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Posts Tagged ‘Robin’s Plantain’

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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When I think of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) I think of another spring ephemeral, but they don’t really fit that definition because they blossom after the leaves come out on the trees. They get away with that because their big strap shaped leaves can take in plenty of light even under trees, and they prefer shade. But this is a time of transition, because the forest flowers are finishing up and the sun loving meadow flowers are just beginning. It’s an exciting time for flower lovers because we know that the best is yet to come.

Blue bead lily looks like a miniature Canada lily because it’s a member of the lily family. Each blossom is slightly bigger than a trout lily blossom and there are usually two or three per stalk. Flower parts appear in multiples of three in the lily family and to prove it this blossom has three petals, three sepals, and six stamens.  Its name comes from the beautiful electric blue berries that will appear later on in summer. The berries are said to be toxic but birds and chipmunks snap them right up. Some Native American tribes rubbed the root of this plant on their bear traps because its fragrance attracted bears.

Our native azaleas have just started to bloom. I was worried about the one pictured because a tree fell on it three summers ago. It seemed to be hanging on by a thread for a while but it is getting stronger over time and looks like it will hang on to bloom beautifully again each year. 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, which you can just see on the bud over on the right. 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 blossom lived up to the 7 theory and had 7 petals. It also has 7 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.

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 several tries. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, but I’ve seen these plants bloom well for a few years now. 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.

I’m lucky enough to know where there are two or three sizeable colonies of Pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) and this year I found another with 12-14 plants in it. 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. 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.

When pink lady’s slippers first set their buds they are a kind of off white, almost yellow color and some think they have found a white or yellow one, but they quickly turn pink. The pink Lady’s slipper is New Hampshire’s state wildflower.

When we move out of the forest to their edges we find sun loving plants like hawthorn, which was in full bloom on this day. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms aren’t much in the way of fragrance because of a compound called trimethylamine, which gives the plant a slightly fishy odor, but they’re big on beauty with their plum colored anthers. They are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today.  There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

There just happened to be a phlox plant or two growing among the dame’s rocket and I thought it was ggod chance to show how phlox blossoms have 5 petals. I’m not sure if these plants were wild phlox or garden escapees but I’m guessing they probably came from a nearby garden.

Mouse ear chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) is one of those plants that keep the big herbicide companies making billions because they’ve convinced people that “fuzzy green patches don’t belong in their lawn.” They tell us that this “pesky plant loves to wreak havoc on the open spaces in our lawns and gardens,” but what they don’t tell us is how the plant was here long before lawns were even thought of.  A few hundred years ago in cottage gardens turf grasses were pulled as weeds so medicinal or edible plants like dandelion and chickweed could flourish. How times have changed.

One flower that will always say June to me is the Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare,) even though I found this one in May. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. Soon our roadsides will be carpeted by them. I like their spiraled centers.

Sweet little blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) has always been one of my favorite wildflowers. It’s in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light green leaves resemble grass leaves.  The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find. Native Americans had several medicinal uses for this plant.

This blue eyed grass had two blossoms on one stem, which is rare in my experience.

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 mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

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If our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) are blossoming it must be June. The name flag comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves. Though Native Americans used this plant medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic.

Another flower that will always say June to me is the Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare.) I was married in June and because we couldn’t afford flowers from the florist we picked hundreds of Ox eye daisies. They wilted quickly and looked much better in the meadow than in a vase, and I don’t think I’ve ever picked one since. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. I always like to see their spiraled centers.

Here in this part of the state we see more mountain ash trees (Sorbus americana) in gardens than we do in nature but they are out there and they’re easiest to find when they’re in full bloom like this one was. The white blossoms, showy orange berries and small size are what have made this tree a good choice for parks and gardens since 1811. Mountain ash bark was once used in a medicine to combat malaria because it resembles the quinine tree. Whether or not it worked I don’t know. Native Americans dried and ground the berries of the tree for use in soups and stews. There is a European cousin of this tree called rowan (Sorbus aucuparia.)

