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Posts Tagged ‘Pipsissewa’

Last Saturday morning it was cold at about 3 degrees F. so I had to wait for it to warm up a bit before going out. My camera doesn’t perform well at anything below 10 degrees and neither do I, so I waited until the thermometer read 20 degrees before visiting a local swamp. I was hoping to show you the flock of mallards that swam here seconds before I clicked the shutter but apparently they thought my collapsible monopod was a gun, because as soon as I went to extend it off they flew. I was at the crest of the hill shown here and they were far below, but they still saw my every move.

So instead of the wildlife I concentrated on the plants that grow here, like these winterberries. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native plant in the holly family and is toxic, but birds snap up the berries fairly quickly so I only saw a handful of rather puckered fruit. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

I come to this swamp specifically because it is the only place I know of to find skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) which is usually our first flower to appear in spring. But as the above photo of its shoots shows the plants are there all winter, just waiting for the sign that it is warm enough to begin growing again. That date is usually in early March and the plant, through a process called thermogenesis, will grow through any amount of ice and snow to bloom. It can do that because it produces heat and can raise its temperature as much as 60 degrees F. above the surrounding air temperature. The splotchy maroon and yellow spathes are always a treat to see because they mean that spring is here, no matter what the calendar says.

Another sign of spring I watch for is when the catkins of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) start to turn golden yellow. This is a sign that they are producing pollen and that means that the tiny scarlet threads that are the female flowers must also be showing. The bud on the right is a female bud and the tiny female flowers will grow from it in early to mid-April. A good way to tell that you have an American hazelnut and not its cousin the beaked hazelnut is by the very hairy stem seen here. Only American hazelnut has hairy stems.

The forest was nearly free of snow but the trail through it had a light coating. That’s probably because it was well packed and icy.

It hasn’t been easy to find much snow in this part of the state this year and I’m not complaining about that at all. The weather people are hinting that a stormier pattern will crop up towards the end of the week.

There was one spot in the forest that had a measurable amount of snow and I wondered why only this spot had so much.

That was because there weren’t many evergreens overhead. Evergreen trees keep an amazing amount of snow from reaching the ground.

The shiny evergreen leaves of pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) poked up out of the snow. This plant is one of our native wintergreens and it likes to grow in undisturbed, sandy woodland soil that is on the dry side. It was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its common name comes from the Native American Cree tribe, who used it medicinally to treat kidney stones. It was thought to break them up into pieces. Even though pipsissewa photosynthesizes it supplements its diet by taking certain nutrients from fungi, and for that reason it is considered partially parasitic.

The pretty little seedpods of pipsissewa persist through the winter and poke up out of the snow. They are woody and split open into 5 parts to release the tiny seeds. Each capsule is about a quarter inch across. They remind me of the seedpods of the Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora,) in some ways.

When I finally got my driver’s license at 16 I would give my grandmother rides to the cemetery to visit the family graves. Near there was a wooded area and we would walk through the woods looking for checkerberries, which we had done since I was just a small boy. I can remember her always hoping we’d find some mayflowers so she could show me what they looked like, but we never did see any. That’s because their very fragrant flowers were collected for nosegays to such an extent the plant became almost impossible to find. Another name for mayflowers is trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens,) and my grandmother would be happy to know that I’ve found several large colonies. Many plants come with memories attached and for me this one comes with some strong ones.

I saw a very large witches’ broom on a blueberry bush. This deformation is caused by a fungus and causes a very dense cluster of branches to form. Though they might look unsightly they don’t seem to harm the plant. I picked berries for many years from a bush that had a large witches’ broom on it.

One part of the swamp had frozen into a pebbled, textured pattern.

We had a small ice storm that coated the trees with ice. The sun came out but the temperature dropped so as the sun melted the ice on the trees it fell into water that was freezing below, and that’s what made these patterns in the ice. I know that because the same thing happened where I work and, since I spend a lot of time outside, I watched (and felt) it happen. Millions of pieces of ice fell from the trees, rattling and tinkling as they fell. If they hit you in the face, they hurt.

Clubmosses grew up out of the ice. These little evergreen plants are vascular so they aren’t mosses at all, but someone must have thought so at one time. They are also called princess pine, ground pine and ground cedar but they have no relationship to those trees either. Clubmosses are considered fern allies, which are vascular plants that produce spores. Horsetails and Spikemosses are also in the same family. Clubmosses were used in a medicinal tea by Native Americans and the dried spores were once used to produce the flash in photography. They are very flammable when dry.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

I finally saw some more blue / purple turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They can be beautiful at times; like little painted fans.

