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Posts Tagged ‘Purple Loosestrife’

What I call the park asters seem to have had trouble getting going again this year and are quite late, or maybe I’m just impatient. These plants get about a foot and a half tall but are large and mounded and once they get going are covered with blossoms. They’re very pretty and I show them in these flower posts so you can see what a long bloom time they have. They’ll also take a hard frost and keep blooming. I’m sure they could be found in a garden center but I don’t know their name.

Bees and butterflies love them. These plants are often covered with both.

Bumblebees are still very active and I see them all over the flowers you’ll see in this post. This one was loving this sunflower.

I took this shot because I love the colors of goldenrod and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) together. This particular loosestrife was very dark.

And this purple loosestrife, growing just a few feet from the one in the previous photo, was much lighter in color.

The small but abundant blooms of panicled aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum) can be found everywhere I go right now. They’re maybe half to a third the size of a New England aster.

And blue wood asters (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) are even smaller. These were a very pale blue, almost white.

If, before you had indoor plumbing, you wanted to hide the outhouse this is often what you would use for a screen, at least in summer. And that’s how this particular helianthus species got the name of “outhouse daisy.” Another name is the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) but since it isn’t an artichoke and it has nothing to do with Jerusalem, that name makes little sense. Jerusalem artichokes were cultivated by Native Americans for thousands of years for their tuberous roots, which they cooked and ate much like we do potatoes. They are said to be starchy with a nutty flavor and they were immediately adopted by the early settlers. The tubers have fewer calories than potatoes and the plant’s carbohydrates and sugars can be assimilated by the digestive tract without insulin. This makes them an excellent choice for diabetics. You’d better have plenty of space though. This one had to have been 7 feet tall.

Whatever name you choose to use for it, this is a beautiful late summer / early spring flower.

These New England asters (Symphyotrichum puniceum) surprised me by growing almost in the water at the edge of a pond. Those are cattails behind them. I don’t think of them as water lovers but they do tend to grow in ditches and other places that stay moist.

I was surprised to see the only marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) plant I know of still blooming, but then why not? It’s in the same family as rose of Sharon, another late summer / early fall bloomer. Its flowers are about the diameter of a quarter, or 3/4 of an inch.

Many plants will have a big initial spring or early summer bloom, then they rest and will bloom sporadically again in the fall. Dandelions do it and that’s what I thought tradescantia did as well until I started watching this particular plant, which has bloomed all summer long. Is it all the rain that made it do so, I wonder?

I saw a bee balm I didn’t recognize in a local park. It had a tag that read Monarda Sugar Buzz “Blue Moon.” My color finding software sees “plum” and “medium purple” but for what it’s worth, it looked blue to me. It couldn’t have been more than a foot tall.

Here in the Northeastern U.S. we are big on garden chrysanthemums in the fall and I wonder if people in other countries love them as much as we do. Thought of as a late summer / fall plant, many thousands of them are sold each year and you see them everywhere. Though they are native to Asia and northeastern Europe I never hear much about them being grown in other countries.

Fall mums come in many colors including red. My color finding software tells me this is “Indian red.” Though they are sold as “hardy mums” they are not truly hardy and most of them die in winter, but purple and white ones will often make it through until the following year. Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China as early as the 15th century, where its boiled roots were used to treat headaches and its sprouts and petals were eaten in salads.

Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) is another “spring plant” that has bloomed all year long. I like its little orchid like flowers. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to.

I can’t say that this is the last rose of summer but since we’re past our average first frost date of September 25th, it could be.

Here is another bumblebee on a scabiosa blossom.

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) was losing its tiny flowers one by one. It seems odd that though this plant is supposed to be a bee and butterfly magnet I’ve never seen a single insect on it. Though they fly all around it and are on surrounding plants they don’t touch it.

The pee gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) is a “panicled” hydrangea, meanings its flower heads are cone shaped rather than round. These plants grow into large shrubs sometimes reaching 10-20 feet tall and nearly as wide. Though originally introduced from Japan in 1862 this plant is thought to be native by many and is a much-loved, old-fashioned favorite. What I like most about this hydrangea is how the flower heads turn a soft pink in the fall. When they’re cut and dried, they’ll hold their color for quite a long time.

This hydrangea is also a panicled variety according to Google lens, but the shape is very different from the example we just saw so I looked it up online. Sure enough there is a panicled hydrangea variety called Quick Fire which was released by Proven Winners, with a photo that looks just like this one. It is said to open white and quickly turn pink. I do like the color but it looked more like a lace cap hydrangea to me.

I saw a huge drift of wildflowers at a local pond recently. They went on like this for many yards.

New Englanders know what witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blossoming means; winter can’t be far off. Though it usually blooms in cool weather these native plants bloomed on a warm day. I’ve seen them bloom on a warm day in January before but not in September. These flowers have a very subtle fragrance I’ve heard described as being like “fresh clean laundry just taken down from the line.” I haven’t taken much laundry down from clotheslines so I can’t say one way or the other, but it is a pleasant, clean scent. Native Americans steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in sweat lodges to sooth aching muscles, and my father always had a bottle of witch hazel lotion in the house.

You can experience the beauty of nature only when you sit with it, observe it, breathe it and talk to it. ~Sanchita Pandey

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We are in full on, everywhere you look aster time here in this corner of New Hampshire, and that includes my favorite deep purple New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) You have to search for this color because they aren’t anywhere near as common as the lighter lavender asters. In this particular spot these plants have lots of competition so they can get quite tall. I saw plants on this day that were taller than I was.

The flowers were beautiful and so was the place they grew in. Now part of the local university system, this path winds through woods I played in as a boy. Now it’s part of a nature preserve and that makes me very happy, because its beauty should be preserved. The Ashuelot River is just over on the other side of that fence on the left and on this day, it was scary high. I saw evidence in places where it had topped its banks and flooded the forest so it’s probably best not to come here after heavy rains. But it’s such a beautiful spot I’ve decided that I should visit more often. I’m very anxious to come here when the leaves have colored up. These trees are almost all red and silver maples.

