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Posts Tagged ‘Pink Lady’s Slipper’

Last Saturday was a beautiful cool, sunny day perfect for a walk in the woods, so I chose one of my favorite rail trails in Swanzey. It crosses the Ashuelot river and I thought I’d see how low the water was.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) often turn a beautiful pumpkin orange in the fall and it looked like they were well on their way.

There was nothing strange about finding Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) out here but what was very odd about this particular plant was the bright red splotch on its upper tier of leaves. I’ve never seen this before. It looks like someone has dripped paint on it but no, it was part of the leaf color. I’ve never seen this plant turn red in the fall so I can’t explain it.

What may have been a Virginia ctenucha moth caterpillar crawled up a grass stem. According to the I naturalist website this caterpillar inhabits wet meadows and open spaces with bushes from North Carolina to Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. It was quite small.

A woodpecker of some sort made a hole right below the stitched holes made by a sapsucker, which is another woodpecker. Not something you see every day.

I saw a young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) just up out of the soil and pushing up the leaf litter.

There were many fly agarics all along the trail. They often grow in large colonies.

Maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) grew on many species of tree along this trail. I like this lichen’s simplicity; what you see is what you get with this one. The white fringe around the outside is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify it, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it.

This trail is level, wide and shaded and a lot of bike riders use it. I saw one with a flat tire on this day, so they had to turn from rider to hiker. I hoped they didn’t have too far to go.

Big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) is a common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning other mosses. In fact I’ve never seen a moss grow as fast as this one. It’s everywhere I go now and just a few years ago I hardly saw it. I put my hand in this moss on this day and found it soft and thick like a cushion, and also quite damp.

I’ve wondered if the dampness that the moss seems to retain is why so many other plants come up through it. This pink lady’s slipper certainly seemed happy surrounded by it. Many mosses soak up water like a sponge and release it slowly over time and I have a feeling that this is one of them.

New England asters bloomed in only one spot on this day but it was a beautiful plant, loaded with blossoms.

What I think were common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum) puffballs grew all along the trail. I was surprised because I usually only see maybe one or two each year. Another name for it is the pigskin poison puffball because it is toxic. It likes to grow on compacted soil like that found on forest trails. They often have a yellow color on their surface and are also called citrine earth balls because of it. I’ve seen them with a beautiful lemon yellow color.

Someone had shot off a bottle rocket from somewhere and it landed out here on the trail. It’s a wonder it didn’t start a fire. Dry white pine needles are excellent material for starting a campfire.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly at first but this is how they end up. The odd thing about this example is how the flower didn’t stand up straight after it was pollinated, or maybe it wasn’t pollinated. Usually once pollinated the flowers will stand perfectly vertical and look directly up at the sky, and that’s how the current phase of their lives will end.

I was very surprised to see shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) here. I’ve only seen this plant in two other places so it seems to be on the rare side in this area. It is also called flame leaf sumac, dwarf sumac, or winged sumac. These shrubs were about chest high but I’ve read that they can reach about 8-10 feet. The foliage turns a beautiful, brilliant orange-red in fall.

I was also surprised to see a red trillium (Trillium erectum) still hanging on to its leaves. Once the plant is done flowering in late April to mid-May the leaves don’t usually last long. They like cool, damp weather but they certainly haven’t had any of that this year.

I was finally at the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle where I could see what the water level of the river was out here in the middle of nowhere. In Keene the river is so low that for the first time in my memory Ashuelot falls on West street have gone dry.

It’s hard to tell from photos but the river in this spot was about as low as I’ve ever seen it. If you walked across it here under the old trestle I doubt you’d even get your knees wet.

Some trees looked appropriately fall-like but they were also in bright sunshine. I’ve noticed that some trees are changing early and they say it’s due to stress from lack of rain. 

Though I would have loved to have stayed in the woods for days of course I couldn’t, so I turned and followed the trail back. And, I should add, I saw all kinds of things that I missed the first time. And that’s why John Burroughs said To find new things, take the path you took yesterday.  

I would have plenty of company on my walk back. Chipmunks are having a good year and they’ll have good times in the future, because we have a good crop of acorns and the pine trees are loaded with cones. It looks like a mast year.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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Our locust trees are now in bloom. The one shown here is a bristly locust (Robinia hispida,) which is more shrub than tree, though it can reach 8 feet. 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 pinkish purple bristly locust 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.

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) are also blooming and are 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. You can just see some of them unfolding in this photo.

If you don’t know this flower then you don’t know beans. Or peas, or lupines, or chickpeas, or soybeans, or peanuts, or any other of the more than 18,000 species in the legume (Fabaceae) family. Most have flowers much like the black locust example shown here but some tropical species can resemble orchids. Only the orchid and sunflower families have a larger presence in the plant kingdom. The huge legume family is made up of shrubs, trees, vines, and herbs which grow all over the world and feed its populations. Many plants in the family like clover have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots that convert inert atmospheric nitrogen into a form which is useable to other plants. That’s part of the reason Native Americans planted beans, squash and corn together. Legumes have fed mankind for thousands of years and this world would be a very different place without them.

You can see the same type of flower as the locust has on the puffy little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus.) It is also in the legume family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods, which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives.

If you Google “Herb Robert” (Geranium robertianum) you find two very interesting things. First is how it is named for a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases with it, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb.

Second is that many people, scientists included according to an article in The Healing Journal, have discovered that it grows most abundantly in areas that have high levels of radiation and is said to absorb radiation from the soil in powerline corridors. It is thought to absorb the radiation from the soil, break it down and disperse it. Obviously I can’t confirm that but it’s a story that I first heard years ago and which persists; I just heard about it again the radio the other day.

I’m sure everyone has seen a buttercup (Ranunculus) but I wonder how many have seen their shine? The waxy shine on the petals is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed. Capturing the shine in a photo is a challenge I’m glad I only face once each year because it means taking many photos before I get it right.

