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Posts Tagged ‘Ragged Robin’

Like a tree full of orchids, that’s what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. These big trees are blooming all over the area right now, about a week later than usual.

At 1-2 inches across catalpa flowers are large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. Each one is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough to put your finger in, with room to spare. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

From huge flowers to small flowers. I can’t call cow wheat blossoms tiny, but they are small. Narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite.

Cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils) but this year I’m seeing more single blooms than pairs. I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The flowers bloom at about shoe top height. I thought I’d put one on a penny so you could see how small they really are.

Cow wheat blossoms seem big compared to the tiny blossoms of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.) This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Here is a tiny enchanter’s nightshade blossom on a penny. They’re among the smallest flowers that I try to photograph for this blog.

Last year when I showed what I thought was bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) a helper wrote in and asked if it could be sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) instead. Since I found the plant growing in standing water and since the flower clusters were terminal, appearing at the ends of the branches, I didn’t think so. But now I’m not so sure because sheep laurel also has terminal flower clusters and the new leaves come out below the flower clusters and grow up around them, and that’s exactly what this plant does. But names of things are becoming less and less important to me as I get older and I can live with knowing it’s one or the other. I hope you can too.

One thing I know for sure is that it is a laurel and you can tell that by the ten pockets in each flower, where the anthers reside under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on the flower the spring loaded anthers release from their pockets and dust it with pollen.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. These flowers are about the same diameter as a pencil eraser and, since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

Beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) started blooming about a week ago. This is a plant that I’ve searched for many years for and could never find until I finally found some growing in an unmown lawn, and now I know of two places it grows in. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flowers are notorious for catching onto the legs of insects and not letting go so I thought that’s what had happened to this fly, especially since it let me take shot after shot without flying off, but I finally poked it with my finger and away it went. Apparently it was simply too involved with what it was doing to pay me any mind.

Cranberries are one of the native fruits that grow abundantly here in the northeast. I usually find them in wet, boggy areas but they will grow in drier areas near water. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries and that has evolved into what we call them today. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

Sometimes if you’re lucky you can catch a cranberry blossom before its petals have recurved, but on this day I only saw one or two out of many hundreds.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) has just started blooming in the tall grass along roadsides. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.

Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It grows in dry soil at the edge of forests.

It’s hard to believe that something as tiny as a river grape blossom (Vitis riparia) could be fragrant but in places right now you can follow your nose right to the vines, so strong is the fragrance. And this isn’t the end of the joy they bring; in the fall the fermented fruit on a warm day will make the woods smell just like grape jelly.

I don’t see tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) in meadows unless the meadow is wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. Meadow rue can grow 7-8 feet tall so getting above it can be next to impossible. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance.

It wouldn’t be the fourth of July without fireworks and every year, right on time, tall meadow rue blossoms with fireworks of its own.  At least the male flowers do, with starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens. Knowing when flowers bloom is a fun thing; they give you something beautiful to look forward to all summer long.

None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones. ~Forbes Watson

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St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is not a native plant so I’m always surprised to see it growing here and there along the edge of the forest. I don’t see it in the wild often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. It’s an unusual and beautiful flower that does well in gardens.

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) trees can be messy but I’d still love to have one in my yard because they’re one of our most beautiful trees. Imagine a 100 foot tall tree covered in large white, orchid like blossoms and you’ll have a good mental picture of the catalpa. This native tree is used ornamentally, but it needs plenty of room because it gets very large.

At 1-2 inches catalpa tree flowers are large. Each flower will become a long, bean like seed pod and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba. Some tribes used its inner bark to make a tea which had a sedative effect and is said to be mildly narcotic. The bark tea was also used to treat malaria.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like on roadsides but I think most are escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers on this example look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. I like its wrinkled petals, which look like they were cut from crepe paper. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth. The one pictured smelled just like those old cabbage roses.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has just started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. The flowers seem to be very darkly colored this year, or maybe that’s because they had just opened.

One of the native foods found here in New Hampshire is the cranberry. I usually find them in wet, boggy areas near ponds and that’s where these were. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat, and pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

Though the flower petals curve backwards on most cranberry blossoms you can occasionally find a blossom that wants to be different, as this one did.

Blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is almost a month late this year and there aren’t many of them. In the past I’ve found fields of these plants along roadsides and this year they are all gone, and that’s probably because are biennials which flower and die in their second year. Toadflax flowers have an upper lip that is divided into 2 rounded lobes, and a lower lip which is divided into 3 lobes that are rounded and spreading. They also have a long spur, which can be seen in this photo.Toadflax likes sandy soil and waste areas to grow in. It doesn’t last long but the cheery blue flowers are always a welcome sight.

Beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) has just started blooming. This is a plant that I’ve searched for many years for and could never find until I finally found some growing in an unmown lawn last year, and this year I’ve seen it in two places so I have hope that I’ll see even more plants next year. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The small, bright white flowers look almost like snowflakes scattered across the forest floor.

The unusual, hairy twin flowers of partridge berry fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that will show where the flowers used to be. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the nearly tasteless berries.