Now that the common lilacs are done blooming the dwarf Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri) take over. They are fragrant but have a different scent than a common lilac. Though called Korean lilac the original plant was found in a garden near Beijing, China by Frank Meyer in 1909. It has never been seen in the wild so its origin is unknown. If you love lilacs but don’t have a lot of room this one’s for you. They are a no maintenance plant that are very easy to grow.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They light up the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. It is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed, but there are over 50 different chickweeds. The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals. This is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The flowers of greater stitchwort are also larger.

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 and 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. You can always tell where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

Little native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is one of our longest blooming wildflowers. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers. 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. Blue toadflax was introduced in Europe and has naturalized in some areas, including Russia. It is in the snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison but I’ve never tried it.

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) was imported for cultivation from Japan in 1830 and is now one of the most invasive shrubs we have. It’s a plant that’s hard to hate though, because its berries are delicious and their content of lycopene is 7 to 17 times higher than tomatoes. Also, the pale yellow flowers are extremely fragrant just when lilacs finish blooming. It is a very vigorous shrub that is hard to eradicate; birds love its berries and spread it far and wide. Its sale is prohibited in New Hampshire but that will do little good now that it grows along forest edges almost everywhere you look. Autumn olive was originally introduced for landscaping, road bank stabilization and wildlife food.

When I was just a young boy living with my father I decided that our yard needed a facelift. We had a beautiful cabbage rose hedge and a white lilac, and a Lorelai bearded iris that my mother planted before she died but I wanted more. I used to walk the Boston and Main railroad tracks to get to my grandmother’s house and I’d see these beautiful blue flowers growing along the tracks, so one day I dug one up and planted it in the yard. My father was quiet until I had planted 3 or 4 of them, and then he finally asked me why I was bringing home those “dammed old weeds.” He also walked the tracks to get to work and back, so he saw the tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants just as often as I did. Though I thought they were lost and needed to be rescued, he thought somebody threw them away and wished they’d have thrown them just a little farther. We had blue flowers in the yard for a while though, and today every time I see this plant I think of my father.

Plant breeders have been working on tradescantia; I find this purple flowered one in a local park. Interesting but I like the blue that I grew up with best. Bees, especially bumblebees, seem to like this one best though. Why, I don’t know.

We have several invasive shrubby honeysuckle species here in New Hampshire and I’ve given up trying to identify them all. They were originally introduced in the late 1800s as ornamentals but escaped gardens and can now be seen just about anywhere. Most or all are banned from being sold but birds love their bright red berries and that makes the shrubs impossible to ever eradicate.

I think this particular honeysuckle might have been Bell’s honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella,) which is a hybrid between Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) and tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica.) It has white or pink flowers that turn yellow as they age and are very fragrant.

Friends of mine grow alliums in their garden and every time I see them I wonder why I never grew them. It wasn’t just me though; nobody I gardened for grew them either. It’s another one of those plants like hellebore that people didn’t seem to want, but I like them both.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, which you can see in this photo. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned groundcover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe.

Our meadows and roadsides are just coming into bloom and 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 and it blooms later, usually in July. 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. Their colors can vary from almost white to deep magenta. This pink one was somewhere in the middle. I was happy to see some growing in my lawn when I mowed it earlier, so I’ll mow around them.

After trying to photograph speedwell flowers that are one step above microscopic I found that the germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) seemed gigantic in comparison because of its 3/16 to 1/4 inch flowers. It’s also called bird’s eye speedwell and is another plant introduced from Europe and Asia. It has the strange habit of wilting almost as soon as it is picked, so it isn’t any good for floral arrangements. Like all the speedwells I’ve seen it has one lower petal smaller than the other three. Speedwell is very common in lawns but I don’t see too much of this one.

