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Posts Tagged ‘Pokeweed Fruit’

Last weekend was another hot, humid one so I spent some time at one of my favorite spots along the river. Due to our ongoing drought the water was as low as I’ve seen it get and some of the plants that grow here were looking parched. In spring I would have probably been in water up to my chest if I stood in this spot.

An invasive purple loosestrife plant (Lythrum salicaria) made a mistake and grew just a yard or so from the water. When the river fills and comes back to normal this young plant will be completely underwater.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows along the riverbank and I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of each dark purple berry. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Downstream a still pool looked inviting on such a hot day and if I were 12 years old again I would have been swimming rather than sweating. This river was very polluted when I was a boy but now children often swim right here in this spot and people also fish it for trout. I see an occasional bald eagle flying along the river and great blue herons often stand along its banks. We seem to have a shortage of herons this year though. I’ve only seen two this summer and one of them was standing in the middle of a road, slowing traffic.

Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed grew on the edge of the pool.

There is a lot of iron in the stones in this part of the river but I don’t know if that is what colored the riverbed in this spot or not. Whatever it was looked almost like algae.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. They bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. 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.

A wasp was busy pollinating boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum.) This is another plant that won’t be blooming too much longer.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries, even grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. Still, I can count the times I’ve found it in the wild on one hand, so it can hardly be called invasive. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

Tansy is a natural insect repellent and has historically been used as such but a crab spider was full of hope that an insect might be lured in by its bright yellow flowers.

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) grows prolifically here. This plant has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify. In fact, I’m never 100% sure that I’ve gotten it right.

I was very surprised to find marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) growing on the riverbank. This plant seems to be spreading quickly from place to place and I was happy to see it here because I often have to search high and low for it. Not only is this the only pink flowered St. John’s wort I’ve ever heard of; both its buds and seed pods are bright red.

Common St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) still bloomed here but I haven’t seen it anywhere else for a while now. This plant’s healing properties have been well known since ancient times.

What I call a spontaneous gift of nature stopped me in my tracks. The soft glow of the sun shining through the red leaves of a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) was beautiful. You can’t plan things like this; you simply have to be there and if you are you may see something you have never seen or even dreamed of.

Those silky dogwood leaves really shouldn’t be red this early, and neither should this burning bush leaf   (Euonymus alatus) be pink already. The first day of fall is nearly a month away unless it comes early, and some of the plants I’ve seen are hinting that it might.

These oak leaves weren’t hinting at an early fall; they were shouting it.

But on the other hand some oaks were just now working on continuation of the species.

Ducks and many other birds feed on the seeds of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and by the looks the ones on this plant were already gone. This native shrub grows all along the river and I see it fairly often. Each fertilized flower turns into a seed pod that hold two black seeds.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) bloomed along the river bank in shadier spots. This aster likes wet places and partial sunshine. It can grow up to 5 feet tall on unbranched stems, but these plants leaned out toward the river.

I didn’t know that fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) bloomed here until I saw the pretty seed pods. 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 plant’s seeds. 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. I like the little stars around each seed pod.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants bloomed on the riverbank and it struck me when I saw them how so many plants grow and bloom in places that will most likely be completely under water in a few months. Indeed during spring thaws I’ve seen many feet of water cover the very spot I was kneeling in. It was a bit unsettling to think about and I’m not sure how such seemingly delicate plants can survive it.

It’s always nice to spend part of a day on the river I grew up just a few yards from and have known all of my life. I saw so many interesting and beautiful things in less than a mile of waterway, and that always makes me imagine what I’d see if I could explore the whole thing. Someday maybe.

Meanwhile I’m content with the beauty I know that I’ll always find when I come here, like this beautiful cedar waxwing caught in a ray of sunshine. It was another of those spontaneous gifts of nature. I hope all of you receive similar gifts.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Quiet Stream

There are many flowers still blooming in this corner of New Hampshire but it has been very dry so those that bloom don’t last long. The oddest thing about this photo is the cloudy sky. We’ve had blue sky, full sun weather for what seems like months, with only an occasional rainy day. It might seem odd to hear someone complain about that, but it has also led to drought and many seeps and small streams have dried up. Full sunshine doesn’t make photographing flowers any easier either, so I keep hoping for clouds.

