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Posts Tagged ‘Perennial Bachelor’s Button’

I saw this view along one of our roads recently. Lupines and Ox eye daisies seemed to go on forever. There were a few white lupines but most were blue / purple. It’s a hint of what will come; soon our meadows will explode with color.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

When I was growing up we had a hedge of rugosa roses and I’ll never forget their wonderful scent. This rose reminded me of them because it too had that same scent. I think it was in the rugosa rose family but it wasn’t the exact one we had. The Latin word “rugosa” means “wrinkled,” as in the wrinkled petals  this one had.  They are a shrub rose that come along just after lilacs so if you’re looking for an extended period of fragrance in the garden I can’t think of anything better to extend it with. Rosa rugosa has been cultivated in Japan and China for about a thousand years but it has only been in this country since 1845. After its introduction it immediately escaped cultivation and can now be found just about anywhere on the coast of New England.

Pliny the Elder said chewing the root of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) would relieve a toothache, but modern science has found that every part of it contains a range of isoquinoline alkaloids that makes it toxic if used in large amounts. When used in the correct dosage the plant’s yellow sap can be used against warts and moles.  If used at all, all of the latex sap should be washed from the hands because it can cause irritation if rubbed into the eyes. Greater celandine is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S.

All the books will tell you that the flowers of greater celandine have four yellow petals but nature doesn’t know the words always and never, so you have to use a little common sense when identifying plants. Things like leaf shape, where it grows, flower size and color, and the yellow sap all have to be considered when identifying this one.

I love the beautiful colors and shapes found in the perennial bachelor’s button blossom(Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a friend’s garden.

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower and each forms its own seed. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval, overlapping leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk. It is an introduced invasive and names like “yellow devil” and “devil’s paintbrush” show what ranchers think of it.

This beautiful clematis was spotted in the garden of friends of mine. Its blossoms are large, probably 6 inches across. I think its name is “Nelly Moser.” Though we do have native clematis most clematis cultivars have a Chinese or Japanese lineage. According to Wikipedia the wild clematis species native to China made their way into Japanese gardens by the 17th century, and in the 18th century Japanese garden selections were the first exotic clematises to reach European gardens. From there came our first “exotic” clematis, an old favorite called Jackmanii, which is still grown today.

Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) might look like another exotic import from China or Japan but they’re native to the east coast of the U.S. It’s a beautiful and fragrant tree that you rarely see anywhere, and I wonder why it’s so under used. It is said to be tougher than dogwood, more dependable than saucer magnolia, longer-lived than cherry, and smells better than Bradford pears. So why don’t more of us use it?

When seen alone the fringe tree’s blossoms don’t seem like much to get excited about but when they get together in lacy, drooping clusters at the ends of the branches they are quite beautiful. Fringe trees are one of the last to show new leaves in spring and they can look dead until the leaves and flowers appear.

I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. 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.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and 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. The plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally.

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen. Each sarsaparilla flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

Our locust trees are blooming. The one shown here is a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) loaded with white, very fragrant blooms. One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains. Its hanging flower heads remind me of wisteria.

Locusts are in the same family as peas and beans and the flowers show the connection. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well. They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

Bristly locust (Robinia hispida) is more shrub than tree, but it can reach 8 feet. The beautiful pinkish purple flowers are very fragrant and bees really love them. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge. What sets this locust apart from others are the bristly purple-brown hairs that cover its stems. Even its seedpods are covered by hairs. Bristly locust 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 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 find them growing in dry, sandy waste areas. I’m not sure what the web or plant fibers surrounding this flower were all about.

I was bending down the stem of a sandspurry with one hand and taking its photo with the other so the penny is out of focus, but at least you can see how tiny this beautiful little flower really is, and that’s what’s important. I think you could fit about 8-10 of them on a penny.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

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1. Lilac Bush

Most states have a native as their state flower but in New Hampshire non-native purple lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are the chosen state flower. They were first imported from England to the garden of then Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919, because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) was finally chosen as the state’s wild flower in 1991.

2. Lilac Blossom

Honeysuckles and autumn olives blossom at the same time as lilacs here in this part of New Hampshire, so the air is filled with their mingled fragrances right now. I remembered how as a child I would pick single lilac blossoms and suck the sweet nectar from them, so I tried to get a photo of a single flower.

