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Posts Tagged ‘Pickerel Weed’

You know it is high summer when our native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) start blooming. This plant is well 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, as 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.

On this day bumblebees were all over the coneflowers.

There were lots of insects on the tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) too and that surprised me because 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. These insects must not have read the same books that I have because they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Tansy is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries and was brought over on the first ships to cross the Atlantic. 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. 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.

Pickerel weed likes to grow in shallow water and large amounts of it grow here in the shallows of a local pond. This plant tells the story of how low the water level is and can be a help to kayakers and canoeists who don’t want to find themselves stuck in the mud. This plant is blossoming much later this year than it usually does and some aquatics like pipewort and arrowhead I haven’t seen at all.

Pickerelweed’s common name comes from the pickerel fish because they were once thought to breed only under its leaves. 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. Though humans can eat the seeds and new spring shoots of this plant there is no record that I can find of Native Americans using it for food, but I have read that some tribes used it as a contraceptive. I’m not sure how that worked.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long white styles sticking out of the tubular blossoms 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. That might be why I see so many ducks and geese along this stretch of river.

Though I’m not foolish enough to think that I’ve seen every plant there is to see out there I’m always surprised to see plants I’ve never seen before growing in areas I’ve walked through dozens, if not hundreds of times. I first saw racemed milkwort (Polygala polygama) recently in a spot I frequent occasionally and then I found it growing in my own yard. It’s a small, shin high plant with flowers too small for me to see any real detail in without magnification.

The tiny flowers are about a 1/4 inch across with 2 winged sepals on either side of 2 petals rolled into a tube in the center. The flowers also have a fringed crest but this example hadn’t blossomed full so it doesn’t show. These flowers are like miniature versions of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers, which appear in mid-May.

This photo of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers that I took last May shows the similarities between them and the racemed milkwort blossom in the previous photo. The central tubular petals and two winged petals immediately led me to the polygala family when I was trying to identify the racemed milkwort. Other names for fringed polygala are fringed milkwort and gaywings. They’re very beautiful things that I wait impatiently to see each spring.

This photo shows how small the flowers of racemed milkwort really are. They’re hard on the eyes, but worth the effort to see in all their beauty.

Another tiny flower is found on native Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense). The plant has deep red buds but its flowers come in the more traditional yellow. Though some very reputable websites will tell you that this plant likes wet soil I always find it in dry gravel. It has grown in full sunshine for months now without harm so it’s a very tough little plant. I wonder if they might have it confused with dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) which likes the wet soil of pond edges, or if I have it confused with yet another variety of St. John’s wort that I don’t know about. Canada St. John’s wort is also called lessor Canada St. John’s wort, so I assume that there must be a greater Canada St. John’s wort.

Canada St. John’s wort flowers are smaller than even dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) flowers are. They’re said to be 1/4 inch across but I think that’s stretching it a bit. The Hypericum part of the scientific name comes from the words hyper, meaning ‘above’ and eikon meaning ‘picture’ in the Greek language. The flowers were once hung above pictures to prevent evil befalling the pagan midsummer festival. The popular festival eventually became the Feast of St. John, and that’s how the large family of St. John’s worts came by their common name.

Enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis) is a woodland plant that likes a lot of shade and is one of those plants that is easy to miss until it blooms along trails in July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. To say that these flowers are difficult to get a good photo of is an understatement. I usually have to try many times, and I had to again this year. I think this was somewhere near the 10th attempt.

At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Enough of the tiny flowers for now. Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is a legume in the bean family. This plant gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks, much like the enchanter’s nightshade we just saw. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals. I saw these examples out in an unmowed meadow and by the time I had waded out to them I was chest high in plants.

Showy tick trefoil has very pretty flowers that are obviously in the pea / bean family. It is also called Canada trefoil. One odd fact about this plant is that there are no known uses of it by Native Americans or colonials. From my experience that’s rare among native plants in this area. Maybe they just picked the beautiful flowers and used them to decorate their homes.

Each inch long spotted jewelweed blossom dangles at the end of a long filament and can dance in even in the slightest breath of breeze, and this makes getting a good photo always a challenge. It usually takes many tries for blog worthy photos of the blossoms and this year was no different.  Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies pollinate these little flowers. You need a long tongue to reach all the way into that curved nectar spur. It is said that jewelweed is an important source of food for ruby throated hummingbirds.