The small stream that brings water from the upper part of the swamp to the lower was strangely colored orangey brown on this day. I wondered if it was some type of algae that colored it this way; I’ve never seen this here before.

Maybe it was all of the leaves in the stream that gave it its odd color, I don’t know.

A spruce tree had quite a large wound on it and a lot of resin around it. If you gently heat the resin, which is called spruce gum, of the black spruce tree (Picea mariana,) it will melt down into a liquid which can then be strained and poured into a shallow pan or other container to cool. After about half an hour it will be hardened and very brittle, and when broken into bite sized pieces it can be chewed like any other gum. Spruce gum is antiseptic and good for the teeth. It has been chewed by Native Americans for centuries and was the first chewing gum sold in the United States.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

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We’ve reached that point where you can’t walk through a field, drive down a road, or visit a forest without seeing flowers, because at this time of year they are everywhere. It is high summer and though I love spring I don’t see how any other season could be called more beautiful than this one.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) blooms in the tall grass of unmown meadows. It isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) that most of us have tangled with, but it does have small spines along the leaf margins and stem. 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.

Noxious weed or not I like the flowers of Canada thistle. In a way they remind me of knapweed, which is another noxious weed. The plant isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire but it is on the watch list. Where I find them growing they haven’t spread at all, and in fact this year there were fewer plants than last year.

Pretty little fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife blooms later. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed like they are on this example. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. Trout lily is another plant with elaiosomes.

Though many people think the flowers are where the name fringed loosestrife comes from it is actually from the fine hairs that line the leaf stalks (petioles.) The ciliata part of the scientific name means “fringed with hairs,” and so they are. Native Americans used all of our yellow loosestrifes medicinally for various ailments, usually in the form of tea.

No matter how many times I see the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) I don’t see a monkey, but whoever named it obviously did. This plant gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and isn’t all that common. I usually have a hard time finding it.

Allegheny monkey flowers have square stems and are also called square stemmed monkey flowers. I didn’t know at the time I saw this flower that it had so much moisture on it. That’s odd because it was a warm sunny day and I wonder if it was sweating. The throat of this flower is partially closed and bumblebees are one of the few insects strong enough to pry it open to get at the nectar. Native Americans and early settlers sometimes used the leaves as an edible green.

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see a beautiful blue color. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The plant likes wet places but even though we’ve had many inches of rainfall this year, I had a hard time finding it.

Vervain flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

I used to see quite a lot of floating bladderwort (Utricularia gibba,) but I haven’t seen any in the last two years. Instead I’m now finding common bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza.) This plant also floats but when it’s ready for dormancy its bladders fill with water and it sinks, and I find it in the mud at the edge of a pond. Its flowers are much larger than those of floating bladderwort and though this shot isn’t very good they’re easier to get a photo of when they aren’t floating.

Common bladderwort can be distinguished from other bladderworts by the spur on the flower. The name bladderwort comes from the small inflated sacs on the plant’s roots that open to trap aquatic organisms. There are tiny hairs on the bladder’s trap door which are very sensitive. When an aquatic organism touches these hairs the door opens, the organism is sucked inside and the door closes, trapping it. This all happens in about 5 milliseconds and is one of the fastest plant movements ever recorded.

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its name is fun to say. It’s a Native American Cree word meaning “It-breaks-into-small-pieces.” This is because it was used as a treatment for kidney stones and was thought to break them into pieces.

Pipsissewa flowers often show a blush of pink. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of our other native wintergreens. Pipsissewa and some other native wintergreens form a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and are partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids.

Shasta daisies are blooming in gardens everywhere now. The Shasta daisy was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank over 100 years ago and was named for the white snow of Mount Shasta. These plants are a hybrid cross of the common roadside ox-eye daisy and an English field daisy called Leucanthemum maximum. They are one of the easiest perennials to grow and, other than an occasional weeding, need virtually no care. Dwarf varieties are less apt to have their stems bent over by heavy rains.

