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Posts Tagged ‘Rhododendron Maxima’

It takes about a half hour to get there from my house but the trip to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is always worth the effort at this time of year. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and is one of those places that approaches what true wilderness must have looked like before European settlers arrived. It is a botanical park; the only one of its kind in the state. People from all over the world come here to see the native rhododendrons (Rhododendron maxima) that grow here. The park contains the largest grove of these rhododendrons known to exist in New England. Common in south eastern states, they have reached the northernmost point of their growth here. Rhododendron state park was even designated a national Landmark in 1982.

This native rhododendron isn’t like others; it blooms in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since Captain Samuel Patch settled here in 1788. The higher surrounding land was farmed but not where the rhodies grew. In 1901 a subsequent owner almost had the land logged off for timber but instead it was bought and given to the Appalachian Mountain Club with the stipulation that it be protected and open to the public forever after.

The National Park Service calls them pink, but I see white when I look at the blossoms and though most of these plants are quite tall it is still easy to get close to them. Though the plants are much bigger than your average rhododendron the flowers and flower clusters are pretty much the same size as those found on other rhododendrons.

I did see lots of pinks and purples on some of the buds, and on the backs of some of the blossoms.

Included in the park is the center chimney cape that Captain Samuel Patch built with his son sometime before he died in 1817. Captain Patch served in the Revolutionary war and took part in the battle of Bunker Hill and, though his house has changed hands a few times since being built, it looks to be true to its original footprint. Surrounding it are a few garden beds containing various plants, including this moth mullein. Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) gets its common name from the way the flowers’ stamens resembled moth antennae to the person who named it. This plant was introduced from Europe and found in Pennsylvania in 1818 and immediately escaped gardens to become a roadside weed now found in every state except Wyoming and Alaska. It isn’t very common in this area however. I only know of two plants and they grow right here at the old Patch place. Its flowers can also be white.

If you visit the park be prepared to be surprised. I remember being shocked at the size of the rhododendrons the first time I came. People are interested; the parking lot was full of cars on this day. I saw many children on the trails too, and since getting children on the trails is one of the main things this blog is about, I was very happy to see them.

The big plants tower overhead in places and in a good year the white blossoms are everywhere you look. Anyone who loves rhododendrons or serious collectors of the shrubs should definitely see this.

Of course, rhododendrons aren’t all there is to see. There is a wildflower trail here as well and I saw many plants here that I had never seen before the first few times I came. Wildflowers bloom throughout the 2,723-acre park from early April into October. False Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) like the one in this photo are through blooming but they have plenty of fruit at this time of year. They can reach three feet tall where they’re happy.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal turn from green to red and for a short time they are speckled with both colors.  I’ve read that soil pH can affect the fruit color, but I think that means a deeper or lighter red. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) is one of our native wintergreens. It get its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. Its nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June. I find them in sandy soil in forests under pines.

I saw the fruiting bodies of a coral slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, V. porioides.) These objects that resemble geodesic domes are so small that I can’t see any of the detail until I zoom in on them with a camera. They are very fragile; a single swipe of a finger can destroy hundreds of them.  According to my mushroom books this slime mold is “very common and fruits in scattered clusters on well-rotted logs.”  That’s exactly where these grew.

Also known as rosebay and great laurel, these rhododendrons normally reach a maximum height of 15 feet but may become “tree like.” In the park their branches intertwine as they grow and for the most part you wouldn’t ever get through the thicket they’ve formed.

You may feel a bit small as you wander through and under these giant plants. Visitors might find that the common landscape shrubs they are used to seeing never seem the same again. 

A 0.6 mile-long, wheelchair accessible trail meanders around and through the grove and allows visitors close up access to these beauties. This is a good viewing spot, and popular; I had a hard time getting a photo of it with no people on it.

This is one of the views from the bridge in the previous photo. Rhododendrons as far as the eye can see.

There are also Mountain Laurels here but they bloom as much as a month earlier than the rhododendrons.

A hoverfly worked over a dewberry blossom and didn’t seem to mind me watching.

Other insects went unseen but their pathways told their stories. The thought of an insect so small that in can eat its way between the upper and lower surface of a leaf boggles my mind, but I see leaf miner trails everywhere I go.

