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Posts Tagged ‘Rosebay Willowherb’

Because I have trouble seeing red I doubted I’d ever be able to show cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) on this blog but finally, after years of searching for them, here they are. Judy from the New England Garden and Thread blog wrote and told me she had seen them along a stream up in Stoddard and her excellent directions led me right to them. The color red when it is against the color green becomes invisible to me, but these bright red flowers were against gray stones and blue water and for the first time in my life I saw cardinal flowers. Though I couldn’t get close they were even more beautiful than in photos.

Here’s a closer look. Unfortunately because of all the rain the stream had come up on the stems and the plants swayed back and forth wildly, which made getting a photo almost impossible. Out of probably close to 50 attempts I got exactly one useable photo and this one is cropped out of that single shot we saw previously. But the beauty of it all is now I know what the plants look like, where they grow and when they blossom, so I’ll be able to go back and see them next year. Thank you Judy, it was worth the drive!

I can’t think of a single time that I have found northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing away from water. It’s an odd little plant that might get knee high on a good day, and often leans toward the water that it grows near. Its tiny flowers grow in round tufts at each leaf axil and remind me of motherwort, which has the same habit. It is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. It is also closely related to American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and the two plants are easily confused. Paying close attention to leaf shape helps tell them apart. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food.

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. The tiny things are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed. I think this is the earliest I’ve ever seen it flower.

Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) have just started to bloom. I love their bright color and always look forward to seeing them as soon as August arrives.

Eastern forked blue curls have beautiful flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day and the entire plant barely reaches ankle high, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can just see the white pollen granules on the ends of the arched stamens in this photo.

The insect is guided by the spotted lower lip of the flower. This plant is an annual that grows new from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and sometimes roadsides, and sometimes in my own yard.

This very beautiful rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) grows just off the side of an old dirt road at the edge of a swamp. At least I think it is rosebay willowherb; there seems to be some confusion among sources about the regions it grows in. According to the USDA it doesn’t grow in New England, but the University of Maine lists it in its database. Another name for the plant is fireweed and Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it in 1857, so I’m wondering if the USDA map is incorrect. If you live in New Hampshire and have seen this plant I’d love to hear from you.

Narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis) grow alongside the same road that the rosebay willowherbs were on. Gentians of any kind are extremely rare in these parts and I’m always as excited to see them as I would be to see a field full of orchids.

Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often, because our soil is generally acidic. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I hope this small colony will spread. Luckily readers have told me that there are also other hidden colonies of it in Nelson as well.

It isn’t uncommon to see a carpet of knee high, white blooms in the woods at this time of year. White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is known for its drought tolerance and will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant. The small, one inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

A roadside stream was filled with fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) and I had to stop and see.

It’s hard not to just sit and stare at something so beautiful, lost in the fire that burns at its center.

I first met the beautiful little marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) when I was in a kayak and I remember what a time I had getting a photo of them then. Luckily though, I found them growing in the wet soil at the edge of a pond so getting their photo is easier these days. Sort of, anyway; this plant closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine the following afternoon, so you’ll never find them blooming on a cloudy day or in the morning.

This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow. The plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline. The flowers are small, about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This beautiful little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

Like the cardinal flower seen earlier the club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata) has never been seen on this blog, because I’ve never seen one until very recently. I jumped a roadside ditch, looked down and discovered that I was almost stepping on a group of 5-7 plants. They’re small plants, no taller than 6 inches, and the flowers are also very small. Each plant has a single leaf at the base of the stem and another about half way up.

The flowers of this orchid seem to go every which way, spiraling up the stem as they do, so getting a photo of just one is impossible. I couldn’t even seem to get a shot looking into one. My orchid books say this orchid is “occasional“, meaning it isn’t rare but it isn’t common either. It self-pollinates so it doesn’t have to rely on insects. Orchids are notorious for disappearing from one year to the next but I hope to see these again.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. Once the blossoms reach the very top of the flower spike the plant is done. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

Mullein is a biennial and flowers and dies in its second year of growth. It is considered a weed but if all of its flowers opened at once along its tall flower stalk I think that it would be a prized garden specimen.