I tried to get a bee’s eye view looking into a jewelweed blossom (Impatiens capensis) but when I saw the photo I could see that I had been only partially successful. The lower lip of the blossom looked like red candle wax had dripped on it, which is common. This plant gets its common name from the way its seed pods snap and release the seeds when touched. Other names include orange Jewelweed, common jewelweed, and orange balsam.  The name “jewelweed” comes from the way that raindrops sparkle on its wax coated leaves. The way the flowers shine, I wonder if the same waxy coating isn’t on them.

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is an invasive perennial that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows but will grow just about anywhere. It’s hard to deny its beauty, especially when you see a meadow full of it growing alongside yellow goldenrods, but the plant chokes out natives including goldenrod and creates monocultures. I know of 2 places where you’ll soon see nothing but purple.

This is the first time long leaf speedwell (Veronica longifolia) has appeared on this blog because I’ve never seen it growing in the wild before, as these examples were. It’s a pretty plant that is native to Europe and China and is usually grown in gardens. It has obviously escaped but certainly doesn’t seem to be aggressive or invasive. I love its showy blue flower spikes.

Any post that has two plants that I’ve never seen before in it has to be a good one and I hope you enjoyed it. I’m sorry it ran a little long but there is just so much to see out there. Something else I’ve never seen is so many black eyed Susans growing in one spot. This roadside display is actually about 4 times wider than what you see here and there is a drift of many thousands of blossoms, so they’re having a good year.

The world unwraps itself to you again and again as soon as you are ready to see it anew. ~Gregory Maguire

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Pickeral Weed

Pickerel weed likes to grow in shallow water and the large amounts of it growing along the shoreline of the Ashuelot River tell the story of how low the water level is. We still haven’t seen any more rain than a quick moving downpour or two and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much pickerel weed here.

2. Button Bush

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long white styles sticking out of the tubular 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.

3. Joe Pye Weed

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 name.

In any event Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is a common late summer sight in wet 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.

4. Gray Goldenrod

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a strong wind that blew them over to one side of the stem.

5. Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is having a good year and I see the big flower heads everywhere, but despite their abundance I’m not finding more flower heads with the tiny purple / reddish floret at their center. Though another name for this plant is “wild carrot” you had better know exactly what you’re doing if you dig and eat the root because there are very similar plants like water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) that are among the most toxic plants known.

6. Queen Anne's Lace Close-3

Legend says the tiny purplish / reddish flower at the center of the flower head is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. This example had plenty of insects on it but I don’t know if they were pollinators. They looked more like fleas.

7. Rabbit's Foot Clover

Invasive rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) is short enough to be forced to grow right at the edge of the road if it wants to get any sunshine, so the roads look like they have been festooned with fuzzy pink ribbons for a while each summer. It’s an annual that grows new from seed each year and the seedlings must be tough, because they don’t seem to mind being occasionally run over, or the poor dry soil found along the road side. In fact they seem to thrive in it. I see more plants each year.

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Golden clover (Trifolium campestre) is another imported clover originally from Europe and Asia. It is also known as large trefoil and large hop clover. The plant was imported through Philadelphia in 1800 to be used as a pasture crop and now appears in most states on the east and west coasts, and much of Canada, but it is not generally considered aggressively invasive. Each pretty yellow flower head is packed with golden yellow pea-like flowers. I see the plant growing along roadsides and in sandy waste areas.

9. Liatrus

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.

10. Bull Thistle

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. I don’t know if it was imported intentionally or accidentally. This example was in the middle of a huge plant, easily the biggest thistle plant that I’ve ever seen, and an ouch or two could be heard while I snapped the shutter.

11. Bumblebee on Thistle

Bees love the thistle blossoms and of course that’s exactly why it has been so successful in spreading.

12. Creeping bellflower

Blue, bell shaped flowers all on one side of the stem can mean only one thing; creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides.) The pretty flowered plant was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in dry places that get full sun. It is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom. It is an invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It will choke out weaker native plants and seems to love colonizing gardens when it is left alone. I usually find it on forest edges.

13. Winterberry

If you are trying to attract wildlife to your yard and have a pond or a swampy area then our native winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is an excellent choice of native shrub. They like very wet soil and, like other hollies, need male and female plants to produce fruit. The white flowers are tiny; barely more than 1/8 inch across, and can have up to eight petals. When pollinated they will become bright red berries and, because the berries have a low fat content, birds and animals eat them quite late in the season, so the berries color the landscape for most of the winter.