Speedwell, as far as I know, has always been considered a weed here in New Hampshire but here were these nice little compact, mounded plants growing in the planting beds at a local park. They were very pretty little things with their blue striped flowers against the dark green leaves but I have to wonder if they’re weedy. I’ve tried to find out more about them online but didn’t have any luck at all. They look very much like the germander speedwell but the flowers aren’t as blue.

Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. I like its color and it’s nice to see it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses but it can be a real problem in gardens.

There was a time when all red clover (Trifolium pretense) plants meant to me was more hard work. I didn’t like having to weed it out of lawns and garden beds but it was so unsightly with its long, weak flower stems and sprawling, weedy habit. And then one evening a single ray of sunshine came through the clouds and fell directly on a red clover plant at the edge of a meadow, and when I knelt in front of it to take its photo for the first time I saw how beautiful it really was. I saw that it had an inner light; what I think of as the light of creation, shining brightly out at me. I’ve loved it ever since, and since that day I don’t think I’ve ever truly thought of another flower, no matter how lowly, as a weed.

The garden of the world has no limits, except in your mind. ~Rumi

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1. FleabaneIt’s time to start mowing lawns here in New Hampshire and that means that it’s also time for fleabanes to appear in many of those lawns. You can always tell the flower lovers among us by the islands of unmown fleabane plants left dotted here and there throughout lawns in every town in the region.  The example shown here, 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 and 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.

2. Mayapple

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. 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 not be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

3. Mayapple Foliage

This photo of mayapple foliage is for those who have never seen it. The hand size or larger leaves hide the flowers well so you really have to look for them.

4. Redbud

Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis) is not native to New Hampshire and I have only seen two of the trees growing in this area. Both are on private property but this one had branches overhanging a sidewalk so I was able to get close to it. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. I’m always surprised by how small the pea like purple flowers are but the tree makes up for it by producing plenty of them. They’re very pretty trees.

5. Foamflowers

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks. The leaves are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

6. Foamflower

The small, numerous flowers of foamflower have 5 petals and 10 stamens and it is said that the long stamens are what give foamflowers a frothy appearance, along with their common name. Native Americans used the leaves and roots of foamflower medicinally including as a mouthwash for mouth sores.

7. White Lilac

My mother died before I was old enough to retain any memory of her but she planted a white lilac before she died, so now the flowers and their scent have become my memory of her. Whenever I see a white lilac she is there too.

8. Lilac

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, even though it isn’t a native. They were first imported from England to the garden of then 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. I noticed last year for the first time how suede-like the individual blossoms were.

9. Lily of the Valley

Another flower that comes with plenty of memories is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) I can remember bringing my grandmother wilting bouquets of them along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw when I was just a young boy. I remember that she would always seem delighted with my gift but since I usually picked the flowers from her garden, her delight might be a false memory on my part.

10. Poet's Daffodil

Two of my great loves are history and botany, and they come together in the poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus.) It is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on; 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. Its scent is spicy and pleasing but it is said to be so powerfully fragrant that people can get sick from being in an enclosed room with it.

11. Johnny Jump Up

I wonder if Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) got their name from the way they seem to appear overnight. This plant has been known for a very long time and goes by many common names. It’s said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. I think three-faces in a hood is my favorite.  In medieval times it was called heartsease and was used in love potions. Viola tricolor is believed to be the original wild form of all the modern varieties of pansy. I’m lucky enough to have them popping up at the edge of my lawn.

12. Rue

Both Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were said to use common rue (Ruta graveolens) to improve their eyesight and their creativity. Early Romans cooked with its seeds and you wouldn’t think so because it is mildly toxic, but it is still used today as a flavoring agent, in very small amounts. Hippocrates was fond of it for its medicinal uses and Aristotle said that it calmed nervousness. Rue has an unusual bitter odor and the graveolens part of the scientific name is Latin for “having a strong or offensive smell.” The plant is evergreen and I see it growing on roadsides. Originally from Europe, it has naturalized in this area and some say that it can be invasive.

