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Posts Tagged ‘River Grape Flowers’

Our locust trees are now in bloom. The one shown here is a bristly locust (Robinia hispida,) which is more shrub than tree, though it can reach 8 feet. What sets this locust apart from others are the bristly purple-brown hairs that cover its stems. Even its seedpods are covered by hairs. Bristly locust is native to the southeastern United States but has spread to all but 7 of the lower 48 states, with a lot of help from nurseries selling it for ornamental use. The beautiful pinkish purple bristly locust flowers are very fragrant and bees really love them. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge.

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) are also blooming and are loaded with white, very fragrant blooms. One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains. You can just see some of them unfolding in this photo.

If you don’t know this flower then you don’t know beans. Or peas, or lupines, or chickpeas, or soybeans, or peanuts, or any other of the more than 18,000 species in the legume (Fabaceae) family. Most have flowers much like the black locust example shown here but some tropical species can resemble orchids. Only the orchid and sunflower families have a larger presence in the plant kingdom. The huge legume family is made up of shrubs, trees, vines, and herbs which grow all over the world and feed its populations. Many plants in the family like clover have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots that convert inert atmospheric nitrogen into a form which is useable to other plants. That’s part of the reason Native Americans planted beans, squash and corn together. Legumes have fed mankind for thousands of years and this world would be a very different place without them.

You can see the same type of flower as the locust has on the puffy little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus.) It is also in the legume family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. It gets its common name from its clusters of brown, 1 inch long seed pods, which someone thought looked like a bird’s foot. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives.

If you Google “Herb Robert” (Geranium robertianum) you find two very interesting things. First is how it is named for a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases with it, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb.

Second is that many people, scientists included according to an article in The Healing Journal, have discovered that it grows most abundantly in areas that have high levels of radiation and is said to absorb radiation from the soil in powerline corridors. It is thought to absorb the radiation from the soil, break it down and disperse it. Obviously I can’t confirm that but it’s a story that I first heard years ago and which persists; I just heard about it again the radio the other day.

I’m sure everyone has seen a buttercup (Ranunculus) but I wonder how many have seen their shine? The waxy shine on the petals is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed. Capturing the shine in a photo is a challenge I’m glad I only face once each year because it means taking many photos before I get it right.

This yellow daylily (Hemerocallis) is very early, blooming just after the Siberian irises bloom. This plant was given to me many years ago by a friend who has since passed on and I have divided it many times for family and friends. Two things make this plant special: the early bloom time and the heavenly fragrance that smells of citrus and spices. I have a feeling this is a Lemon daylily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) which is a very old species brought to America in colonial days and originally from China and Europe.  The Greek word Hemerocallis means “beautiful for a day,” and that’s how long each flower lasts. It’s a shame that many of today’s daylilies, bred for larger and more colorful flowers, have lost their ancient fragrance.

There are two times when our wild grapevines tickle my nose; once in the fall when their ripening fruit makes the woods smell like grape jelly, and once in the spring when their tiny flowers emit a huge fragrance that can be detected from many yards away. These flowers are so small that I really can’t come up with an accurate way to describe their size. When you smell them your first thought will probably be “no, that fragrance can’t be coming from these tiny things,” but it is.

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that few people grow. It’s one of the last to leaf out in late spring and its fragrant hanging white flowers give it the name old man’s beard.  Male flowered trees are showier but then you don’t get the purple berries that female flowered trees bear. Birds love the fruit and if I had room I’d grow both.

Here’s a closer look at the male fringe tree flowers. I’ve read that these trees are very easy to grow and are pollution tolerant as well.

I felt bad when I accidentally knocked a columbine (Aquilegia) flower off while mowing near it but once I got down on my knees to get a photo I felt nothing but joy, because by then I was lost inside its beauty. Evolution yes; flowers have evolved to be appealing to the birds, bats and insects they want to attract, but that doesn’t explain their beauty. Or maybe it does; do birds and insects see it as we do?  If not then why are they so beautiful? It’s easy to think that maybe all that beauty is there just to please humanity, but that might be too crooked a path to follow.

When I was a boy I read books like Ivan Sanderson’s Book of Great Jungles, and I dreamed that one day I’d go to those jungles as a plant explorer and I’d bring back plants with flowers so beautiful they would make the people of the world weep with joy. The plant shown here wasn’t quite as beautiful as all that and it might make you weep for different reasons, but my sharp intake of breath and quickening heart rate told me that I had discovered something I’d never seen before.