The Shasta daisy was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank over 100 years ago and was named for the white snow of Mount Shasta. These plants are a hybrid cross of the common roadside ox-eye daisy and an English field daisy called Leucanthemum maximum. They are one of the easiest perennials to grow and, other than an occasional weeding, need virtually no care. Dwarf varieties are less apt to have their stems bent over by heavy rains. I haven’t seen many of them this year, and this one was quite late.

I’m still seeing scenes like this one here and there along roadsides and I always try to stop and get a photo when I do. That leads to a few curious stares from people but I hope they also notice the flowers when they stare. Next time maybe it will be they who will stop and take photos.

Many people have never learned to see the beauty of flowers, especially those that grow unnoticed. ~Erika Just

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1. Whorled Wood Aster

August is when our many asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster. It’s one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time and because the narrow white ray florets look like they were glued on by chubby fingered toddlers. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths.

2. Whorled Wood Aster Foliage

Whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata) gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaves of this aster really don’t fit the definition. Looking at the from the side the tiers of whorled leaves of would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down its length. Indian cucumbers have tiers of whorled leaves as do some loosestrifes. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot tall.

3. Forked Blue Curls

One of the most beautiful late summer wildflowers that I know of is called eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum), but blue is my favorite color so my opinion is slightly biased. Each tiny flower has four long arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. It is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year. It likes dry sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and in waste areas. It grows to about ankle high and its flowers might reach a half an inch long on a good day.

4. Virgin's Bower

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a late summer blooming native clematis vine that drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth when eaten. It is also called old man’s beard and devils’ darning needles.

6. Thistle

Spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is also called bull thistle and is native to Europe. It is considered an invasive weed but it’s far less invasive than creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) because it spreads itself by seeds and not root fragments like that plant does. It is thought to have been introduced to eastern North America during colonial times and to western North America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s now found in all of the lower 28 states and most of Canada. Spear thistle likes to grow on disturbed ground and I find it in vacant lots and at the edges of cornfields. Many different bees and butterflies love its nectar and several species of small seed eating birds like finches love its seeds.

7. Spotted Jewelweed

The flowers of spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) have 3 sepals and 5 petals but are far too complicated to explain here. That information is easily found online anyway but what often isn’t included in the jewelweed flower’s description is the cluster of stamens with white anthers that sits just under the ovary near the upper lip. When a long tongued inset crawls into the flower to get at the nectar deep in the nectar spur its back gets dusted with pollen from these anthers. Sometimes the pollen can also end up on a humming bird’s head; they love the nectar too.

An interesting fact about jewelweed flowers is their ability to change from male to female. According to an article in the International Journal of Plant Sciences, when nectar is taken from a flower pollen collecting hairs are stimulated and the duration of the male phase of the flower is shortened. From then on it enters its female phase and waits for a visitor to dust it with pollen from another male flower. It’s no wonder these plants can produce so many seeds!

8. Gray Goldenrod

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a gale force wind and were all blown over to one side of the stem.

After years of trial and error Thomas Edison found goldenrod to be the best domestic source of natural rubber and bred a plant that grew to twelve feet tall and contained about twelve percent rubber in its leaves. Henry Ford and George Washington Carver developed a process to make rubber from goldenrod on an industrial scale during World War II and the USDA took over the project until synthetic rubber was discovered a short time later.

9. Northern Bugleweed

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. The leaves are sessile, meaning they sit directly on the stem with no leaf stem (petiole,) or they can occasionally have a short petiole. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify.

10. Northern Bugleweed

The tiny flowers of northern bugleweed are about 1/8 inch long and tubular with 4 lobes, a light green calyx with 5 teeth, 2 purple tipped stamens, and a pistil. They are also very difficult to photograph because they’re so small. The plant is usually about knee high when I find it along the edges of ponds and streams. They often fall over and grow at an angle if there aren’t any other plants nearby to support them.

11. Dodder

Dodder (Cuscuta) is an annual and grows new from seed in the spring. It is a leafless vining plant that wraps and tangles itself around the stems of other plants. It is a parasite that pushes root like growths called haustoria into the stem of the host plant. Dodder can do a lot of damage to food crops and some of its other common names reflect how people have felt about it over the years:  devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, hail weed, hair weed, hell bine, pull-down, strangle weed, and witch’s hair.

