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Posts Tagged ‘Purple Phlox’

Now is the high point of the year for the flower lovers among us in this area. You don’t have to look very hard to find them. They’re in lawns, meadows, river banks and waste areas; really just about everywhere. Now is the time to see Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) which don’t have the jagged red ring around their center like a maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) and bloom later than maiden pinks; usually in July. The flowers are also smaller and the plant, rather than growing in large clumps of 40-50 flowers out in the open like the maiden pink, blooms shyly in threes and fours at the edges of meadows. It’s a pretty little thing that I wish I’d see more of. Though it originally came from Europe it can hardly be called invasive.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) has just started blooming and is a common late summer sight in the meadows. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area. 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.

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals it is said, the older the flower.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant as this one did, and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love thistle blossoms; I had a bumblebee swoop right over my shoulder and almost push me out of the way to get at this flower.

Globe thistle (Echinops) is a garden thistle that isn’t very prickly at all compared to a bull thistle.  This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony.  On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. Finches might.

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susan and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of some of the more than 43 varieties of Liatris. They are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

There are a few orchids blooming now and one is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) These orchids are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore, though the pleated leaves are close to those of false hellebore.

Scientists have discovered that the flowers of the broad leaved helleborine orchids have a secret; their nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) 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 its intoxicating nectar.

I’ve been watching the only northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) I know of for weeks now, waiting for it to bloom. Finally it did and I felt lucky to be able to be there to see it. I found this plant by accident two years ago when it bloomed in this same spot. Last year there was no sign of it so I assumed that I’d never see it again, but here it is.

Though the flowers of the northern club spur orchid aren’t at all showy in my experience the plant is rare, so showy or not I’m happy to see it. It is small at about eight inches tall and grows in very wet soil in the dark of the woods, and that gives it another common name: the small green wood orchid.

Each flower on this orchid has a long, curving spur that extends from the base, and that is where its common name comes from.

Brittle stem hemp nettle is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but is hard to find here. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

Common quickweed (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.

We have many different varieties of St. John’s wort but this is a first appearance on this blog for pale St. John’s Wort (Hypericum ellipticum.) That’s because for years I thought it was dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) until I took a closer look. Both plants grow in the wet mud at pond edges, often side by side, but dwarf St. John’s wort flowers are smaller and the plant is very branched, while pale St. John’s wort is not. The color of the flowers is a bit paler than other varieties but unless I saw them side by side I doubt I could tell.

Bright red seed pods help identify pale St. John’s wort. Oddly, Canada St. John’s wort has flower buds that are the same color, but that plant is much smaller and doesn’t usually grow near water.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.) Pokeweed was called pocon by Native Americans. The Delaware tribe used the plant as a heart stimulant and other tribes made a salve from it and used it as a cure for rheumatism. If it isn’t used correctly pokeweed can be toxic.

Though as a boy all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) it has gotten to the point where I see these bicolor ones as often as the plain white 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. This flower was full of tiny insects, which are the black spots at the base of its throat.

I found some beautiful purple phlox growing on the unmowed side of a road. The flower heads were quite large and anyone with a garden would have been happy to have had them in it. I’m guessing that’s just where it escaped from; I doubt that it’s native but it certainly is beautiful. We do have a native phlox called Phlox paniculata but its flowers are blue. Native Americans used phlox medicinally and they were among the first wildflowers in the United States to be collected and exported back to Europe, where they became very popular. Wherever you happen to be in this world I hope that you are able to see beauty like you’ve seen here each day.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

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1. Pickeral Weed

Pickerel weed likes to grow in shallow water and the large amounts of it growing along the shoreline of the Ashuelot River tell the story of how low the water level is. We still haven’t seen any more rain than a quick moving downpour or two and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much pickerel weed here.

2. Button Bush

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long white styles sticking out of the tubular the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

3. Joe Pye Weed

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 name.

In any event Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is a common late summer sight in wet meadows. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area.

4. Gray Goldenrod

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 strong wind that blew them over to one side of the stem.

5. Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) is having a good year and I see the big flower heads everywhere, but despite their abundance I’m not finding more flower heads with the tiny purple / reddish floret at their center. Though another name for this plant is “wild carrot” you had better know exactly what you’re doing if you dig and eat the root because there are very similar plants like water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) that are among the most toxic plants known.

