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Posts Tagged ‘Purple Trillium’

All the signs were telling me that the wild columbines should be blooming so last Saturday off I went to the rail trail in Westmoreland. I can’t say that I didn’t have a few misgivings about this hike because the last time I was out here I met up with a very big black bear. Luckily all it did was stare at me and I came away unscathed. Whether or not I would be so lucky this time remained to be seen.

Right off I spotted some coltsfoot blossoms (Tussilago farfara.) I always see them when I’m not looking for them and never when I am but I’m guessing that’s more my fault than theirs. They’re very pretty little things and I was happy to see them on this dreary day. We’ve had rain for so many days in a row I can’t remember when it started and many plants have kept their flowers closed up.

Ferns of all kinds grew all along the drainage ditches, which still work fine 150 years after the railroad built them.

I saw some fuzzy orange grape buds. I’d guess this was probably a river grape (Vitus riparia) because that’s one of our more common native grapes. They’re also called frost grapes because of the way they can stand extreme cold. In nature they climb trees up into the crown where they find plenty of sunlight.

I saw lots of wild sarsaparilla plants (Aralia nudicaulis) just unfurling their leaves. I thought these were red but my color finding software tells me they’re rosy brown, which seems odd. New leaves often display some unexpected colors though, because they aren’t photosynthesizing yet and aren’t using chlorophyll. At this stage many people confuse wild sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which comes up at the same time and has glossy green leaves. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

As the trail went on I got a little more apprehensive because I was quickly approaching the spot where I ran into that bear. My ears and eyes were working overtime.

Right about here is where it was, I think. I can’t get over how big that bear was. It would have made four of me, and I’m very thankful that it didn’t decide to follow me out of here.

When you meet a bear on this trail you don’t have a lot of options. You can either walk back the way you came or you can try to get down this steep hill to the road. It might take you a half hour to reach the road from here and the bear probably under a minute, so if you meet a bear luck had better be on your side because there’s really nowhere to go. The thing that looks like a toy down there is a Greyhound bus.

I took my mind off bears by admiring beech buds, which were just breaking to reveal the beautiful new leaves, clothed in soft silver downy hairs for just a short while. In my opinion they are one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see in a New England forest in the spring.

There were many maples already leafed out in many colors. These were the reddest I saw. My color finding software sees fire brick, dark red, and tomato. If these leaves had been mixed in with green leaves I never would have known they were red because for me red disappears when it meets green.

Sedges blossomed all along the trail and the cream colored male stamens stood out against the dead leaves, making them easy to see. The wispy, white female flowers have appeared under them so the male flowers must be producing pollen.

I made it to the ledges where the columbines grow without meeting any bears, so I was half way home. I wish it had been a blue sky day but you can’t have everything.

There were columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) aplenty growing on the ledges and most had buds but I didn’t see a single flower, so that means another trip out here this weekend. I don’t know what the story is with these electric shades of green but this photo is untouched, just the way it came out of the camera. Of course the settings could be wrong on this new camera, but I don’t think so.

Some buds were very close to opening but the sun hadn’t shone in over a week so maybe they were pouting. This one actually looks a little shriveled but I’m hoping I’m wrong about that.

Tall meadow rue fools a lot of people into thinking it’s columbine in early spring because the leaves look somewhat similar, but this plant quickly grows much taller than columbines. Tall meadow rue flowers (Thalictrum pubescens) always bloom close to the 4th of July.

I saw my first Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) of the year. This plant likes wet places and is also called bog onion because of its onion like root, which botanically speaking is a corm. I always lift the hood of the spathe to see “Jack,” which is the spadix, and to see the beautiful dark stripes. Another name for this plant is tcika-tape, which translates to “bad sick” in certain Native American tribal language. But they didn’t get sick on the poisonous roots because they knew how to cook them to remove the calcium oxalate crystals that make them toxic. That leads to another common name: Indian turnip.

There’s that loud green again, this time on the leaves of purple trillium (Trillium erectum.) I wonder if it’s because they haven’t received any sunlight. I also wonder if lack of light has caused so few flowers. Last year I think this clump had 6 or 7 flowers on it. This year it has one.

I know I just showed a trillium blossom in my last post but you can’t see too many trillium blossoms, in my opinion. They’re with us just a very short time.

I found the blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) that the bear turned me away from last time. I was too late now to see the new shoots coming up and the plant had no flowers on it, so I’ve simply struck out with cohosh this year. Last year the plant I saw here had quite a few flowers but this plant was in a different spot and I couldn’t find the other one. I’ve got to do more reading about this plant.

Now it was time for the return trip and since I’ve posted this you’ve probably figured out that the bear was off doing bear things and left me alone. I had a porcupine walk across a field and sit at my feet one day, and another time a barred owl let me walk right up to it as it sat in the middle of a trail, so I like to think that forest creatures can sense that I mean them no harm. All I know for sure is that the bear could’ve been on me in seconds but instead did nothing but stare. May all of us always be so fortunate in these woods.