My favorite part of the Shasta daisy flower is the spiral at its center, because it makes me wonder. Nature uses the spiral over and over; it’s in a snail’s shell, our galaxy is a spiral and spirals are even in our DNA. Horns, teeth, claws, and plants form spirals. Pine cones and pineapples have spiral scales and if you make a fist and look at it from above, it forms a spiral. Mathematically, the spiral in a nautilus shell is the same as that found in a spiral galaxy. The spiral also represents infinity, starting at a single point and revolving outwardly until the end of the universe. Because of this, the spiral is said by some to be a pathway to the afterlife. All of that is right here in a daisy, and that’s probably why Deepak Chopra said “If you really see a daisy, you see from here to infinity.”

Non-native 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 plant 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. The plant is originally from Europe and Asia.

One of the things I like most about native pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is the way a child’s face will light up and break into a smile when they crush it and smell it. Usually when I tell them that it smells like pineapple they don’t believe it, so it’s a surprise. The conical flower heads are easiest to describe by saying they’re like daisies without petals, or ray florets. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and the leaves are also scented and have been used to make tea. The plant was used by Native Americans in a tonic to relieve gastrointestinal upset and fevers. The Flathead tribe used the dried, powdered plants to preserve meats and berries. It is said to make a nice pineapple flavored tea.

Last year I showed the flower of a plant I had never seen before and couldn’t identify in the hope that someone would recognize it. Apparently nobody could recognize it by the flower so this year I’m showing the entire plant. The flowers are tiny; about the same size as those on red sandspurry, and blossom on the ends of wiry stems. Its leaves are also small and sword shaped and very hard to see in this photo. This entire plant shown would fit in a tea cup with room to spare.

Here is the pretty little flower of the unknown plant. I find them growing in the sand on roadsides in full sun, much like a sandspurry would. They don’t seem to mind dry soil but they must also like water because I’m seeing more of them in this rainy summer than I ever have. I’ve searched all my wildflower books and online off and on for over a year with no luck, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

NOTE: With a little help from some friends Al Stoops has identified this plant as low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis.) It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath. Thanks Al!

Beauty soaks reality as water fills a rag. ~Chet Raymo

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1-tree-club-moss

I see by the number of views that posts like this get that not everyone is interested in native evergreens but they make up a large part of the outdoors and are a pleasure to see at this time of year. I hope posts like these will show those who believe that there is nothing to see in the winter that there is indeed still a lot of nature out there to see. I thought I’d start with clubmosses, which aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered fern allies. Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall. But that was a very long time ago; the tree clubmoss (Lycopodium dendroideum) in the above photo is barely 3 inches high. It shows the upright yellow spore bearing strobili, sometimes called candles or clubs that give the plants their common names. The plant is also called ground-pine because of its resemblance to the pine tree.

2-club-moss-club

This clubmoss strobilus is still tightly closed and hasn’t released its spores yet.

3-club-moss-club

They look a bit ragged after they’ve released their spores.

4-club-moss-flash-powder

Clubmoss spores have been collected and dried to make flash powder for many years. They are high in fat content and when mixed with air become highly flammable. They’ve been used in fireworks and explosives for years, and also as camera flashes before flash bulbs were invented. These days they are still used in magic acts and chemistry classes. They also repel water, so if dip your finger in a glass of water that has spores floating on it, your finger will come out dry. This photo is from the Chemical Store.

5-running-ground-pine-lycopodium-clavatum

Running ground pine (Lycopodium clavatum) is another clubmoss that someone once thought looked like the tree. The “running” part of the common name comes from the way its underground stems spread (run)  under the leaf mold. Other names include lamb’s tail, fox tail, wolfs claw, stag’s horn and witch meal. Native Americans used clubmosses medicinally to cure headaches and to treat urinary tract problems and diarrhea. They were also used to treat wounds and to dye fabrics. The Lycopodium part of the scientific name comes from the Greek lycos, ‘wolf’, and podus, ‘foot’, because whoever named it thought it looked like a wolf’s paw.

6-fan-club-moss

Fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum) is one of my favorites. The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180 degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed.

7-marginal-wood-fern

I don’t think many people associate ferns with winter hardiness but we do have a few that stay green all winter, like the eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) seen here. It is also called the marginal wood fern because of where its spore clusters lay in relation to the pinnule (leaf division) margins. Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia,) Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides,) and polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) are some of our other evergreen ferns.

8-partridge-berry

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring. I’ve never seen a partridge eating them but I know that wild turkeys love them.

9-checkerberry

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is also called teaberry or checkerberry and its small white flowers resemble those of the blueberry. It is probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it much like we use aspirin. This photo was taken after a recent snowstorm and shows how wintergreens got their name. The small white object in front of the middle leaf is a starflower seed pod (Trientalis borealis.)

