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Posts Tagged ‘Purple Fringed Bog Orchid’

Milkweeds are blooming now here in New Hampshire but so far I’ve only seen one monarch butterfly. If past years are any indication they’ll increase in numbers as summer passes. Though I grew up walking through fields of milkweed I never really saw how pretty the flowers were until I started photographing them. Cameras help you see, and anyone really interested in nature should have one whether they show the photos to anyone or not.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks. You can just see them in this photo where the flower stalks meet the leafstalks. When the flowers appear they face the ground and look as if their faces are pasted to the leaves, as can be seen in this photo. It is this habit which makes it easy to tell this plant from whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia,) which has very similar flowers that face outwards.

Each fringed loosestrife flower is about an inch across. Though it appears to have 5 petals they are actually 5 petal like lobes with pointed tips. Each flower has 5 stamens and a slender style. The flower produces both pollen and floral oil (instead of nectar) and is pollinated by oil bees that only feed on Lysimachia species, like  nude yellow loosestrife bees (Macropis nuda.) They roll tiny pollen balls using the oil and pollen and feed them to their young. Native Americans used all of our yellow loosestrifes medicinally for various ailments, usually in the form of tea.

Hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) have just started blooming. When I was a boy all I ever saw were pure white flowers but now I see far more bicolor pink and white flowers than the pure white ones, even though they are the same species. We kids used to call them morning glories but they aren’t that plant.

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. You can just see an out of focus leaf or two in this photo.

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. I almost always find it near water.

I usually find arrow leaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) by feeling it rip at my clothes when I walk through tall grass. It is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible. It often grows in deep shade but it will also grow in full sun.

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and may make you sorry that you ever touched it. They point down toward the soil so when you pull up on it you get a nasty surprise. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late into summer.

Narrow-leaf cow wheat seems like a humble, 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. It looked like something had been eating the leaves of this one.

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 called the “ditch lily” and 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. It was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental.

By the way, daylilies are not “tiger lilies.” There is only one tiger lily and that is Lilium tigrinum, now called Lilium lancifolium.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Saratoga Woods and Waterways, when I saw something I had never seen; the flowers of deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum.) For those not familiar with this native grass, its common name comes from the way its leaves resemble a deer’s tongue.

This is what the flower heads of deer tongue grass looks like; tiny beads (spikelets.) Each one is about a sixteenth of an inch around. The odd looking background in this shot is the granite rock the grass was leaning over.

And here are the brushy flowers (stigmata,) so tiny I didn’t think I’d ever get a photo of them. I finally had to put a piece of white paper behind them so my camera could find them. They’re one of the smallest things I’ve ever tried to show you. If you read the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog you too will discover beautiful treasures like these.

If you like the look of deer tongue grass there is at least one variegated cultivar that I found in a local park. I’ve tried to look it up but couldn’t find it, so I’m afraid I know nothing about it.

Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) is also called grass pink and will often reach two feet tall. They don’t always grow in the same large clumps as their cousins the maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) do, and they also don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center as maiden pinks do. The petals on Deptford pinks are narrower as well. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide their beautiful little faces in the sunny edges of the forest.

This flower shows that Deptford pinks don’t always have five petals. The name Deptford comes from the area in England where they used to be common.

Silky dogwoods (Cornus amomum) are the last of our native shrubby dogwoods to finish blooming in this area, following the gray and red osier dogwoods.

The flowerheads of silky dogwoods are quite flat, not mounded like those of gray dogwood.

Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. The silky dogwood will have berries that start out green, then blue and white and then turn fully blue. They are beautiful things that always remind me of blue and white Chinese porcelain. Cedar waxwings love these berries and they come to the river bank where the dogwoods grow each year to eat their fill.

We have three native wild roses here in the U.S., the Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana,) the prairie rose (Rosa arkansana) and the wild rose (Rosa acicularis.) We also have roses that appear to be wild but which have escaped cultivation. None are truly invasive here and I think it’s safe to say that all are welcome. I found this beautifully scented example near a stream.

I’ll never forget the day I was walking down a trail through a swamp and saw this orchid growing in a shaft of sunlight. It was such a beautiful thing, but finding it in a swamp was a bit surreal. I remember having a hard time understanding what I was seeing.

I hurried through the wet swamp muck to reach it and realized that I had stumbled upon one of the most beautiful flowers I had ever seen. It was a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) and it looked like a bush full of exotic butterflies. That first time there were two plants but now there is only one. It has reappeared at the end of June for several years now, and each year I feel very lucky to have seen it.