After some searching I found that these small white flowers belong to a plant called flowered cancer root, also called naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora.)  The naked part of the name comes from its lack of leaves. It doesn’t need them because it is parasitic on the plants that surround it, in this case mostly raspberry, from what I could see. It pierces the roots of other plants and slowly sucks the nutrition from them, weakening them, so it isn’t as innocent as it might appear. The small flowers are white and fuzzy with a yellow center and tiny purple hairs around the outside that make it appear to have an aura in the right light.

According to a New York Times article by Dave Taft, there are records of medieval medical uses of the plant as an astringent healer of “old green wounds.” It is said that Native Americans used the plant to treat skin infections but little seems to be known about how they used it. According to Wildflowers of the United States, the broomrape name comes from the way a European cousin of the plant parasitizes certain species of broom, an old world name for vetch, and the orobanche part of the scientific name means “vetch-strangler.” According to Wikipedia this plant is considered rare or vulnerable in 17 states. In New Hampshire it is simply listed as “present” but since I’ve seen it exactly once in 60+ years its presence isn’t common. It is listed as rare in the Midwest.

It’s finally clematis time here in New Hampshire, and here is Ramona to prove it. She starts off with dark flowers…

…and then the flowers lighten as they age.

Orange is a hard color to find in wildflowers here in New Hampshire so luckily we have orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca.) I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed and I’m not sure why that is. The plant might be from Europe but it’s far from invasive. Maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. They do reflect ultraviolet light though, so that means that some insects must find them. The only other orange wildflower I can think of is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis.)

The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows but they will also grow in abandoned lots and other waste areas. I see them by the hundreds.

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) has just started flowering. Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

It’s already time to say goodbye to one of our most beautiful native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper. As can be seen here New Hampshire’s state wildflower had a good year.

Humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

If there is a sweeter name for a flower than fawn’s breath, I haven’t heard it. It comes from the way the flowers, which sit at the ends of long thin stems (pedicels,) will move and dance even in the gentle breath of a fawn. Since I’ve never seen a fawn near one I can’t confirm that but I do know that even the slightest breeze will set them all dancing. Of course that’s a flower photographer’s worst scenario but while I wait for the flowers to stop dancing I can admire their beauty.

Asymmetrical is what the flowers are, with petals that look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler, but it gives the plant a certain charm I think. It makes me search the plant for that one flower that must be perfectly symmetrical, but of course I never find it. The plant is also called Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata.) It is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, so another common name is American ipecac. 

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher

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It’s turtle time here in this part of New Hampshire and the big snapping turtles are on the move, looking for soft sand to dig their nest in.  Average adult snapping turtles can be over two feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds and they can be very aggressive on land, so it’s best to stay away from them. They don’t have teeth but they have strong jaws and beaks that can easily break fingers. I took this photo of a female wandering along the side of a dirt road from my car window.  I’ve read that the largest snapper ever recorded weighed 75 pounds. It must have been huge.

Snapping turtles dig rather shallow holes with their hind legs and lay anywhere from 25-80 eggs each year. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks but many eggs don’t make it anywhere near that long. Foxes, minks, skunks, crows and raccoons dig them up and eat them and destroyed nests are a common sight along sandy roadsides. These big turtles eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, ducklings, and just about anything else they can catch. Oddly, when in the water they are rather placid and don’t bother humans.

Snapping turtles aren’t the only reptiles laying eggs; painted turtles are also nesting.

Tent caterpillars are out of their nests and searching for food. Many people confuse tent caterpillars with fall webworms, but tent caterpillars appear in spring and do much more damage than fall webworms, which usually eat foliage that trees no longer need. Tent caterpillars prefer fruit trees but will also eat maples, hawthorns, and others. They can defoliate a tree in a short amount of time and a large outbreak can leave large areas of forest weakened.

I’m seeing more swallowtail butterflies this year than I’ve ever seen but I can’t get a single one to pose for a photo. This cabbage white was willing though, and sat for a while on this yellow hawkweed blossom while I clicked the shutter. At least I think it’s a cabbage white; my insect identification abilities aren’t what they should be.