This yellow daylily (Hemerocallis) is very early, blooming just after the Siberian irises bloom. This plant was given to me many years ago by a friend who has since passed on and I have divided it many times for family and friends. Two things make this plant special: the early bloom time and the heavenly fragrance that smells of citrus and spices. I have a feeling this is a Lemon daylily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) which is a very old species brought to America in colonial days and originally from China and Europe.  The Greek word Hemerocallis means “beautiful for a day,” and that’s how long each flower lasts. It’s a shame that many of today’s daylilies, bred for larger and more colorful flowers, have lost their ancient fragrance.

There are two times when our wild grapevines tickle my nose; once in the fall when their ripening fruit makes the woods smell like grape jelly, and once in the spring when their tiny flowers emit a huge fragrance that can be detected from many yards away. These flowers are so small that I really can’t come up with an accurate way to describe their size. When you smell them your first thought will probably be “no, that fragrance can’t be coming from these tiny things,” but it is.

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that few people grow. It’s one of the last to leaf out in late spring and its fragrant hanging white flowers give it the name old man’s beard.  Male flowered trees are showier but then you don’t get the purple berries that female flowered trees bear. Birds love the fruit and if I had room I’d grow both.

Here’s a closer look at the male fringe tree flowers. I’ve read that these trees are very easy to grow and are pollution tolerant as well.

I felt bad when I accidentally knocked a columbine (Aquilegia) flower off while mowing near it but once I got down on my knees to get a photo I felt nothing but joy, because by then I was lost inside its beauty. Evolution yes; flowers have evolved to be appealing to the birds, bats and insects they want to attract, but that doesn’t explain their beauty. Or maybe it does; do birds and insects see it as we do?  If not then why are they so beautiful? It’s easy to think that maybe all that beauty is there just to please humanity, but that might be too crooked a path to follow.

When I was a boy I read books like Ivan Sanderson’s Book of Great Jungles, and I dreamed that one day I’d go to those jungles as a plant explorer and I’d bring back plants with flowers so beautiful they would make the people of the world weep with joy. The plant shown here wasn’t quite as beautiful as all that and it might make you weep for different reasons, but my sharp intake of breath and quickening heart rate told me that I had discovered something I’d never seen before.

After some searching I found that these small white flowers belong to a plant called flowered cancer root, also called naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora.)  The naked part of the name comes from its lack of leaves. It doesn’t need them because it is parasitic on the plants that surround it, in this case mostly raspberry, from what I could see. It pierces the roots of other plants and slowly sucks the nutrition from them, weakening them, so it isn’t as innocent as it might appear. The small flowers are white and fuzzy with a yellow center and tiny purple hairs around the outside that make it appear to have an aura in the right light.

According to a New York Times article by Dave Taft, there are records of medieval medical uses of the plant as an astringent healer of “old green wounds.” It is said that Native Americans used the plant to treat skin infections but little seems to be known about how they used it. According to Wildflowers of the United States, the broomrape name comes from the way a European cousin of the plant parasitizes certain species of broom, an old world name for vetch, and the orobanche part of the scientific name means “vetch-strangler.” According to Wikipedia this plant is considered rare or vulnerable in 17 states. In New Hampshire it is simply listed as “present” but since I’ve seen it exactly once in 60+ years its presence isn’t common. It is listed as rare in the Midwest.

It’s finally clematis time here in New Hampshire, and here is Ramona to prove it. She starts off with dark flowers…

…and then the flowers lighten as they age.

Orange is a hard color to find in wildflowers here in New Hampshire so luckily we have orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca.) I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed and I’m not sure why that is. The plant might be from Europe but it’s far from invasive. Maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. They do reflect ultraviolet light though, so that means that some insects must find them. The only other orange wildflower I can think of is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis.)

The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows but they will also grow in abandoned lots and other waste areas. I see them by the hundreds.

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) has just started flowering. Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

It’s already time to say goodbye to one of our most beautiful native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper. As can be seen here New Hampshire’s state wildflower had a good year.

Humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

If there is a sweeter name for a flower than fawn’s breath, I haven’t heard it. It comes from the way the flowers, which sit at the ends of long thin stems (pedicels,) will move and dance even in the gentle breath of a fawn. Since I’ve never seen a fawn near one I can’t confirm that but I do know that even the slightest breeze will set them all dancing. Of course that’s a flower photographer’s worst scenario but while I wait for the flowers to stop dancing I can admire their beauty.

Asymmetrical is what the flowers are, with petals that look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler, but it gives the plant a certain charm I think. It makes me search the plant for that one flower that must be perfectly symmetrical, but of course I never find it. The plant is also called Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata.) It is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, so another common name is American ipecac. 

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher

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In June our biggest and most beautiful wildflowers come into bloom and, though most wildflowers are now found in sunny pastures and meadows, there are some still blooming in the woods. One of the most notable summer woodland wildflowers is the pink lady’s slipper(Cypripedium acaule.) I can remember when it was hard to find this native orchid but now thankfully they are making quite a good comeback, I think that’s because people realize that they can’t just dig them up and expect them to grow in their gardens. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for them to reproduce. They will die in just a few short years if the fungus isn’t there. 

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. Many different insects pollinate orchids but in lady’s slippers bees do the job. They enter the flower through the center slit in the pouch and once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in.

Once it enters the pouch through the slit seen here there is only one way out for a bee; guide hairs inside the flower point the way to the top of the pouch or slipper, and once the bee reaches the top it finds two holes big enough to fit through. Just above each hole the flower has positioned a pollen packet so once the bee crawls through the hole it is dusted with pollen. The flower’s stigma is also located above the exit holes and if the bee carries pollen from another lady’s slipper it will be deposited on the sticky stigma as it escapes the pouch, and fertilization will have been successful. Isn’t evolution amazing?