I can only stand and look when I see it. It makes me quiet and strikes me dumb, lost in its beauty. Once I get around to them photos are easy; how can you take a bad photo of something so beautiful? I’ve read that the flowers are pollinated by large butterflies and moths, but I’ve never seen an insect near them. I do hope they get pollinated and produce plenty of seeds. I’ve read that there was a time when the swamps were full of them. I can’t think of anything I’d rather see more.

In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. – Christopher Morley

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When I thought about the title of this post I wondered if anyone would really want to look back at the last year, but then I thought that these “looking back” posts are as much about looking forward as they are looking back, because in nature it’s a pretty fair bet that what happened last year will happen this year. To a point anyway; I hope the drought will ease this year so I can see mushrooms and slime molds again. The above shot is from last January, when I was stunned by the beauty of fresh snow.

I was also stunned by pussy willows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in January before.

In February the first skunk cabbages appeared from under the snow. A welcome sign of spring in February, which can sometimes be the coldest and snowiest month of all.

It was in February that I also saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Very small but beautiful, and with a fragrance that you can smell from two blocks away.

In March I saw the first of the American hazelnut blossoms; truly the first wildflowers of the year.

Things start happening in gardens in March as well. That’s usually when reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) appear. They are one of the earliest bulbs to show growth. They’re very cheery after a long winter without flowers.

April is when our spring ephemerals start to appear, and one of the largest and showiest is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum).These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. 

With so many flowers appearing in spring it’s very hard to choose the ones to put into these posts but one I felt I had to choose for April is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and I chose it because most people never see it. They aren’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They will for the most part bloom only when the sun shines on them but you can occasionally find them on a cloudy day. Their common name comes from the bright red or orange sap in their roots.

One of my personal favorites among the spring ephemerals is the spring beauty (Claytonia carolinana.) Though they sometimes appear in April, May seems to be the month I can really count on seeing them. I know where a colony of many thousands of plants grow and I have happily knelt in last year’s leaf litter taking photos of them for years now. I love their aspirin size, pink striped blossoms.  

Around the end of May is when I start seeing the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia). Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets make them easy to miss so you have to pay attention. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in quite large colonies but not always. They are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. Once you’ve found some you can go back to see them year after year. They seem quite long lived.

June is when our most well known orchid, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) blooms. Once collected into near oblivion by people who thought they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens, they have made a strong comeback and I see quite a few now. They’re beautiful and unusual, and should be left alone so we can all admire them. If transplanted they will not live long.

June was also when I found some larch flowers (Larix laricina). These tiny but beautiful things are so small all I can see is their color. I have to point the camera at the color and “shoot blind” until I get a shot. They can appear in mid May but I usually expect them in late May to early June. If you know a larch tree you might want to have a look. These tiny things will become the cones that hold the tree’s seeds, so if you look for the cones first that will give you an idea of which branches the flowers are most likely to appear on.  

Around the end of June and the first week of July I start looking for one of the most beautiful wildflowers I’ve seen; the purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). The big, two foot tall plant looks like a bush full of purple butterflies. They are quite rare in this area and that’s most likely because they grow in swamps. I can usually expect to have wet ankles after taking photos of this one.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blossoms right at the same time every year; just in time for the 4th of July, and its flowerheads just happen to look like fireworks. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo.

One of our prettiest and smallest wildflowers bloom in early August. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

In my last post I described how colorblindness prevented my ever seeing a cardinal. It works the same way for cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) unfortunately, so I was elated last August when a coworker and I stumbled upon a group of them. I knew what they looked like, and once I was right on top of them I could see their color, which was beautiful. Note how this much larger flower with its arching stamens uses the same strategy as the tiny forked blue curl we saw previously. The chief difference is, these stamens dust hummingbirds with pollen instead of bees.

It wouldn’t be September without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and this one just happens to be my favorite color aster. Unfortunately it’s also the hardest color to find so each year I have to go hunting for them. I can’t complain though; hunting for flowers is a pleasure, not a chore.

I could have shown a fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) in any month following May but this is the only photo from last year that showed the center of the flower, where a golden flame burns. I remember standing on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of these beautiful flowers last summer and being able to smell their glorious scent on the breeze. It was one the most amazing things, and I suspect that it wall last in my memory until I no longer have one.

I did see things other than flowers last year; things like this beautiful cedar waxwing I saw eating the berries of silky dogwoods at the river one September evening.

In October I went to see if the old stone staircase was still standing; all that’s left of Madame Sherri’s “castle” in Chesterfield. The castle was actually more of a chalet but it had quite a lot of elaborate stonework. It also had trees growing through the roof. How they kept the rain out is a mystery. Though I didn’t mention it in the original post I walked to the spot I had chosen and promptly tripped over a tree root and fell flat on my face in front of about 15 people who were all jostling to get a shot of the stairway. The camera was unscathed and I got my shot. The fall foliage was beautiful that day and the weather was perfect but the stairway was in need of some immediate help from a mason.