14. Purple Phlox

I found some beautiful purple phlox growing on the unmown 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.

15. Tick Trefoil, Pointed-leaf

This is the first time pointed leaved tick trefoil (Desmodium glutinosum) has appeared on this blog because I’ve never seen it before. It’s a plant that doesn’t mind shade and I found a few blooming examples at the edge of a forest recently. I don’t have a good shot of the foliage but you can just make a few of the sharply pointed leaves out on the left side of this photo.

16. Tick Trefoil, Pointed-leaf (Desmodium glutinosum)

Bright purplish pink, stalked flowers are clustered in long straight spikes (racemes.) It’s easy to see that they’re in the pea family but unlike some pea flowers, the reproductive parts are not completely hidden. The white pistil rises up and out of the keel. If pollinated each flower will grow into a green, flat seed pod with 2 or 3 jointed triangular segments that are very sticky. The seed pods will even stick to bare skin and they are where the “tick” in tick trefoil comes from.

17. Tick Trefoil, Pointed-leaf

You have to look closely to see the slightly curved white pistil rising from the keel of the pointed leaved tick trefoil flower. I can’t think of another flower in the pea family like it.

18. Unknown

Here’s a little flower that has had me scratching my head for about a week. Though I’ve looked in every wildflower book I own and have searched on line I can’t identify it. It grew in pure sand and full sunlight in a waste area by the side of a road. The plants were about 3-4 inches tall and had several blooms on each plant. The leaves were narrow and sword shaped, and pointed on the tip. Each flower is so small that I can see color but not the shape without help from a loupe or a photo. I’m guessing that each one is no more than 1/8 inch across-even smaller than those of red sandspurry. I wonder if anyone knows what it is. It’s a beautiful little think and I’d love to know its name.

You find peace by coming to terms with what you don’t know.  ~Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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1. Island

On Sunday some friends and I decided to take our kayaks out for the first time this season. The water in Wilson Pond in Swanzey was warm enough for a dip, in case a mishap should happen and one of us got wet. We started our journey by paddling past the island in the pond.

2. Chop

It was a beautiful day and the sun felt hot as we paddled, but luckily there was a stiff breeze that cooled us. Though welcome, it also made the water quite choppy and would blow your kayak across the water as if it were a sailboat if you stopped paddling.

3. Channel

Secluded coves and channels meant we could find some shade and get away from the wind for a while. The water in some of these channels is very shallow; I’m not sure you’d even get your knees wet if you walked them. Last year there were a lot of ducks here but on this day we didn’t see a single one.

4. Beaver Birch

Beavers had cut down many of the white birch trees along the shore but they left them behind and didn’t even eat the new twigs on their crowns, which seems odd behavior for a beaver. Some trees were hard to paddle around.

5. Cove

I’ve never seen any white water lilies in this pond but yellow pond lilies (Nuphar lutea) like to grow in coves where the water is relatively shallow and calm.

6. Bullhead lily Seed Pod

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.

7. Pickeral Weed

Native pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) blossomed in small colonies just off shore. If you see pickerel weed you can expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid. These examples were only about two feet high but I recently saw others that were as tall as a great blue heron.  I didn’t know that they grew so tall.

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Pickerelweed’s common name comes from the pickerel fish because they were once thought to breed only under its leaves. 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. Though humans can eat the seeds and new spring shoots of this plant there is no record that I can find of Native Americans using it for food.

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Maleberrry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrubs look much like a blueberry, even down to their flowers, but these flowers are much smaller than those of blueberry. I’d guess barely half the size of a blueberry blossom. The two shrubs often grow side by side and look so much alike that sometimes the only way to tell them apart is by the maleberry’s woody brown, 5 part seed capsule. These seed capsules stay on the shrub in some form or another year round and are helpful for identification, especially in spring when the two shrubs look nearly identical.

10. Maleberry Seed Capsules

I’ve included this photo of the maleberry’s seed capsules that I took earlier so you could see what they look like. They are very hard and woody and appear near the branch ends.

