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Posts Tagged ‘Purple Trillium’

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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Our white flowered trees are in full bloom along the roadsides. Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) is almost always first to flower, followed by cherries, apples, crabapples, and plums.

Naturalists and botanists have been arguing for years over the many native shadbush species and hybrids. The 5 white flower petals can appear quite different in each, but none of the several variations that I’ve seen have had blossoms bigger than a nickel. All of them seem to have multiple large stamens. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing.

If you have dandelions and violets in your lawn, there’s a good chance that you also have wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana). If the pollinators do their job each of these flowers will become a small but delicious strawberry. The month of June was known to many Native American tribes as the “Strawberry Moon” because that was when most strawberries began to ripen. The berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to pemmican, soups, and breads. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons,) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454.

They’re called broadleaf weeds and some people are less than happy when they find them in their lawn, but I welcome violets in mine and I’m always happy to see them.  In fact one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen was a large field of dandelions and violets blooming together and I’d love to have a “lawn” that looked like it did. Violets can be difficult to identify and, like the many small yellow flowers I see, I’ve given up trying. I just enjoy their beauty and notice that they have the same features as many other flowers. The deep purple lines on the petals guide insects into the flower’s throat while brushy bits above dust its back with pollen.

Some of my lawn violets are white, and shyer than the purple.  Native Americans had many uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers. How many chubby little toddler fists have proudly held out a bouquet of wilted violets in the spring? I can remember doing so as a small boy. My grandmother always pretended to love them more than all of the other flowers combined.

In a ground ivy blossom (Glechoma hederacea) five petals are fused together to form a tube. The lowest and largest petal, which is actually two petals fused together, serves as a landing area for insects, complete with tiny hairs for them to hang onto. The darker spots are nectar guides for them to follow into the tube. The pistil’s forked style pokes out at the top under one of the three separate petals. It’s in a perfect position to brush the back of a hungry bee. This flower is all about continuation of the species, and judging by the many thousands that I see its method is perfection. It’s another invader, introduced into North America as an ornamental or medicinal plant as early as the 1800s, when it immediately began taking over the continent. But nobody seems to mind.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is a trailing plant and is also a slightly invasive one from Europe. It has been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship though. In the 1800s Vinca was a plant given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three still 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 many non-natives so we enjoy its beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist. Another name for it is Myrtle.

I’ve known that coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) likes damp soil but this is the first time I’ve seen them growing directly in the water of a stream. There used to be a colony of plants growing on the bank of this stream but in 2014 the stream flooded and washed them all away. Or so I thought; it looks like those plants left plenty of seeds behind.

I’m having a hard time with bloodroot plants this year. The flowers won’t open on cloudy days and close for the night in early evening. Since they’ve been blooming it seems like cloudy days and late evenings have been the only times I’ve had to look for them. My favorite colony was buried inside the tangled limbs of a fallen tree so I found the two plants pictured in a new smaller colony, but they were closing up shop for the night, even though the sun was still shining. I wanted to show you this photo though, because of the oak leaf on the left. It’s a good comparison for those of you who’ve never seen a bloodroot blossom before.

Bloodroot flowers are beautiful little things but they’re are hard to enjoy sometimes because at the slightest hint of darkness they close up their petals to resemble small, unopened white tulips.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) can grow in huge drifts like this one. Though this tiny wildflower is thought to be a spring ephemeral I’ve seen it bloom all summer long. I think it got the reputation for being an ephemeral because it often grows in lawns and once the lawn is mowed you don’t see the flowers any longer. They like sunny spots and appear in early spring.

Bluets are cheery, beautiful little things but individual flowers are small; only about 3/8 of an inch in diameter. Luckily they always grow in tufts of many blossoms and are easily found. Each year I always try to find the flowers that best live up to their name. So far the examples in the above photo are the winners. Another name for the plant is innocence. The Native American Cherokee tribe used bluet plants to cure bedwetting.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) grows and blossoms very quickly. Just days before I took this photo these plants were showing nothing but stems (Rhizomes) running along the soil surface under a collection of last year’s leaves. Scientists thought for years that wild ginger flowers were pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but several studies have shown that they are self-pollinated.

I thought I’d take you inside a hairy wild ginger blossom, at least as far as I could. A wild ginger flower has no petals; it is made up of 3 triangular shaped calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. You might think, because of its meat-like color, that flies would happily visit this flower and they do occasionally, but they have little to nothing to do with the plant’s pollination. It is thought they crawl into the flower simply to get warm.

The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage. Native Americans also used the plant medicinally for a large variety of ailments.

Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) is very similar to false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum.) Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) which is also similar, also grows in New Hampshire, which complicates being able to identify these plants. While false rue anemone is native to the eastern U.S., the USDA and other sources say that it doesn’t grow in New England, so that leaves wood anemone and rue anemone. False rue anemone always has 5 white sepals, while wood anemone and true rue anemone can have more.

The small fertile flowers in the center of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) flower heads haven’t opened yet but the larger, sterile flowers around the outer edges have. Technically a hobblebush flower head is a corymb, which is just a fancy word for a flat topped, usually disc shaped flower head. It comes from the Latin corymbus, which means a cluster of fruit or flowers.  All flowers in a hobblebush cluster, both fertile and infertile, have 5 petals.