Rhododendron State Park is open all year during the daytime but isn’t maintained in winter. During the summer months from May through October, you may find a State Park Ranger at the park. He or she is there to answer questions and to collect the $4.00 per visitor admission fee. When there isn’t a ranger on duty you can find the collection box shown above near the trailhead. Part of the money collected I assume is used for trail maintenance, so it’s important. I saw several trees that had fallen across the trail and had been cut up. Children and seniors are admitted for free. Pets are not permitted on the wild flower trail or other nature trails, but I think they can still be taken to other parts of the park. Just follow the instructions on the many signs and maps found throughout the park. The best time to see these spectacular rhododendrons in full bloom is mid-July.

On my way hone I stopped in the town of Troy to admire one of my favorite views of Mount Monadnock. I’m sure there were plenty of sightseers over there too; it is said to be the second most climbed mountain, after Mount Fuji in Japan.  

I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.
~Jack Kerouac

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It takes about a half hour to get there from my house but the trip to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is always worth the effort and is a trip I try to make at least once each week at this time of year. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and is one of those places that approaches what the true wilderness must have looked like before European settlers arrived.

 1. RSP Sign

This park is a true botanical park and the only one of its kind in the state. People from all over the world come here to see the native rhododendrons (Rhododendron maxima) that grow here. The park contains the largest grove of these rhododendrons known to exist in New England. Common in south eastern states, they have reached the northernmost point of their growth here. The park was designated a national Landmark in 1982.

 2. RSP Marginal Wood Fern

Paths are wide and level in most areas. They are also shaded for the most part, and lined with marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and many other plants.

3. RSP Wildflower Sign

Signs clearly mark the trails. I took a photo of this one because I come here for the wildflowers rather than the rhodies. Most wildflowers that grow here are quite common and what you would expect to find in New England. Partridgeberry, teaberry, wild sarsaparilla, bunchberry, blue bead lily, pink lady’s slipper, painted trillium and many others too numerous to list grow here. There are other orchids besides lady’s slippers, but they are very hard to find.

 4. RSP Rhododendron Grove

This native rhododendron isn’t like others-it blooms in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since Captain Samuel Patch settled here in 1788. The higher surrounding land was farmed but not where the rhodies grew. In 1901 a subsequent owner almost had the land logged off for timber but instead it was bought and given to the Appalachian Mountain Club with the stipulation that it be protected and open to the public forever after.

 5. Native Rhododendron Maxima

The National Park Service calls them pink, but I see white when I look at the blossoms. Though most of these plants are quite tall it is still easy to get close to the blossoms.

6. RSP Trail

The trunks of the shrubs grow in impenetrable thickets in places, and are so tall that you walk through “rhododendron tunnels” as you follow the pathways.

 7. RSP Mushroom

 With all of the large leaves of the rhododendrons overhead reaching for the sun it can be quite dark in some areas. That is why this park is also one of my favorite mushroom hunting places.

8. RSP Slime Mold

You know there isn’t much sunlight reaching the ground when you see slime molds. Sunlight is their number one enemy.

9. RSP Tiny Orange Mushroom

Some of the most interesting things here are small and hard to see. I’ve seen people walking the paths quickly as if they were in a hurry to be out of the park, and I often wonder how much they might have missed. This is the kind of place where you need to walk very slowly while scanning the woods along the sides of the path if you are to see very many wildflowers. I just found an orchid growing right beside the path that I must have walked by at least 20 times last year without seeing. It’s a small thing that isn’t blooming yet, so it doesn’t appear in this post. I’ve also found other plants here that I haven’t ever seen anywhere else.

10. RSP Stone Wall

What makes this place so special for someone like me is how the land has gone virtually untouched by man since at least 1901 because there are certain plants that absolutely refuse to grow in anything but old, undisturbed soil.  Unless a tree falls across a trail nature is allowed free reign here. As you can see in the photo a tree fell on a stone wall a long, long time ago and was left where it fell. This kind of hands off approach is important to many species of plants, and you really never know what you’ll find here.

 11. RSP Pipsissewa

Seeing pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate) growing in sunny spots was one of the clues that I might see something even more special. I’ve noticed that this is a plant that prefers growing in undisturbed soil.

12. RSP Striped Wintergreen

Only another plant hunter will understand how my pulse quickened when I saw this striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculate) with flower buds. This plant is rare in all of New England but seems especially so in this corner of New Hampshire. I know of only two small plants and I’ve never seen them bloom until now. Someone from Connecticut wrote to tell me that they knew of a few colonies there on undisturbed land and I have also heard of isolated colonies in New York where it is listed as exploitably vulnerable, meaning when people see it they pick it or dig it up. The plant grows as far west as Illinois, but it is endangered there and also in Maine.