13. Starflowers

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but just to be different they can occasionally have eight petals like the flower on the left in this photo does, and some can have 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.

14. Bearberry-2

Bearberry is a native creeping shrub with clusters of very small bell shaped flowers with petals that are curved at the tips. The flowers on the example shown had pink tipped petals. When pollinated by bumblebees the flowers will become red, berry like drupes that both black and grizzly bears love to eat.  Humans can also eat the berries and they are usually eaten in the form of jams and jellies. Native Americans used the dried leaves in a smoking mixture called kinnikinnick and they also used the plant medicinally. Today over 50 pharmaceutical products in North America contain bearberry. This is the first time bearberry has appeared on this blog.

15. Nodding Trillium

Another first for this blog is the nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum.) I’m guessing that I’ve seen them before but have probably missed seeing the flowers. The way they nod beneath the leaves makes them very hard to see and I tested that by looking at plants that I knew had flowers. Even though I knew they were blossoming I couldn’t see them at all from above. Nodding trillium is the northernmost trillium in North America, reaching far into northern Canada and Newfoundland.

16. Nodding Trillium

When the buds form they are above the leaves but as they grow the flower stem (petiole) lengthens and bends, so when the flower finally opens it is facing the ground. I’ve heard that some plants do this to keep rain from washing the pollen away, but I don’t know how true that is.

17. Nodding Trillium

Nodding trillium is also called whip-poor-will flower because it blooms when the whip-poor-wills return. I’m always a little wary of flower lore but the friend who gave me the tip about where to find the nodding trilliums also has whip-poor-wills near his house, and he said that he heard their calls just as the flowers opened. Coincidently, I heard my first whip-poor-will yesterday morning. Anyhow, this isn’t a bird blog. My favorite thing about the nodding trillium blossom is its six purple stamens. This photo shows a view that you would never see of the nodding flower. To get it I had to hold my camera under the plant and “shoot blind.” Out of many clicks of the shutter only this one was useable. I think it was worth the effort; it’s a pretty little thing and I’m glad I can show it to you.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven? ~ A.J. Balfour

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1. Johnny Jump Ups

Cheery little Johnny jump ups (Viola cornuta) have done just that; it seems like one day they weren’t there and the next day they were. The unusual spring heat is causing some plants to bloom two weeks or more ahead of when they normally do and it has been hard to keep up with them.

2. Painted Trillium

I was surprised to see a painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) already past its prime. You can see how the bright white has gone out of the petals and how they have become translucent. These are sure signs of age even though it should be just starting to bloom. Each white petal has a pink V at its base and that’s how it comes by its common name. Painted trilliums grow north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia. I hope I find a better example before they go by.

3. Lady's Slipper

The only time pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have appeared in May on this blog was in 2013 because they usually bloom in June. It’s a beautiful thing and I was happy to see it but all the flowers that are blooming early will also be passing early, and I wonder what there will be to see in June. Nature will take care of things and I won’t be disappointed, of that I have no doubt. Native Americans used lady’s slipper root as a sedative for insomnia and nervous tension. I never pictured natives as being particularly nervous or tense, but I suppose they had their fair share of things to worry about.

4. Native Azalea

If you were hiking with me and saw an eight foot high native roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) in full bloom and didn’t stop and gasp in astonishment I think I’d have to check your pulse just to make sure that you were still with us, because this is something that you don’t see just any old day. It had a rough time over the winter and isn’t blossoming as much as it did last year but it’s still a sight to behold.

5. Native Azalea

There are few things more beautiful than these flowers on this side of heaven. They are also very fragrant with a sweet, clove like aroma. This old azalea grows behind an even older hemlock tree in a very swampy area, surrounded by goldthread plants and cinnamon ferns.

 6. Gold Thread

Here is one of the little goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum) that grow near the azalea. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. This plant usually grows in undisturbed soil that is on the moist side. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, and it was most likely sold under its other common name of canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

7. Gold Thread Leaves

New goldthread leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and flowers will appear.