There were mixtures of asters and goldenrods in sunnier spots. I also found lots of Japanese knotweed out here, unfortunately.

There were fields of goldenrod too. Interestingly (unless you’re a photographer) not one of the three cameras I carried could cope with this scene. I took photos with all three and they were all baffled. So though it isn’t a good photo, it does give you an idea of what I saw here. It was just beautiful.

I like the contrast between goldenrod and those dark New England asters.

Most of the woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) I saw had been flattened by the flooding but this one still stood tall. This is another native that can get quite tall. I sometimes see it growing up out of the middle of dogwoods and other shrubs.

There were two monarch butterflies on this stand of asters but of course they flew off as soon as I got close enough for a shot. But then this one couldn’t resist and came back for another taste.

I saw pure white New England asters too. They are not something I often see. In fact I think I’ve only seen them two or three times in the 10+ years I’ve been doing this blog.

This New England aster was in a sunny spot in the forest. This color is by far the most common but that fact does nothing to diminish its beauty.

I was out here a day or two earlier and saw even more monarchs. Unfortunately they were on some very invasive purple loosestrife.

But they were beautiful and yes, so was the purple loosestrife.

One more shot of this beautiful place that I have loved all of my life. I hope you liked seeing it too. What fun I had here when I was just a pup, but of course there were no mowed paths here then. Just the forest, but that was always enough.

I left one place I spent a lot of time in as a boy and went to another one and there, along the Ashuelot River near downtown Keene, I found more closed gentians (Gentiana clausa) blooming than I have ever seen before. Yes, these plants grow along this trail but these were not the ones I came to see. These were new to this place; previously unseen, and they made me wonder how they got here and how I could have missed them last year. They are not flowers you pass by with a nod and a shrug, because they’re rarely seen in this area, so I would have fallen onto my knees to admire them last year just as I did on this day.

But a minute or two after I fell onto my knees none of what I had just thought mattered, because I was lost in their unique beauty. It is a special kind of unusual beauty that makes me wonder if I were a bee, how would I get in there? And the leaves; why had they changed so soon? Though I know that fall starts on the forest floor I wondered if I had been missing it just as I had missed the gentians. I’m going to have to pay closer attention.

It’s turtlehead time. I haven’t seen any of our native white flowered plants this year so I’m guessing they aren’t a huge fan of lots of rain. These pink ones don’t seem to mind however; it was raining when I took this photo and they were in good health.

I’ve never seen turtles when I looked at turtlehead blossoms but after looking at this shot for a while, if I called that little whiteish “tongue” the head and the rest of the flower the shell, I finally saw a turtle. Whether or not that’s what others see, I can’t say.

I always like to look inside a turtlehead blossom because each time I do I see something I haven’t seen, like the stripe that guides insects straight into the blossom. And when an insect lands on the landing pad “tongue” and follows that stripe the hairy anthers on either side will brush their pollen all over it, so it can then fly off and pollinate another flower. Miracles; all around us every day. Nature will reveal them to you, if you pay attention and look closely.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snake root’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant contains a toxic compound called trematol, which is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drink the milk or eat the meat before too long, they start to show signs of what was once called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most who drank the tainted milk would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from what is believed to have been milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans, but today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is now virtually unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives. If you use boneset medicinally you should get to know this plant well so you don’t confuse the two.

I went to the one place I knew of to find pretty little sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) flowers and could find not a single plant, but luckily later on I found several plants growing in the sand of a road shoulder. This curious little plant gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. It is an annual, which grows new from seed each year. They grow to only about knee high and though there are usually many flowers per stem they’re so small they can be hard to see.

How small are sand jointweed blossoms? This shot from 2016 shows that they’re about 1/8 of an inch across, or nearly the same size as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny. You can see the curiously jointed stems that give the plant its common name in this shot as well.

I’ve not been able to find any red cardinal flowers this year. All of those I’ve found in the past grew on the very edge of the water, so with all the flooding they’ve been either flattened or washed away. But, for the first time I did find blue lobelia, also called blue cardinal flower (Lobelia siphilitica) in a garden bed at a local park, of all places. I talked to some ladies who were tidying up the beds and they told me the plants had been there for many years. Too long for anyone to know how they came to be there, but I think they were most likely planted years ago. This is a plant I’ve been hoping to find for a very long time so I was happy to see it.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to our native chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) for this season. That’s too bad, because its flowers are a shade of blue not often found outside of a garden.

I noticed that plant breeders have been working on globe amaranth plants while I wasn’t watching. These I found in a local garden were like beautiful little starbursts.

I thought I’d save the biggest surprise for last; a Forsythia blossom in September. Then I saw four more the next day. Though they are a spring bloomer over the years I’ve found a blossom or two even during  a warm January one year. It’s always a surprise.

The wonder of the beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open. ~ John O’Donohue

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Whether you think Joe Pye was the name of a healer who used the plant to heal or jopi, the Native American name of the plant that did the healing, doesn’t matter. All that matters is its beauty. The plant is having a fairly good year because it likes a lot of rain, and some tower over my head. This example was just starting to flower, and you can tell that by the tiny thread like flower styles that give the flower head its fuzzy look. The flowers smell a bit like vanilla to me, and they attract many insects including monarch butterflies, so this plant (Eupatorium) is a great choice for a wildlife garden.

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) is easy to recognize because of the way its erect stems are unbranched, with steeple shaped flower clusters at their ends. They are usually found near water, as this one was, but I’ve also found them in very dry places. This native plant is available commercially and is an excellent choice for butterfly gardens. Native Americans used a tea made from steeplebush leaves for easing childbirth.

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is similar to lance leaved goldenrod, but the two can be told apart by leaf veining; slender fragrant goldenrod has only one vein running down the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has several veins. Other common names are sweet goldenrod, wound weed, Blue Mountain tea, sweet-scented goldenrod, anise-scented goldenrod, and true goldenrod. Goldenrods like dry, sunny places and don’t mind sandy soil. This native grows much shorter than most; usually about knee high. The flowers are quite fragrant and many insects love them.

Marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) flowers are very pink for a St. John’s wort. As its name implies this plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline of ponds. The flowers are quite small; about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day, but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant often has dark colored maroonish leaves like those seen here. It isn’t rare but it isn’t easy to find either.

The pin striped flowers are unusual and beautiful but you have to be patient to see them because they will only open when the plant is in full afternoon sun.

Field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) is a pretty little shin high plant that usually blooms in August. 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, including bumblebees. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

Several years ago, I put a field milkwart raceme on a penny so you could see how small these flowers really are. Small or not they’re very pretty and worth seeing. Milkworts get their name from the ancient Greeks, who thought they increased milk production in nursing mothers. The polygala part of the scientific name comes from the Greek polugalon or “much milk.”

Native trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) flowers are showy, waxy, trumpet shaped, and big; up to 3 1/2 inches long. They can be orange, reddish orange, or sometimes pink and they attract Ruby throated Hummingbirds and many insects. If you plant this vine near your house, you’d better give it something very sturdy to climb on. I once saw it pull a trellis right off a porch. Trumpet creeper can grow 35 feet tall when it has something to climb on. It climbs using aerial roots which, like some other vines like English Ivy, can damage wood, stone, or brick. Other names are cow vine, foxglove vine, hellvine, and devil’s shoestring, so you either love it or hate it. This one grows on an old rusty chain link fence so I just admire it. If I was going to plant one, I’d let it grow up a pine tree. It wouldn’t pull that down.

I like the flower buds on a trumpet creeper as much as the flowers. They look like red satin balloons.

I found a small plant, about as big as a baseball, in a lawn. It was covered in a large number of tiny flowers which were obviously in the forget me not family but much smaller. I think it might be field forget me not (Myosotis arvensis,) which I’ve never seen before now.

The flowers are about 1/8 inch across, much smaller than the forget me nots I’m used to finding. They are saucer shaped, which is an identifying feature as is the hairy, 5 lobed calyx at the base of the flower. If you know that I’ve misidentified it I’d love to hear from you.

Low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis) is blooming in sandy waste places in quite large numbers this year. The flowers are tiny; about the same size as those of red sand spurry, and blossom on the ends of wiry stems. Its leaves are also small and sword shaped. Most of the plants I’ve seen would fit in a tea cup with room to spare, but there are usually lots of plants growing together. It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath. I had never seen it before a couple of summers ago but now I see it quite regularly. I’m guessing it re-seeds itself prolifically. This is another plant that was identified by readers of this blog, so once again I say thank you for the help.

I saw some of the lobelia plants that are called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) but there was a black spot in the center of some of the flowers which didn’t look right, and that was because this little guy and his cousins were buried up to their hind legs in the flower tubes. As I watched this one crawled out and that’s how I found out what was happening. The flower seen here was about a quarter inch long so this was a tiny critter. It looks like a beetle of some sort but I haven’t been able to identify it.

Note: A helpful reader has identified this creature as a weevil, and I think it might be the stem miner weevil (Mecinus pyraster.) Thanks Ginny!

Invasive purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) has come into bloom. Three species of non native plant feeding beetles have been said to show promise in biological control of purple loosestrife and biological control has begun in the southern part of the state. I haven’t seen any great loss of purple loosestrife yet but it is said that it will take 5 years before we’ll see any real impact.

My first question is, what will the introduced insects eat when there are no more purple loosestrife plants? My second question is, when will we ever learn?

It’s time to say goodbye to Canada lilies, which are our biggest, showiest wildflower. Stumbling into a clearing in the woods where dozens of these plants, some 7 feet tall, are blooming is just unforgettable.

The blossoms themselves are pretty unforgettable too. Everything about them is big.

Years ago, when I first saw blue hydrangeas I thought they were the greatest thing, but since then I’ve grown into a more take it or leave it frame of mind. I found this one growing beside an abandoned building in Keene and I kind of liked the white in the flowers, rather than solid blue. I don’t know if the white is just a fluke or if it means the flowers are fading but it was a nice touch, in my opinion.

It’s rare to see anything but red bee balm here so I was surprised and happy to find this one in a local park. It had a bit of powdery mildew on its leaves but it looked good otherwise.

I was also surprised to find a huge anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) plant in full bloom at the local college. It’s a pretty plant that I’ve never seen before, but it was easy to see that it needs a lot of room. I’ve read that it’s a native plant in the mint family that is said to attract many insects and butterflies but, though there were plenty of both flying around that day I didn’t see a single one land on this plant. I wondered if they, like me, just weren’t used to seeing it. When I find plants I don’t know like this one I sometimes think of what I could have done with them back when I was gardening for a living.

Rose of Sharon shrubs (Hibiscus syriacus) have come into bloom. There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding this plant each year at this time. People don’t know if it’s a hibiscus or a mallow or a hollyhock, and that’s because all of those plants are in the mallow family (Malvaceae) and have similar flowers. The easiest way to identify a rose of Sharon is by looking at the plant the flowers are on. If the flower is on an upright, often tall woody shrub it is a rose of Sharon. Mallow and hollyhocks are perennials and / or biennials and will usually die back to the ground each year. Hibiscus resembles rose of Sharon but you’ll only find it growing outside year-round in the southern states because it is very tender. I think of rose of Sharon as a hardy hibiscus. This is about the only time of year I think of hibiscus because I used to have to trim what seemed like miles of hybiscus hedges when I worked as a gardener in Florida, so I don’t really miss them.

And here was a double flowered one. I’m not usually partial to double flowers but this one wasn’t too bad.

And here is this week’s beautiful daylily. My color finding software tells me its colors are thistle, orchid and plum. It has a divine light shining out of its throat and anthers of flame. If you could take a tray of flower parts and build your own, I’m not sure you would end up with a flower more beautiful than this. It’s a flower I can easily lose myself in.

In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends. ~ Kakuzō Okakura

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Our beautiful New England asters are now opening over a wider area and though I’m not seeing them everywhere I go yet I usually see them each day at least. They make summer’s end a little more palatable.

Nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) gets its common name from its drooping flower heads and the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. It doesn’t seem to bother ducks, geese, and all of the other animals that eat it, though. The plant is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers.