10-checkerberries

American wintergreen was the first plant my grandmother taught me to identify. Because she had trouble getting up from a kneeling position she would have me crawl around and gather up handfuls of the bright red, minty berries, which we would then share. She always called them checkerberries, but nobody seems to know where that name or the several others it has originated. The name teaberry comes from a pleasing tea that can be made from the leaves. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox, deer and bears eat the berries.

11-striped-wintergreen

Though I showed it in a recent post striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has my favorite wintergreen foliage so I’m going to show it again. In winter it turns deep purple where the darker green is on the leaf. This plant is rare here, though I’m finding more and more spots where 1 or 2 plants grow. In all I probably know of a dozen widely scattered plants. It’s hard to tell from a photo but these plants are so well camouflaged that I have walked right by them and not seen them.

12-shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, gets its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. Its nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June. I find them in sandy soiled forests under pines.

13-pipsissewa

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its name is fun to say. It’s a Native American Cree word meaning “It-breaks-into-small-pieces.” This is because it was used as a treatment for kidney stones and was thought to break them into pieces.

14-pipsissewa-leaf

Pipsissewa and some other native wintergreens form a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and are partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids. If looking for this plant look for the teeth on the outer margins of the shiny leaves.

15-trailing-arbutus

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers and she would walk in the woods to find and smell it rather than dig it up to plant in her yard.  It’s too bad everybody didn’t do the same because this plant was once collected into near oblivion. These days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. That’s true of most of these plants, in fact.

16-goldthread

New goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, probably by its other common name: canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

17-swamp-dewberry

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves live under the snow all winter. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition.

18-swamp-dewberry

But though swamp dewberry leaves live under the snow all winter they aren’t always green. These beautiful beet purple plants grew just a few feet away from the green ones in the previous photo. Swamp dewberry looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly.

19-downy-rattlesnake-plantain

Some native orchids have flowers and foliage that look tender and fragile, but as downy plantain orchids  (Goodyera pubescens) show, looks can be deceiving. Its leaves are covered by soft downy hairs and this little orchid can stand being buried under snow all winter without being damaged. It’ll look just as it does now when the snow melts. I hope you’ll take some time to look at the evergreens in your own area. Don’t forget the mosses and lichens!

There is no end to wonder once one starts really looking. ~Marty Rubin

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1. Hedge Bindweed

This beautiful hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) blossom hints at the rain we finally got last weekend. It wasn’t enough but it helped. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds it has gotten to the point where all I see now are these bicolor ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves.

2. Pipsissewa

Our native wintergreens are starting to blossom and chief among them is pipsissewa, in my opinion. Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) flowers often show a blush of pink. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of our other native wintergreens. Pipsissewa flowers are from 4-6 inches tall and nod toward the ground, which can make getting a good photo a challenge.

3. Pipsissewa

Pipsissewa grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer for up to 4 years before new leaves grow to replace them. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. It was also used medicinally by Native Americans. The word Pipsissewa is from the Native American Cree tribe and means “It-breaks-into-small-pieces,” referring to the belief that tea made from the dried leaves can break up kidney stones. It is still used by herbalists to treat urinary tract problems.

4. Basswood

American basswood trees (Tilia americana) are members of the linden family. Though they are native trees I rarely see them. They belong to the same genus as the lime trees commonly seen in Europe and England. Its flowers are very fragrant and it’s a nice looking shade tree but unfortunately it is also an insect magnet and among the insects it attracts are Japanese Beetles in the many thousands. Bees are also attracted in great numbers and the honey produced from basswood foraging bees is said to be choice and highly sought after.

5. Basswood

Each of the basswood’s flower clusters (cymes) clings to the middle of an elongated whitish green floral bract. Each small flower is about a half inch in diameter with 5 cream-colored petals, 5 cream-colored sepals, a pistil with a white style, and several stamens with yellow anthers. They were hard to get a good photo of for some reason, though I tried several times. The seeds are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for the tree and made rope from its tough inner bark. Freshly cut bark was also used as bandages. Syrup was made from the sweet sap and young leaves were eaten in the spring. Not a single part of the tree was wasted.

6. Dwarf St. Johnswort

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.

