, as if I had little weight. It was very strange, but not uncomfortable. In fact I’d like for it to happen again. It reminded me of lying on my back in the grass as a boy, watching the clouds float past. Sometimes I felt as if I was floating then, too.

Beauty, according to Indian spiritual master Amit Ray, is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when the soul is satisfied he says, so on this day my soul must have been immensely satisfied.

And then I wondered if dragonflies like this Halloween pennant, perched atop a chicory plant, felt the same lightness I felt. And bees and butterflies? Do they have a sense of having any weight at all? Since they must know that they’ll float to earth if they stop moving their wings I’d guess the answer would be yes. Insects, especially dragonflies, do seem to have a certain amount of intelligence, because when I’m mowing this field dragonfly squadrons fly along on either side of me, knowing that the mower will scare insects up out of the grass. It’s an easy meal they don’t have to work too hard to get, and it’s always quite a remarkable thing to watch. No matter how fast or slow the mower goes they fly right along beside it.

Beautiful yes but every gardener’s nightmare come true, because creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is virtually impossible to eradicate. I worked for years trying to remove it from a garden I once worked in and last I knew the plants were still thriving. I think the new owners must have come to see the futility of it all.  

White avens (Geum canadense) are everywhere this year, more than I’ve ever seen. Each flower is about a half inch across with 5 white petals and many anthers. The anthers start out white and then turn brown and you usually find both on each flower. Each flower becomes a seed head with hooked seeds that will stick to hair or clothing.

I saw a hosta blossom that had to be in this post because it showed perfectly why hostas are in the lily family. In fact another name for the plant is the plantain lily.

This very beautiful rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) grows just off the side of an old dirt road at the edge of a swamp. At least I think it is rosebay willowherb; there seems to be some confusion among sources about the regions it grows in. According to the USDA it doesn’t grow in New England, but the University of Maine lists it in its database. Another name for the plant is fireweed and Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it in 1857, so I’ve been wondering for years now if the USDA map is incorrect. If you live in New Hampshire and have seen this plant I’d love to hear from you.

Narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis) grow alongside the same road that the rosebay willowherbs were on. Gentians of any kind are extremely rare in these parts and I’m always as excited to see them as I would be to see a field full of orchids. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often, because our soil is generally acidic. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I hope this small colony will spread. I’ve heard of other hidden colonies of it here and there as well.

Never has the earth been so lovely or the sun so bright as today. ~Chief Nikinapi

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