He who would study nature in its wildness and variety, must plunge into the forest, must explore the glen, must stem the torrent, and dare the precipice. ~ Washington Irving

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Blooming everywhere in lawns right now is one of our lawn loving wildflowers: bluets (Houstonia caerulea.) These tiny, 3/8 inch diameter flowers make up for size with numbers and huge drifts of them, yards in width and length are common. Though they bloom in early spring and are called a spring ephemeral I’ve seen them bloom all summer long where they weren’t mowed.

I can’t think of much that is cheerier than a colony of bluets in the lawn. They seem to have somehow figured out how to stay just short of the grass height so their flowers don’t get mowed off. Either that or they regrow very quickly. I always try to find the darkest blue flowers in the colony and these got the prize on this day. They can range from deep blue to almost white.

I thought coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) had finished already but I keep running into them. This is one plant that I search high and low for in early spring but can never find, and a little later on it seems to be everywhere. This one had an odd fringe of something under the flower. I don’t know if they were bracts or something else, but I’ve never seen them before. Coltsfoot leaves, for those who don’t know, appear once the flowers have died off so for right now all you see is flowers and no leaves.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) weren’t quite ready for this post but in another week those greenish sterile flowers will be a beautiful bright white and all those buds in the center will be smaller, fertile flowers that are also white. This is one of our most beautiful spring flowering shrubs. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads. Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster.

Bloodroot flowers (Sanguinaria canadensis) are with us for such a short time. This small group hasn’t even been up for a week and already the flowers are shattering. It’s a member of the poppy family, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. None of that family seems to last very long.

Luckily bloodroot colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. I found another small colony that hadn’t bloomed yet so hopefully I can show these flowers the way they deserve to be seen. When they’re at this stage they always look like they have wrapped themselves in a cloak to me. Of course the cloak is the plant’s single leaf. Bloodroot’s common name comes from the reddish orange sap that bleeds from its root when it’s cut. Native Americans used the sap as a dye for baskets, clothing, and as war paint, as well as for an insect repellent.

One of the most unusual flowers to bloom in spring, and one that few people see, is the fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis.) It’s unusual because its flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs. The flowers form on branch ends of small shrubs and many songbirds love the berries, so it would be a great addition to a wildlife garden. Look for the flowers at the end of April on the shaded edges of woods.

Quite often you’ll find that the pair of fly honeysuckle flowers are themselves part of a pair, dangling at the branch ends.

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) usually appear well after those of red maples. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance. Once you get to know them you realize that they are everywhere, because they were once used extensively as a landscape specimen. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states because it has escaped into the forests and is crowding out native sugar maples. It is against the law to sell or plant it in New Hampshire. Where I work a large group of squirrels attacks our lone Norway maple each spring, gnawing off every single seed before they can mature. How they know to do this is a mystery to me but we end up with thousands of shriveled seeds and no seedlings under that tree every year.

Squirrels don’t do any real harm to sugar maples, unless it is to nick the bark with their teeth so they can lick up the sweet sap when it bleeds from the wound. They will also eat the buds and flowers but not in enough numbers to keep the trees from producing seeds. And produce they do; millions of seeds can fall in a single acre. The bud shown above had just opened. Sugar maples can live for 400 years and this is how they all get their start.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just come into bloom. These small but fragrant flowers were once over collected for nosegays and when I was a boy they were very hard to find; in fact my grandmother and I never found any, but now I know of several large colonies so they seem to be making a comeback. They are protected in some states as well, and this helps. People need to understand that the plants are closely associated with fungi in the soil and unless the fungi are present these plants will not live, so digging them up to put in gardens is a waste of time. Not only that but it robs the rest of us of the pleasure of seeing them. Native Americans used trailing arbutus medicinally and it was considered so valuable it was thought to have divine origins. Its scent is certainly heavenly and my grandmother loved it very much.

I like the little star inside a myrtle blossom. This plant is also called vinca (Vinca minor) and is one of those invasive plants from Europe that have been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship. Vinca was a plant that was given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three blooming beautifully near old cellar holes off in the middle of nowhere. But the word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the wiry stems do. They grow thickly together and form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through, and I know of large areas with nothing but vinca growing in them. But all in all it is nowhere near as aggressive as Oriental bittersweet or winged euonymus, so we enjoy it’s beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

Though these tiny stigmas looks like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) they are actually the flowers of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta,) which grows in areas north and east of Keene. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clam shell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth like the one shown.

I saw a back-lit daffodil that was almost perfect but something had been munching on its petals. I didn’t know anything ate them.

It has taken about a month for them to finally give their all but female alder flowers (Alnus incana) are finally fully in bloom. They’re the tiny reddish threads coming out of the cone like structure; easily among the tiniest flowers that I try to photograph; so small that I can’t actually see them when I’m photographing them. All I can see is a reddish haze, and that’s when I have to completely trust the camera.