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Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shoreline. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

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Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

13. Swamp Roses

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) bloomed in great numbers on the hummocks along the shoreline but I had trouble getting close to them. The 2 inch flowers are very fragrant and though the plant prefers wet to moist soil it will also grow in dry ground. It would be an excellent choice for a home pond or near a stream.

14. Bur Reed 2

Bur reed is another plant found growing 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.

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The female flowers of bur reed are 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.

16. Pipewort

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area and doesn’t grow in this pond, but I’ve included it because it’s an unusual aquatic that isn’t often seen. In fact, I know of only two ponds that it grows in. The plants grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers.

17. Pipewort

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.

18. Lobelia

When I found a new spot for pipewort plants this year I also found a new plant that I’d never seen; water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna.)  I can’t speak for its rarity, but I’ve never seen it in any pond I’ve visited. It’s 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.

19. Lobelia Blossom

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. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl.

20. Cattails

Cattails (Typha latifolia) formed an impenetrable wall and soared overhead in some places along the shoreline. They must have been 8 feet tall or more.

21. Going Back

As the old saying goes all good things must come to an end and before we knew it, it was time to turn for home. I’ve found that an hour or so in a kayak is about all my back can take, but what a fun filled hour it can be. It’s an excellent way to get close to aquatic plants.

We are but a speck in the universe
Oh, but what a lucky speck to be.
~Kehinde Sonola

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1. Fragrant White Water Lily

Our aquatic plants have started blooming here in the southwestern part of New Hampshire and queen among them, at least in my opinion, is the fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata.) I happened to be with someone recently who crawled out on a fallen tree to smell one of these beauties. When I told him that people said they smelled like honeydew melons he agreed. Sort of-it was a hard fragrance to describe, he said, but a pleasant one.  I’m happy just seeing them; I like the golden fire that burns in their center.

2. Pickerel Weed

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is another aquatic that has small purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. 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. It’s a plant that often forms large colonies.

3. Pickerel Weed

A small sampling of what was a very large colony of pickerel weed. Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

4. Burr Reed

One of my favorite aquatics is American burr reed (Sparganium americanum,) more for its quirky appearance than for any other reason. Its round, spiky female flowers grow at the bottom of the stem and the male flowers with yellow stamens above them. Burr reed usually grows right at the edge of ponds and rivers in waterlogged soil but it will sometimes grow in still water. Ducks and other waterfowl love the seeds.

5. Purple Loosestrife

Purple loosestrife is an invasive that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows.

Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant like the one pictured above is becoming very difficult. I read of an experiment going on in Dublin, a town east of here, in which the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture is releasing European beetles to feed on purple loosestrife. The thought is that the beetles will control the plant but my question is, suppose they do control the plant and suppose one day there isn’t any more purple loosestrife. What will the beetles feed on then, native plants? Will we be any better off?  I think we need to be very careful what we wish for.

6. Purple Loosestrife

Though it is much hated you can’t deny the beauty of purple loosestrife. I’ve worked for nurseries and have had people come in wanting to buy “that beautiful purple flower that grows in wet areas.”

7. Mad Dog Skullcap

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) gets its common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge.

8. Mad Dog Skullcap

There is powerful medicine in both mad dog or marsh skullcap and when Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. The small blue and white flowers always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Those of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller.

9. Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet (Spiraea Ulmaria) is another plant that I look for at the water’s edge, though it doesn’t usually grow close enough to get its feet wet. It grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. This plant was one of three considered most sacred by the Druids and has been used medicinally for many thousands of years. Here in America it is an introduced invasive, but little is heard about it and nobody seems to mind.

NOTE: The scientific name I meant to use for this plants is Spirea alba.

10. Soapwort

I find soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) growing along river banks. The plant gets its common name from the way the chopped and boiled leaves produce a soapy lather that is particularly good at removing grease. This plant is a native of Europe and is thought to have been brought over by colonists to be used as a soap substitute. It is said to be especially useful for waterproofing wool, and museum conservators use it for cleaning delicate fabrics that can be harmed by modern soaps.

11. Riverbank Flowers

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is just coming into bloom and I like its dusty rose pink color with the beautiful blue of vervain. I found them on the rocky banks of the Ashuelot River.

12. Canada thistle  aka Cirsium arvense

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) that most of us have tangled with. Though it does have spines along the leaf margins and stem, they are quite small. 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.