6. Queen Anne's Lace Close-3

Legend says the tiny purplish / reddish flower at the center of the flower head is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. This example had plenty of insects on it but I don’t know if they were pollinators. They looked more like fleas.

7. Rabbit's Foot Clover

Invasive rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) is short enough to be forced to grow right at the edge of the road if it wants to get any sunshine, so the roads look like they have been festooned with fuzzy pink ribbons for a while each summer. It’s an annual that grows new from seed each year and the seedlings must be tough, because they don’t seem to mind being occasionally run over, or the poor dry soil found along the road side. In fact they seem to thrive in it. I see more plants each year.

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Golden clover (Trifolium campestre) is another imported clover originally from Europe and Asia. It is also known as large trefoil and large hop clover. The plant was imported through Philadelphia in 1800 to be used as a pasture crop and now appears in most states on the east and west coasts, and much of Canada, but it is not generally considered aggressively invasive. Each pretty yellow flower head is packed with golden yellow pea-like flowers. I see the plant growing along roadsides and in sandy waste areas.

9. Liatrus

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susan and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of some of the more than 43 varieties of liatris. They are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

10. Bull Thistle

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. I don’t know if it was imported intentionally or accidentally. This example was in the middle of a huge plant, easily the biggest thistle plant that I’ve ever seen, and an ouch or two could be heard while I snapped the shutter.

11. Bumblebee on Thistle

Bees love the thistle blossoms and of course that’s exactly why it has been so successful in spreading.

12. Creeping bellflower

Blue, bell shaped flowers all on one side of the stem can mean only one thing; creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides.) The pretty flowered plant was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in dry places that get full sun. It is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom. It is an invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It will choke out weaker native plants and seems to love colonizing gardens when it is left alone. I usually find it on forest edges.

13. Winterberry

If you are trying to attract wildlife to your yard and have a pond or a swampy area then our native winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is an excellent choice of native shrub. They like very wet soil and, like other hollies, need male and female plants to produce fruit. The white flowers are tiny; barely more than 1/8 inch across, and can have up to eight petals. When pollinated they will become bright red berries and, because the berries have a low fat content, birds and animals eat them quite late in the season, so the berries color the landscape for most of the winter.

14. Purple Phlox

I found some beautiful purple phlox growing on the unmown side of a road. The flower heads were quite large and anyone with a garden would have been happy to have had them in it. I’m guessing that’s just where it escaped from; I doubt that it’s native but it certainly is beautiful.

15. Tick Trefoil, Pointed-leaf

This is the first time pointed leaved tick trefoil (Desmodium glutinosum) has appeared on this blog because I’ve never seen it before. It’s a plant that doesn’t mind shade and I found a few blooming examples at the edge of a forest recently. I don’t have a good shot of the foliage but you can just make a few of the sharply pointed leaves out on the left side of this photo.

16. Tick Trefoil, Pointed-leaf (Desmodium glutinosum)

Bright purplish pink, stalked flowers are clustered in long straight spikes (racemes.) It’s easy to see that they’re in the pea family but unlike some pea flowers, the reproductive parts are not completely hidden. The white pistil rises up and out of the keel. If pollinated each flower will grow into a green, flat seed pod with 2 or 3 jointed triangular segments that are very sticky. The seed pods will even stick to bare skin and they are where the “tick” in tick trefoil comes from.

17. Tick Trefoil, Pointed-leaf

You have to look closely to see the slightly curved white pistil rising from the keel of the pointed leaved tick trefoil flower. I can’t think of another flower in the pea family like it.

18. Unknown

Here’s a little flower that has had me scratching my head for about a week. Though I’ve looked in every wildflower book I own and have searched on line I can’t identify it. It grew in pure sand and full sunlight in a waste area by the side of a road. The plants were about 3-4 inches tall and had several blooms on each plant. The leaves were narrow and sword shaped, and pointed on the tip. Each flower is so small that I can see color but not the shape without help from a loupe or a photo. I’m guessing that each one is no more than 1/8 inch across-even smaller than those of red sandspurry. I wonder if anyone knows what it is. It’s a beautiful little think and I’d love to know its name.