I also went to Willard Pond in October and walked through one of the most beautiful hardwood forests I’ve ever seen.

In November witch hazels bloomed. Also in December, but I doubt I’ll see any in January.

Also in November I was looking at lichens, including the smoky eye boulder lichen seen here. It’s one of the most beautiful in my opinion and I’ve put it here as an answer to the question “What is there to see in winter?” There is as much beauty to be seen in winter as there is at any other time of year. You just have to look a little closer, that’s all.

What could be more beautiful that this mossy hillside? It was like a green carpet covering the earth. What I like most about the colder months is how you can see the bones of the forest. There is no foliage to block your view in December.

One thing I’ll remember about the past year is how it was too dry for fungi. I saw very few until December, when I saw these mock oyster mushrooms (Phyllotopsis nidulans). They were big and beautiful, and looked as if they had been covered in orange velvet. They were well worth the wait but I hope to see more in 2021.

I hope this look back at 2020 wasn’t as bad as what you might have imagined. I’d rather have this blog be an island of calm in a sea of chaos than a running commentary on current events. Current events come and go like the tides and have no permanence, so about all you’re ever going to find here is nature, which is timeless. I do hope that’s why you come.

You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you’ll all have a happy, heathy new year.

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As the 90+ degree heat and humidity of July takes hold I think of being near cool water and it’s hard to be near water in this part of New Hampshire without noticing all the beautiful flowers that live in and around our lakes, rivers and ponds. Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) Unless you happen to be in a kayak or canoe it’s all but impossible to get a shot of one from above, but this one was right at the shoreline of a small pond and it gave me a rare look at the beautiful golden flame that burns in the center of each one. They’re said to smell like honeydew melons, but I’ve never gotten close enough to one  to find out. I could have picked this one, but why would I?

A small sampling of what can often be very large colonies of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots of this pretty plant and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Pickerel weed has small purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured above is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close. Though they must be full of pollen I can’t remember ever seeing an inset on one.

Bur reed stems twist and turn in odd configurations, and only they know why.  

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 and I find it near ponds and ditches.

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.

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep standing water. Since they grow with their lower stems submerged being able to see the entire plant is rare, but there are basal leaves growing at the base of each stem underwater. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize. The stem has a twist to it with 7 ridges and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort. It is also called hatpins, for obvious reasons.

Most pipeworts grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of very tiny white, cottony flowers. Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which of course is exactly what pipewort looks like. Pipewort is wind pollinated.

As their name implies swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. This plant is easy to identify; I can’t think of another that has loose, yellow flower spikes (racemes) like this one unless it is broad leaved goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis,) but its leaves are very different. This is a native that grows to about 3 feet. 

Swamp candle is in the loosestrife family and each of the 5 yellow petals has two red dots at its base, which makes the flowers look a lot like those found on whorled loosestrife, but slightly smaller. A major difference between the two plants is how the leaves don’t grow in whorls on swamp candles.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. The pretty flowers are about an inch across.

It’s easy to see how arrowhead gets its name. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

Purple loosestrife will grow in standing water but usually grows just onshore. It is an invasive plant that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant like the one pictured above is becoming more difficult each year. 

Though it is much hated you can’t deny the beauty of purple loosestrife. I’ve worked for nurseries and have had people come in wanting to buy “that beautiful purple flower that grows in wet areas,” but of course it can’t be bought, sold or traded here because it is a prohibited invasive species. The law says that “No person shall collect, transport, import, export, move, buy, sell, distribute, propagate or transplant any living and viable portion of any plant species, which includes all of their cultivars and varieties, listed on the New Hampshire prohibited invasive species list.” So, don’t even collet the seeds.  

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and can grow in great numbers when conditions are right. This rose, like many other water loving plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. 

How I wish I could find fields full of beautiful swamp milkweed plants (Asclepias incarnata) but the truth is I only see one or two plants each year if I’m lucky. This is a flower that made me gasp the first time I saw it because it was so beautiful. It is not a flower from my childhood so it is relatively new to me and I think I could just sit and stare at it for hours. I wish I had some growing here at home.

Three years ago I followed a trail through a swamp and was astonished to see a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) growing right there beside the trail. There was another one nearby but it was off in the swamp, all but inaccessible unless you wanted very wet feet. This year the plant beside the trail was gone and I felt my heart sink, but as I looked around I saw the other one still there, out in the swamp. Without even thinking I stumbled through the black, sucking muck  until I reached it, and these photos will hopefully show you why. It’s like seeing a bush full of beautiful purple butterflies and I still can’t believe I ever found such a thing.