13. Orange Daylilly

Along with lilacs and peonies, the common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) is a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is also found in cemeteries often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. It is also very tough; my brother used to mow his when they finished blooming and they still came back and bloomed year after year. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common.

This plant was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes and all of which have the potential to spread just like the original has. If you find yourself doing battle with a particularly weedy daylily, no matter the color, there’s a very good chance that the common orange is one of its parents.

14. Phlox

Phlox whispered that fall is on the way but I didn’t want to hear it. It seems like just yesterday that I was taking photos of spring beauties.

15. Herb Robert

Herb Robert is a geranium that has never appeared on this blog because I’ve never found it in the wild until just recently on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Surry, which is north of Keene. My question, once I had identified it, was: Robert who? As it turns out Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

A very curious fact about this plant is how many people, scientists included, have discovered that it grows most abundantly in areas that have high levels of radiation. It is thought to absorb the radiation from the soil, break it down and disperse it. If I had a Geiger counter I’d go back and check the bedrock outcrop that I found it growing on.

16. Radish

Friends let their radishes go to seed this year and among the rows of plain white flowers was a beautiful pink one. Since Henry David Thoreau instilled a spirit of nonconformity in me when I read his words as a boy, I was happy to see this plant breaking ranks and doing its own thing. Many of the plants found in nurseries are those that have done the same.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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1. Kayaking With Friens on the Old Skatahootchie

Some friends of mine live on a local pond and recently we went exploring in our kayaks. The pond is fed by a wide, shallow stream that was as smooth as glass. It winds in and out between small wooded islands and the shore line and was a beautiful place to explore. None of us knows the name of the stream so I told my friends that I was going to call this photo Kayaking with friends on the old Skatahootchie. I don’t know why the word Skatahootchie popped into my mind, but it did. Maybe it means botanical abundance.

2. Mad Dog Skullcap

I’ve been walking the shores of ponds and lakes for many years and have found one or two mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants here and there, but in this place great bunches of them grew along the shoreline. I would have gotten a good close up of one for you but I’ve discovered that keeping a kayak from moving while trying to get a photo is darn near impossible. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. There is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. 3. Pickerel Weed

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) grew here and there but wasn’t as prevalent as I’ve seen in some other ponds. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid.

4. Kayaking

It was easy to be stunned into silence by the beauty of this place and at times floating through it seemed like floating through a dream. There might not be a heaven on earth, but there are still pieces of Eden left. 5. Fragrant White Water Lilies

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are still in bloom. There are certain flowers that are beautiful enough to make me want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. Some say the scent of fragrant white water lilies reminds them of honeydew melon. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds, so if you see some and come back a week later and find that they’re gone, you aren’t imagining things.

6. Yellow Water Lily Seed Pod

It isn’t often that we get to see a yellow pond lily (Nuphar luteum) seed pod, so I thought I’d get a photo of one while the kayak was handy. This one still had its petals attached. The seeds of this plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. 7. Pipewort

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area. In fact, I know of only one pond that it grows in, so I had to hike a bit to see it. The plants grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers. I’ve found that this plant is very hard to get a good photo of.

8. Pipewort

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 wish I had a better photo to prove it. 9. Bur Reed

Bur reed is another plant found growing 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 female flowers are 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.

10. Buttonbush Flower 2

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a shrub that I often find overhanging rivers and streams. It’s very easy to identify when it’s flowering because the inch diameter spherical flower heads don’t resemble those of any other native shrub that I know of. The fragrant, long white, tubular flowers each have an even longer style that makes the whole flower head look like a spiky pincushion. Once pollinated the flower heads become hard brown seed heads made up of small, two seeded nutlets that are a favorite of ducks and shore birds. Not surprisingly the first part (genus) of the scientific name Cephalanthus comes from the Greek words cephalo, meaning head and anthos, meaning flower.

11. Dwarf St. Johnswort aka Hypericum mutilum

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. These flowers are about the same diameter as a pencil eraser and, since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

12. Arrowhead Flowers

Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is another plant that grows just off shore in ponds but it can also be found it ditches and other wet places. The tuberous roots of this plant are said to have the texture of potatoes but to 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.

13. Arrowheads

All the arrowhead leaves pointed heavenward and looked as if they were about to lift off, and the damselflies hung on for the ride.