At a glance the leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) are often mistaken for those of lady’s slippers, but lady’s slipper leaves are deeply pleated and blue bead lily leaves are not, they’re smooth like those seen here. The two plants like the same conditions and often grow side by side. It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. I like seeing both the flowers and the blue berries that follow them. It’s been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

Every time I look closely at blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) I wonder why they didn’t call it yellow eyed grass, but that’s not all that’s wrong with the name because the plant isn’t a grass at all; it’s in the iris family. Its light, blue green leaves do resemble grass leaves though.

Beautiful little blue eyed grass flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find. I think they must be sun lovers because that’s where I usually find them. Some plants like cool damp weather, but this isn’t one of them.

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 but 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 mowed lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes. I’ve seen several already.

Robin’s plantain has the biggest, most beautiful flower of any of the fleabanes in this area in my opinion.

I’ve never seen germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) bloom like it is this year. All of the sudden  I’m seeing them everywhere and I wonder if they’re becoming invasive. It’s also called bird’s eye speedwell and is another plant introduced from Europe and Asia.

After trying to photograph speedwell flowers that are one step above microscopic the germander speedwell seems gigantic in comparison because of its 3/16 to 1/4 inch flowers. It has the strange habit of wilting almost as soon as it is picked, so it isn’t any good for floral arrangements. Like all the speedwells I’ve seen it has one lower petal smaller than the other three.

So wait just a minute. I just said that “all the speedwells I’ve seen have one lower petal smaller than the other three,” but that can’t be true any longer because the common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) in this photo doesn’t have a smaller petal anywhere. Though I’m sure it’s common speedwell I can’t explain why the flowers would be so different unless the plant is a natural hybrid. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries. Its flowers are about a third the size of a germander speedwell blossom.

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.

When we move out of the forest to their edges we find sun loving plants like hawthorn, which was in full bloom on this day. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms aren’t much in the way of fragrance because of a compound called trimethylamine, which gives the plant a slightly fishy odor, but they’re big on beauty with their plum colored anthers. They are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today. There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage.

The club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) are very easy to confuse with those of red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but that plant’s flower head is spherical rather than elongated. The flower head of white baneberry is always taller than it is wide and if pollinated the flowers will become white berries with a single black dot on one end. That’s where the common name doll’s eyes comes from. The berries are very toxic and can be appealing to children but luckily they are very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

I find goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis) growing in a meadow in full sun and that single spot is the only place I find them. Goat’s beard flowers close up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify. It is native to Europe but doesn’t seem to be at all invasive here. In fact I often have trouble finding it.

Bridal wreath spirea shrubs (Spiraea prunifolia) are loaded with beautiful flowers right now but I suppose they’re considered old fashioned because you never see them at newer houses. In Greek the word spirea means wreath, but the plant comes from China and Korea. Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune originally found it in a garden in China in the 1800s but it grows naturally on rocky hillsides, where its long branches full of white flowers spill down like floral waterfalls. After seeing the plant pictured it was easy to see why he chose to bring it back on board a ship.

When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one bridal wreath spirea growing in it but now I hardly see them. They’re very pretty, I think.

Lupines found in our meadows and along the roadsides in this part of the state are thought to be a cross between our western lupine (Lupinus polyphyllos) and various European varieties, so they are not native to New Hampshire, but they’re still very beautiful. Our native lupine is the sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis,) which is host to the endangered Karner blue butterfly. Lupines are in the pea family and like white and red clover fix atmospheric nitrogen into a soluble form that can be used by plants. It is said that the lupine has been cultivated for 2000 years or more, beginning in ancient Egypt, because the seed is so high in protein. These are beautiful plants to have in the garden but are very susceptible to aphid attack. 

Native azaleas can be hard to find in this area but I know a few places where I can find the early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum.) Even though it is called early azalea the Rhodora often blooms earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet. Finding a seven foot tall one of these blooming in the woods is something you don’t forget right away, and I think I remember the exact location of every one I’ve ever found. Unfortunately there aren’t many.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers, which you can see here on the buds. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them. It’s a great time to be outside finding beautiful things like these.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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The hardest part of these looking back posts is choosing which photos to use when I have hundreds to choose from. I try to choose a photo that speaks to the month it was taken, so I chose this photo for January because it says it all about what the weather was that month; cold enough for ice but very little snow.

In February we had both ice and snow, as this photo from the deep cut rail trail shows, but it’s a bit deceiving because it stays cold in the man made canyon. In the surrounding countryside we had a mild enough winter so, for the first time in almost 30 years, I didn’t have to shovel my roof. It would snow and then warm up and melt it and then do the same, and it did that all winter long. So far it appears that this winter is following suit.

March is when nature begins to stir, and one of the first signs is sap buckets hanging on maple trees. It really is a relief to see them because I know that even though we might still see a lot of snow the ground has thawed enough to let tree sap flow and buds to swell. Seeing breaking buds in spring is something I look forward to all winter.

But before the tree leaves appear many beautiful things will happen for just a short time, and they are the spring ephemeral flowers. In April I found these beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) blossoming in an old patch of woodland and I knew that spring was really, finally here. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to see the first wildflower in spring, but I’ve been known to kneel beside them for quite a long time taking photo after photo, making sure I don’t miss any of their fleeting beauty.

It was late April when I thought I’d walk along the rail trail to where wild columbines blossom but then I met up with a huge black bear, the first of two I’d see last year. This animal was closer than I ever want to be to another one; this photo was taken with a 50mm lens, not a zoom. It could have easily been on me in seconds but thankfully it just stared at me and let me walk away. The bear I ran into on Pitcher Mountain just a month later in May did the same thing, so I’m thinking 2019 was a lucky year. I was totally unprepared for each encounter and didn’t even have bear spray.

This is what the state of New Hampshire recommends we do when it comes to bears. I’m all for it but I just hope the bears have seen the posters.

In May I finally did get out to the ledges where the beautiful wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) bloom and though I didn’t see another bear I found that a lot of the shine had gone from this particular hike. This is the only place I know of to find these beautiful plants so I’ll be back out there this coming May, but this time I’ll be better prepared to meet up with old Mr. Bear, just in case.  