Nodding smartweed flowers never seem to fully open, but I got lucky on this day and found one. Each flower has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles. The tiny flowers are packed into a long raceme and can be white, red, pink, or a combination of all three. In my experience it is rare to find one as open as this one was.

Only one smartweed is called lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa,) but even nodding smartweed has the “thumbprint.”  The dark spot that appears on each leaf is said in legend to have been left by a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently.) It has been there ever since.

It’s time to say goodbye to chicory (Cichorium intybus) I think, because out of ten or twelve plants this is the only one still blooming.

Chicory one of my favorite summer flowers because of its large, easy to see flowers and beautiful blue color. I can’t think of another flower, either wild or cultivated, quite like it.

Nodding bur marigold plants (Bidens cernua) grow in the wet mud at the water’s edge at rivers and ponds. As they age the flowers of the nodding bur marigold nod towards the ground and that’s how the plant comes by its common name. The flowers look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. I like their deeply pleated petals. The plants grow to about knee high, often in standing water, and that can make them tricky to get a good photo of.

Panicled hawkweed (Hieracium paniculatum) has wiry stems that curve in all directions and end in a small, yellow, daisy-like flower. I often find this plant growing along old forgotten dirt roads in the woods. These native plants are sometimes confused with rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) but that plant has prickly flower buds and hairy leaves.

Each strap shaped “petal” on a panicled hawkweed flower head is actually a ray flower. Some have teeth on the end as this one did but others may not.

Seed heads are also what you would expect to see on a hawkweed. Panicled hawkweed is one of our latest blooming hawkweeds.

For the first time I saw a blue toadflax blossom (Nuttallanthus canadensis) with its “mouth” open. It’s hard to see but it’s there under that upper lobe. The name toadflax comes from its flax like leaves, and its toad like mouth. Whatever you call it it’s a pretty little plant that blooms for most of the summer. The side view shows its long nectar spur.

I have pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) in my yard but these examples in a local park bloom weeks earlier than mine. Unlike my plants, these plants often look terrible; all black and crisp leaves. My plants haven’t even showed color on the buds yet, but I hope they do better than these. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well in my yard and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

I always like to see if I can get a shot looking into the throat of the turtle. It’s very hairy in there but it doesn’t bother bumblebees. They can often be found swarming over these plants.  

At a local pond white boneset and purple loosestrife dominated the scene. If history is any indication it won’t be long before purple loosestrife takes over the whole area.

I’m seeing fewer soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) flowers these days and I think its run has just about ended for this year. Someday I’m going to chop up the roots and flowering stems and see if I can get soapy water out of them. I’ve read that it gets soapy enough to be able to be used to wash clothes.

No, it isn’t May but this flower head I saw on a viburnum shrub in a local park reminded me of May. It is an almost exact duplicate of our native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) flowers that bloom in that month, though it was about half the size. Like hobblebush flowers the large sterile flowers around the perimeter are there to attract insects to the smaller fertile flowers found in the center. I haven’t been able to identify the shrub, which was much taller and more upright than a hobblebush, but I was happy to see it.

Hydrangeas have been blooming for a while now. These plants live far back in my memory; my grandmother always grew them and called them snowballs. This old fashioned type is called “Annabelle.”

Sedums are just starting to show color. For those who don’t know, sedums have thick succulent leaves and fleshy stems and can be quite drought tolerant. They are also nectar rich and will attract butterflies.

I think it’s just about time to say goodbye to the beautiful little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum,) because I’m seeing more seedpods than flowers now. This plant is an annual so it will have to grow again from seed next year. These little beauties are usually barely ankle high and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun.

Winters have always seemed long to me because I’ve always been a flower lover. To make winter seem shorter I know that the secret is to stop longing to see flowers again, but how can you not long to see something so beautiful? I haven’t worked that out yet.

What happens to people who have witnessed the miraculous?  ~Jim Harrison

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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

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Last weekend I decided to visit the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland. Hacked out of the bedrock over 150 years ago by the railroad, it is the only place I know of to find such a huge variety of plants, mosses, liverworts and algae. Because of the 50 foot height of the walls of this man made canyon and the trees growing above them it can be quite dark in here, even on a sunny day.

This was not a sunny day and photography was a challenge so I hope you won’t be too disappointed in the quality of what you find here.

The tip of a fern leaf revealed that something had pulled the tips of the fronds together with silk to form a ball. From what I’ve read a caterpillar of one of three native moth species in the genus Herpetogramma practice this leaf rolling and tying habit and so they are called fern leaf tiers. The ball is hollow on the inside and the caterpillar will live in it and feed on the leaf presumably until it is ready to become a moth.

The underside of a fertile frond was covered with small dots called sori, as can be seen in the previous photo. The sori are clusters of spore producing sporangia and they can be naked (uncovered) or capped by a cover called an indusium, as they are on the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris spinulose,) which I believe this was. When the spores are ready to be released thicker cell walls on one side of each sorus will age and dry out, and this creates a tension which causes the cover (indusium) to burst open and release its spores. It all seems so amazing and improbable.

On their way to becoming brilliant red, the berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time and in my opinion this is when they are at their most beautiful. This plant is also called treacle berry because the berries are supposed to taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They are rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from the burning roots to treat headaches and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

I had to lighten this shot quite a lot but I wanted you to see the lush abundance of plant growth found here. It always reminds me of the Shangri-La described in the book Lost Horizons by James Hilton, which I read and enjoyed very much when I was a boy. It would take many years to identify all these plants.

I just read an interesting article about pink or “watermelon” snow found on the Presena glacier in northern Italy. The snow was colored by an algae bloom growing right on the snow rather than a spore release, but colored rains are common all over the world and they’re usually colored by the release of spores. The orange color seen in this place on the stone of the canyon is caused by green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. There have been red rains, black rains, and yellow and green rains, all colored by algae spores. The red “blood” rains usually wreak much havoc among the superstitious throughout the world, who believe such a thing is a bad omen.

I wasn’t happy to see purple loosestrife blooming here because it’s just about the most invasive plant we have in these parts. It’s right up there with Japanese knotweed.

Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) has big, light gathering leaves that give it a certain tolerance for low light, and that’s how it can grow here so well. 

A hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) crawled on the flowering raspberry. It humped itself up when it saw me for some reason.

But then it straightened itself out and went on its way. Hickory tussock moth caterpillars have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

This is a place where coltsfoot grows on stone, and it can do that because of the constant drip of groundwater. Every plant here has a never ending supply of rich mineral laden water, and that’s what makes the place so lush.

Since the drainage channels along the railbed were so low due to our prolonged drought I thought I’d visit with my friends the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum,) which grow here by the thousands. They are one of the plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and they’re one of the reasons I come here. The great scented liverwort is such a beautiful thing and it somehow manages to look both plant and animal at the same time. Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day I was happy to see that most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and I saw lots of it.

The beautiful reptilian appearance is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

I don’t like to hang around with the liverworts too long because rocks fall from these walls regularly. Many of them land in the drainage channels as seen here, and some are big enough to crush a car. I love the golden green of the water here when the light is right.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) still bloomed beautifully here. If you see a spirea when you look at this flower good for you; you know your plants. Spirea blossoms always look fuzzy due to their many stamens.

There wouldn’t be anything unusual about this particular tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius) if it weren’t for the teeth marks on it. I first saw this a few years ago happening on lichens but I think this is only the second time I’ve seen it on a fungus. I have a couple of theories about what made these marks and why; either a squirrel or chipmunk is scraping algae off the surface or they are inhibiting the growth of their teeth. They are both rodents and must gnaw to control tooth growth.

I saw the first New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) of the year on this day and I’m always of two minds about that first one. I’d like summer to go on for a few months longer but the sooner we get through winter the sooner spring will be here. New England asters are our biggest and showiest native aster and the large, inch and a half diameter blossoms come in varying shades of purple. Some can be almost white and some are very dark. This one was kind of in between and it was very beautiful.

Joe Pye weed  (Eutrochium purpureum) kindly offered to show us what a true whorl is. You can see how its leaves radiate from a single point around the stem, so if the leaves were flat and you looked at them on edge they would look like a plate, all in one plane, with no leaf higher or lower on the stem than the others in the whorl. It’s good to know not just what a plant’s flowers look like, but their leaf shape and growth habits as well. When you’re out in the field surrounded by thousands of plants it is easy to get home, look at your hundreds of photos, and wonder “what on earth is that?”

There’s no doubt what this one is; a turtle head (Chelone glabra linifolia.) I was hoping they would be in bloom because I wanted my friend Dave to see them. When he first saw a photo of a turtlehead flower he said that he thought “turtle head” immediately, even though he had never seen the plant and didn’t know its name. It seems odd to me because I have never seen turtleheads when I look at them. I think they look more like a fish mouth.

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. I think she looks more like a trout but maybe Greek turtles look different than New Hampshire ones.

Turtleheads are very susceptible to disease and the plants here were covered with molds and mildews.

White snakeroot grows here; one of two places I know of to find it. It wasn’t flowering but that doesn’t matter, because I’d like you to see its leaves. Though its flowers closely resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. Though boneset is used medicinally this plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so now milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.

Here is a closer look at a white snakeroot leaf. It looks nothing like boneset. You can often see the delicate tracery of leaf miners on these leaves. Native Americans used the root in a poultice to treat snakebite, and that’s how the plant gets its common name. If you don’t know what you’re doing however, it’s a plant best left alone.

Here are the leaves of boneset, knitted together around the stem like healing bones, and they are obviously very different from the leaf in the previous photo. Though many botanists will tell you it’s always best to identify plants by their flowers, in the case of boneset and white snakeroot with flowers that look nearly identical, it might be best to pay more attention to the leaves.

It was so dark by the time I got to the old lineman’s shack I had to use a flash to get a shot of it. I was happy to see the old place still standing, even it the gloom.

A feather had fallen on a fern leaf and pointed the way home, and home I went. When I come away from this place I always feel as if I have been cleansed and renewed. It is a place to be totally and completely immersed in nature and though it’s hard to explain in words, you never come out quite the same as you were when you went in. You gain something; you grow.

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. ~Linda Hogan

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Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum) has come into full bloom. Or full bud anyhow, most of the buds seen here haven’t opened yet. These plants towered over my head. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name.

Monarch butterflies love Joe Pye weed flowers and I’ve already seen them on the open flowers this year.

Strangely, though boneset (Eupatorium) looks like a white joe Pye weed I’ve never seen a monarch butterfly on it. Joe Pye weed and boneset used to be in the same Eupatorium family but Joe Pye weed was has whorled leaves so it was moved to Eupatoriadelphus, from what I’ve read. Boneset has opposite leaves. The “perfoliatum” part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the leaf,” and that’s what boneset leaves look like; as if they had been perforated by the stem. The leaves joining around the stem as they do looked like bones knitting together as they healed to ancient herbalists, and that’s how the plant got its common name.

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) is also called false violet because of its leaves, and I think that might be why it’s an easy flower to miss. Its small white flowers dot the forest floor like so many other small white flowers, and that also makes it easy to pass by with just a glance. A closer look reveals something different though; this plant produces other flowers that don’t open but still produce seeds. They are called cleistogamous flowers and are hidden beneath the leaves. The showy flowers like the one in the photo are mostly sterile. Dewdrop is one of the rarer flowers I see. It is endangered or threatened in many states and It likes swamps and moist woodlands.

Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) is rare here. I first found a single 6 inch high plant a couple of years ago and I was surprised by how small it was. The single plant had a single flower that I always thought  would be as big as a tradescantia blossom, but it was only half that size. It is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive in this area because I’ve seen maybe two or three of them in 60+ years. I’d like to see more of them; I love that shade of blue.

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

After years of trial and error Thomas Edison found goldenrod to be the best domestic source of natural rubber and bred a plant that grew to twelve feet tall and contained about twelve percent rubber in its leaves. Henry Ford and George Washington Carver developed a process to make rubber from goldenrod on an industrial scale during World War II and the USDA took over the project until synthetic rubber was discovered a short time later.