14. Frog

Mr. Frog knew that if he stayed very still I wouldn’t see him and neither would the damselfly. I think he’s a green frog rather than a bullfrog but I can’t ever seem to feel 100% certain of my amphibian identifications.

Note: Jim at the jomegat blog has identified this frog as a female bullfrog, so I wasn’t even close. Thanks Jim!

15. Raft

When I saw this old raft my boyhood came rushing back in the form of many pleasant memories of building rafts with friends. They never did float us down the Ashuelot River to the Atlantic but we sure had fun building them, imagining all the while the great adventures we would find. Kayaking is kind of like a rafting-maybe that’s why it’s so much fun.

Discovering this idyllic place, we find ourselves filled with a yearning to linger here, where time stands still and beauty overwhelms. ~Anonymous

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The temperature fell to 40 degrees one night this week. Soon the leaves will begin to turn and the scent of wood smoke will fill the morning air. This means that the season for photographing flowers is coming to an end and soon we’ll all be wondering what else to use as subjects. For now though, there are still a few here and there. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve seen lately.

 1. Pickeral Weed

Native aquatic pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) has had a long bloom period this year, but I’ve never paid enough attention to it to know if this is an unusual year for it. I like its fuzzy flowers.  Pickerelweed’s common name comes from the pickerel fish. They were once thought to breed only under this plant’s leaves. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds form the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water. They will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate.

 2. Turtlehead

Turtle head (Chelone glabra) is another native that likes water, but not enough to be considered aquatic. It will often grow right at the water’s edge along ponds and streams, so even the slightest rise in water level will put the plant’s roots under water. These flowers had almost gone by but the photo is a good representation of what they look like. The flowers are said to look like turtle heads, but I’m still not seeing it. The blossom in the upper left corner comes closest to the turtle look for me. Native Americans made medicinal tea from this plant and early colonials used it in the same way.

 3. Japanese Knotweed

All of the Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) plants in this immediate area came up too early last spring and were blackened by a hard frost. As the photo above shows, it didn’t even slow them down. This, along with purple loosestrife is one of the worst invasives, because it spreads so fast and so thickly that it chokes out all other plants. A viable plant can grow from as little as .7 grams of rootstock.

 4. Japanese Knotweed

The flowers are why Japanese knotweed was imported from England back in the late 1800s.

5. Lady's Thumb

Lady’s thumb (Persicaria vulgaris) gets its common name from a black / brown smudge on its leaves, supposedly left there by a mysterious lady we’ll never know. Small pink flowers crowd the flower stalks (Racemes) on this plant in the knotweed family. Each flower has 5 sepals but no petals. Flowers can be pink, red, greenish white, or purple. All of these colors sometimes appear on the same raceme. This plant is native to Europe and Asia.

6. Lady's Thumb

The “lady’s thumb print” on Persicaria vulgaris leaves.

7. Smartweed

Smartweed (Polygonum hydropiperoides) flowers look a lot like those of its cousin lady’s thumb, but the flower spikes are longer and usually droop like the one in the photo. They also usually grow in the water of rivers and streams and have narrower leaves that don’t have the “thumbprint” that lady’s thumb leaves do. This plant is also called water pepper for good reason-the name “smartweed” comes from the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. Many ducks, birds and animals eat the seeds.

 8. Pale Jewelweed

 Pale jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) looks a lot like spotted jewelweed, but has larger, pale yellow flowers instead of orange.  This plant is rarely seen here, but I found several large plants growing beside a stream one day. Native Americans used the crushed leaves of jewelweed to stop the itching caused by poison ivy. I’ve used the plant’s juice for the same thing and it works well, and it also works on bug bites.

 9. Pale Jewelweed

The sides of this flower were spotted much like those of spotted jewelweed, but quite often this plant’s flowers will have no spots at all. The nectar spur is shorter and less curved on pale jewelweed flowers as well. I think if I had to choose between the two plants I’d prefer the deep orange spotted jewelweed flowers.

10. Sweet everlasting aka Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium

Native sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) looks a lot like pearly everlasting ( Anapahlis margaritacea) but its flower heads are narrower. The two plants are in the aster family, but aren’t closely related. These flowers are made up of a densely packed outer rim of overlapping bracts with many yellow disc florets in the center. The ‘everlasting” part of the common name comes from the way it lasts after it is dried. This plant is also called rabbit tobacco, but I’ve never seen one smoking it. Native Americans had many uses for it.