I visited one of the trout lily colonies (Erythronium americanum) I know of and so far I’ve seen just a single blossom there. Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow but quickly turn brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect stigmata will catch any pollen that visiting insects might bring. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and attracts several kinds of bees. The plant will produce a light green, oval, three part seed capsule 6-8 weeks after blooming if pollination has been successful. The seeds of trout lilies are dispersed by ants which eat their rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs. They’ve obviously been working very hard with this colony because there are tens of thousands of plants in it.

I like the bronze coloring on the back of the petals. Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take 7-10 years to produce a flower, so if you see a large colony of flowering trout lily plants you know it has been there for a while. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food. Black bears love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

Many spring ephemeral flowers are relatively small, but not purple trillium (Trillium erectum.) These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Right now I’m seeing them almost everywhere I go.

Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. This is one of our showiest spring wildflowers. This one was already dropping its white pollen onto the lower petal.

I’ll leave you with a little bit of promise. Lilacs seem to be heavily budded this year and I’m very anxious to smell them again. They remind me of my mother, which might be hard to understand for those who know that she died when I was an infant but she planted white lilacs before she died and I got to smell them and take care of them for many years. I hope everyone knows a plant or two that comes with such fond memories.

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring- these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ~ John Burroughs

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Forsythias are blooming on nearly every street in town now, and it’s like they’re shouting that spring is finally here.

Magnolias are also blooming and so far they aren’t looking frost bitten. This one was intensely fragrant.

I saw some glory of the snow (Chionodoxa forbesii,) which is a plant that hasn’t ever appeared on this blog because I don’t see it. These were a surprise and blossomed in a couple of different colors. They remind me of scilla but the flowers are twice the size. I’ve read that they come from south-west Turkey. Though they are said to be one of the earliest blooming spring bulbs I’ve seen quite a few others that are earlier.

There are lots of tulips blooming now. This one was one of my favorites because of the color.

I also love the color of this hyacinth. I’ve seen this flower in only one spot and it’s the only one I’ve ever seen with such loosely spaced flowers along the stem. I’m beginning to wonder if it even is a hyacinth.

Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are finally blooming. Cornelian cherry is in the dogwood family. Its common name comes from its small tart, cherry red fruit which man has eaten for thousands of years, especially in Mediterranean regions. It is one of our earliest blooming shrubs, but the buds can open slowly as they did this year. I think from the time the bud scales opened to reveal the yellow buds until bloom time was almost a month this year. They teach patience to someone who can’t wait for spring.

Common blue violets (Viola sororia) have just appeared, much to the displeasure of many a gardener, I’m sure. Though pretty, these little plants can over take a garden in no time at all if left to their own devices. Violets are known for their prolific seed production. They have petal-less flowers called cleistogamous flowers which fling their seeds out of the 3 part seed capsules with force. They do this in summer when we think they aren’t blooming. Personally I tired of fighting them a long time ago and now I just enjoy them. They’re very pretty little things and their leaves and flowers are even edible. Though called “blue” they’re usually a shade of purple but since I’m colorblind blue works for me.

A clump of sedge doesn’t look like much until you look closely. I think most people see it as just another weed that looks like coarse grass, but it can be beautiful when it flowers.

Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) usually blooms when trout lilies bloom but this single clump was early this year. It must have just bloomed too, because all I saw were the male flowers shown here. The female flowers look like tiny, wispy white feathers and they appear lower down on the stem, beneath the male flowers. What is odd about this plant is that the female flowers usually appear before the cream colored male flowers. That’s to ensure that they will receive pollen from a different plant and be cross pollinated. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. It’s a beautiful little flower that is well worth a second look.

This is the first trillium I’ve seen this year. It had no flower bud yet and it’s leaves were just unfurling, but I was happy to see it. It is a purple trillium (Trillium erectum,) which are also called red trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent. “Benjamin,” according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word benjoin, which was an ingredient in perfume that came from a plant in Sumatra. I’m not sure I’d call this scent a perfume.

False hellebore (Veratrum viride) shoots always look like rocket ships to me when they first come up.

Unfortunately false hellebore is also one of the most toxic plants to grow in a New England forest and people have died from eating it after mistaking it for something else. Even animals won’t eat them, but certain insects or slugs will, and usually by July the plant’s leaves look shot full of holes. They do have small green flowers later in summer but I think the deeply pleated oval leaves are also quite pretty when they first come up in spring.

Ornamental cherry trees are blooming and I’ve seen both white flowers and the nice pink ones seen here. These trees often blossom far too early and end up getting frost bitten. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this year. Our native cherries will be along in May.

When I was looking at some box elder trees I looked down and found dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) blooming all around me, which was a surprise since I’ve been visiting the trees for years and have never seen dead nettle there before. This plant is originally from Europe and Asia but has made itself right at home here. The leaves on the upper part of the stem usually have a purplish cast and the small purple flowers grow in a cluster around them. It’s a pretty, orchid like flower but so small that I can barely see it without a macro lens.