7. Pale Spike Lobelia

There are a few lobelias that look similar but I think this one might be pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata,) which gets its common name from its small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, as I was lucky enough to do on this day. There is also a purple variant but I’ve never seen it. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma. The plant must have worked well because early explorers took it back across the Atlantic where it is still used medicinally today. It has to be used with great care by those who know how to use it though, because it can kill.

8. Canada Lilies

Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are sometimes very tall and can tower over a person of average height. There must have been fifty plants in this location, some 8 feet tall and all in full bloom, and it looked like someone had hung yellow chandeliers from the trees. It’s a beautiful sight that I wish everyone could see but unfortunately mowing of the meadows that they like to grow in and digging up of the plants means scenes like that above are rarely seen. I’m very lucky to know of this place.

9. Canada Lily

The flowers of Canada lilies are as big and as beautiful as the garden lilies I think we’re all familiar with and they come in red and orange as well as yellow. Their habit of nodding towards the ground can make getting a photo difficult, but I (very gently) tilt the stem back with one hand while I take the photos with the other. It’s not the ideal set up but it lets me show you the brownish purple spots on the inside throat of the trumpet and the huge red anthers. Speaking of anthers; many have found out the hard way that the pollen from those and other lily anthers will stain a white tablecloth permanently. The flower buds and roots were gathered and eaten by Native Americans. The scaly bulbs were cooked and eaten with other foods, such as venison and fish. They were also cooked and saved for winter use. They are said to have a very peppery flavor.

10. Orange Daylily

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s 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. These days it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. 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.

11. Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) 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. I usually find it near water.

12. Purple Loosestrife

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.

13. Purple Loosestrife

It’s hard to deny the beauty of purple loosestrife, especially when you see a meadow full of it growing alongside yellow goldenrods. Such a sight can be breathtaking but the plant chokes out natives including goldenrod, and creates monocultures. I know of 2 places where you now see nothing but purple at this time of year.

14. Motherwort

The small, furry, white to light purple flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) are easy to miss. At a glance this plant might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed but I don’t see it that often and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 2 or 3 plants growing together.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is found along roads and in fields.

15. Motherwort

The tiny flowers are very hairy and look like a microscopic orchid. They’re very hard to get a good shot of because of both their size and color. I had to go back to this plant 3 times and I’m still not really happy with the results. The ancient Greeks and Romans used motherwort medicinally and it is still used today to decrease nervous irritability and quiet the nervous system. There is supposed to be no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and it is sold in powdered and liquid form.

16. Spreading Dogbane

Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is toxic to both dogs and humans, but insects love it. It’s closely related to milkweeds and has milky sap like they do. Monarch butterflies drink its nectar and I saw one fly off a plant just a few days ago. Though it is an herbaceous perennial its growth habit makes it look like a 3 foot tall shrub. The Apocynum part of its scientific name means “away from dog.” Not only dogs but most other animals avoid it because of its toxic sap. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and used its strong fibers to make thread and cord. The plant’s milky white sap is very sticky and I wonder how they removed it from the thread they made.

17. Spreading Dogbane

Spreading dogbane’s bell shaped flowers are very fragrant and I love to smell then when I can find one without an insect in it. They’re also very pretty, with faint pink stripes on the inside. They remind me of lily of the valley flowers but are quite a lot larger, as the ant in the blossom pictured shows. I don’t know if the ants were looking for nectar or the honeydew left by aphids, because aphids also love the plant.

18. Vervain

I know I showed blue vervain recently but it’s a beautiful thing and I can’t resist taking a photo or two when I see it. I found this example on a sandy part of the Ashuelot River Bank.

Flowers carry not only beauty but also the silent song of love. You just have to feel it. ~Debasish Mridha

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1. Ashuelot Wave

Last week we had about two inches of rain fall in one day so I went to the Ashuelot River to see how it was coping. It had taken on a lot of water and was rolling itself into some beautiful waves, but thankfully there was no flooding that I saw. It was also roaring loudly and you could hear the strange booming sounds that the stones tumbling along its bottom make. It’s one of those sounds that can be felt as well as heard, and it goes through you.

2. Ashuelot Ice

The stones on the river’s shoreline were covered in clear ice that caught the sunlight like prisms.

3. Ashuelot Ice

Splashing water formed beads on the rocks that the sun turned into beautiful polished jewels. These spherical beads form when drops of water splash onto the rock and freeze over and over again in the same spot, building up each sphere with successive hair thin layers of ice. And it can all happen in one cold night.

