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Posts Tagged ‘Rhododendron State Park’

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

Thanks for stopping in.

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