8. Fleabane

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 and 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 mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes. If you are one of those people who mow around this native fleabane you might want to visit a nursery, because there are also many cultivated varieties of this plant.

9. Skunk Currant aka Ribes glandulosum

This is the first appearance of skunk currant (Ribes glandulosum) on this blog. I know a place where hundreds of these plants grow but I’ve never seen one blooming so I was never sure what they were. I’ve read that the plant gets its common name from the odor given off by its ripe dark red berries, which doesn’t sound too appealing but they are said to be very tasty. If you can get past the smell, I assume. This is a very hairy plant; even its fruit has hairs. The Native Ojibwa people used the root of skunk currant to ease back pain but it is not a favorite of foresters or timber harvesters because it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

Another name for Jack in the pulpit is Indian turnip (Arisaema triphyllum) because Native Americans knew how to cook the poisonous root to remove the toxic calcium oxalate crystals. They called the plant  “tcika-tape” which translates as “bad sick,” but they knew how to use it and not get sick. They also used the root medicinally for a variety of ailments, including as a treatment for sore eyes. This plant is also called bog onion because the root looks like a small onion and it grows in low, damp places. It is in the arum family and is similar to the “lords and ladies” plant found in the U.K.

11. Jack in the Pulpit

I always lift the hood to see the beautiful stripes and to see if Jack is being pollinated. Jack is the black, club shaped spadix surrounded by the showy spathe, which is the pulpit. The plant has a fungal odor that attracts gnats and other insects and if they do their job Jack will become a bunch of bright red berries that white tail deer love to come by and snack on.

12. Lilac

I love lilacs so they always have a place included here. Many people here in New Hampshire think that lilacs are native to the state but they aren’t. They (Syringa vulgaris) were first imported from England to the garden of then 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.

13. Lilac

Until I saw this photo I never realized how suede-like lilac flowers look. I was too busy sucking the sweet nectar out of them as a boy to notice, I guess.

14. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley always reminds me of my grandmother because I can remember bringing her fistfuls of them along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw. She would always be delighted with my rapidly wilting bouquet and would immediately put it in a jelly jar of water. These plants are extremely toxic but I never once thought of eating or putting any part of one in my mouth, so I hope all of the mothers and grandmothers out there will give the little ones a chance to see your face light up as they thrust out a chubby fist full of wilted lily of the valley blossoms. I can tell you that, though it might seem such a small thing, it stays with you throughout life. It also teaches a child a good lesson about the great joy to be found in giving.

15. Trillium

It’s time to say goodbye to purple trilliums (Trillium erectum,) which are another of our spring ephemerals that seem almost like falling stars, so brief is their time with us. You can tell that this trillium is on its way out by the way its petals darken from red to dark purple, unlike the painted trillium we saw earlier with petals that lighten as they age.

16. Gaywings

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.” 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. That pollination happens at all seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

17. Gaywings

I tried to get a “bee’s eye view” of one of the flowers, which also go by the name of gaywings. What beautiful things they are; I could sit and admire them all day.

I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — an endless prospect of magic and wonder. ~Ansel Adams

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1. Lilac Bush

Most states have a native as their state flower but in New Hampshire non-native purple lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are the chosen state flower. They were first imported from England to the garden of then 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 (Cypripedium acaule) was finally chosen as the state’s wild flower in 1991.

2. Lilac Blossom

Honeysuckles and autumn olives blossom at the same time as lilacs here in this part of New Hampshire, so the air is filled with their mingled fragrances right now. I remembered how as a child I would pick single lilac blossoms and suck the sweet nectar from them, so I tried to get a photo of a single flower.