Every bit as beautiful but not quite as colorful as a flower is a spring beech bud (Fagus grandifolia) opening. A tree full of these looks like it has been festooned with tiny angel wings and they are one of my favorite things to see in spring. But you have to watch closely because they don’t stay like this for more than a day. A good sign that beech bud break is about to happen is when the normally small, straight buds grow longer and curl like a rainbow. Once that happens they are ready to break and let the leaves unfurl. I start watching for them in early May.

Some of the most beautiful things in the forest go completely unnoticed, like breaking tree buds. As this just opened bud of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) also shows, bud break is an event worth watching for. Many other buds like oak, maple, and elm also open in May and are just as beautiful. I hope you’ll look for them this spring.

Though we see flowers in March and April it doesn’t truly warm up until May, and that’s usually when some of the more fragile flowers like these beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) appear, but last year I didn’t find any of these until early June. This is a flower that is so complex it really is a wonder that it is pollinated at all. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual little flower. 

One of the flowers I most look forward to seeing in June is our native pink lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium acaule.) I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce, so if plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will die if the fungus isn’t present. They should never be dug up or moved.

In July we had a hot, humid spell and I saw a beautiful blinded sphinx moth (Paonias excaecatus,) which is something I had never seen before. The minute I saw it I thought it looked like a blue eyed baboon face and I still think so. I’m guessing that it would scare a bird away.

One of the things I most look forward to in July is the blooming of the greater purple fringed bog orchids (Platanthera grandifolia) I found growing in a swamp a few years ago. It is easily one of the most beautiful flowering plants I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a few. At one time there were so many of these plants Native Americans made tea from their roots, but I’ve only seen two plants in my lifetime and those grew almost beside each other, so I’d say they are very rare in this area. Last July I found that the two plants had become one, and I had to wade through a swamp to get to it. I’m hoping I get to see at least that one again this July. Orchids are notorious for simply disappearing with no warning.

August is when some our most beautiful aquatic wildflowers bloom, and one of the most rare and beautiful is the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum.) I find them growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds. It can be tricky getting their photo though, because this plant closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine the following afternoon, so you’ll never find them blooming on a cloudy day or in the morning. Once they show buds I check on them every day until I find them blooming and it’s always worth the effort. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow.

It was hot last August like you would expect it to be so I went back down into the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s always a good 10 degrees cooler there with a nice breeze blowing, so it’s a good place to cool off on a hot day. But that isn’t the only reason I go there; it’s the only place I know of to find the beautiful and very reptilian liverwort called great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum), also called snakeskin liverwort, for obvious reasons. If you crush this liverwort it has a very unique, spicy clean scent. The reason it looks so snake like is because of the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surfaces. It is the only liverwort with this feature, so it is very easy to identify. In my opinion it is one of the most interesting and beautiful things found in nature, and it is always well worth searching for.

September is when our fall flowers start to bloom, like the asters seen here. The monarch was a bonus but I saw lots of them last year; many more than in previous years. There is a large field full of common milkweed very near where I took this photo but I always see far more butterflies, including monarchs, on other flowers. I’m not sure why that would be.

2019 was a poor year for fungi and I was never able to even find enough to put together a fungi post but I saw a few in September, including these orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana.) These little (less than an inch across) mushrooms fruit from June through September and are fairly common. If you touch them the orange color will stain your fingers. Mycena mushrooms also come in bright red, pink and purple. Some also bleed a blood colored latex when cut.

October is when the fall foliage that started turning in September really kicks in, and colorful leaves are seen everywhere you go. It’s a beautiful time of year and the foliage colors last year were exceptional, as this view from along the highway in Dublin shows.

In October I finally climbed Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard at just the right time and the foliage colors were at their peak. It was so beautiful I had a hard time leaving. I was up there for a good while, taking far too many photos. This was one of my favorites.

I had looked for red or orange cup fungi for years so I was surprised when friends said they had some growing in their gravel driveway. Fungi aren’t what I expect to see much of in November but there they were. It turned out that, not only was I looking in the wrong places for them but I was also looking at the wrong time of year. Now that I know when and where to look for the orange peel fungi seen here I hope I’ll find them regularly. They’re an unusual and uncommon fungus.

November is when those colorful leaves fall from the trees in earnest, but this view at Halfmoon Pond in Hancock lasted well into the month. What a beautiful season it was.

Life is a circle so of course we’ve ended up right back where we started, in winter. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at 2019 in photos. If I see only half as much beauty in 2020 I’ll be very happy.

Wise is the one who flavors the future with some salt from the past. Becoming dust is no threat to the phoenix born from the ash. ~Curtis Tyrone Jones

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone will have a happy and blessed new year.

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I know of only three places to find gentians and only one place to find bottle or closed gentians, and that place is along the Ashuelot River in Keene. Last year I got upset when I went looking for them and found that the Keene Parks and Recreation Department had sent someone out here with a weed wacker, and that person had cut down countless beautiful wildflowers all along the trail, including the gentians. I didn’t know what I would find this year but last Saturday down the trail I went.

One of the first things I noticed was how ripe the false Solomon’s seal fruit (Maianthemum racemosum) was getting. It goes from mottled to solid red and many of these were red. They’re very pretty berries that are said to taste like molasses.

Virginia bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus) bloomed all along the trail. This is a close relative of water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and looks much like it except for its purple tinged leaves.

It was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods and I petted dogs, talked to strangers, and was happy to be in a place I’ve known since I was about 10 years old. To think I was walking a trail which was, in high probability, a Native American fishing trail which has probably changed little in thousands of years. Remains of settlements dating back 12,000 years have been found very near here and it boggles the mind to think about all that might have gone on in this place.

I always seem to see something I haven’t seen before out here, even though I’ve walked this trail for over 50 years. On this day it was a nice colony of one of our prettiest native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule.) I wonder if I’ll remember where they are next June when they’re in bloom.  