 11. Joe pye Weed

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) had a good year and this is just one of many large displays that I saw. Research into exactly who Joe Pye was has been ongoing for many years. The latest evidence says that Joseph Pye was a Mohegan sachem (chief) who lived in western Massachusetts and saved early European settlers from typhus by brewing a tea made from this plant. Joseph Pye was educated by Samson Occam, himself a Mohegan herbalist and Christian convert who kept an extensive diary. Those interested can read more about Joe Pye by clicking here.

12. Goldenrod

I usually stay away from goldenrod identification because even experts have trouble with them, but when I see one that looks like it’s been in a strong wind, with all of the flowers on one side of the stem I know it is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis.) Native Americans used many goldenrods medicinally in the form of salves, syrups and teas.

 13. Purple Aster

The purple asters are beginning to peek out here and there among the whites, which are almost done blooming. I think this one is a bog aster (Aster nemoralus,) but there are so many different ones that it’s hard to identify most of them with any real certainty unless you want to spend half a day doing so. All I know for sure is that it isn’t a New England Aster, which has a much larger flower. These were about the size of nickels.

Flowers whisper “Beauty!” to the world, even as they fade, wilt, and fall. ~Dr. SunWolf

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The plants in this post were all found growing in or near water. Almost everywhere else has been too dry to support many blooming plants.  Lately though, passing thunderstorms have helped. Every few days the storm clouds gather. Sometimes they drop rain and sometimes just make a lot of noise.   Blue vervain (Verbena hastate) has appeared here before, but it has been blooming all summer and it’s hard to beat such a beautiful color. The only thing this plant is missing is a scent. Blue vervain provides a virtual nectar bar for many species of bees including the verbena bee (Calliopsis verbenae.) Butterflies also love it. This plant likes wet soil and full sun and can reach 5 feet when it has both. I’ve also seen it growing out of sidewalk cracks, but it was barely a foot tall.Blue Vervain, Yellow goldenrod and pink clover. Could any of us plan anything more beautiful for our gardens?Native boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is another plant that likes its feet wet and its head in the sun. It is usually seen with Joe Pye weed and some call it white Joe Pye weed. There is another boneset called late boneset (Eupatorium serotinum.) Bonest is sometimes used medicinally in teas and tonics even though it has toxic qualities. The greatest danger in using this plant medicinally is that it can be easily confused with our native, extremely toxic white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima,) which has similar flower clusters. All parts of white snakeroot are so poisonous that thousands died in the 19th century by using beef and milk from cattle that had eaten the plant. Its poison can even enter the body through cuts. White snakeroot is also sometimes called tall boneset.The “perfoliatum” part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the leaf,” and that’s what boneset leaves look like-as if they had been perforated by the stem. The leaves look crinkly and have saw- toothed margins and the stem is very hairy. If these four identification points aren’t present then the plant isn’t boneset. The leaves joining around the stem as they do looked like bones knitting together as they healed to ancient herbalists, and that’s how the plant got its common name.As flowers go Canada horseweed (Conyza canadensis) isn’t much to look at. In fact, if it wasn’t for the many small, dandelion-like seed heads I would have passed it right by. The flowers are tiny and seem to stay closed more than they do open. This plant can be easily seen from a distance because it starts branching at about a foot down from the tip of the tall, 3 foot stem and always looks top heavy. This plant is a North American native but is considered a noxious weed over much of the world. Legend has it that dried horseweed stem is one of the best materials for a drill when making fire with friction. Its stems are weak, so rubbing it between your hands rather than using a bow is recommended. It is said to produce a glowing coal with very little effort.There are 12 to 15 species of Gerardia in New England and unless you look closely at the plant while you have a field guide in your hands, you can easily mix them up. This one, I’m fairly certain, is Slender Gerardia (Gerardia tenuifolia.) The wiry stems, long flower stalks, sharply pointed calyx, long, narrow leaves, branching habit and dark spots with yellow pollinator guide lines inside the flower all go a long way towards identifying it. Gerardia is related to both foxgloves and snap dragons, and some call this slender leaved foxglove, even though the flowers are much smaller than those of foxglove. This plant is said to prefer dry areas but we had a thunderstorm the night before I found it and it was growing in very wet sand.  