The small furry white to light purple flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) are easy to miss. At a glance this plant might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed but I don’t see it that often and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 2 or 3 plants growing together.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is found along roads and in fields.

The tiny flowers of motherwort are very hairy and look like a microscopic orchid. They’re very hard to get a good shot of because of both their size and color and I don’t think I’ve ever been really happy with any photo I’ve taken of them. The ancient Greeks and Romans used motherwort medicinally and it is still used today to decrease nervous irritability and quiet the nervous system. There is supposed to be no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and it is sold in powdered and liquid form.

Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) has pale yellow flowers similar in color to those of the sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) but they can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. I always find it growing at the edges of corn fields at this time of year, not because it likes growing with corn but because it likes to grow in disturbed soil. Wild radish is in the mustard family and is sometimes confused with wild mustard (Brassica kaber,) but that plant doesn’t have hairy stems like wild radish. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

White campion (Silene latifolia,) can also be pink, but I didn’t see a blush of it on this example. Just to confuse the issue red campion (Silene dioica) flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa. The flowers have 5 deeply notched petals that have an easily seen fringe at their base. This example is a male flower.

Red campion (Silene dioica) likes alkaline soil with a lot of lime and that’s why we rarely see it here. That’s also why I’m fairly sure that this plant is a white campion, which can also be pink. It’s pretty, whatever it is.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are still in bloom and I couldn’t resist another photo. There are certain flowers that are beautiful enough to make me want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. Some say the scent of fragrant white water lilies reminds them of honeydew melon but a reader wrote in and said she used to pick them for her mother and they thought they smelled like anise. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds, so if you see some and come back a week later and find that they’re gone, you aren’t imagining things.

I should like to enjoy this summer flower by flower, as if it were to be the last one for me.~ Andre Gide

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Though this is only the third one I’ve done I’ve come to like these “looking back” posts. They make me  have another look at the past year in photos and I always seem to stumble on things I’ve forgotten. These tiny fungi I saw last January are a good example of that. When I saw them I didn’t know what they were and thought they must be some type of winter slime mold, but then I moved the hand that was holding the branch and felt something cold and jelly like.

And that’s when I discovered what very young milk white toothed polypores (Irpex lacteus) look like. These crust fungi are common in winter but it was the first time I had ever seen the “birth” of a fungus.

February can be a strange month, sometimes spring like and sometimes wintery. This year it was wintery, and this is what Half Moon Pond in Hancock looked like on February 4th. The relatively warm air combined with the cold ice of the pond produced lots of fog and I thought it made for a very beautiful scene.

March is the month when the ground finally begins to thaw and things begin to stir. First the skunk cabbages blossom early in the month and then by the end of the month other early plants like coltsfoot can be seen. Many of our trees and shrubs also begin to bloom toward the end of the month. This shot of female American hazelnut blossoms (Corylus americana) was taken on March 25th. They may not look like much but after a long cold winter they are a true pleasure to see. Just think, March is only 60 days away!

April is the month when many of our most beautiful spring ephemeral wildflowers appear and one of those I am always most anxious to see is the spring beauty (Claytonia virginica.) Each flower is very small; maybe as large as a standard aspirin, but the place they grow in often has many hundreds of flowers blooming at the same time so it can be a beautiful sight. These beautiful little flowers often appear at just the same time maple trees begin to flower. I saw the ones in the photo on April 26th.

Another small but beautiful spring flower that I look forward to seeing is the little fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia.) These plants often grow and flower in pairs as those shown were doing and often form mats that carpet the ground in places where they like to grow. The flowers need a heavy insect like a bumblebee landing on their little fringed third petal, which is mostly hidden. This opens their third sepal and lets the insect crawl into the tubular blossom, where it is dusted with pollen.  They often start blooming in mid-May but this photo is from May 31st. Because of their color at a glance fringed polygalas can sometimes look like violets so I have to look carefully to find them.

Also blooming in May is the beautiful soft pink, very fragrant roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum.)  It is also called the early azalea, even though there are those that bloom earlier. It has a fragrance that is delicate and spicy sweet and the fragrance comes from the many hairs that grow along the outsides of the blossoms. This native shrub grows to about 8 feet tall in a shaded area of a mostly evergreen forest. I found it blooming on May 26th.

One of my favorite finds of 2017 was a colony of ragged robin plants (Lychnis flos-cuculi.) I’d been searching for this plant for many years but hadn’t found it until logging kept a small lawn from being mowed last summer. After a month or two of logging operations the unmown grass had gotten tall, but it was also full of ragged robin plants, and that was a great surprise. I don’t know their status in the rest of the state but they are fairly rare in this corner of New Hampshire. This type of ragged robin is not native; it was introduced from Europe sometime in the 1800s but that doesn’t diminish its beauty. I found these plants blooming on June 28.