One of the lady’s slippers still had last year’s seed pod on it, and on that was a spider’s egg sac.

The branches of this fallen tree always make me think of the ribs of an ancient sunken ship. Indeed, at one time sections of this river were dredged so that river boats could navigate it, but the railroad coming to town put a stop to that.

Other trees might add to the hazards in the river; I could see right through this hollow red maple (Acer rubrum.)

There was lots of duckweed on the backwaters where the current is almost nonexistent.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) grew on the sunny parts of the riverbank. The skullcap part of the common name comes from the calyx at the base of the flower, which is said to look like a medieval skull cap. The plant was once thought to cure rabies, and that is where the “mad dog” part of the common name comes from. There is powerful medicine in many skullcap species 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 on mad dog skullcap but you have to look closely because sometimes one bloom will fall off before the other, which is what has happened with this example.

The seed pods of fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) are unusual and hard to confuse with any other plant. I saw hundreds of seedpods but only one flower left, growing out of reach down the river bank.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) hasn’t changed into its fall yellow yet. When they are near a water source royal ferns can grow quite large and appear to be a shrub, but this one was young and on dry ground so it wasn’t very big. The royal fern is found on every continent except Australia, making it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over 100 years. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are also in the Osmundaceae family and also grow here. It is thought that the genus might have been named after King Osmund, who ruled in the British Isles in the eighth century. Royal ferns are one of my favorites because they are so unlike any other fern.

I think, in the eight years I’ve been doing this blog, that I’ve only show beech nuts (Fagus grandifolia) one other time and that’s because I rarely see them. But on this day I stumbled onto hundreds of them that must have just fallen, because many of the kernels were still inside the prickly looking husks seen here. If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards.

I put a kernel on a penny so you could get a sense of scale. A penny is 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Chipmunks and squirrels and even bears love the kernels, so you usually find more empty husks than anything else.

As I’ve said so many times, spring and fall really begin on the forest floor, much earlier than many of us realize. This wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is a good example of that. It might be leafless before many of the trees it grows under have even started to turn color. 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.

There was a single blossom on what looked like an all but dead St. John’s wort plant (Hypericum perforatum.) I haven’t seen these blossoms for a few weeks now so I’m going to say this may be the last one I see this year. It’s a beautiful thing. This plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun but will stand some shade as it did here.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) climbed up over the shrubs along the trail. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers a bit of shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem.

When those maples on the other side of the river turn scarlet in the fall this is an awesome view, but it isn’t really so bad in green either.

I saw a single New England aster blossom (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) As I’ve said in previous posts, they are our biggest, most showy aster. Some tower up over my head but this one had bent down to about knee level.

I was very surprised to see turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) blooming out here. I’ve never seen them here before this day.

And there they were; one of my favorite shades of blue is found on bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but I don’t see many because they are quite rare here. This is the only place I can find them so you can imagine my delight when I found that they hadn’t been cut down again. When they start to go by theses flowers become even more beautiful by turning very dark blue and then a kind of purple. They closely resemble narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) but that plant has much narrower leaves. Why anyone would cut such a rare and beautiful thing is beyond me.

I’ve been here enough times to know that the only thing beyond this bridge is a highway, so this is where I turn and go back. As I chose what photos to use for this post I was amazed that I saw so much on what is a relatively short walk of only an hour or so, and once again I was thankful that it hadn’t all been cut down again, because it’s a beautiful walk.

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring- these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ~ John Burroughs

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I thought I’d start this flower post where I left off in the last one and show you pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in full bloom. I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will die if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be. They’re one of our most beautiful native orchids and everyone should have a chance to see them.

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. Many different insects pollinate orchids but in lady’s slippers bees do the job. They enter the flower through the center slit in the pouch, which can be seen here. Once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in.

There is only one way out for a bee trapped in a lady’s slipper blossom; guide hairs inside the flower point the way to the top of the pouch or slipper, and once the bee reaches the top it finds two holes big enough to fit through. Just above each hole the flower has positioned a pollen packet so once the bee crawls through the hole it is dusted with pollen. The flower’s stigma is also located above the exit holes and if the bee carries pollen from another lady’s slipper it will be deposited on the sticky stigma as it escapes the pouch, and fertilization will have been successful. Isn’t evolution amazing?

At a glance the leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) are often mistaken for those of lady’s slippers, but lady’s slipper leaves are deeply pleated and blue bead lily leaves are not, they’re smooth like those seen here. The two plants like the same conditions and often grow side by side.

It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. I like seeing both the flowers and the blue berries that follow them. It’s been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

For years I’ve heard of a very special place up in the woods of Westmoreland where endangered orchids, squawroot, hepatica, Dutchman’s breeches, maiden hair fern and other plants that love a lot of lime in the soil grow, so over Memorial day my daughter and I decided to pay this special place a visit. The terrain was rough, with climbs so steep you had to use ropes tied to trees to pull yourself along, but we made it through and didn’t see a single plant that was supposed to grow there. I did see a hepatica leaf, but that was about it. My daughter found this beautiful long spurred violet in bloom (Viola rostrata); the first example I’ve seen, but it isn’t even mentioned in the list of plants that are supposed to grow here.

This is a pretty little violet but I doubt I’d go through what we went through to see it again.

We also found a yellow violet just opening. This was only the second time I had ever seen one. I think it was a round leaved yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) which likes to grow in rich woods. It might have also been a downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens,) which likes the same conditions.

Like most of the white spring flowering trees, chokecherries (Prunus) and chokeberries (Aronia) grow on the edge of the forest. Though they look alike from a distance, chokeberries and chokecherries are only distantly related in the rose family. The common name is the giveaway here: A cherry is a stone fruit with one seed, so the chokecherry will have one seed. A berry will have multiple seeds; in the case of the chokeberry 5 or fewer. Chokeberry flower clusters are smaller than chokecherry and kind of flat on top. Chokecherry flower clusters are usually long and cylindrical like a bottle brush. Positive identification between these two is important because chokecherry leaves and seeds contain prussic acid which can convert to cyanide under the right conditions, so it wouldn’t be good to eat too many seeds. The simplest way to be sure is by counting the seeds in a piece of fruit before picking and eating from the tree.