I went to the spot where bloodroot grows just to see if had come up yet. Since it was a rainy day I didn’t expect to see any flowers so I was surprised to find them blooming and very wet. Anyone who knows bloodroot knows that the flowers fold up at the slightest hint of clouds so to find them blooming in the rain was a first for me. Like other spring ephemeral flowers bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) isn’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. I think it’s blooming about two weeks early this year.

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. This shot is of the flowers just as they appeared.

This view is of the female flowers fully opened. They’re very pretty things that many people miss seeing. Several Native American tribes made sugar from box elder sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from long filaments. Each reddish male flower has tan pollen-bearing stamens that are so small I can’t see them. The pollen is carried by the wind to female trees. Once they shed their pollen the male flowers dry up and drop from the tree. It’s common to see the ground covered with them under male trees.

Female silver maple flowers (Acer saccharinum) have started turning into seeds, which are called samaras and are the tiny fuzzy white bits seen here. They’re very pretty little things but I doubt many people ever even notice them.

Red maple samaras (Acer rubrum) look quite different but silver and red maples will bloom at the same time and the flowers look a lot alike until they reach this stage. I hope everyone will have a chance to see these beautiful little bits of nature.

A heavy rain finished the season for this willow’s male flowers, by the looks. If the pollen was washed away before it could ride the wind to the female blossoms future generations might suffer.

The trees are quickly leafing out already and that means less sunshine each day for spring ephemeral flowers like spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) They’re with us just a very short time so I hope you won’t get tired of seeing them. I visit them every other day or so because I love seeing them, and I take a lot of photos. I’ve read that these flowers are an important early spring source of nectar for pollinating insects, mostly small native bees and some flies and I’ve noticed lots of insects flying around them.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

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As I’ve said recently in previous posts it has been mostly sunny, hot and dry here so far this summer and now a large part of the state is once again in a moderate drought, for about the third year in a row. Small streams and wetlands are again drying up so last Saturday I decided to go and see how Beaver Brook in Keene was faring. I hadn’t done a post about the place since February so I thought it was time. I like to see the seasonal changes that take place in the various places I visit. It’s how I really get to know the places and the plants that grow in them. The trail through this particular place was once a road north out of Keene, but it was abandoned in the 1970s when a state highway crossed it. Now nature is in the process of reclaiming it.

The first flower I saw blooming on this day was the little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.)

This lobelia gets its common name from its inflated seed pods, which are said to resemble the pouches that Native Americans carried their smoking materials in. It’s too early for those but there were plenty of the tiny blue flowers to see.

There is lots of poison ivy here (Toxicodendron radicans,) all along the left side of the old road as you walk up it, so it’s best to wear long pants, hiking boots and socks if you come here. That’s what I always wear anyway and, though I’ve heard you can get a rash just by getting the plant’s oils on your clothes, I’ve walked through knee high poison ivy plants hundreds of times with no ill effects. I tend to be somewhat immune to it though; if I get it on my hand it stays there and doesn’t spread.

Just in case you do start to itch, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows along the right side of the road. If you crush the stems of jewelweed and rub the sap on poison ivy blisters it will stop the itch. It doesn’t cure the rash but it stops the itch as well as calamine lotion does. There are people out there who don’t believe this is true but I’ve used it many times and it works, so I’ll continue using it and the non-believers can scratch. With plants being used even in cancer and HIV treatments I’m not sure why some people have a hard time believing that a plant can stop a simple itch, but they do.

I was shocked to see that a huge portion of ledge had fallen; shocked because I used to kneel right where the stone pile is to get photos of the helleborine orchids that grew there. The stone is white (actually sort of pink) because it is feldspar, and the biggest piece lying at an angle behind the plants is as long as a car. It’s always risky to walk near ledges and this is why. Ledges line almost the entire road and so many years of water seeping between the layers of rock and freezing in winter has cracked them badly, so none of it is stable; it’s all very loose. The city should come in with an excavator and peel away all the loose stone but they don’t even cut brush correctly here, so I know that isn’t going to happen. I’ll be staying well back from the ledges from now on.

The reason the ledges are here at all is because this road was hacked out of the stone of the hillside back in the 1700s. This photo shows a hole in the feldspar made by a star drill. A star drill is a pointed, five sided, two foot long piece of steel. You can tell a star drill was used because you can see the star, as it shows in this photo. To use it one man holds the drill while another strikes it with a sledge hammer. After each hammer blow the drill is turned a quarter turn and then the hammer falls again and again the drill is turned, and so on until a hole is made. Once you have a hole you fill it with black powder, insert and light a fuse, and run as fast as you can. At least, that’s what you do if you happen to live in the 1700s. Feldspar is a softer stone but it was still a tremendous amount of work. After all, someone had to clean up all that blasted stone.