4. Ashuelot Ice

Ice baubles hung from every twig. This teardrop shaped one was as big as a baseball, or about 2.5 inches across. I watched this for a while and saw that it had formed from the bottom up. The river waves washed over the twig again and again where the lower larger part of the teardrop is and hardly at all where the upper smaller diameter is.

5. Icy Trail

Most ice is beautiful but some is not. Our trails have been plagued with a thick coating of ice for a while now. It makes getting through the woods difficult even with Yaktrax on but since it formed after we walked on the snow and packed it down, we have only ourselves to blame. I haven’t climbed any hills fora while now because of it, but I think I’ll try soon.

6. Forest

There were no hills here to climb. This forest is unusual for its lack of undergrowth. It is so shaded in places only mosses and fungi will grow on its floor.

7. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

In places that get a little more sun orchids also grow on the forest floor. This evergreen downy rattlesnake plantain came through winter slightly flattened but otherwise fine. I love it for its netted silvery leaves and if I could grow it in my garden I’d choose it more for its unusual foliage than its spike of tiny white flowers. Native Americans used the plant to treat snakebites, burns and many other ailments.

8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Seedpods

The downy rattlesnake plantain’s seed pods hadn’t released their dust like seeds and looked to be filled to bursting.

9. Striped Wintergreen

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like our native orchids. It also explains their rarity. I read recently that the plant is considered rare in both New England and Canada. I keep finding more places where it grows but there are usually only a very few plants in any location.

10. Pipsissewa

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is another of our native wintergreens and is a plant that never seems to change. It looks the same in winter or summer and the only time it really changes is when it is blooming. It is said that the plant’s common name comes from the Native American word pipsiskeweu which means “it breaks into small pieces.” This refers to the belief that pipsissewa would break up kidney stones. The Cherokee people would nibble on leaves for food and they also made an infusion of the leaves for fevers, and a poultice of the roots for pain. It is said to make a marvelous spring tonic, even for horses. I’ve read that when a horse became listless and didn’t want to work farmers would add pipsissewa plants to their hay and before long the horse would be kicking up its heels and ready for work again. Pipsissewa was also once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer.

11. Hazel Catkins

I thought I’d see if our native American hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) were showing any signs of opening and releasing pollen. They weren’t but they were still beautiful to see. The catkins are the shrub’s male flowers and are a winter food for turkey and ruffed grouse.

12. Hazel Stem

If you aren’t sure if what you’re looking at is a hazelnut just look at the young twigs; they’re covered with reddish brown hairs which you can feel when you run your fingers over a twig. This photo also shows a female bud which will bloom in April. Female flowers appear on two year old branches and are tiny, with only their crimson stigmata showing. They are fertilized when the wind blows the pollen from the male catkins to them. From then on they will grow into hazelnuts, which are also called filberts.

13. Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts were used by Native Americans to flavor soups and were also ground into flour. The sweet meat can also be eaten raw and has a higher nutritional value than that of acorns or beechnuts. They are high in protein and many animals and birds eat them, including squirrels, foxes, deer, northern bobwhite, ruffed grouse, turkey, woodpeckers, and pheasants. Finding these examples still on the bush in February was a real surprise.

14. Skunk Cabbage

Not only do skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) raise their own temperature through a process called thermogenesis, but the dark color of their blotchy spathes attracts sunlight and that means they are also heated by the sun. This makes a nice cozy warming room inside the spathe where early insects can come and hang out and warm up. While they’re inside if they happen to bump into the spadix full of flowers and get pollen all over themselves, so much the better. There’s always a tradeoff and in this case both sides win.

15. Turkey Tails

I’ve seen more blue and purple turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) this year than I ever have, but these examples were shades of brown as they most often are. Wood decayed by the turkey tail fungus often has black zone lines or borders between where different variants of the species meet. These zone lines produce beautiful patterns in the wood, which is known as spalted wood. It is highly prized by woodworkers and a log full of spalted wood can be worth many times what one without any figuring is worth.

16 Thick-Maze Oak Polypore

If you’re a mushroom it’s all about spore production, and you increase spore production by growing as much spore bearing surface as you can. Some do this with gills and others like turkey tails and boletes do it with pores, which are long round tubes. Others like the thick-maze oak polypore (Daedalea quercina) pictured do it by creating a labyrinth. It was a beautiful little thing about an inch across growing on an oak log. The beauty in and of nature is always present no matter what time of year, and if we don’t see it it’s because we just don’t take the time to look.