A close look at a chokecherry blossom.

Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid to late May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

From above the flowers of eastern larch look like a rose, but at less than the diameter of a pea they are far less showy. Each beautiful little flower will become a small brown cone.

The waxy shine on the petals of a buttercup (Ranunculus) is caused by a layer of mirror flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. These layers act together to reflect yellow light, while blue green light is absorbed. Though the shine is easy to see it’s quite hard to capture with a camera. I’ve been trying since they started opening and I’d bet I had to try 10-20 times before getting it right.

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.

There just happens to be a phlox plant or two growing near the dame’s rocket and I thought it was good chance to show how phlox blossoms have 5 petals. I’m not sure if these plants were wild phlox or garden escapees but I’m guessing they probably came from a nearby garden.

The yellow flowers seen in the first photo of Dame’s rocket are those of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus.) Pliny the Elder said chewing the root of greater celandine 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 I’ve seen them with 5. When I was a boy we stained our hands with the plant’s yellow sap and called it mustard. Thankfully we never ate it.

Friends of mine grow this beautiful clematis in their garden. This is the first blossom of the summer, just opening when I took its photo.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, much like an Indian cucumber root. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned ground cover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe. I don’t see it often and I’d call it rare in this area.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. ~Aldo Leopold

Thanks for stopping in.

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If you’re tempted to pass by what you think are violets you might want to take a closer look, because our beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) have just started blossoming. Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets has fooled me in the past. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in pairs as can be seen in the photo above. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

You can see where the name “gaywings” comes from in this photo. They look as if they’re ready to take off. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the little wings. The little fringe at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringe the third sepal drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. I usually find this one in shady, mossy places and I think it prefers moist ground. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual flower that I always look for in May.

I’ve never seen violets like we have this year!

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, like the last two years, both nodding and painted trilliums are blooming at the same time. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

The flowers of rhodora usually appear just when the irises start to bloom but for the past couple of years they’ve been a little early. I often have to search for them on the banks of ponds because they aren’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

The rhodora flower looks like an azalea blossom but it’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

Another native azalea that can be hard to find in this area is called the early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora often blooms earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet. Finding a seven foot tall one of these blooming in the woods is something you don’t forget right away, and I think I remember the exact location of every one I’ve ever found. Unfortunately there aren’t many.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers, which you can see here. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are supposed to be a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but I’ve seen eight and nine petals on flowers, and I’ve seen many with six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5. This year I’m seeing lots of plants with three flowers, which is unusual. Usually most of them have only two.

This blossom didn’t live up to the 7 theory with 8 petals. It also has 8 anthers. I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at though, because many I’ve seen have more or fewer and 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

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 but 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 mowed lawns with islands of unmowed, blossoming fleabanes. I’ve seen several already.

The club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) have appeared a little late this year and they seem smaller than usual. This plant is very easy to confuse with red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but that plant’s flower head is spherical rather than elongated. The flower head of white baneberry is always taller than it is wide and if pollinated the flowers will become white berries with a single black dot on one end. That’s where the common name doll’s eyes comes from. The berries are very toxic and can be appealing to children but luckily they are very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

I find purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) growing in a local park. It’s a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf.

The red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) From what I’ve read I think this one, which blooms in a local park, is an example of that same tree. I’ve also read that bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. I had to zoom in on the blossoms quite far up in the tree while the wind blew them around so I’m kind of amazed that I even have this photo to show you. It’s a beautiful flower and well worth the effort.

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel which grows to about 6-7 feet in this area. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They do very well in gardens but aren’t well known. I’m seeing more of them now than in the past though.

A flower that comes with plenty of memories for me is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) My grandmother’s name was Lily and I used to bring her wilting bouquets of them when I was a young boy. She would always smell them before putting them in a jelly jar full of water, all the while exclaiming how beautiful they were. The plant is extremely toxic but, though she didn’t tell me it was poisonous I never once thought of eating it or putting any part of the plant in my mouth. I do remember smelling their wondrous fragrance as I picked them though, and all those memories came back whenever I smell them. Amazing how memories can be so strongly attached to a fragrance.

It’s lilac time here in New Hampshire and you can find them blooming in almost every yard. Though I like white lilacs I think the favorite by far is the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s also the New Hampshire state flower, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire 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 is our state native wild flower. As a boy I used to like sucking the sweet nectar out of lilac flowers.

The spicy fragrance of poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) reminds me of the paper white narcissus, which has a fragrance strong enough to make some people sick, but I love it. Poet’s daffodil is a plant that comes with a lot of baggage; it is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on, and it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and I find it in unmown fields after most other daffodils have finished blooming.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) blooms among the tall grasses. This plant is originally from Europe and is also called common or grass leaved stitchwort. It likes disturbed soil and does well on roadsides, old fields, and meadows. The Stellaria part of its scientific name means star like, and the common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

Here’s a sneak peak at the next flower post. One of our most beautiful native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) just started to show color on their flowers as I was finishing this post. The moccasin shaped flowers start life colored a yellowish off white and then turn pink. I’m seeing lots of them this year and you’ll see more in the next flower post.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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There is a rail trail in Swanzey that runs between the main road and the river and the trees along it often change into their fall colors slightly earlier than others, so last weekend I decided to go and see if fall had paid a visit yet.

It was a beautiful day, with full sunshine, temps in the 60s, and very low humidity. Asters in blue, purple and white lining the trail helped beautify the hike.

These blue ones were small; about the size of a regular aspirin, but beautiful.

I saw what I thought might be Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) growing from a log. These mushrooms usually grow in large clumps and get their name from their bright orange color. They are toxic and unfortunately are sometimes confused with chanterelle mushrooms. Jack o’ lanterns probably won’t kill but they can put you in the hospital for a time so mushroom foragers would be wise to know them well. This mushroom is also bioluminescent, and the gills are said to glow with a faint blue-green light in the dark.