3. Blue Bead Lily Colony

If you saw the leaves before the flowers appeared you might think that you had found lady’s slippers, but a closer look shows that the leaves of blue bead lily (Clintonia borealis) are really very different. I stumbled onto this large colony of plants last year by accident when I was out scouting for new plants. It’s a very healthy, thriving colony and, since it takes more than 12 years for new plants to produce flowers, is one that has been in this spot for a while.

4. Blue Bead Lily

A close look at the flower shows why blue bead lily is in the lily family. Each one looks like a miniature garden lily. The flowers give way to a single, electric blue berry, which is toxic. One Native American legend says that, when a grass snake eats a poisonous toad, it slithers in rapid circles around a shoot of blue-bead lily to transfer the poison to the plant. Blue bead lily seeds take 2 years or more to germinate, so growing this plant from seed would be a very slow process.

5. Four Flowered Star Flower

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) bloom among the blue bead lilies and that’s where I saw my first four flowered one of this season. Now I’ll try to find one with five, if there is such a thing. Since books say that a plant will have no more than two blossoms I have nothing but faith to go on.

6. Pink Lady's Slippers

Our native state wildflower pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have just turned pink from their off whitish / yellowish stage. I’m lucky enough to have a few plants growing in my woods so I don’t have to go too far to study or admire these beautiful orchids. Note that the leaves look very different than the smooth blue bead lily leaves seen earlier.

7. Perennial Bachelor's Button

I don’t think I could imagine more beautiful colors and shapes in a flower than those found on the perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a local park.

8. Blue Eyed Grass

Native blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) with its small blue flowers is an old favorite of mine. Although it is a perennial each plant doesn’t live much more than a couple of years, but if it likes the spot it’s in it will re-seed itself year after year. In spite of its common name it is in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all. Its flowers close at night and at even the hint of a cloudy day, so getting a photo of an open one was a challenge this year.

9. Robin's Plantain aka Erigeron pulchellus

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 and 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 mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes.

10. Dogwood Blossom

Dogwood bracts have gone from green to white, but the tiny florets at their center haven’t opened yet.

12. White Baneberry Plants

Last fall I found quite a large stand of white baneberry in a forest near a local park and luckily I remembered to revisit it this year when the plants were blooming. The small white flowers form racemes, which in this case seem to be too heavy for the 2-3 foot stems to hold upright.

11. White Baneberry Blossoms

Each white baneberry flower will become a white berry with a black stigma scar on one end. In size, color, and shape these berries look like porcelain doll’s eyes, and that’s how this plant got its common name of doll’s eyes. The entire plant is very toxic but the berries are the most toxic part. Eating them can cause cardiac arrest and death, but fortunately their extremely bitter taste keeps all but birds from eating them.

 13. Kerria Blossom

Kerria japonica is blooming in my yard. This six foot shrub is called Japanese rose because it is in the rose family. In its natural form the plant has single, fragrant, 5 petal flowers like that in the photo. There is also a cultivar called Pleniflora with double flowers and one called Albaflora, which is pale yellow. This is a good shrub for people who want a low maintenance garden because it needs very little care. It thrives in shade and if it gets a little scraggly it can be cut right back to the ground, and it has no real insect or disease problems. You can’t ask for more than that from any shrub.

14. Native Azalea

Coming upon an eight foot tall azalea covered with blossoms is enough to take one’s breath away, so beautiful and rare is the sight. I found this native shrub in the forest last year but I was too late to see all but one wilting blossom. I made a point of visiting it early this year so I could watch it and, after visiting it probably a half dozen times, I finally saw its first blossom open just as its leaves began to appear. Now it has too many to count and is just too beautiful for words.

 15. Native Azalea Blossoms

All the signs plus the intense fragrance lead me to believe that this is the roseshell or early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum), but azaleas can be hard to identify.  Whichever one it is, its most outstanding feature is its pleasant fragrance. Books describe it as “clove like” but it seems a little sweeter than that to me. It’s hard to describe a fragrance but it’s not hard to imagine that this must be what heaven smells like.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man. ~Luther Burbank

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