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is one of the easiest to identify because of its scent, which is said to resemble anise and sassafras. Since I’ve never smelled anise or sassafras I can’t confirm this, but its fragrance is pleasant so I always bend to give it a sniff when I see it. This plant closely resembles lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are narrower and have a single vein in each leaf. Lance leaved goldenrod leaves have 3-5 veins.

August is when our many asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata). It’s one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time and because the narrow white ray florets look like they were glued on by chubby fingered toddlers. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths. It gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem when viewed from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaves of this aster really don’t fit the definition. Looking at the from the side the tiers of whorled leaves of would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down its length. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot tall.

Low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis) 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 covered maybe 3 inches.

 I find low baby’s breath growing in the sand on roadsides in full sun, much like a sandspurry would. It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath.

Cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum) are native perennials with pretty flowers that can reach 8 feet. It’s called cup plant because its leaf pairs-one on each side of the square stem-are fused together and form a cup around the stem. This cup usually has water in it. 

Bees love cup plant blossoms.

I’m seeing more butterflies and moths this year than I ever have. Many small ones, about as big as my thumbnail, were loving this coneflower one day. Skippers maybe?

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) is easy to recognize because of the way its erect stems are unbranched, with steeple shaped flower clusters at their ends. They are usually found near water. This native plant is available commercially and is an excellent choice for butterfly gardens. Native Americans used a tea made from steeplebush leaves for easing childbirth.

I’ve watched invasive purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) slowly take over the banks of this stream over the years. Slowly, it chokes out the natives asters, goldenrods, and Joe Pye weeds.

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is a legume in the bean family. This plant gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals. Deer, rabbits, woodchucks and even cows love to eat this plant. It has just come into bloom.

 I like showy tick trefoil because it blooms in late summer along with goldenrod and the colors go well together.

Native arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) 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 I’ve discovered that 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.

But that isn’t all there is to the story of tearthumb. It comes by that name because it can 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 make you sorry that you ever touched it. It actually uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I find it near ponds, blooming quite late in summer.

Jewelweed or spotted touch me not (Impatiens capensis) has started blooming but the lack of rain over the last couple of weeks has weakened their numbers. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

When jewelweed flowers first open they are male, but then change to female. The way to tell is by looking for white pollen. If white pollen is present like this example shows the flower is male. Female flowers will have a small green pistil in place of the pollen. The flowers are dichogamous, meaning that the male and female parts mature at different times. That guarantees that the flowers can’t be self-pollinated. According to an article in the International Journal of Plant Sciences, when nectar is taken from a flower pollen collecting hairs are stimulated and the duration of the male phase of the flower is shortened. From then on it enters its female phase and waits for a visitor to dust it with pollen from another male flower. It’s just so amazing.

A local business has a small flower garden packed with flowers of all kinds, and this beautiful sunflower was in it. It’s an amazing thing.

If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found. ~Mehmet Murat ildan              

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Though I’ve seen nursery signs that read bee bomb, the correct name for this plant is bee balm (Monarda didyma,) probably because whoever named it thought it pacified bees. But it isn’t just bees that love it; hummingbirds will come from all over to visit its flowers. Bee Balm is also called horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot. The Native American Oswego tribe (Iroquois) showed early colonists how to make tea from bee balm leaves, so it has been called Oswego tea ever since. Its leaves are also used as an ingredient in other teas as well, and they can still be found in many stores. Many Native American tribes also used this plant medicinally. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew.  

I was very surprised to see a native blue flag (Iris versicolor) blooming in July, but there it was. This iris usually blooms in April and May but plants seem to be doing odd things this year. These plants love water and near water is where I always find them. There is also a southern blue flag (Iris virginica.)

Another very odd thing I’ve noticed this year is how Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have been blooming continuously since March.

And I’m not just seeing a single plant with blossoms. I’m seeing many plants and hundreds of blossoms. This spring bloomer usually disappears in the heat of summer and re-appears in the fall but this year it is blooming right through one of the hottest, driest summers we’ve had in years. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant and the flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. The word pansy comes from the French pensée, which means thought or reflection.

I’ve seen a lot of white campion flowers but something told me to look closely at this one and when I did I saw something curious; it looked like a double blossom, with one flower growing over another. The petals on a white campion are split so what might look like 2 petals are actually one, but I took that into account and still counted 7 petals in all. If you look up white campion you find that it is supposed to have 5 petals, so that shows that flowers don’t read the flower identification guides. By the way, you can see that this is a female flower by the way its 5 elongated styles curl out over the central collar.

A side view shows how the petals were arranged over or on top of each other. Maybe this happens all the time, but I’ve never seen it. In the end I have to suppose that flowers can have as many petals as they want but to grow more petals they have to sacrifice something else, and that is often their reproductive parts like stamens.

I once thought that this plant was the only example of panicled trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) I had ever seen but then I found that I had misidentified them. Though the long thin shape of its flower head is correct the flowers are not.

After quite a lot of searching I’m not finding this one in my guide books or online under trefoil or Desmodium so now I’m wondering if it even is a trefoil. It’s definitely in the pea / bean family but that’s as far as I can go. It’s quite pretty and grows along a roadside in full sun. Each plant is probably about 3 feet tall but they lean on surrounding plants and each other so they’re all in a jumble. If you happen to know its name I’d love for you to let me know.

Native Rhododendron maxima (Rhododendron maxima) have reached the northernmost point of their growth here and there are very few of them in the area except for a pocket in Fitzwilliam New Hampshire, in a place called Rhododendron State Park. So rare is a place like it, it was designated a national Landmark in 1982.

This native rhododendron isn’t like others; its beautiful white to pink blooms appear in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since the first settlers came here. 

The big plants tower overhead in places and in a good year the white blossoms are everywhere you look. Anyone who loves rhododendrons or serious collectors of the shrubs should definitely see this.

Common quick weed (Galinsoga quadriradiata) comes from Mexico originally and how it happens to be in New Hampshire is a mystery. It is also called hairy galinsoga and is considered a weed even in its native range. It is said to be able to reduce crop yields by as much as half if left unchecked. The small flowers are about 3/8 of an inch wide and have five white ray florets widely spaced around the tiny yellow center disk florets. Another common name for the plant is shaggy soldier because of the very hairy stems. I almost always find it near vegetable gardens.