There are a few nice old box culverts out here but the railbed is about 50 feet above the streams that run under them so they’re hard to get photos of. To see this one I only had to scramble down a 10 foot embankment so it was relatively easy. It still works just as the railroad engineers designed it 150 years ago. There are massive amounts of soil over it but the thick granite slabs haven’t moved an inch. These are called box culverts because they have 4 sides like an open ended box.

There’s a good chance that the granite for the box culverts came from this ledge that the railbed was cut through. Railroad stone masons often used stone that was as close to the project being built as possible. They didn’t want to haul it very far.

Long, straight drill holes still show in the face of the ledge. This one was probably drilled with a steam drill. Once you had a hole you filled it with black powder, lit the fuse and ran as fast as you could go.

I was happy to see a lot of pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) with seed pods out here. I’ve got to remember to come back in June to see if I can find others blooming.

Lady’s slipper seeds are very small and each seed pod can contain as many as 20,000 seeds. The seeds have no stored starch for food so they have to rely on certain fungi in the soil to grow, and without the fungi the plant won’t make it. That’s why digging them up to plant in gardens never works; the symbiotic connection between orchid and fungus is lost. It can take 10-15 years for a lady’s slipper grown from seed to flower. Setting seed like this example has done weakens the plant enough so it probably won’t blossom again for a year or more, so each plant only sets seed about 5 times in its lifetime.

The most unusual thing I saw on this outing was a native turtlehead plant (Chelone) with bicolor blossoms in lavender and white. I’ve seen pink turtleheads and white turtleheads but I’ve never seen this one. I’m guessing that it must be a natural hybrid, created by the bees. It was pretty and I would be happy to have it growing in my own garden.

The turtlehead’s blossoms had just started to open.

Chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) grew on a moss covered stump. These mushrooms are quite small; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one much bigger than a penny, so you have to look closely and carefully to find them. Every time I see them they are growing in groups either on a stump or a log. They’re fairly common at this time of year.

One of the people who live along the rail trail built a bridge over the drainage ditch so they could get to the trail. They’re lucky; I’d love to be able to reach a rail trail from my back yard.

This trail is popular with bike riders. I didn’t count how many passed me but it was quite a few. I was the only one walking.

I saw a lot of fallen trees out here too. The top of this big poplar was hanging by just a few branches onto a white pine it had fallen against. It didn’t look like it would take much of a breeze to bring it all the way down and I hope nobody is under it when it happens.

Even without much in the way of fall colors there was still plenty to see out here, like this maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Lichens and mosses start calling to me at this time of year because once the leaves fall they become more visible. As the name implies the maple dust lichen grows on the bark of maples but I’ve also seen it on beech, oak, basswood and poplar, so don’t be afraid to look for this one on just about any tree. They can be large and easy to see at about 3/4 of an inch and the white fringe around their perimeter makes them easy to identify. They’re pretty little things that are worth searching for.

Before I knew it I was at the old trestle over the Ashuelot River, which was my turn around spot. The wooden deck and side rails have been added to many trestles by snowmobiler clubs for safety. The decks make these old trestles much easier to cross.

Trestles give you views of the river way out in the middle of nowhere that you’d most likely never see if the trestles weren’t there and that’s one of the things I like most about rail trails. I didn’t see much fall color on this side of the trestle, just some trees on the yellow side of green.

But on the other side of the trestle some trees were very yellow. Maples, I think. It’s odd how colors can vary so much in just a few yards.

On the way back there was another yellowish tree up ahead on the left but all in all I can’t say that fall has come to this section of trail just yet. Before too long though, there will be reds and oranges along with the yellows. I have to say that I’m in no hurry. I love to see the fall colors but I’m not too crazy about what follows. I hope you’ll have a gloriously colorful fall season wherever you may be.

Summer is leaving silently. Much like a traveler approaching the end of an amazing journey. ~Darnell Lamont Walker

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Last Sunday we had a day that was as close to perfect as a day could be, with sunny skies, low humidity and temperatures in the mid-seventies with a slight breeze, so I decided it was time for a climb. I chose the High Blue Trail in Walpole because it’s an easy, gentle climb that doesn’t wear me out. It also wanders through a beautiful forest.

The first thing I noticed was a colony of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara.) They had gone to seed but this one surprisingly still showed some color. It’s late for a spring ephemeral.

Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadensis) grew all along the trail, all the way to the overlook. Though this is a native wildflower it acts like an invasive, growing in huge colonies of tens of thousands, and it chokes out just about anything else. It also invades gardens and once it gains a foothold it’s almost impossible to eradicate. Its stem breaks off at the soil surface and the roots live on.

Canada mayflowers tiny four petaled white flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals, and that’s one way it spreads. Another way is by a thick mat of underground stems.

I saw a lot of wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) still blooming along the trail, which was a surprise. The ones in my yard stopped blooming a week or more ago, so I should check for berries. My kids used to love eating them, sun warmed and sweet.

Of course the trail has to go uphill but the grade isn’t steep and I think most people would find it an easy climb. My camera has trouble with such dappled light, high contrast scenes such as this one.

When I was up here in March the snow on the other side of this gate was nearly waist deep and I was forced to take a detour. I’m hoping I don’t see that much snow again until at least January.

The breeze lasted until I met this pink lady’s slipper orchid growing beside the trail, and then it turned into a wind that wouldn’t stop no matter how patient I was. After about 30 wasted shutter clicks I finally got one useable photo of it. This is the first pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) I’ve ever seen growing up here. The experience showed me just how much wing a lady’s slipper can take, and it’s quite a lot.

Though I’m sure these woods must be full of them this is the first Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana) I’ve ever seen here. This shot shows how the mature knee high plants have two tiers of whorled leaves. A whorl means the leaves radiate around the stem at the same place on it, so if you looked at a whorl of leaves from the side you would see the edge of a flat plane, like the edge of a plate.