Stone isn’t the only thing falling here. Trees fall regularly and many get hung up on the electric lines that still run alongside the road.

In some places the ledges pull back away from the road as you can see there on the left, but in many places the ledges come right up to the road. You can also see how the trees lean over the electric wires on the right. It’s all about light and plants lean towards the light to get more of it, so this will never stop happening no matter how many trees fall or how many are cut. The hole in the canopy that lets in light is over the road.

The double yellow no passing lines still run down the center of the road even though there hasn’t been a car here for nearly 50 years.

The old guard posts still line the road but they are slowly rotting away.

I met an old timer up here once who told me that he had seen Beaver Brook flood badly enough to come up over the road and I believe it, because you can see where it’s eating away at the edge of the road all along it. This old concrete culvert finally gave up and slid into the brook.  You can also see the size of the boulders that the brook tosses around like pebbles when it rages. And it does rage; I’ve seen it roaring and angry enough to make me leave this place, but normally it just giggles and chuckles along beside you as you walk along.

On this day though, there was little chuckling and giggling to be heard, because the brook had all but dried up to a gurgle. I could walk from bank to bank in this spot without getting my feet wet, and that’s something I’ve never been able to do before. In a normal year I would have been in serious trouble if I had tried to stand in this spot, though it’s actually getting hard to remember what a normal year was like. It seems we’ve had extreme weather take over our thoughts for the past few years.

It’s time to say goodbye to thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) for another year. The seed head will grow on for a while longer and then the seeds will fall.

Purple trillium (Trillium erectum) was also busy making seeds. Trilliums are all about the number three and multiples of it, so the seed chamber has six parts. The fleshy seeds are prized by ants because they have a sweet, pulpy coating that they eat, so many of the trilliums we see have most likely been planted by ants. It takes about five years for a trillium to go from seed to flower.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on the end of a log. Though they look like bracket fungi oyster mushrooms have off center stems that attach to the log they grow on. Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun worms, whereupon the mycelium enters its body through orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria in order to get nitrogen and protein. These examples looked like they had slug damage, so the mushroom apparently hasn’t evolved a defense against them.

I saw the most colorful tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) that I’ve ever seen. It had bands of purple and orange and red and that’s unusual, because they’re normally gray, brown, and sometimes a little cream colored. I’ve also seen these tough, woody fungi with squirrel teeth marks all over them in the past but I didn’t see any on this example. I think the squirrels are after the algae that grow on the fungus. They do the same thing with certain lichens. I can’t explain the colors; it’s something I’ve never seen in person or in books.

I saw a very dark colored toad that looked black in person but looks dark green in the photo. It looks like it has somehow lost most of its left front foot. Or maybe it was making a fist. It seemed to hop just fine.

I made the treacherous climb down the steep gravel embankment that leads to Beaver Brook Falls and found what I expected; barely a trickle. The water usually falls with a roar heard from quite far away but on this day there was a little splashing going on that hardly echoed off the stone walls of the canyon. I’ve never seen the falls with so little water coming over them.

This is what the falls normally look like and they probably look much like this right now, because since I went there last weekend it hasn’t stopped raining. We’ve had rain and storms every day since, totaling up to about 4 inches of rain here. We’ve even had flash flood warnings, so I suppose we need to be careful what we wish for in this age of weather extremes. From drought to flood in one post.

The air is impressively warm and close, as thick as honey. ~Lucy Foley

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Seeing the purple trilliums bloom told me that it was time to walk down an old rail trail in Westmoreland to see the wild columbines bloom. But purple trilliums aren’t the only sign and I almost turned back when I saw that the red elderberry at the start of the trail wasn’t blooming yet. So far every time I’ve seen the columbines in bloom the red elderberry was blooming as well.

There has been a lot of logging going on up here over the past few years and you can now see deep into the forest, which is or was mostly beech, maple and oak. I was glad I could see so far because this is known bear country up here. I had a can of bear spray with me but I’m hoping I never have to use it. If I saw a bear way off in the distance I’d sooner leave the woods to it rather than spray it.

It was a little disorienting to see the plants so far along here. Here were ferns in leaf while in Keene they were barely out of the ground.

I was just taking photos of striped maple buds (Acer pennsylvanicum) breaking the day before and here they were in leaf.

I hadn’t seen any sign of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) in Keene but here it was in its strange, clasping pose. This is how it looks just before its leaves unfurl.

Some plants had even leafed out already. At this stage many people confuse wild sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which also comes up at the same time and has glossy green leaves.

What looks like a dark tunnel is where we’re going. Once you get there you find that it isn’t dark and it isn’t a tunnel.

But what was that up ahead?

Beech bud break; one of my favorite things to see in the spring forest. They are this beautiful for a very short time; less than a day before leafing out completely. It usually starts when the buds begin to curl in mid-May, so these were early. At this point I hadn’t seen any sign of bud break in Keene.