17. Leaves Under Ice

Except for where it has been piled our snow is gone, even in the deep woods, but the ice remains. With all the sunshine and warmth it’s easy to lull yourself into thinking that spring is here, but we average about a foot of snow in March in this part of the state, so we could still see some. Since I work outside a lot I’m hoping not. I’m ready for spring.

When you reach the heart of life you shall find beauty in all things, even in the eyes that are blind to beauty. ~Kahlil Gibran

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1. Flowering Raspberry

Many plants that can take a lot of shade have large, light gathering leaves and the shade tolerant purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) shows that very well. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at a glance. It has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it as much as roses, as you can see by how they’ve eaten parts of the maple shaped leaves. They’ve even eaten holes in the flower petals as well. The fruit looks like a large raspberry but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

Flowering raspberry once got me a job as a gardener, so it holds a special place in my heart. A man called me to his house and asked me a few plant related questions and finally said that if I could tell him what the plants in his hedge were, he’d hire me.  I told him they were flowering raspberry and he hired me right there on the spot, and I worked for him for many years afterwards. That was back when I could remember the names of most plants. This native shrub makes a great landscape specimen, especially in shade gardens, and it’s too bad that more people don’t use it. It attracts both birds and butterflies and can take anything that a New England winter can throw at it.

2. Cow Wheat

Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite.  Its long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests.

3. Enchanter's Nightshade

While we’re on the subject of small flowers, I can’t think of many that are smaller than those of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.)  This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in late 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.

4. Enchanter's Nightshade

Each tiny flower has 2 deeply lobed white petals, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a slender style. They can be very hard to get a useable photo of, both because of their small size and because they grow in heavy shade. They’ve taught me a few things about flower photography over the years.

5. Deptford Pink

Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) flowers are smaller than their cousins maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) and bloom at least a month later. They don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center, and that’s a good means of identification. These plants will get quite tall and don’t seem to have the clumping habit of maiden pinks. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide shyly just at the sunny edges of the forest.

6. Pale Spike Lobelia

We have many different native lobelias here and I think this one might be pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata,) which gets its common name from its pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, as I was lucky enough to do on this day. There is also a purple variant but I’ve never seen it. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma. The plant must have worked well because early explorers took it back across the Atlantic where it is still used medicinally today. It has to be used with great care by those who know how to use it though, because an overdose of this little beauty can kill.

7. Lobelia

Each small, 1/4 inch flower of Lobelia spicata has an upper lip that is divided into 2 lobes and a larger lower lip that is divided into 3 lobes. A dark blue stigma sits between the upper 2 lobes. The petals are fused and form a tube. This plant reminds me of blue toadflax, which is also blossoming now.

8. Narrow Leaved Speedwell

A tip from a friend about a field I had never visited led me to this narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata); a plant that I’ve never seen before. It is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense because it grew in standing water in full sun at the edge of a field. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelia, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

9. Narrow Leaved Speedwell

Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice.

10. Creeping Bellflower

Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) has pretty flowers that all grow on one side of the stem, which almost always leans in the direction the flowers grow in. This plant is originally from Europe and Siberia and is considered an aggressive invasive weed. It shouldn’t be allowed to spread because it chokes out natives and once it forms colonies it can be nearly impossible to eradicate. Just a small piece of root left behind will become a new plant. I usually find it on forest edges.

11. Rabbit's Foot Clover

Each year at this time soft pink ribbons about a foot or two wide line the edges of our roads, made up of thousands of rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) plants. These plants are annuals which, judging by how many plants grow and blossom each year, must produce a fair amount of seed. This plant was introduced from Europe and Asia but nobody seems to know when, how or why.

12.. Button Bush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) has unusual spherical flower heads that are about the same size as a ping pong ball. It is made up of tiny cream colored, tube shaped flowers. Each flower has four short stamens and a long white style that makes the whole thing look like a pin cushion. 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.

13. Pipsissewa 3

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is one of our native wintergreens that grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer.

The plant forms a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids.

14. Pipsissewa

Pipsissewa flowers often show a blush of pink. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of the wintergreens in my opinion.

15. Meadow FlowersThe goldenrods have started blooming and when they grow alongside purple loosestrife they make our roadsides breathtakingly beautiful for a time. Soon we will be at the peak of summer bloom and the unmown meadows will look like Monet painted them.