It is native to the eastern U.S. and doesn’t grow west of Missouri.I ran into this native dwarf St. John’s Wort (Hypericum mutilum) on a morning after we had thunder storms the night before. There was quite a large colony of it growing very close to the water near a pond and the plants were so tangled together that you couldn’t tell one from another. The flowers are quite small but they covered the short, bushy plants, making them easy to see. This plant looks like a lot like a small version of common St. John’s Wort, but is more sprawling than tall. I’ve had a hard time getting close to this floating bladderwort (Utricularia radiate) but finally, after 2 months, I got close enough to get a decent photo and its flower was closed! Oh well-you’ll have to trust me when I say that the small yellow, snapdragon-like flower is unusual and beautiful. What I really wanted to point out about the plant are the unusual leaf stalks (petioles) that have evolved into floats. In the fall the plant forms what are called winter buds on its underwater stems. These buds and bits of stem are all that survive the winter on the pond bottom. In spring when the water warms they inflate and float to the surface where they start to grow into new plants. These plants float in ponds and slow moving streams and trap insects in underwater bladders.I found this forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides) growing on a river bank. Books tell me that the plant grows naturally on the banks of streams and rivers, but this is the only time I’ve ever seen one there in spite of spending over 50 years exploring such places. There are over 50 species of forget-me-nots; some are native to North America and some are European natives.Heal all (Prunella vulgaris ) just goes on and on. It’s been blossoming all summer and it seems that whenever I find a plant I’d like a photograph of there is heal all, waiting patiently to have its picture taken, too. This time I decided to oblige and snapped a few shots of the shy but very beautiful little thing. Like the forget-me-not that we just saw, heal all can be both a native or European plant, depending on which species you happen to see.As the story goes, once upon a time a lady (with a dirty thumb?) made an impression on this plant  and it has been called lady’s thumb (Polygonum persicaria) ever since. Though it doesn’t show very well in this photo, the base of each leaf forms a clasping sheath where it joins the central stem. Clasping leaves and the spots on each leaf are helpful identifiers. The small whitish-pink flowers are hard to find fully open and most often appear as they do in the photo. This is a small, unobtrusive plant that might reach 2 feet tall on a good day. Lady’s thumb is very similar to other knotweeds and smartweeds, but is the only one with the brownish black “thumb print.” I found the plant pictured growing in the rocky, sandy soil of a river bank, very close to the water line.When you get up close and personal pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) turns out to be quite hairy. This is one feature which, at even a short distance, usually isn’t seen. Pickerelweed, unless it hasn’t rained for a month, is an aquatic plant always found growing in shallow water just off shore of ponds and rivers. This year though, with the lack of rain, this one grew in mud at the edge of a pond and I was able to walk right up to it.  Pickerelweed will bloom right up to a good frost. While the tops die back in the fall, the starchy, fleshy roots will live on under water until the following spring. Deer, muskrat and geese think this plant is a delicacy. At first I thought this plant was northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) but I can’t find any reference to reddish leaves and dark purple stems for that plant. Instead, it must be the very similar looking taper leaf water horehound (Lycopus rubellus.) Its description includes both reddish leaves and stems which can be more purple than green, especially when it grows in bright light. Both plants love wet soil and are good wetland indicators. I found this one growing in full sun on a riverbank in a place that is often covered by water. I’ve seen it countless times but have really never paid it any attention.Spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a wet soil loving native plant and I see it on river and stream banks regularly. One story says that water droplets sparkle on the dull green leaves after a rain, and that’s why the plant is called jewelweed. Another says it’s because the flowers sparkle in the sun. Several species of bees and ruby throated hummingbirds visit jewelweeds regularly. The forward bending nectar spur on each flower plus their orange color makes this plant easy to identify.  Another name for the plant is spotted touch me not because of the way the seed pods explode at the slightest touch. I’m sure most of us experienced that surprising event as children. This plant is extremely useful for soothing skin that has come into contact with poison ivy. Just pick a few stems and squeeze the sap onto the itch and rub it in. The itch will be gone in no time.  A similar but less common plant is yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida,) which has pale yellow flowers.This wet meadow has been seen here before. It is a fine place to find all kinds of sun loving wildflowers and some of those in this post live there. It also reminds me of an impressionist’s painting. Monet, maybe?

Be like the sun and meadow, which are not in the least concerned about the coming winter ~George Bernard Shaw

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