The reproductive parts of this Indian cucumber root flower were much redder than the flower that I found along the Ashuelot River two posts ago.

Before I knew it I was at the cornfield that used to be a hay field. The farmer had planted his corn but it wasn’t up yet so I was able to walk the field without harming corn seedlings. Orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) usually grows here but it wasn’t blooming yet so I don’t have any to show you. Orange hawkweed is on the rare side in this area; I probably see one orange for every thousand yellow hawkweeds, and this is one of only two places I know of where it grows.

Here was a yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum,) just out of the bud. There were hundreds more just like it.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) just appeared in my last post but here it was again in the cornfield. I’m seeing a lot of these pretty little, aspirin size flowers this year.

The small pond near the overlook was covered in duckweed, as I expected. I used to wonder how it ever got up here until I read that the tiny plants  can get stuck in a bird’s feathers and move from place to place that way, so this duckweed probably found its way here via duck.

I loved the different colors of the pond’s surface. I was wondering why the blue reflection of the sky on water was always bluer than the sky itself when I heard a croak and a splash.

Hearing a croak and a splash while standing at the edge of a pond might not seem to be an earthshaking event until you realize that I’ve never seen a living thing in this pond other than duckweed. I looked to my left and there was a turtle so I took a photo of its shell because that’s all that showed. Then when I got home and looked at the shot I saw that the turtle was being watched by a frog, which showed up in the lower left. I never saw it when I was at the pond, but I heard it. How either one of them got way up here is anyone’s guess.

Once I was done playing at the pond I went on to the overlook. The sign let me know that I had arrived.

The view let me know too. That’s Stratton Mountain off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont. Stratton Mountain is a popular skiing mountain and because of our cold, snowy March they had an extended season this year. Thankfully it didn’t last into June.

You can just barely make out the ski trails through the haze, there on the right end of the mountain.

I love seeing the varying shades of blue on the distant Vermont hills. It’s a beautiful scene that seems like it would be so easy to paint; just a simple watercolor wash, but if I had it hanging on my wall would the real thing be as enticing? I can’t imagine not coming here anymore, so it probably would.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

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When I think of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) I think of another spring ephemeral, but they don’t really fit that definition because they blossom after the leaves come out on the trees. They get away with that because their big strap shaped leaves can take in plenty of light even under trees, and they prefer shade. But this is a time of transition, because the forest flowers are finishing up and the sun loving meadow flowers are just beginning. It’s an exciting time for flower lovers because we know that the best is yet to come.

Blue bead lily looks like a miniature Canada lily because it’s a member of the lily family. Each blossom is slightly bigger than a trout lily blossom and there are usually two or three per stalk. Flower parts appear in multiples of three in the lily family and to prove it this blossom has three petals, three sepals, and six stamens.  Its name comes from the beautiful electric blue berries that will appear later on in summer. The berries are said to be toxic but birds and chipmunks snap them right up. Some Native American tribes rubbed the root of this plant on their bear traps because its fragrance attracted bears.

Our native azaleas have just started to bloom. I was worried about the one pictured because a tree fell on it three summers ago. It seemed to be hanging on by a thread for a while but it is getting stronger over time and looks like it will hang on to bloom beautifully again each year. It grows in a shaded part of the forest and is called early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them. Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers, which you can just see on the bud over on the right. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are supposed to be a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but I’ve seen eight and nine petals on flowers, and I’ve seen many with six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

This blossom lived up to the 7 theory and had 7 petals. It also has 7 anthers. I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at though, because many I’ve seen have more or fewer and 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves, and this shot took several tries. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, but I’ve seen these plants bloom well for a few years now. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should never be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

I’m lucky enough to know where there are two or three sizeable colonies of Pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) and this year I found another with 12-14 plants in it. There was a time when these plants were collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If the plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be.

For those who haven’t seen one, a pink lady’s slipper blossom is essentially a pouch called a labellum, which is a modified petal. The pouch has a slit down the middle. Veins on the pouch attract bumblebees, which enter the flower through the slit and then find that to get out they have to leave by one of two openings at the top of the pouch that have pollen masses above them. When they leave they are dusted with pollen and will hopefully carry it to another flower. It takes pink lady’s slippers five years or more from seed to bloom, but they can live for twenty years or more.

When pink lady’s slippers first set their buds they are a kind of off white, almost yellow color and some think they have found a white or yellow one, but they quickly turn pink. The pink Lady’s slipper is New Hampshire’s state wildflower.

When we move out of the forest to their edges we find sun loving plants like hawthorn, which was in full bloom on this day. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms aren’t much in the way of fragrance because of a compound called trimethylamine, which gives the plant a slightly fishy odor, but they’re big on beauty with their plum colored anthers. They are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today.  There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage.

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.

There just happened to be a phlox plant or two growing among the dame’s rocket and I thought it was ggod chance to show how phlox blossoms have 5 petals. I’m not sure if these plants were wild phlox or garden escapees but I’m guessing they probably came from a nearby garden.

Mouse ear chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) is one of those plants that keep the big herbicide companies making billions because they’ve convinced people that “fuzzy green patches don’t belong in their lawn.” They tell us that this “pesky plant loves to wreak havoc on the open spaces in our lawns and gardens,” but what they don’t tell us is how the plant was here long before lawns were even thought of.  A few hundred years ago in cottage gardens turf grasses were pulled as weeds so medicinal or edible plants like dandelion and chickweed could flourish. How times have changed.

One flower that will always say June to me is the Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare,) even though I found this one in May. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. Soon our roadsides will be carpeted by them. I like their spiraled centers.

Sweet little blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) has always been one of my favorite wildflowers. It’s in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light green leaves resemble grass leaves.  The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find. Native Americans had several medicinal uses for this plant.

This blue eyed grass had two blossoms on one stem, which is rare in my experience.

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 but 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.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

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