2.Turtlehead

Turtleheads tell me that late summer is here.  I found this pink lipped beauty on wet ground up in Nelson New Hampshire recently. Usually the native turtleheads I see are the white flowered variety (Chelone glabra linifolia,) but I have a pink flowered one (Chelone obliqua speciosa) in my garden that a friend gave me many years ago. I wonder if the white and pink varieties have naturally cross bred to create this bicolored example. It could also be a simple garden escapee, because there is a plant that breeders developed called Hot Lips (Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips‘). The plant gets the first part of it scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble.

3. Coneflower

Purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea) is known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of this plant were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar and birds like the seeds.

4. Slender Fragrant Golden Rod

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is another goldenrod that easy to identify because of its long slender, willow like leaves and its pleasant fragrance that is impossible to describe. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf. It is also called flat topped goldenrod.

5. Wild Mint

Wild mint (Mentha arvensis) has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. It is unusual because it seems to be native in virtually all parts of the world. Native Americans made tea from its leaves and used it to spice up pemmican and soups. When we see wild mint we see the beginnings of man’s interaction with plants, since before history was even recorded.

6. Wild Mint

The white or lavender tubular flowers of wild mint appear in a whorl in the leaf axils at the uppermost parts of the plant. Each usually has 4 long stamens but sometimes they don’t develop. Identification couldn’t be easier; I just crush a leaf and smell it. The fragrance seems cooling on a hot summer day.

7. Boneset

At a glance boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) looks like white Joe Pye weed. That’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side, but boneset blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here. I find it on river, pond and stream banks.

8. Boneset Foliage

The perfoliatum part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the foliage” and that’s how its stem appears to grow; as if the leaves have been perorated by it. Joe Pye weed leaves have leaf stems (petioles) and look very different.

9. Burdock

Burdock (Arctium minus) has very pretty flowers made up of disk florets that are usually pink or purple. The bur’s floral bracts have narrow hooked tips that are soft at this stage but stiffen as they age. Birds love the seeds but small songbirds have been known to get their feathers stuck to the burs and die.  Early Europeans brought burdock to North America to use as a medicine. The Arctium part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word arktos, which means bear, and refers to the round brown burs which someone apparently thought resembled a bear.

10. Queen Anne's Lace

A glance at this Queen Anne’s lace flower head might convince you that there was an insect feeding on it, but the purple thing in the center is actually a tiny, infertile flower that’s less than half the size of a pea. Not all plants have these central florets that can be purple, pink, or sometimes blood red. From what I’ve seen in this area it seems that as many plants have it as those that do not.

11. Queen Anne's Lace

The ant gives a good idea of the size of the tiny purple floret. I’ve heard many theories of why this flower grows the way it does but the bottom line is that botanists don’t really know why.  It seems to serve no useful purpose, but it might have at one time. The ant certainly seemed interested in it.

12. Pokeweed Flower

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the berry. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.)

13. Pokeweed Berry

My favorite part of the pokeweed plant comes when the sepals turn pink on the back of the berry. The color will seem even more intense when the berries ripen and turn deep purple-black.

The common name pokeweed comes from the Native American word for blood, and refers to the red dye that can be made from the berry. The juice was used as a dye by the early colonists and they also used it to improve the color of cheap wine. All parts of the plant are considered toxic and should never be eaten unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

14. Yellow Toadflax

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) was imported from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental and, as the all too familiar story goes, escaped cultivation to become a noxious weed. It’s a pretty weed though, and reminds me of snapdragons. It really isn’t that invasive here; I have a hard time finding it each year.

15. Canada St. John'swort

There are many little yellow flowers that look much alike so I admire their beauty but leave their identification to someone else, as I do with little brown mushrooms. It can sometimes take weeks to identify a flower you’ve never seen before properly and life is just too short for all the little yellow ones, in my opinion. I’ve walked by this one for years until recently when I read about it on the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog and the post made me curious enough to want to learn about it. It’s called Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) and its flowers are some of the smallest I’ve tried to photograph. You could pick three or four of them and hide the bouquet behind a penny, so small are the blooms. I think they might even be smaller than those of dwarf St. John’s wort. The bright crimson buds are a bonus, and surprising for a plant with yellow flowers.

16. Purple Milkwort

On field milkwort plants (Polygala sanguinea) what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green. I know of only one place where it grows and its beautiful flowers always make it worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and that’s just what I did.

What is divine escapes men’s notice because of their incredulity. Heraclitus

Thanks for coming by.

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