I don’t know how long I stood there admiring the new leaves and taking photos but it was a good while. This only happens on one or two days each year and I usually lose myself in the beauty of it for a while. In what seems like no time at all the new leaves will lose their silver fringe and become completely green for the summer. If I’d seen no more of nature for the rest of the day I still would have been very happy. I do hope readers of this blog will look for new leaves in spring. They can be astoundingly beautiful and they’re so easy to find.

Here we are already. These ledges were made when the railroad cut its way through in the mid-1800s. It is part of the same rail trail that the Westmoreland deep cut is on, which I’ve posted about regularly over the years. The major difference in the two cuts is how this wall of this cut is bathed in sunshine for much of the day. It means that a lot of different species of wildflowers can grow here. I have a feeling that this ledge is lime rich because wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) prefers a slightly alkaline soil.

There they were and I was surprised, because though every other plant I had seen here was ahead of its cousins to the south the columbines were not. They were heavily budded though and I won’t mind another walk out here to see the blossoms. Most of the columbines grow over my head on the ledges so getting good photos of them can be difficult. I tried climbing up to them once and slipped on the oak leaves, landing in a very undignified heap at the foot of the ledge.

This bud was within reach and had a few stamens poking out. It also had what looks like a tiny insect egg on it, there on the left. I’m guessing that it would have been about the size of a single letter in any word of this sentence as they appear here; so very small I didn’t even see it until I looked at the photo.

The flower buds on this Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) were clearly visible but I haven’t seen this plant anywhere near this far along in Keene. It must be the bright sunshine up here, or the fact that cold air runs downhill like water and pools in the valleys like the one Keene is in. This must be some type of microclimate.

Jack in the pulpit plants (Arisaema triphyllum) were blooming on the ledges. I always lift the hood of the spathe to see “Jack,” which is the spadix, and to see the beautiful dark stripes. Another name for this plant is tcika-tape, which translates to “bad sick” in certain Native American tribal language. But they didn’t get sick on the poisonous roots because they knew how to cook them to remove the calcium oxalate crystals that make them toxic. That leads to another common name: Indian turnip.

I’ve always thought of the spadix in a Jack in the pulpit as being black, but the bright sunshine shows it to actually be more plum colored. If you’re looking for Jack in the pulpit yet another name for it is bog onion, and that should tell you that it likes low, damp places. But it will also grow on stone as it does here, as long as there is dripping groundwater to keep it good and moist.

There is a large clump of purple trillium (Trillium erectum) here as well.

I know I just showed a purple trillium in my last post but who can resist something as beautiful as this? They’ll be gone before we know it.

In my last post I told about finding marsh marigold, which is a plant I’d never seen, and here was another one I’d never seen: blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides.) Cohosh is believed to be an Algonquin name used for several different plants with different color fruit and in this case the blue refers to the berries. The stems and leaves also have a blueish cast. I think this must have been this plant’s first year here. It stood knee high right next to the trail and was quite bushy, so I surely would have seen it last year. It is said to be long lived when it grows in a place that it likes.

Each of the 6 yellow green petal-like sepals of the blue cohosh flower contains a nectar gland to attract spring insects. The flowers are small at about 1/2 inch across. 6 yellow stamens form a ring around the green center ovary. The true petals are the shiny green parts that ring the center between the sepals and the stamens. Though both Native Americans and early settlers used the plant medicinally to treat a variety of ailments including childbirth, it contains alkaloids and all parts of it should be considered toxic.

Though the flower buds showed some blue the name blue cohosh actually comes from the blue fruit, which looks much like a blueberry but isn’t really a berry at all. They are actually brown seeds with a dark blue fleshy seed coat that protects them. The naked seeds are considered the plant’s fruit but are poisonous. I’m looking forward to coming back and seeing the “berries” when they ripen in summer. It also has beautiful dark blue shoots as it comes out of the ground in spring, so of course I’ll have to be here next year to see that as well. I certainly haven’t seen every plant there is to see but I’ve seen many, so finding two plants I’ve never seen before in one day really amazed me. I think I had a great week. Tomorrow I’ll go back to see those columbines in bloom.

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

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there!

 

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Anemones have now joined trout lilies, spring beauties, and coltsfoot in carpeting the forest floor and they’re putting on a beautiful display this year. I’m looking at the abundance of blooms as nature balancing out what was a long cold winter.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) seem to close whenever they feel like it but especially on cloudy days, so I was lucky to find them open. This native plant is said to be closely related to the European wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa.) Because they tremble in a breeze they have also been called windflowers. Not only do the flowers pass quickly but so do the plants. There will be no sign of them by midsummer. Though these plants are in the buttercup family and are toxic Native Americans made an anemone infused tea to relieve many different ailments, including lung congestion and eye disorders.

I thought the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) were  a little late this year so I looked back to when I found them blooming last year. Last year they bloomed on April 23rd, so they are indeed a little late.