It is the mind which creates the world around us, and even though we stand side by side in the same meadow, my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours, my heart will never stir to the emotions with which yours is touched. ~George Gissing

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1. Hole in Stone Wall

I was going to do this post on the day before Thanksgiving but then it snowed so I got a little off track. Anyhow, here is another forest mystery for all of you mystery lovers out there.  See the hole in the stone wall? There is no way the wall was built with that hole there, so how did it get there and what is holding up the stones above it that appear to be floating in air? Move one stone and they all go.

2. Barberry Berries

Japanese barberry berries (Berberis thunbergii) couldn’t seem to figure out what color they wanted to be. This shrub is one of our most invasive and it has been banned here in New Hampshire but there are so many in the woods, all covered in berries, that it is close to impossible to stop its spread.

 3. Bear Claw marks

Up in Nelson, New Hampshire the black bears like using telephone poles to mark their territory and they bite and claw them to make sure everyone pays attention. They can take quite large chunks of wood from a pole with their teeth.

4. Chipmunk on Log

Does the chipmunk live in that hole in the log? He wasn’t about to go into it while I was watching so I can’t answer that question. They usually live in stone walls in these parts so I’m guessing no, but he could have a food stash in there.

5. Larches

The larches (Larix laricina) went out in a blaze of glory this year. The wood of larches is tough but also flexible and Native Americans used it to make snowshoes. They called the tree tamarack, which not surprisingly, means “wood used for snowshoes” in Algonquin. They also used the inner bark medicinally to treat frostbite and other ailments.

6. Larch Needles

Larch needles are very soft and quite long compared to many of our other native conifers. Larch is the only conifer in this area to lose its needles in the fall.

7. Deadly Galerina Mushrooms on a Log

There are good reasons why expert mycologists want little to do with little brown mushrooms, and this photo shows one of those reasons. Deadly galerina mushrooms (Galerina autumnalis) are, according to mushroom expert Tom Volk, so poisonous that eating even a little bit can be deadly. It is common on rotting logs in almost all months of the year and can fruit in the same spot several times. If you collect and eat wild mushrooms it is one that you should get to know very well.

 8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Orchids might seem fragile but many are actually quite tough, like the evergreen downy rattlesnake plantain shown here. I get as much enjoyment from seeing its beautiful silvery leaves as I do its small white flowers. I was pleased to find these plants in a spot where I’ve never seen them before. According to the USDA this native orchid grows as far west as Oklahoma and south to Florida, though it is endangered there.

9. Striped Wintergreen

In the summer when there are leaves on the understory shrubs striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is almost invisible, but at this time of year it’s easier to see and I’ve found more and more plants each fall. It is still quite rare here though; I know of only two or three small colonies. It likes to grow in soil that has been undisturbed for decades and that helps account for its rarity.

10. Pipsissewa Seed Heads

Pisissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is another native wintergreen, though not as rare as some of the others. Its glossy green leaves make it easy to see in both summer and winter. It prefers cool dry sandy soil and I always find it near conifers like pine, hemlock and larch. The large colony where this photo was taken usually flowers quite well, as the many seed pods show. This plant, like many of the wintergreens, is a partial myco-heterotroph, meaning it gets part of its nutrition from the fungi that live in the surrounding soil. Odd that a plant would be parasitic on fungi, but there you have it.

11. Starflower Seed Pod

Five chambered starflower (Trientalis borealis) seed pods look like tiny soccer balls and are very hard to get a good photo of. Luckily the chalky white color makes them easy to see against the brown leaves. I bent one over this penny so you could see how small it really was. You can imagine how small the seeds inside are. Seeds are carried here and there by insects and don’t germinate until their second year. Germination is so rare that it has never been observed in the wild and, though they are easily grown from seed in nurseries, most of the plants found in the forest have grown vegetatively from underground tubers.

12. Lichen Number Six

This powdery goldspeck lichen (Candelariella efflorescens) had a tiny number 6 on it.

13. Ice Cave

Tiny ice stalactites and stalagmites grew and pushed up a crust of soil covered ice. This formed a small cave, and I had to get a look inside. The penny gives a sense of scale.

14. Tiny Ice Formation

This bit of ice looked like a tiny trimmed Christmas tree.

15. Swamp Wite Oak Leaf-aka Quercus bicolor

This salmon pink oak leaf with violet red veins was a very beautiful thing, but I had a hard time identifying it. I think, because of the leaf’s shallow lobes and color, that it might be a white swamp oak (Quercus bicolor.) I can’t remember ever seeing another one like it.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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