3. Blue Bead Lily Colony

If you saw the leaves before the flowers appeared you might think that you had found lady’s slippers, but a closer look shows that the leaves of blue bead lily (Clintonia borealis) are really very different. I stumbled onto this large colony of plants last year by accident when I was out scouting for new plants. It’s a very healthy, thriving colony and, since it takes more than 12 years for new plants to produce flowers, is one that has been in this spot for a while.

4. Blue Bead Lily

A close look at the flower shows why blue bead lily is in the lily family. Each one looks like a miniature garden lily. The flowers give way to a single, electric blue berry, which is toxic. One Native American legend says that, when a grass snake eats a poisonous toad, it slithers in rapid circles around a shoot of blue-bead lily to transfer the poison to the plant. Blue bead lily seeds take 2 years or more to germinate, so growing this plant from seed would be a very slow process.

5. Four Flowered Star Flower

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) bloom among the blue bead lilies and that’s where I saw my first four flowered one of this season. Now I’ll try to find one with five, if there is such a thing. Since books say that a plant will have no more than two blossoms I have nothing but faith to go on.

6. Pink Lady's Slippers

Our native state wildflower pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have just turned pink from their off whitish / yellowish stage. I’m lucky enough to have a few plants growing in my woods so I don’t have to go too far to study or admire these beautiful orchids. Note that the leaves look very different than the smooth blue bead lily leaves seen earlier.

7. Perennial Bachelor's Button

I don’t think I could imagine more beautiful colors and shapes in a flower than those found on the perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a local park.

8. Blue Eyed Grass

Native blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) with its small blue flowers is an old favorite of mine. Although it is a perennial each plant doesn’t live much more than a couple of years, but if it likes the spot it’s in it will re-seed itself year after year. In spite of its common name it is in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all. Its flowers close at night and at even the hint of a cloudy day, so getting a photo of an open one was a challenge this year.

9. Robin's Plantain aka Erigeron pulchellus

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms and its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. They’re a good indicator of where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes.

10. Dogwood Blossom

Dogwood bracts have gone from green to white, but the tiny florets at their center haven’t opened yet.

12. White Baneberry Plants

Last fall I found quite a large stand of white baneberry in a forest near a local park and luckily I remembered to revisit it this year when the plants were blooming. The small white flowers form racemes, which in this case seem to be too heavy for the 2-3 foot stems to hold upright.

11. White Baneberry Blossoms

Each white baneberry flower will become a white berry with a black stigma scar on one end. In size, color, and shape these berries look like porcelain doll’s eyes, and that’s how this plant got its common name of doll’s eyes. The entire plant is very toxic but the berries are the most toxic part. Eating them can cause cardiac arrest and death, but fortunately their extremely bitter taste keeps all but birds from eating them.

 13. Kerria Blossom

Kerria japonica is blooming in my yard. This six foot shrub is called Japanese rose because it is in the rose family. In its natural form the plant has single, fragrant, 5 petal flowers like that in the photo. There is also a cultivar called Pleniflora with double flowers and one called Albaflora, which is pale yellow. This is a good shrub for people who want a low maintenance garden because it needs very little care. It thrives in shade and if it gets a little scraggly it can be cut right back to the ground, and it has no real insect or disease problems. You can’t ask for more than that from any shrub.

14. Native Azalea

Coming upon an eight foot tall azalea covered with blossoms is enough to take one’s breath away, so beautiful and rare is the sight. I found this native shrub in the forest last year but I was too late to see all but one wilting blossom. I made a point of visiting it early this year so I could watch it and, after visiting it probably a half dozen times, I finally saw its first blossom open just as its leaves began to appear. Now it has too many to count and is just too beautiful for words.

 15. Native Azalea Blossoms

All the signs plus the intense fragrance lead me to believe that this is the roseshell or early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum), but azaleas can be hard to identify.  Whichever one it is, its most outstanding feature is its pleasant fragrance. Books describe it as “clove like” but it seems a little sweeter than that to me. It’s hard to describe a fragrance but it’s not hard to imagine that this must be what heaven smells like.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man. ~Luther Burbank

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