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Posts Tagged ‘Red Horse Chestnut’

If you’re tempted to pass by what you think are violets you might want to take a closer look, because our beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) have just started blossoming. Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets has fooled me in the past. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in pairs as can be seen in the photo above. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

You can see where the name “gaywings” comes from in this photo. They look as if they’re ready to take off. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the little wings. The little fringe at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringe the third sepal drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. I usually find this one in shady, mossy places and I think it prefers moist ground. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual flower that I always look for in May.

I’ve never seen violets like we have this year!

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, like the last two years, both nodding and painted trilliums are blooming at the same time. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

The flowers of rhodora usually appear just when the irises start to bloom but for the past couple of years they’ve been a little early. I often have to search for them on the banks of ponds because they aren’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

The rhodora flower looks like an azalea blossom but it’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

Another native azalea that can be hard to find in this area is called the early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora often blooms earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet. Finding a seven foot tall one of these blooming in the woods is something you don’t forget right away, and I think I remember the exact location of every one I’ve ever found. Unfortunately there aren’t many.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers, which you can see here. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are supposed to be a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but I’ve seen eight and nine petals on flowers, and I’ve seen many with six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5. This year I’m seeing lots of plants with three flowers, which is unusual. Usually most of them have only two.

This blossom didn’t live up to the 7 theory with 8 petals. It also has 8 anthers. I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at though, because many I’ve seen have more or fewer and 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms but its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. They’re a good indicator of where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mowed lawns with islands of unmowed, blossoming fleabanes. I’ve seen several already.

The club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) have appeared a little late this year and they seem smaller than usual. This plant is very easy to confuse with red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but that plant’s flower head is spherical rather than elongated. The flower head of white baneberry is always taller than it is wide and if pollinated the flowers will become white berries with a single black dot on one end. That’s where the common name doll’s eyes comes from. The berries are very toxic and can be appealing to children but luckily they are very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

I find purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) growing in a local park. It’s a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf.

The red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) From what I’ve read I think this one, which blooms in a local park, is an example of that same tree. I’ve also read that bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. I had to zoom in on the blossoms quite far up in the tree while the wind blew them around so I’m kind of amazed that I even have this photo to show you. It’s a beautiful flower and well worth the effort.

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel which grows to about 6-7 feet in this area. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They do very well in gardens but aren’t well known. I’m seeing more of them now than in the past though.

A flower that comes with plenty of memories for me is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) My grandmother’s name was Lily and I used to bring her wilting bouquets of them when I was a young boy. She would always smell them before putting them in a jelly jar full of water, all the while exclaiming how beautiful they were. The plant is extremely toxic but, though she didn’t tell me it was poisonous I never once thought of eating it or putting any part of the plant in my mouth. I do remember smelling their wondrous fragrance as I picked them though, and all those memories came back whenever I smell them. Amazing how memories can be so strongly attached to a fragrance.

It’s lilac time here in New Hampshire and you can find them blooming in almost every yard. Though I like white lilacs I think the favorite by far is the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s also the New Hampshire state flower, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower. As a boy I used to like sucking the sweet nectar out of lilac flowers.

The spicy fragrance of poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) reminds me of the paper white narcissus, which has a fragrance strong enough to make some people sick, but I love it. Poet’s daffodil is a plant that comes with a lot of baggage; it is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on, and it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and I find it in unmown fields after most other daffodils have finished blooming.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) blooms among the tall grasses. This plant is originally from Europe and is also called common or grass leaved stitchwort. It likes disturbed soil and does well on roadsides, old fields, and meadows. The Stellaria part of its scientific name means star like, and the common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

Here’s a sneak peak at the next flower post. One of our most beautiful native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) just started to show color on their flowers as I was finishing this post. The moccasin shaped flowers start life colored a yellowish off white and then turn pink. I’m seeing lots of them this year and you’ll see more in the next flower post.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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This is the time of year when some of our most beautiful flowers appear. Lupines are blooming about a week early this year, so they’re in a May post rather than a June one as usual. I’m not sure if this example a native plant or a garden escapee but I was happy to see it blooming along a roadside. It’s such a beautiful shade of blue.