12. Dodder

In this photo that I took a couple of years ago if you look just to the upper left of the white flower in the photo you can see how the orange dodder stem has burrowed into a goldenrod stem. Once it is feeding on its host it loses all connection to the soil and from then on will survive by sucking the life out of the host plant. Dodder has no chlorophyll and its stems can be bright orange, yellow, or red. The round growths are seed pods.

13. Fireweed

If you search for rosebay willow herb (Chamerion angustifolium) on the USDA Plants Database you find that the plant doesn’t grow in New Hampshire, but if you search for fireweed you find that it does grow here. That’s odd because they’re the same plant, and I thought that this was a good illustration of why it’s so important to use a plant’s scientific name, especially when buying plants. Otherwise you never really know what you’ll be getting. The name willowherb comes from the way its leaves resemble those of the willow and the name fireweed comes from how it quickly colonizes burned areas of forest.

14. Fireweed

I know of only one place along a stream in Nelson New Hampshire where fireweed grows but it isn’t included in the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory list of rare plants, so I’m guessing that it isn’t rare statewide even though it is here. Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it growing in burned areas in 1857. It’s a beautiful color and its dangling stamens and large white pistil make it very easy to identify. This plant is a favorite of bee keepers and is an important nectar producer for the honey industry throughout Canada and Alaska. The honey is much sought after and commands premium prices.

15. Ground Nut

The bright sunshine turned the usually brownish maroon color of the insides of these groundnut (Apias americana) flowers salmon pink. These unusual flowers always remind me of the helmets once worn by Spanish explorers and in fact Spanish explorers might have seen the plant, because it was a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years.

16. Ground Nut

The groundnut plant grows as a twining vine and will climb just about anything. In this photo it is climbing a small oak tree. It grows from tuberous, potato like roots that can be as big as a tangerine but are usually smaller. Native Americans used them in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the roots became such an important food source for them that they went so far as to forbid Natives from digging them on colonial lands.  How’s that for a thank you?

17. Narrow Leaved Gentian

I can count the times I’ve seen gentians on one hand and still have fingers left uncounted. I’ll never forget finding these plants growing beside the same dirt road that I found the fireweed on up in Nelson last year. I jammed on my brakes and jumped out of my truck and fell to my knees beside them. If anyone had seen me they would have been sure that I had escaped from an asylum, but I didn’t care. That’s how rare these plants are. I drove for 45 minutes to see them again this year.

18. Narrow Leaved Gentian

At first I thought they were bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but further research told me that they were narrow leaf gentians (Gentiana linearis.) These plants like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I’m very grateful to have seen it. Now if only I could find a fringed gentian or two.

I should like to enjoy this summer flower by flower, as if it were to be the last one for me.~ Andre Gide

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1. Forked Blue Curls

One of my favorite wildflowers is the tiny eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) and it has just started blooming. The plant barely reaches 6 inches tall and the flowers might make a half inch across on a good day, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. This plant is an annual that grows from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks.

 2. Rosebay Willowherb

Nature must have been in a secret revealing mood as I drove down an old dirt road recently. This very beautiful rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) grew just off the side of the road at the edge of a swamp. At least, I think it is rosebay willowherb; I’ve never seen it before and there seems to be some confusion among sources about the regions it grows in. According to the USDA it doesn’t grow in New England, but the University of Maine lists it in its database. Another name for the plant is fireweed and Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it in 1857, so I’m wondering if the USDA map is be incorrect. If you live in New Hampshire and have seen this plant I’d love to hear from you.

 3. Bull Thistle

Just look at those thorns. They felt the need to remind me how sharp they were when I was trying to take this photo. Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. I wonder if it was imported intentionally or accidentally.

 4. Broad Leaved Helleborine aka Epipactis helleborine

Another European import is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) Imported as an ornamental in the 1800s, it escaped cultivation and found a new home. It could hardly be called invasive in this area though; I know of only two places where it grows and in one of those places there is just a single plant. It grows to about knee high in deep shade, making it a challenge to photograph.

5. Broad Leaved Helleborine aka Epipactis helleborine

The pencil eraser size flowers of broad leaved helleborine resemble our pink ladies slipper in shape but are mostly green with hints of purple. Some plants have flowers that are much more purple than others. Its leaves closely resemble those of false hellebore (Veratrum viride) but are much smaller.