Purple loosestrife 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 but though it is much hated you can’t deny its beauty. A field of loosestrife and goldenrod is a truly beautiful scene.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a tiny flowered native plant that likes to grow at the water’s edge in sandy soil. Dwarf St. John’s Wort’s foliage usually looks untouched by insects or animals because it is slightly toxic. Each flower has 5 petals and 5 light green sepals and is about the size of a pencil eraser. Though very small the flowers of Canada St. John’s Wort (Hypericum canadense) are even smaller; about half the size of these.

I find pretty gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) growing in a local garden. The plant is a fast spreading perennial in the primrose family. It originally comes from China and Japan where it grows in moist mountain meadows, near streams and along roadways. It is considered very invasive and Its extensive root system is what makes it so invasive. It can form colonies that choke out other plants but the good news is that it spreads by its roots rather than by seed, so it gets no help from birds.

Tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) can reach 10 feet tall, towering above other plants in the area. This makes it easy to see but sometimes it’s not so easy to get a good photo of. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even the leaves on the same plant looking different from each other. Though it can reach 10 feet tall its flowers are very small; no more than a 1/4 inch across, and appear in loose clusters at the top of wiry stalks. Native Americans used the plant for pain relief, as a stimulant, and for calming the nerves. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium, which has narcotic and sedative properties. It is still used in medicines today but should be used with caution because overdoses can cause death.

If you find this plant growing near water it’s best to maybe take a photo and pass it by because it is one of the deadliest plants known. In 1992 two brothers went searching the woods of Maine for American ginseng. After finding what they thought was ginseng, they ate part of the root. The younger brother became violently ill within 30 minutes and died in an emergency room less than 3 hours later. The older brother suffered through seizures and delirium, but lived. The brothers were 23 and 39 years old; old enough to know better than to eat unidentified plant roots. The root they had eaten was that of the water hemlock (Cicuta maculata.)

Water hemlock is in the Carrot family (Apiaceae) like Queen Anne’s lace and the root, which reportedly “smells delicious,” like a parsnip, can be mistaken for a wild carrot or parsnip. The lower stems are hollow and the white flower clusters, called umbels, are made up of small 1/8″ flowers with 5 petals and 5 stamens. The plant grows in moist places; usually near streams and ponds, and blooms in July and August. Water hemlock is closely related to poison hemlock (Conium maculatum,)  which is generally believed to be the poison that Socrates drank. Water hemlock is every bit as deadly and is listed by the USDA as the most violently toxic plant in North America. It grows in all but 2 states and is quite common.

The stem of the plant is smooth and hollow and often purple striped or spotted. It shouldn’t be broken because it contains toxic sap that can be absorbed through the skin. We should always remember to  teach children to never put any part of any plant in their mouth unless an adult is present. In this case even using the hollow stem as a pea shooter could be fatal.

When he went into the desert the singer of the song Horse With No Name by the band America says the first thing he met was a fly with a buzz. The question of where the fly got its buzz isn’t answered, but one of my theories is that it had visited a broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.)

The reason I think that is because the nectar of a broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for the buzz it got from its nectar. Look at that little pencil eraser size cup full of what looks like caviar. What insect wouldn’t want to at least try a little taste?

Suddenly I realized
That if I stepped out of my body
I would break Into blossom.
~James Wright 

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This field of goldenrod shows that most of the purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) has now gone by.

But now the loosestrife is being replaced by asters. In this case New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) so the goldenrods will still have company as they slowly go to seed.

Though most purple loosestrife plants have stopped blooming I still see them here and there. This is an invasive perennial that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows but will grow just about anywhere. It’s hard to deny its beauty, especially when you see a meadow full of it growing alongside yellow goldenrods, but the plant chokes out natives including goldenrod and creates monocultures.

I saw quite a few New England asters growing on the banks of a small stream. What was remarkable about them was their height. The small stream goes under the road I stood on but the asters were still at almost eye level, so I’d guess they were at least 7 feet tall.

Some plants were so top heavy they fell and hung out over the water.

I’m seeing lots more of my personal favorite, the dark purple asters. They’re loved by others as well and are grown in many parks and public gardens.

I saw the tallest red clover plant I’ve ever seen recently. The blossom, supported by surrounding shrubbery, had reached about waist high on me and it was perfect and untouched. I have an affinity for these little flowers because they quite literally helped me see the light; the light of creation that shines out of them and many other flowers. In fact I think all flowers have this light but it’s harder to see in some than it is in others. It is not hard to see here.

I thought that Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) was just about finished for this year more than a month ago but I’m still seeing lots of it in bloom. Strangely though, I’ve seen very few of its cousin steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) this year.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) is still blooming in lawns everywhere I go. This plant is also called self-heal and has been used medicinally for centuries. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Native Americans drank tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed it improved their eyesight. The tiny orchid like flowers always look like a bunch of little mouths, cheering on life.

I got a little anxious when I found that a clump of pink turtleheads  (Chelone obliqua ) in a local park had leaves that were black and crisp, but these examples in my garden are blooming well and the plants look healthy. It is usually the last plant to bloom in my yard but not this year.

I haven’t seen any insects on these plants yet but they’re ready if they should happen by. This pretty plant was given to me by a friend many years ago so it has a lot of memories attached and I’d hate to lose it.

I’m still seeing quite a lot of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) but I’m not finding any with the tiny red / purple flowers in the center. The flower heads seem to get smaller as the season passes, so maybe that has something to do with it. When freshly cut, Queen Anne’s lace flowers will change color depending on the color of the water in which they are placed, so if you put a bouquet into purple water you’ll have purple Queen Anne’s lace. 