These blossoms hadn’t been open long and you can tell that by the yellow male stamens in the center. As the blossoms age the 6 stamens quickly turn red and then brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect female stigma will catch any pollen an insect brings by. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and it attracts several kinds of bees. If pollination is successful a 3 part seed capsule will appear. The seeds are dispersed by ants, which eat the rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds behind to grow into bulbs.

Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take from 7-10 years to produce flowers from seeds, so if you see a large colony of blooming trout lilies you know it has been there for a while. This colony has tens of thousands of plants in it and I’ve read that colonies of that size can be as much as 300 years old. The first settlers of Keene could have very well admired these same plants, just as I do today.

A reader wrote in to say that she had spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) in her lawn and they were mowed once they were done flowering. I had never seen them in a lawn until I saw these on this day. I hope whoever mows the lawn will wait for them to finish blooming. I couldn’t mow down something so beautiful.

Goldthread usually waits until other spring ephemerals have finished before its flowers appear above the evergreen leaves but the weather has a few plants confused this spring. Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. It likes to grow in moist undisturbed soil in part shade. Native Americans used the plant to treat canker sores and told early settlers of its medicinal qualities, and this led to its being over collected into near oblivion. At one time more goldthread, then called “canker root,” was sold in Boston than any other native plant. Luckily it has made a strong comeback. I see quite a bit of it.

There’s a lot going on in a little goldthread flower. The white petal like sepals last only for a very short time before falling off. The actual petals of the flower are the tiny golden club like parts just above the white sepals. These are cup shaped and hold nectar for what must be very small insects, because the whole flower could hide behind an aspirin. My favorite parts are the yellow green, curved styles, which always remind me of tiny flamingos.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is an invasive plant from Europe, but it was brought over so long ago that many people think it’s a native. In the 1800s it was given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies and I’ve found all three still blooming beautifully around old cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the plant’s wiry stems do. They grow quickly into an impenetrable wiry mat that other plants can’t grow through and I’ve seen large areas of nothing but vinca in the woods. Still, it is nowhere near as aggressive as many other invasive plants and people enjoy seeing its beautiful violet flowers in spring. Another name for it is Myrtle.

Wild ginger is a plant you have to watch closely if you want to see its flowers, because it can produce leaves and flowers in just days. In fact, everything seen in this photo appeared in 3 days from what was a mass of roots (rhizomes) under last year’s leaves.

Because they grow so close to the ground and bloom so early scientists thought that wild ginger flowers must be pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but we now know that they self-pollinate. The flowers have no petals; they are made up of 3 triangular calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. Though flies do visit the flowers it is thought that they do so simply to get warm. Native Americans used wild ginger roots as a seasoning, much like we would ginger, but science has shown that the plant contains carcinogenic compounds that can cause kidney damage.

The full moon in the month of June was known to Native Americans as the strawberry moon because that was when most strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) began to ripen. The small but delicious berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to soups, pemmican and breads.  Strawberries were so plentiful that early settlers didn’t even think of cultivating them until the early 1800s. They grow thickly in my yard and my kids used to love looking for and eating the small, sweet berries.

At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. The flower type must be very successful because it is used by many other plants, from blueberries to heather. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to reduce inflammation and to treat fevers, headaches and sprains.

Little Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have done just that. This wild form of the modern pansy has been known and loved for a very long time. It is said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heart’s ease and was used in love potions. Stranger names include “three faces in a hood.” Whatever it’s called I like seeing it appear at the edge of my lawn in spring. I always try to encourage it by letting it go to seed but it never seems to spread.

Like other spring ephemeral flowers bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) isn’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. Still, with the summer heat coming on so early I’m guessing that it’s probably time to say goodbye to this little beauty for another year.

But just as it becomes time to say goodbye to one spring blossom it becomes time to say hello to another, and trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just come into bloom. These small but fragrant flowers were once over collected for nosegays and when I was a boy they were very hard to find, but now I know of several large colonies so they seem to be making a comeback. They are protected in some states as well, and this helps. People need to understand that the plants are closely associated with fungi in the soil and unless the fungi are present these plants will not live, so digging them up to put in gardens is a waste of time.

I didn’t notice at the time but a tiny piece of lichen had fallen on the blossom over on the left. Native Americans used trailing arbutus medicinally and it was considered so valuable it was thought to have divine origins. Its scent is certainly heavenly and my grandmother loved it very much. I spent many hours as a boy trying to find the flowers for her but back then they were almost impossible to find. Thankfully that has changed.

One of the most unusual flowers to bloom in spring, and one that few people see, is the fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis.) It’s unusual because its flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs. The flowers form on branch ends of small shrubs and many songbirds love the berries, so it would be a great addition to a wildlife garden. Look for the flowers at the end of April on the shaded edges of woods.

So far all of the flowers we’ve seen are relatively small, but not purple trillium (Trillium erectum.) These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. This is one of our showiest spring wildflowers.