A close look at the large sterile flowers of hobblebush shows no reproductive parts. They are there for only one reason, and that is to attract insects to the flower head. Many viburnums have this kind of arrangement and it seems to work well, because I see plenty of fruit on them later in the summer. Hobblebush is easily one of our most beautiful native shrubs.

Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) could pass as a blueberry at a glance, but its leaves are evergreen and it likes very wet, even boggy ground. Blueberry is not evergreen and usually grows naturally in dry sandy soil. Leatherleaf also blooms earlier than blueberry. This is its first appearance on this blog.

Leatherleaf obviously gets its common name from its tough, evergreen, leathery leaves. They are lighter colored on their undersides and are scaly with tiny scales. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. This type of flower must be very successful. It is used by blueberries, lily of the valley, dogbane, bearberry, Japanese andromeda, white heather, and many other plants. Native Americans used the plant to reduce inflammation and to treat fevers, headaches, and sprains.

Our purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) have started to bloom and I’m seeing quite a few this year. Purple trillium is also called wake robin, because its bloom time heralded the return of the robins. The flowers have no nectar and are thought to be pollinated by flies and beetles. Their petals have an unpleasant odor that is said to be similar to spoiled meat, and this entices the flies and beetles to land and pollinate them. I can attest to the unpleasant odor but they’re very beautiful and will be at their peak of bloom soon.  As they age each petal will turn a deeper purple. Their stay is all too brief but when they fade they’ll be followed by nodding trilliums (Trillium cernuum) and then painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum,) both of which are also very beautiful.

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

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Forsythias have started shouting that spring has finally arrived. The other day I drove down one of our longer streets and saw that almost every house had one of these overused but much loved shrubs in their yards. Spring would be very different without them.

I checked the grape hyacinths 7 days before this photo was taken and didn’t see a bud. Now here they are full of blooms. Things can happen quickly in spring so you’ve got to keep your eyes open.

I saw a daffodil that looked perfect to me, so I had to take its photo. Daffodils are native to meadows and woods in southern Europe and North Africa, Spain and Portugal. They are an ancient plant that has been admired and grown by man since before recorded history. No matter what you call them; daffodil, narcissus, or jonquil, all are in the narcissus genus. According to Wikipedia the origin of the name Narcissus is unknown, but it is often linked to a Greek word for intoxicated (narcotic.)

The female flowers of speckled alders (Alnus incana) don’t seem to be as willing to show themselves this year as they have in years past, even though the male catkins have been shedding pollen for weeks.

The tiny crimson female (pistillate) flowers of alders are the smallest flowers that I know of; smaller even that the tiny threads of the female hazelnut blossoms. The female flower catkins often form at the very tips of the shrub’s branches in groups of 3-5 and contain tiny red stigmas that receive the male pollen. Once fertilized the female flowers will grow into the small, cone like seed pods that I think most of us a familiar with.

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. If planted where they have plenty of room they have a pleasing rounded, almost mushroom shape. 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.

Most people never see the beautiful flowers of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) that appear on tufts of grassy looking plants in mid-April. Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like, white female pistillate flowers but the female flowers always open first to receive pollen from a different plant. 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. I see them just about everywhere I go.

Willows (Salix) were hit hard by the late cold snap this year and many of the furry gray catkins never blossomed at all, but you can find a flower or two if you’re willing to search a bit. Willows are one of those early spring flowers that don’t get a lot of fanfare but I love the promise of spring that they show.

The inner bark and leaves of some willows contain salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Native Americans chewed or made tea from the willow’s leaves and inner bark to relieve fever or toothaches, headaches, or arthritis, and that is why the willow is often called “toothache tree.” It was a very important medicine that no healer would have been without.

I thought it was too early for purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) and it was, but only just. Another day and their flowers would be fully opened, so I’ll have to get back to see them. Purple trilliums 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 found that a tree had fallen on my favorite colony of bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) and the branches were in a real tangle, so I could see the flowers but couldn’t get to them. With a little stretching and twisting I was able to get a photo of this single example, which I think was close to being gone by already. The flower petals drop off within a day or two of pollination, so their visit is brief indeed. The plant’s common name comes from the toxic orange red juice found in its roots. Native Americans once used this juice for war paint on their horses. You have to be careful of the juice because alkaloids in it can actually burn and scar the skin, so I wonder what it did to the poor horses. I’d love to show the root to you but I can never bear to dig one up.

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. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s 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 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.

I saw a huge colony of coltsfoot; more than I’ve ever seen in one spot I think. They won’t be with us much longer though. Their stay is brief and once their leaves start to appear the flowers are done. I think they’ve done their job though, because I saw several bees and other insects buzzing around them.

For me flowers often have memories attached, and trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) always reminds me of my grandmother. She said that no other flower could match its fragrance and that was high praise, because she knew her flowers. We used to look for them when I was a small boy but I can’t remember ever finding any with her. That’s probably because so many of them were dug up by people who erroneously thought that they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens. The plant grows in a close relationship with fungi present in the soil and is nearly impossible to successfully transplant, so I hope they’ll be left alone.