 6. Burdock Flower

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is a good example of a biennial plant. In the first year of life it grows leaves and in the second year it flowers, sets seeds, and dies. This is what biennials do, so we know that its tubular flowers with purple stamens and white styles signal that it is close to finishing its journey. There is no reason to grieve though, because the germination rate of its seeds is high and there will surely be burdocks for many years to come.

Burdock is said to have been introduced from Europe because it was noted in 1672 by self-styled naturalist John Josselyn, who wrote that it had “sprung up since the English Planted and kept Cattle in New-England.” He said the same thing about the dandelion, but fossil evidence proved him wrong. Native American tribes across the country had many uses for burdock, both as a medicine and food, so some form of the plant had to have been here long before European settlers arrived.

7. Flowering Raspberry

Many plants have had an extended bloom period this year and purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is no exception. I’m still seeing its flowers here and there, even though the plant usually stops blooming a month after it starts in mid-June. I’ve always liked its two inch, rose like blossoms. If you’re looking for a shade tolerant flowering shrub this one is a good choice.

8. Flowering Raspberry Fruit

Purple flowering raspberry is closely related to thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) and gets its common name from its large, raspberry like fruit. I’ve never eaten one but some say that they’re close to tasteless and others say they taste like dried raspberries. The plant is unreliable as a source of berries though; I’ve seen many clusters with no fruit at all and others that had 5 or 6 flowers bearing only a single berry.

 9. Purple Loosestrife

Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace line the shores of a sea of purple loosestrife. This is a good example of how invasive purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and creates a monoculture. Not that long ago this area was full of native wildflowers but soon purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is all that will be seen here.

10. Purple Coneflower

Though eastern purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a native wildflower I don’t often find it growing outside of gardens. Native American plains tribes used this plant to treat toothaches, coughs, colds, sore throats, and snake bite. Something interesting that I read recently said that Native Americans got the idea that coneflower could be used medicinally by watching sick and injured elk eat the plants. I’ve always wondered how natives came to know if a plant was poisonous or not and thought that they must have simply used trial and error. Pity the one who had to try an unknown plant for the first time.

11. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod

I usually stay away from goldenrod identification because there are so many of them that even botanists get confused, but slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is easy because of its long, slender leaves and its fragrance. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf.  Still, I always smell them just to be sure.

12. Rabbit's Foot Clover

Invasive rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) is short enough to be forced to grow right at the edge of the road if it wants to get any sunshine, so the roads look like they have been festooned with fuzzy pink ribbons for a while each summer. It’s an annual that grows new from seed each year and the seedlings must be tough, because they don’t seem to mind being occasionally run over, or the poor dry soil found along the road side. In fact they seem to thrive in it. I see more plants each year.

13. Virgin's Bower

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) has draped itself over the shrubs alongside our roads and its small white flowers are another reminder that fall is near. Another name for this vine is traveler’s joy, which it is. Native American used it medicinally but it is toxic and can cause severe mouth pain if any parts of it are eaten.

 14. Bottle Gentians

Twenty five years ago or so I was hiking along an old forgotten dirt road through a Massachusetts forest and came upon a single fringed gentian plant (Gentianopsis crinita.) That was the only gentian I had ever seen in my lifetime until just the other day, when I saw these bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) growing alongside the same road that the rosebay willowherbs were on. It’s a good thing there was no traffic because I jammed on my brakes and jumped out to admire them. They are extremely rare in these parts and I was as excited to see them as I would have been to have seen a field full of orchids.

NOTE: I’ve just discovered that these are narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis.) I’m sorry about the confusion.

 

15. Bottle Gentian

Bottle gentians are often called closed bottle gentians because the flowers stay closed just as they are in the photo, even when they are ready to be pollinated. Few insects are strong enough to pry the flower parts open to get at the nectar and pollen, but bumblebees are usually successful. Their selective method of pollination and the fact that most of their seedlings die off before flowering might account for this plant’s rarity. Since its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores, it is said that bottle gentians have very little ecological value. It’s almost as if they’re here simply to be admired by humans.

He who is born with a silver spoon in his mouth is generally considered a fortunate person, but his good fortune is small compared to that of the happy mortal who enters this world with a passion for flowers in his soul.  ~Celia Thaxter

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