You find peace by coming to terms with what you don’t know.  ~Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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I hate to say it but the days of back to back posts with each containing 12-15 previously unseen wildflowers might be coming to an end. Drought and the usual late summer doldrums mean that there aren’t many flowers blooming right now, either in or out of the garden.  Not to worry though, because there are a lot of exciting things happening in the woods and I still have plenty of fascinating things to show you, even though there may not be petals involved.Our native white turtleheads (Chelone glabra) are flowering much earlier than the pink one in my garden. As you can see in the photo, some hungry insect had eaten all of the leaves off this plant but hadn’t touched the flowers. These plants like sunshine and constantly moist soil. I found this one growing about 50 feet from a pond in wet soil.Someone thought the flowers of Chelone glabra looked like turtle heads but I’m not really seeing it. I have to admit though, that I don’t see many turtles. In any case they don’t look like any other flower that blooms at this time and are very easy to identify. Bumblebees pollinate these flowers. They are an excellent choice for a woodland garden because deer and other herbivores don’t usually eat the bitter foliage. The bright colors on this blister beetle (Coleoptera) warn potential predators of its poisonous nature. The bug secretes a poisonous substance called cantharidin that, it is said, can blister skin. This one was happily munching on this red clover (Trifolium pretense) blossom. I wasn’t in ready to find out if it really could blister skin so I left it alone.I’ve been trying to rid my gardens of obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) for several years and, though there are no large colonies of it left, small groups of two or three plants will still appear. I was about to pull these when I noticed these two Goldenrod Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) being friendly on a blossom.  I decided to leave the plants alone even though they are among the most invasive native plants that I have seen. Obedient plants get their common name from the way the flowers  stay where they are moved-they are “obedient.” I like the flowers, but don’t like having to weed the plants out of just about everywhere.The beetles weren’t happy with my watching them so they crawled into a blossom to be alone. I took that as my cue to leave.The flower spikes are so packed with blossoms that you don’t often get to see a single Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) flower. They are beautiful flowers but unfortunately this is another extremely invasive plant from Europe. I’ve seen stream banks recently that originally lost their native plant populations to Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) several years ago. Now, purple loosestrife has choked out even the knotweed, and huge swaths of it follow long stretches of stream banks. Though these scenes can be breathtakingly beautiful, there are generations of people who will have never seen a native stream bank.A few posts ago I showed photos of garden tall phlox plants with yellowing leaves which were suffering from drought. I noticed that our native Purple phlox weren’t having the same problems. In fact, they’re looking very healthy because they are tougher plants. There are so many varieties of phlox that it’s easy to get confused. Even Native Americans used over 40 species of the plan! I believe the one shown here is Phlox paniculata, which is native to the eastern U.S.Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is sometimes called white goldenrod but at a glance the only thing it seems to have in common with goldenrod is its leaves. The way the flowers are scattered along the stem doesn’t resemble any goldenrod that I know of but the single blossoms do look like those of yellow goldenrods. The plant pictured grows beside my driveway under an old hemlock tree. If you look at the flower clusters of goldenrod (Solidago) closely you can see the often bypassed beauty of each individual blossom.Bittersweet nightshadei (Solanum dulcamara) is in all stages of growth; flowering, setting seed, and some plants already have ripe, bright red berries that resemble tiny tomatoes. This plant was just forming one green fruit. All parts of this plant are toxic and the berries are known to kill humans.Small white flowered asters (Aster vimineus) are named well. They are very small-smaller in diameter than a pencil eraser, but each flower cluster has enough white blossoms to stand apart from the darker forest growth that always seems to be behind them. One thing that always surprises me about asters is how some of them look as if a small child had glued the petals (rays) on to the center disk. They can appear very irregular and asymmetrically placed.

To identify this one look for the smallest white aster blossom you can find and take note of how most of the numerous flowers and flower buds seem to align themselves to one side of the purplish stem.  Also, the upper leaves on the branches will be smaller than those lower down on the main stem. These plants can reach 5 feet and branch heavily over the top one third of their height. They like soil on the dry side. Wild senna (Cassia hebecarpa) is a native plant that is rarely seen in the wild here in the Northeast and is listed as threatened or endangered. They say this is primarily due to loss of habitat. The leaves and seed pods of wild senna contain compounds called anthraquinones, which are powerful laxatives, so deer leave it alone. I have this plant in my yard to attract butterflies and bees and also because I like the yellow flowers with their hairy pistils and dark brown anthers. Almost all of the other water lilies in this pond had flowers that sat right on the water, but this one was apparently an over achiever. Or a different species than all of the others in the pond.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.  ~
Henri Matisse

Thanks again for visiting.  Be sure to tune in next time for a post full of color, but without a single flower in it.

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