The fragrant blossoms of trailing arbutus were once so popular for nosegays it was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England, and in many states it is now protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society. Several Native American tribes used the plant medicinally. It was thought to be particularly useful for breaking up kidney stones and was considered so valuable it was said to have divine origins. Its fragrance is most certainly heavenly.

I visited one of the trout lily colonies (Erythronium americanum) I know of last Saturday and didn’t see a single blossom. I went back on Sunday and there must have been at least a hundred plants blooming. Saturday was cool, cloudy and drizzly and Sunday was sunny and warm, so that must have had something to do with it. 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.

There are tens of thousands of plants in this colony alone, but bloom times are staggered. Each 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.

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) grow among the trout lilies in their own huge colony of many thousands of plants, so I couldn’t miss them. I also couldn’t resist taking far too many photos of them again.

What a perfect name is spring beauty for such a beautiful spring flower.

I’m guessing that I’ll be showing lilacs in my next flower post. I look forward to smelling their wonderful fragrance again.

A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions — so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect.  Terri Guillemets

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1. Trail

On Saturday I went to see some old friends and to get there I had to take a short hike down this rail trail in Westmoreland. It was a warm and beautiful spring day and I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many birds singing. The dark dot at the end of the trail is where we’re going. It looks like a tunnel in this photo but it isn’t.

2. Woods

The forest here is made up of nearly all hardwood trees; mostly beech, maple and oak, and there are some old, large examples here. The fallen tree shown in this photo doesn’t look like much because I was so far away from it, but it’s one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen.

3. Oak

For every fallen tree there is a new one coming along to replace it and the oaks were just unfurling their new leaves when I was here.

4. Ledges

Here we are already. This is the dark spot that looked like a tunnel at the end of the trail in that first photo. For a short time there are ledges on either side of the trail made by the railroad blasting their way through the bedrock 150 years ago, and some remarkable plants grow here.

5. Ledges

Almost every crevice has some type of plant or tree growing out of it.

6. Columbines

And these are the old friends that I came here to see; the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis.) 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. Though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen them.

7. 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.

8. Columbine

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. From this viewpoint you can see the 5 funnel shaped holes that are the start of the nectar spurs. 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.

9. White Ledge

Columbines like sandy, well-drained soil on the poor side that has limestone in it, so seeing them is a good indication of what type of soil is in the area.  Some of the stone faces here are covered by grayish white deposits of something I’m assuming is limestone leaching out of the stone. At first I thought there were lichens covering the stone but the powdery deposits rub off easily with a finger and I’ve never seen a lichen do that.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

You can tell that there are pockets of somewhat deep soil on the ledges because Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) also grows here. They have a root that forms a corm, which is a kind of flattened bulb much like those found on gladiolus plants, and they need a few inches of soil to grow well.

11. Trillium

At the base of the ledges purple trillium (Trillium erectum) and many other plants grow. It is near the end of its brief time with us and this one was just about done blooming. If pollinated a three part seed capsule will form.

12. Poison Ivy

It’s easy when photographing flowers and other ground dwellers to become so absorbed in the subject at hand that you don’t pay attention to your surroundings and just kneel or lie wherever you need to be to get the best photo. That wouldn’t be wise here because poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also lives here and I’ve ended up with itchy knees by kneeling on leafless vines in the early spring. Luckily I’m not very sensitive to it and the rash usually just stays on my knees without spreading, but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it, so I try to always watch for it.

13. Stone Wall

When the railroad had to blast through a hillside they used the stone to fill in low spots, but if they had too much they simply piled the excess in the woods. Local people often took the stone to build with and this landowner built a stone wall with it. You can tell exactly where the stone came from because there isn’t a rounded edge on a single one. Our natural stones are almost always rounded.

14. Concrete Pad

There are reminders of the railroad all along this trail. I’m guessing that a signal box once stood on this concrete pad, because an old road once crossed the tracks up ahead.

15. Wires

Whatever the signal was it took 6 stout wires to control it.

16. Tie Plate

I flipped this tie plate over to see if there was any writing on it. I’ve seen them with a maker’s name and date but this one didn’t have a mark on it.

17. Fallen Beech

One of the biggest beech trees I’ve seen fell last year and shattered some oaks as big as watermelons when it did. Last summer I heard a tree fall in the woods close to where I was but not close enough to see. I’ll never forget the sound it made as it crashed its way to the forest floor. This beech fell right across the rail trail and I’m glad I wasn’t nearby when it happened. I see a startling number of fallen trees; usually at least one each year in every location that I visit regularly, and often many more.

18. Trail

I was going to take you on a climb up a new (to me) hill for this post but there were high wind gusts forecast for Sunday so I stayed out of the woods for most of the day and visited meadows instead. I’m very grateful that I got to see such a rare sight and I hope you enjoyed seeing the wild columbines as well. For me this walk has become an annual spring rite and I always look forward to it.

Gratitude turns anything into enough, puts past to rest, brings tranquility to our hopes of tomorrow, and blesses today with harmony and bliss. ~ Joseph Rain

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