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) flowers have big plum colored anthers and that helps tell them apart from some of our other white flowered trees and shrubs. It is more shrub than tree and is considered an important forage plant. Bear, birds, rabbits, mice, chipmunks, deer, elk, moose, bear, and bighorn sheep eat various parts of the plant and ants, butterflies, honeybees, flies, and hummingbirds drink its nectar. Native Americans used all parts of the plant medicinally. The fruit was used for canker sores and sore throats and the roots were dried, chewed, and placed in wounds to stop bleeding. The stems were boiled to make tea to treat fevers. The small drupes have an edible outer fleshy layer but the single seed contains high levels of hydrogen cyanide and children have died from eating handfuls of them without removing the seed.

The rhododendrons have started blooming and this pink one was the first one I saw one recent rainy day.

After a poor showing last year the sweet little bunchberries (Cornus canadensis) seem to be doing well this year, and that tells me that they must like a lot of rain. This colony grows right up into the V made by the two trunks of this oak tree near my house and it seems to be doing well. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be so others can enjoy it.

 Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The large (relatively) white bracts surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give the plant its common name.  Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves, and this shot took many tries. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. This year they seem to be flowering well, so if that is true I suppose I should lower my expectations for next year. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should never be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive but it does form monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. It grows in the shade of the forest and, as the above photo shows, it does very well there. Its tiny white four petaled flowers will become speckled red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals, and of course they help its spread.

Though it is banned from being sold or planted here in New Hampshire invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is here to stay. Each tiny greenish flower will became a bright orange red berry that birds love, and they’ve helped spread this invasive shrub far and wide. Burning bush is also called winged euonymus.

Burning bush flowers are what a botanist would describe as insignificant, but the shrub has had a significant impact of the landscape, often growing in large colonies that choke out native plants.

There is a tree in a local park that I’ve wondered about for years. Each spring it is covered with beautiful red and yellow blossoms and I knew it was a horse chestnut but didn’t know anything else about it. Then recently I read on Mr. Tootlepedal’s blog of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) which is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) From what I’ve read I think this one is an example of that same tree. I also read that bees and hummingbirds love the flowers.

I find goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis) growing in a meadow in full sun. Luckily I was there in the morning because goat’s beard flowers close up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify. It is native to Europe but doesn’t seem to be at all invasive here. In fact I usually have trouble finding it.

At a glance it might be easy to confuse the large oval leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) with those of lady’s slippers, but they don’t have the deep pleats that lady’s slipper leaves have, and of course once the flowers appear there is no doubt. The two plants often grow side by side and bloom at the same time. It can take more than 12 years for blue bead lily plants to produce flowers from seed.

It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. Ants like them and they were crawling all over these plants. I like seeing both the pale yellow flowers and the blue berries that follow them. Their color has been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

Pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) have just come into bloom but I’m seeing far fewer of them than I did last year. I have a feeling that the drought last year must have affected them. But at least they’re here; there was a time when these plants were collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If the plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be.

For those who haven’t seen one, a pink lady’s slipper blossom is essentially a pouch called a labellum, which is a modified petal. The pouch has a slit down the middle, which can be seen in this photo. Veins on the pouch attract bumblebees, which enter the flower through the slit and then find that to get out they have to leave by one of two openings at the top of the pouch that have pollen masses above them. When they leave they are dusted with pollen and will hopefully carry it to another flower. It takes pink lady’s slippers five years or more from seed to bloom, but they can live for twenty years or more.

Our native azaleas have also just started to bloom. I haven’t held out much hope for the plant pictured because a tree fell on it two summers ago. It seemed to be hanging on by a thread last year but this year its strong will to live has it blooming beautifully again. It grows in a shaded part of the forest and is called early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination. I don’t know about that but it always makes me smile.

Beautiful little fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers often grow in pairs like those shown in the photo. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings” that give them the name gay wings. The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen.

You can just see in this photo how any weight on the brushy part of the fringed polygala flower would cause it to drop down and create an opening that a bee could crawl into. That pollination happens at all in a fringed polygala seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are more unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

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