I was able to identify this rosy maple moth because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like it. This is a cute little thing with its wooly yellow body and pink and creamy yellow wing stripes. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

I went looking for the beautiful purple flowers of the larch tree (Larix laricina) but instead I found the tiny yellow eggs of a ladybug stuck to a larch branch. Each egg is less than a millimeter in length and this entire batch of them was less than an inch long. This larch must have an aphid problem because I’ve read that ladybugs will always try to mate as close to an aphid colony as possible. The ladybug lays infertile eggs along with the fertile ones though, and the hatchlings will eat these infertile eggs if they can’t find any aphids. They also eat scale insects and mealybugs, so they are great friends to have in a garden.

On the same larch I also saw some newly emerging needles which I thought were something most of us never see. Larch trees lose their needles in winter and grow new ones each spring; the only conifer I know of to do so.

Other conifers are busy right now too; pines are growing pollen cones, which are the tree’s male flowers. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of smoke like yellow-green pollen can be seen coming from them on windy days. The trees look like they’re on fire and virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, houses, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in, but pine pollen is a strong antioxidant that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its numerous health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago.

Here’s a close look at some pine pollen cones that have opened and released their pollen. Not good news for allergy sufferers, I’m afraid.

When all that pollen falls on water it can make some fantastic abstract designs that I love watching as they slowly float along on the current and change shapes and patterns. There were also white locust blossoms scattered here and there on the pond on this day. The scene kind of takes me back to the seventies when my consciousness was expanding.

Here was a snake like river of pollen on the surface of a pond. I can’t even begin to explain how it could have formed. I hope everyone gets to see such beautiful things in their day to day travels. These are the things that make us wonder and, as Edgar Allan Poe once said: It is happiness to wonder, it is happiness to dream.

To ensure that there will be plenty of pollen available for future generations here was a tiny white pine (Pinus strobus) seedling. If everything goes according to plan it will grow to become one of our largest trees.

Sometimes I wonder if every now and then nature does something just to please us because I can’t think of any other reason rattlesnake weed’s foliage (Hieracium venosum) would have evolved into something as beautiful as this. Leaves colored in such a manner would only lessen photosynthesis I would think and I doubt that would be a benefit to any plant, so until I learn differently I’m going to believe that this kind of beauty was put here simply to please any onlookers that might pass by. This is the only plant of its kind I’ve ever seen and each year I make a special pilgrimage to see it, so I hope you like it. It is in the hawkweed family and has flowers that resemble those of yellow hawkweed.

And here was another plant at the river that looked like it was trying to mimic rattlesnake weed. I haven’t been able to identify it but I do know that I’ve never seen another like it. If you should recognize it I’d love to know what it is. It grew very low to the ground.

Here’s something that I’d guess that most of us have never seen; the tiny seed pods of dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius.) I know of one small colony of perhaps 20 plants and this is the first time I’ve ever seen seed pods on one. I hope all of them grow into new plants.

The tiny splash cups of juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) have appeared. These are the male reproductive organs of this common moss, which grows both male and female plants. Male plants produce sperm in these cups and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If everything is wet enough and all goes well the sperm will swim to a female plant and fertilize the eggs found there. If you sat a single pea in one of these splash cups the tiny cup would disappear behind it.

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra. This cap is very hairy, which is where the common name comes from, and it protects the spore capsule and the spores within. As the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra will fall off. The spore capsule will continue to ripen and when the time is right the end cap will fall off and  the spores will be released to the wind. At this stage the capsule is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti.

It has been so dry here we’re already down about 3.5 inches from our average rainfall so I’m not seeing much in the way of fungi, but I did see these examples growing on a pine root. There are many mushrooms that look like these so I’m not sure what their name is. They are pretty though.

I also saw a few examples of the aquatic fungi known as swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans.) Each one is about as big as a wooden match stick and I find them in seeps where there is open water year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark; only on things like last year’s saturated leaves.

I looked down into the heart of a yucca plant and wished I could think of something to make from all those threads. Native Americans used yucca fibers to weave sandals, cords, and baskets. They also ate the fruit of the plant. The sharp points at the tips of the leaves were used as sewing needles and the roots were peeled and ground and mixed with water to make soap for washing their hair and treating dandruff.  Sap from the leaves was used medicinally to stop bleeding and heal sores. They used every single part of this plant.

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.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you every day. It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder.
~Avina Celeste

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