If you happen to see this plant please do not dig it up or pick the flowers! It will not grow in your garden, so leave it in the forest for the rest of us to enjoy.

 13. RSP Striped Wintergreen Blossom

 There is a fairly good chance that if you live in New England, you have never seen this flower. This was my first ever glimpse of it and I was surprised to see how much the blossom looked like that of pipsissewa. I shouldn’t have been though, because both plants are native wintergreens. If you’d like to see the pipsissewa blossom just click here.

 14. RSP Striped Wintergreen Blossom 3

I hope the small flies that are on the blossoms are pollinators so the plants will set seed.

15. RSP Patch House

Included in the park is the center chimney cape that Captain Samuel Patch built with his son sometime before he died in 1817. Captain Patch served in the Revolutionary war and took part in the battle of Bunker Hill and, though his house has changed hands a few times since being built, it looks to be true to its original footprint.

 16. RSP Sign

The house is closed to the public but what I like most about it is its old gardens that contain some very old plants like valerian and wood betony. This is also the location of the only moth mullein plant that I know of.

If you’d like to read more about the park just click here. I’ll be going back there today hoping to find an orchid finally blooming. I’ve been waiting for 6 weeks to see its flower.

The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it provides protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who destroys it. ~ Gautama Buddha

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It is still very dry here and some small ponds and streams have dried up completely just over the past week. There are shady woods and moist places near the larger ponds and rivers where plants still bloom though. Here are some tough plants that are more used to adverse conditions. Our native rhododendron (Rhododendron Maximum) blooms much later than cultivated varieties-usually about mid-July. A 16 acre grove in Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is the northern limit of these plants. The grove is the largest in northern New England and was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1982. There are also wildflower trails through the park, but there is little to be seen in the deep woods at this time of year.Whorled Wood Asters (Oclemena acuminate) have also just started blooming. The aster family is very large and many asters can be hard to identify but the strange, fly away petals on this one make it a little easier than most. Other common names for this native plant include Mountain Aster and Sharp-leaved Aster. The name “whorled aster” comes from the leaves appearing to grow in a whorl even though it isn’t a true whorl. Another common name for all asters is “goodbye summer.”  I found them growing at the edge of the woods.Another plant that says goodbye summer is goldenrod. The plant pictured is gray stemmed goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis.) Goldenrod is a family with 125 or more species that are often hard for even botanists to identify, but this one is easy because of the way the flower grows mostly on one side of the stem, like they’ve been in a strong wind. The grayish stem usually arches slightly as well and the plant has small leaflets in the leaf axils. Goldenrod is usually blamed for people’s hay fever but goldenrod pollen is so heavy and sticky that you couldn’t get it to go up your nose if you buried your head in a stand of it and sniffed as hard as you could. The real cause of allergic reactions is ragweed, which blooms at the same time and has fine, dust like pollen grains that are carried on the wind. This is my favorite goldenrod because it is very fragrant. I found this slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) growing in a crack in a sidewalk. This plant is similar to lance leaved goldenrod, but the two can be told apart by leaf veining; slender fragrant goldenrod has only one vein running down the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has several veins. Other common names are Sweet goldenrod, wound weed, Blue Mountain tea, sweet-scented goldenrod, anise-scented goldenrod, and true goldenrod. Goldenrods like dry, sunny places and don’t mind sandy soil. This native grows much shorter than most-usually about knee high.Native smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) flowers look much like those on stag horn sumac, but that’s really the only thing about this plant that looks like it. The leaves are very shiny and leathery feeling on smooth sumac and are a kind of dull, matte finish and thin on stag horn sumac. The main difference though, is the lack of “velvet” on smooth sumac stems and leaves. Stag horn sumac stems and leaves are covered in fine hairs, but you won’t find any on this plant. Smooth sumac stems are also apt to be crooked and somewhat shorter. This butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris) plant was growing happily beside a sidewalk. This is a beautiful plant that is in the toadflax family with flowers much larger and showier than blue toadflax. It was introduced from the Mediterranean region of Europe and quickly escaped and began colonizing its new home. I can think of worse plants to have as weeds-at least this one is showy with its snap dragon like blooms. This plant is also called Yellow Toadflax. Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is a familiar sight around these parts, but we usually expect to see it later in the year. Like many of the plants in this post, it is blooming nearly a full month early. This one is easy to identify because of the strange way all the flowers line up on one side of the stem and all point in almost the same direction. The bracts at the base of the flower that fold back away from it are also good identifiers. This plant is another European native that has escaped garden borders and become an invasive pest. But it’s a pretty one. It looks like it’s going to be a good berry year for American Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned, because I like to eat them. My grandmother always called this plant checkerberry but I have always called it teaberry because the berries taste just like teaberry gum. A handful of berries from these native plants are quite refreshing on a hot autumn hike. Many birds, small animals and even not so small animals like black bears like the minty, bright red berries so you have to be quick. Wild Canada Lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) has sent up its tall spikes and is just starting to blossom. Every time I see this plant I wonder why it needs a 7 or 8 foot tall flower stalk to support tiny flowers that aren’t as big as a dime. This plant grows in every state except Arizona and Nevada, so it might look familiar. Anyone who has had their garden lettuce bolt and go to seed knows how bitter it can be afterwards. Wild lettuce has the same bitterness virtually all the time, so even though it is edible not many will eat it. Native Americans used the white sap to cure warts. Some native lettuce species have blue flowers, and I’m hoping to find them.Tall milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) is a native plant that I don’t see very often. I found a few plants growing at the edge of a forest under some pine trees where they couldn’t have gotten very much sun or rain. I have read that tall milkweed grows as tall as swamp and common milkweeds, but these plants were so short that at first I wasn’t sure that they were tall milkweed. The drooping, bicolored flowers finally convinced me that I had the correct plant. This is also called poke milkweed. Unless it is flowering it could be easily confused with swamp milkweed. I found this spotted knapweed growing along the very edge of a busy road. There were so many cars going by that the plant acted like it was caught in a strong wind storm, swaying this way and that constantly. Finally there was a gap in the traffic and I was able to snap a few pictures. If I’d had my wits about me and wasn’t wondering when I’d be run over I would have taken a closer shot of the bracts under the flower head.  A while ago I posted a picture of a brown knapweed which looks nearly identical to the spotted. The best way to tell them apart is by the color of the tips of the bracts, but unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of them. Spotted knapweed has very obvious vertical veins under the black triangular spots on the tips of the bracts. This plant is considered a noxious weed and some people find it toxic, breaking out in a rash if they touch it. Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a plant that seems to go to seed overnight so I felt lucky to catch this one still blooming. It is also another fall plant that is blooming a month or so early. I found it draped over some viburnums at the edge of the forest. Virgin’s bower is also called Devil’s darning needles and Old Man’s Beard because of the feathery, twisted seed heads that appear after the female blossoms. If you can stand seeing another goldenrod I’d like to show you this rough stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) because it is one of the few species of goldenrod that is easily identified. What makes it so easy is its branching habit that gives the flower head the look of an elm tree. An elm has a straight, tall trunk that suddenly branches out in all directions to form a vase shaped crown, and that is exactly what this goldenrod does. It is one of the few that I recognize because of its shape.Bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis) gets her common name from the way the strangely curved petals bounce in a breeze. This plant has 5 petals and 10 stamens. Those two things along with the backward bending petals make this one easy to identify. The flowers will be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They open toward evening, which is a habit directly opposite of plants like blue eyed grass and evening primrose. Another common name for this plant is soapwort, and that is because its leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather will appear. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. Bouncing bet hails from Europe and is considered toxic. Some people have violent toxic reactions to it. The flowers of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) are quite small but easily identified by the two stamens that protrude from the flower, the two pink, curved sepals behind the 2 petals, and the round calyx that is covered in fine white hairs. If you don’t notice this plant in the moist, shady woods where it grows, you might notice it when you get home because the small round seed pods will readily stick to your clothes. Enchanter’s nightshade isn’t a nightshade at all, but is related to evening primroses.

In Homer’s Odyssey Circe the enchantress drugged Odysseus’ crew and turned them into swine. Circe, “the dread goddess who walks with mortals,” who was the daughter of the sun and granddaughter of the oceans, gives enchanter’s nightshade its scientific name Circaea, and some say the plant was included in the potion she gave to Odysseus’ crew.

Nature will bear the closest inspection.  She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.  ~Henry David Thoreau

As always, I appreciate you stopping in.

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