How can anyone not want to fall on their knees before something as beautiful as this? To find yourself absorbed by it to the exclusion of everything else is to visit that place of deep peace from which all flowers come. Once you’ve been there you never forget it, and you’ll ache to return. Natural science writer Loren Eiseley also visited that place and explained: “The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time.” Maybe that’s why I’m willing to wade through the mud of a swamp to see such a thing.

I came out of the swamp with mud up to my knees, but also with a smile on my face. I know that nature isn’t static; everything is changing constantly and I don’t usually have trouble accepting that fact, but the loss of something so rare and beautiful is painful, and even though I was happy to see this plant I was sorry to not find the other one. I’ve read that orchids can disappear and then suddenly reappear a year or even years later, so I’ll keep checking the spot. Hopefully it will come back and help beautify this earth as only it can.  

Of course, flowers aren’t the only things you’ll see near water.

A monk asks: Is there anything more miraculous than the wonders of nature?
The master answers: Yes, your awareness of the wonders of nature.
~Angelus Silesius

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Tall meadow rue flowers (Thalictrum pubescens) always bloom close to the 4th of July and always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” These are the plant’s male flowers; starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.

I don’t see tall meadow rue in meadows unless the meadow is very wet. I usually find it growing at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream. It was down an embankment, which was a good thing because it often grows 7-8 feet tall and towers over me. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance. In spring the plant’s young leaves fool many into thinking they’ve found wild columbine.

Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) also reminds me of fireworks. This one grows in my garden and also reminds me of the friend who gave it to me several years ago. Hers grew to towering heights but this one usually stays at about three feet.

This beautiful hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) blossomed after the rain we finally got last Thursday. 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.

As I was admiring the hedge bindweed blossoms I happened to glance over to where one of our most beautiful wildflowers bloomed. Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are blooming about two weeks early this year. These plants are sometimes very tall and can tower over a person of average height but this one came only to my chin, and I’m not tall.

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.

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 often called the ditch lily, because that’s where it grows. 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.

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape, especially near brooks and streams. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

Common elderberry flower clusters look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. Each flower is tiny at only 1/4 inch across, and has 5 white petals or lobes, 5 yellow tipped stamens and 3 very small styles that fall off early after blooming. Each flower will be replaced by a single black (dark purple) drupe. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a single seed like a peach or cherry. Native Americans dried the fruit for winter use and soaked the berry stems in water to make a black dye for basketry.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and they can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area yet. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years but last year they seemed a little more plentiful.

Several times over the years I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are another yellow loosestrife that blooms at about the same time as the whorled loosestrife. Not surprisingly, they like to have their feet wet most of the time and are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. These plants stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife. The red dots on these petals seem to have run a bit and blended together. This is the first time I’ve seen this.

Pretty fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. It’s also the tallest and biggest flowered of the three yellow loosestrifes we have. 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 usually blooms later. Like the lilies, this year it’s about two weeks early. 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. 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.

Many years ago a friend gave me a piece of her Japanese iris. I don’t know its name but it’s a beautiful thing that is blooming now. It has very big flowers; they must be 2 or 3 times as big as a bearded iris blossom.

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that; it’s a very sharp, almost acrid odor and on a hot summer day your nose will tell you that you’re near this plant long before you see it.

Black swallowwort is a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. It is believed to have come to North America from Ukraine in the 1800s.  Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level. In Canada it is called the dog strangling vine and Canadians are testing the use of Hypena opulenta moth caterpillars as a means of biological control. So far they say, the results look promising. The caterpillars come from Ukraine and are a natural enemy of the plant. This plant illustrates the biggest danger of importing plants; the animals and insects that control them are left behind in their native lands, and once they arrive in their new home they are able to grow unchecked.

Two years ago I followed a trail through a swamp and was astonished to see a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) growing right there beside the trail. This year once again I’ve been following its progress off and on for months, watching it grow and produce buds, hoping all the while that nobody would pick it or a deer wouldn’t eat it. Finally it bloomed at exactly the same time it had last year and the year before.

This is easily one of the most beautiful flowers that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of flowers.  It is something I’d happily walk many miles to see because such a sight is so very rare; truly a once in a lifetime find in these parts. It grows in black, very wet swamp mud where for part of the spring there is standing water, so it obviously likes wet feet. I’ve read that the flowers are pollinated by large butterflies and moths, but I’ve never seen an insect near them. I do hope they get pollinated and produce plenty of seeds. The Native American Iroquois tribe actually dug this orchid up for its roots and  made tea from them to protect them from ghosts. Ghosts or not, I’d have a very hard time digging up something so beautiful.

My relationship to plants becomes closer and closer. They make me quiet; I like to be in their company. ~Peter Zumthor

Thanks for coming by.

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