Two years ago I was walking through a swamp and lo and behold, right there beside the trail was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen; a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) in full bloom. It was beautiful; like a bush full of purple butterflies. I went back again and again this year to keep track of its progress and on July 12 there it was in full bloom again. I can’t explain what joy such a thing brings to me, but I do hope that everyone reading this will experience the same joy in their lives. It’s a true gift.

August was an unusually cold month; cold enough to actually run the furnace for a couple of days, so I didn’t see many mushrooms in what is usually the best month to find them. I did see these little butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea) one day but all in all it wasn’t a good year for mushrooms and slime molds in this area. Some were held back by the cold and appeared much later than they usually do.

The cool August didn’t seem to discourage the wildflowers any, as this view from August 12th shows. In fact we had a great year for wildflowers, even though some bloomed quite a lot later than what I would consider average. I think the abnormal cold had something to do with that, too.

It was also an odd year for fall foliage, with our cold August tricking many trees into turning early, as this photo from September30th shows. Our peak foliage season is usually about the second week of October and some trees had turned color in mid-September. After that it got very hot and the heat stopped all the changing leaves in their tracks, and nobody knew what foliage season would be like at that point.  Some thought it might be ruined, but all we could do was wait and see.

After seeing few to no monarch butterflies for the past 3 years suddenly in September they appeared. First one or two every few days, then more and more until I was seeing at least two each day. This one posed on some Joe Pye weed on September 16th. I can’t say if they’re making a comeback or not but it was a pleasure to see them again. I didn’t realize how much I had taken them for granted until they weren’t there anymore, and that made seeing them again very special. Not only did their reappearance teach me something about myself, it also taught me that monarchs fly like no other butterfly that I’ve seen.

By mid-October, right on schedule for our peak foliage season, all the leaves were aflame and that put a lot of worries to rest. New Hampshire relies heavily on tourism and millions of people come here from all over the world to see the trees, so a disappointing foliage season can have quite a financial impact on businesses. This view from Howe Reservoir in Dublin with Mount Monadnock in the background is one of my favorite foliage views. It was in the October 14th post and reminds me now how truly lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place.

By November 22 Mount Monadnock had its first dusting of snow, which would melt quickly and show no trace just 3 days later. For those new to the blog, Mount Monadnock is one of the most climbed mountains on earth, second only to Mount Fuji in Japan. Even Henry David Thoreau found too many people on the summit when he climbed it in the 1800s. He, like myself, found the view of the mountain much more pleasing than the view from it. He said “Those who climb to the peak of Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it but to look at it. The view of the pinnacle itself surpasses any view which you get from the summit.” I agree.

I thought I’d end this post with something I just found recently on a rail trail; the prettiest bunch of turkey tail fungi that I’ve ever seen. It’s a perfect example of why I spend so much time in the woods; you just never know what beautiful things you might see. I found these beauties on December 2nd.

Laughter from yesterday that makes the heart giggle today brightens the perspective for tomorrow. ~Evinda Lepins

I hope everyone has a very happy and healthy new year! Thanks for stopping in.

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Imagine a tree 80-100 feet high and 50 feet wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

Each beautiful catalpa flower is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough for a bumblebee.

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I always find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

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

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Once you get used to seeing both dogwoods and viburnums you can tell them apart immediately. The flowers on our native viburnums like the the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) has tiny hooded flowers that remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. This one had a friend visiting.

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

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

Heartsease (Viola tricolour) has been used medicinally for a very long time as an expectorant, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Used both internally and externally, the violet is said to be helpful for cystitis, rheumatic complaints, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Though Viola tricolor, the parent of today’s pansy, is native to Europe the medicinal qualities have been found to be the same for all of the species. Native Americans used our native blue violets for cancer treatment. American pioneers thought that a handful of violets taken into the farmhouse in the spring ensured prosperity, and to neglect this ceremony brought harm to baby chicks and ducklings.

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms and you can see certain roads that are lined with the glossy leaved, white flowering shrubs. They seem fussy about where they grow but when they find a spot that they like they can form dense thickets that are nearly impossible to get through. In this spot they grow to about 10 feet tall.

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. I saw several bumblebees working these flowers and you can see some relaxed anthers in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the tough wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like roadsides but I think most are escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers on this example look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

I found this white mallow looking for all the world like a white hibiscus.

I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

A very special guest flower for this week is the rare (here) and beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), a plant that I’ve searched for for many years and could never find. Where I finally found it was amazing; one of the lawns where I work had construction going on near it and couldn’t be mowed for two weeks, and in those two weeks up popped several ragged robin plants. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it.

Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S., like the very beautiful Clarkia pulchella shown recently on Montucky’s blog,  this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England. It might have come as a garden ornamental, but when ships arrived from foreign lands it was once common practice to dump their ballast of gravel and stones on our shores so they could take on cargo, and this plant was reported growing in ship’s ballast in 1880. However it got here I was very happy to see it. This is the kind of thing that makes my pulse quicken and my breath catch in my throat and is what can take me out of myself to a higher place, much like art or music might do for you. The chance of seeing something so beautiful is part of what keeps me going back to nature day after day, year after year.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. ~Rumi

Thanks for coming by.

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