Imagine my surprise when, while driving down a road that I had driven thousands of times, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that I had never seen. I’ve searched for marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) for many years and have never found a single one but on this day there it was, growing in a roadside ditch. I pulled over, threw the car in reverse, and jumped out to see if I could believe my eyes. It grew in water so I couldn’t get close enough for a close up of the flowers but there is no doubt that it was a marsh marigold. How or when it got there is anyone’s guess, but they are rare here in my experience and I was very happy to finally see one. I can now cross it off my still very long list of plants I hope to see one day.

Flowers construct the most charming geometries: circles like the sun, ovals, cones, curlicues and a variety of triangular eccentricities, which when viewed with the eye of a magnifying glass seem a Lilliputian frieze of psychedelic silhouettes. ~Duane Michaels

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Westmoreland lies north of Keene and the soil there is lime rich in certain places which means that you can see plants there that won’t grow in the more acidic soil of Keene, so last Sunday off I went down one of my favorite rail trails. I used to try to ride my bike out here but the gravel of the trail is very soft and I had such a time getting through it that I ended up walking the bike for much of the way anyhow, so now I just walk it. Though it was cloudy it was a great day for hiking with all of the beautiful spring green and singing birds.

This maple was that green that only happens in spring; kind of a yellow green, I guess you’d call it.

Though it doesn’t mind acidic soil red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) does well here in the more alkaline soil.  There were several plants which were flowering well with panicles of whitish flowers growing from the axils of the upper leaves.

Each greenish white flower is about 1/8″ across. They have 5 petals (petaloid lobes) that curve backwards sharply. The flower’s 5 stamens have white filaments and are tipped with pale yellow anthers. There is also a pistil with 3 small stigmata. If pollinated each flower will become a small bright red berry.  Though the plant is said to be toxic many Native American tribes steamed, dried and ate the berries. They are said to be very bitter unless prepared correctly.

There are plenty of reminders of exactly where you are out here, like this old signal base.

When the rails were torn up the railroad left all the ties stacked up along the railbed. People came and took what they wanted but there are still plenty to be seen, slowly rotting into the soil.

The boulder in the previous photo had a golf ball size hole in it, probably made by a steam drill so it could be blasted apart when they were laying the rails. For some reason they decided not to blast it.

Almost there; the dark circle in the distance marks the end of one leg of this journey.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) wears bronze for its new spring coat, but its leaves will green up quickly. Wild sarsaparilla grows all through our forests and is a common sight. The plant sets flower buds quickly just as its leaflets have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from their early deep bronze to green. In botanical terms the “leaves” are actually one leaf with a whorl of 3 compound leaves, which have groups of 3-7 leaflets. People sometimes confuse the plant with poison ivy before the flowers appear because of the “leaves of three” as in leaves of three, let them be. One easy way to tell the difference is by looking for a woody stem; poison ivy has one but this plant does not.

Wild sarsaparilla always starts out with its three compound leaves held vertically and clasping at the very top.

I was surprised to see logging going on in this part of the forest, but not completely. There are many hardwoods here like beech, oak and maple and very few conifers. Hardwood always brings more at the mill.

A logging road had to be built to get to the section of forest to be logged, so huge boulders were bulldozed into a place that needed a retaining wall. These stones are new, meaning they were just dug or cut. You can tell by how clean they are, and by their color. Most stones will turn gray in just a few years.

Here we are at the man made canyon that showed as a dark circle in a previous photo. There are a few of these along this section of trail, and they were all blasted out of the bedrock almost 150 years ago for the Cheshire Railroad.

I don’t know what it is that draws them here, but many interesting plants not easily seen in other places grow on these ledges.

Purple or red trillium (Trillium erectum) grows here in fair numbers. Each flower averages about as big as a quarter, or about an inch across.

Trilliums are all about the number three. Even the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, meaning three. On the purple trillium the three green sepals just are behind the three red petals. Once they open the flowers often nod under the three leaves (actually bracts,) and are mostly hidden from view for a short time before finally standing erect above the leaves. Inside the flower are six stamens and three stigmas. If flies pollinate the flower a three chambered, red fruit will grow.

False Solomon’s seal grows well here. Though it’s too early for their June bloom time the plants were budded. In about three weeks they should have small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of their stems. The blossoms will give way to small but beautiful reddish and tan speckled berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife.

The wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) are what I came here to see and as usual they stole the show. They like to grow on partially shaded rocky slopes so this area is perfect for them. How they got here is anyone’s guess but their numbers have been steadily increasing since I first found them. The rich alkaline soil is very unusual in this part of New Hampshire and many rare plants are known to grow in this area. The trick is in finding them; though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen wild columbine.

They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

I couldn’t stop clicking the shutter, always hoping for a better shot. The wind was blowing through the canyon so I was sure every photo would be blurred. There have been years I’ve had to come back three or four times for that very reason.

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. 5 funnel shaped holes lead to nectar spurs and long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.”
~Robin Wall Kimmerer

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