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a rather common flower at this time of year but there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding it. People don’t know if it’s a hibiscus or a mallow or a hollyhock, and that’s because all of those plants are in the mallow family (Malvaceae) and have similar flowers. The easiest way to identify a rose of Sharon is by looking at the plant the flowers are on. If the flower is on an upright, often tall woody shrub it is a rose of Sharon. Mallow and hollyhocks are perennials and / or biennials and will usually die back to the ground each year. Hibiscus resembles rose of Sharon but you’ll only find it growing outside year round in the southern states because it is very tender. I think of rose of Sharon as a hardy hibiscus.

I keep going to a bed of zinnias at the local college hoping to see painted lady butterflies, but I haven’t seen a single one this year, there or anywhere else.

The last of the tall garden phlox at my house.

I saw a very loud sedum in a local park. My color finding software sees orchid, plum and hot pink. I would have called it purple but since I’m color blind I trust such hard to fathom colors to the color finding software.

My first thought was that this insect probably really didn’t care what color the sedum was, but then I wondered if maybe the color wasn’t precisely what had attracted it. I think it was a hoverfly but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. I like its color and it’s nice to see it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses.

Sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) is a curious little plant that gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. I know of only two places where it grows but each year there are many new plants. It is an annual so each year’s plants have to produce plenty of seed. They grow to about knee high and this year there are plenty of tiny white blooms, so hopefully strong seed production will continue. As this photo shows they can be hard to see among the surrounding plants.

The flowers are among the smallest that I try to photograph and each year I tell myself that I have no hope of getting a good photo of them, but each year I try again. One of these times I’ll get it right. This shot does show the strange jointed stem, for those who have never seen the plant.

I can’t say that this plant is the hardest to photograph that I’ve ever seen, but it has to be right up there in the top five. It’s a beautiful little thing though, and worth the effort.

How small are sand jointweed blossoms? This shot from 2016 shows that they’re about 1/8 of an inch across, or nearly the same size as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

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We’re almost at that point of peak flower production now as this view across a stream shows. Goldenrod, tall asters, Joe Pye weed, boneset, and purple loosestrife can all be seen here. We’re still waiting on New England asters but it shouldn’t be long.

The funny little plants called false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) have appeared in force and I’m seeing them everywhere. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The flowers are about half the size of a true dandelion and they bob around on long, wiry stems. At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

False dandelion leaves look like miniature versions of dandelion leaves and are nowhere near as wide or as long.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) lined a woodland path and made a pretty walk even prettier.

I always find silverrod in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods near the end of August. It’s hard to get a photo of because it’s usually surrounded by other plants and rarely grows alone. It grows about knee high and isn’t seen anywhere near as often as the yellow goldenrods.

I think almost everyone knows what goldenrod looks like but not everyone has seen silverrod. Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only native white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast. The small flowers spiral up the stem and open from the top down.

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. 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. Tansy is a natural insect repellent and has historically been used as such. Dried tansy added to the straw in mattresses was said to keep bedbugs away. I rarely see it in nature but it can still be occasionally found growing along roadsides. It’s a good plant to use in vegetable gardens for pest control. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) can be tough to identify because even plants growing side by side can have differently shaped leaves, but once they bloom identification becomes much easier. I can’t think of another plant that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms at this time of year. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals. The plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites.

I saw a hosta recently in a park that was just another plain green unremarkable plant, but the reason I’m showing it here is because of its huge white flowers.

This hosta had the biggest flowers I’ve ever seen; at least three times the size of a “normal” flower.

I decided to visit Meetinghouse Pond in Marlborough one day to see what was growing there this year. Last year I found some really interesting plants there.

One of the first things I noticed at the pond was a big bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare,) all in bloom. I don’t usually see them bloom like this. They usually have two or three flowers and many closed buds waiting in the wings. You can see a bee loving the flower over in the upper left quadrant.

Asters grew in standing water at the shoreline. For that reason and the fact that the small, sword shaped leaves had no stems (petioles) I think they were bog asters (Oclemena nemoralis.) Each unbranched stem grew to about a foot tall and  had a single, light purple flower at its tip.

No matter what their name the flowers were beautiful. Because the plant usually grows in thickets in wet, swampy areas many people never see them.

This pond is the only place I know of to find native sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale.) I’ve never seen it anywhere else in the wild and I don’t know how it got here, but it was worth the drive to see it.

Sneezeweed’s common name comes from its dried leaves being used as snuff. It was inhaled to cause sneezing  because sneezing was thought to rid the body of evil spirits and both men and women used it. The Helenium part of the scientific name comes from Helen of Troy. One  legend regarding the plant says that it grew wherever her tears fell.

Sneezeweed has curious winged stems and this is a good way to identify them. It is a poisonous plant and no part of it should be eaten. It also contains compounds that have been shown effective in the treatment of tumors. The Native American Cherokee tribe used the plant medicinally to induce sneezing and as an aid in childbirth.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) still blooms here and there but it’s pretty well finished for this year. Its final act will be to drop millions of seeds before it dies back completely until spring. This plant was brought to Europe from Japan sometime around 1829. It was taken to Holland and grown in nurseries that sold it as an ornamental. From there it found its way across the Atlantic where we still do battle with it today. It is one of the most invasive plants known and the only plant I have ever seen overtake it is purple loosestrife, which is also an invasive weed. Japanese knotweed is also a tough plant that is very hard to eradicate once it has become established.

Pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) still bloomed in a local park and though the flowers seemed fine the plants themselves looked terrible; all black and crisp leaves. My plants haven’t even showed color on the buds yet, but I hope they do better than these. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well in my yard and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

I always like to see if I can get a shot looking down the throat of the turtle. It’s very hairy in there but it doesn’t bother bumblebees. They were swarming over these plants on this day but I didn’t see any honeybees on these or any other flowers in the park.  

This little plant was hard to identify. I think I’ve tried for about three weeks off and on but I finally settled on catchfly (Silene armeria,) which is originally from Europe and which is also called sweet William catchfly. It is said to be an old fashioned garden plant in Europe. I’ve never seen it here but it is supposed to be a “casual weed” in New Hampshire. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. Small insects are said to get caught in it but I didn’t see any on this single plant. Its leaves and stems were a smooth blue grayish color and along with the small pinkish purple flowers they made for a very pretty little plant that I’m hoping to see more of.

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

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