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Posts Tagged ‘Rough Cocklebur’

In my last flower post I ended with a stand of wildflowers that I drive by each morning on my way to work. I didn’t think that photo showed all of the beauty there was to see there so I went back and took more photos. This is one of them.

And this is a wider view. How lucky I am to see this each morning. I think about how, if they stopped mowing the roadsides, they might all look like this. I don’t know why they can’t wait until the flowers are finished blooming to mow certain areas. Some states actually spend a lot of time and money trying to get their roadsides looking like what happens here naturally.

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have bloomed quietly all summer; so unobtrusive but always able to coax a smile and warm a heart. Long used medicinally in Europe, here it is a welcomed alien. It is plant that 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. 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. I always make sure I miss them with the lawn mower.

Finding one or two forsythia blossoms in fall isn’t that unusual but if I saw a bush full of them I’d be concerned. This shrub had exactly one over anxious blossom on it, so it should still bloom in spring like it usually does. Forsythia was first discovered by a European growing in a Japanese garden in 1784 by the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg.

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is still blooming, I was happy to see. Orange is a hard color to find among wildflowers in this part of the world.  Other than orange daylilies which really aren’t wildflowers, and orange jewelweed, I can’t think of another orange wildflower.

This New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) had a lot of red in its purple and leaned toward a rose color. My color finding software sees violet, plum, and orchid.

Though it is nearing the end of September I wasn’t surprised to see silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) blossoming. Sometimes the shrub can have ripe fruit on it and still grow a flower cluster or two in a fall re-bloom. These bushes are big; many are 10 feet across. Silky dogwood is named for the soft, downy hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans used dogwood branches to make fish traps and twisted the bark into rope.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. I thought I’d show a blossom on a penny so you could see just how small they are. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods. The plant gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

A plant I’ve never noticed before is this nightshade, which I think is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country, so I’d say this example might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

But is this plant Solanum nigrum? It doesn’t look hairy enough to me but it does have pea size green berries that I’ve read should turn black. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

The swept back petals and bright yellow centers remind me of another nightshade I regularly see called bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara.) Its flowers are blue and yellow rather than white and yellow but they look much the same otherwise. If this plant reminds you of a potato plant, that’s because they’re in the same family.

According to an article on National Public Radio scientists have found that once sunflowers mature they stop following the sun and face east. When young they greet the sunrise in the east and then as the day progresses they follow it to the west until it sets. During the night time they slowly turn back to the east to again to wait for the next sunrise. They do this through a process called heliotropism, which scientists say can be explained by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour internal clock that humans also have. The plant actually turns itself by having different sides of its stem elongate at different times. Growth rates on the east side of the stem are high during the day and low at night. On the west side of the stem the growth rate is high at night and low during the day, and the differing growth rates turn the plant.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) bloomed in a field that has been mowed all summer long.  This plant stood about three inches tall but it was still blooming as if it hadn’t been touched. I love its cheery, bright blue color. Our average first frost happens in mid-September, so this might be the last photo of it this year.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba,) is a plant in the aster family that blooms as late as asters do. It is said that the common name comes from the way that some Native American tribes used the plant to treat snakebite. William Byrd of Virginia wrote in 1728 that “the rattlesnake has an utter antipathy to this plant, in-so-much that if you smear your hand with the juice of it, you may handle the viper safely.” I hope nobody actually tried that. This plant is not toxic, at least not enough to kill; the Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of it in a tea that they used to relieve pain.

This cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows on the banks of the Ashuelot River and I’ve never seen them anywhere else. The small oval burs aren’t quite as sticky as burdock burs but they will catch on clothing. Cocklebur leaves require long nights to trigger production of the chemicals needed to produce flowers, so they are considered “short day” plants. Their leaves are so sensitive that any light shining on them at night can keep the plant from flowering.

Cockleburs grow male flowers along its upper half, and female flowers grow in the lower half but I’m never early enough to catch them. All I ever see are the burs.

I can’t explain these white squiggly things appearing from the cocklebur fruit. The plant is here in a flower post because I thought they might be flowers but good information on this plant is very hard to find, so I’m not sure what they are. The seeds in cocklebur pods were eaten raw or cooked by Native Americans and among certain tribes in the Southwest the seeds were ground with squash and corn and applied externally to heal puncture wounds.

Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful dark blue veins.

I liked this zinnia I found in a friend’s garden recently. These flowers are usually butterfly magnets but I didn’t see any this day.

This roadside view of asters is quite different from the first two photos in this post. It’s more pastel and subdued and has a different kind of beauty than those views I started out with, but I like them all.

The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of nature, was the first spiritual experience. ~Henryk Skolimowski

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This post is another of those that contain those interesting things I see that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

Forked blue curl (Trichostema dichotomum) seed pods show four round, dimpled seeds. These are so small that it’s hard to see them without magnification. This plant in the mint family is an annual and depends on its seeds growing into new plants the following season. The beautiful blue flowers appear quite late in the season. 

It had to have been the light, but these Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) looked just as blue in the woods as they do in this photo. I can’t find any reference to blue Indian pipes, either in books or online. Even my color finder software sees blue. I wonder if anyone else has ever seen this. We don’t pay much attention to this plant once the flowers go by, but Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) has quite showy fruit. The plant’s common name comes from the flavor of its small root. The spiky seed pod on this jimsonweed plant (Datura stramonium) might be trying to tell us that its seeds can be very dangerous if eaten. It’s no wonder the plant is also called thorn apple.

I love the colors found on a sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis.) If you walk around to the backside of this tree where it never gets any sun, it looks totally different-nowhere near as colorful. Whenever I start to think that I understand nature I run into something like this tree, which reminds me that I really know very little. Is this tree’s bark a light color so it reflects, rather than absorbs heat from the sun? That’s just one of the questions I have about sycamores.

I’m glad I didn’t accidentally grab the branch this tussock moth caterpillar (Lymantriidae) was on. Many caterpillars in this family have hairs called urticating hairs that are very similar to those found on stinging nettles. It is said that their sting can be quite painful and last for several days. These caterpillars are supposed to be voracious eaters and can cause quite a lot of damage to crops. 

This turtle was really craning his neck to see what I was up to, so I took a couple of shots and left him alone. Turtles spend winter buried in the mud of the pond they live in. They also sleep there, and can breathe as well as absorb oxygen through their skin. I think it might be a painted turtle.

This great Blue Heron had his back to me and didn’t seem to care what I was doing. He flew off shortly after I took this photo though. I’ve seen this bird here many times and he always seems to be waiting for the sun to come up because when it does he flies off.

This great black Cormorant fishes at a local pond and another one-or maybe it’s the same one-fishes in a river near here. The sun was dropping fast and I had to almost shoot into it, so I really didn’t think I’d get a picture of this bird. It’s not the sharpest picture I’ve ever taken, but it is the only one of a great cormorant that I have. The feathers on this bird’s belly and leading wing edge look more like scales than feathers, and it has big webbed feet so it can really move quickly when chasing fish under water. They can also hold their breath for quite a while under water.

The partridge berries (Mitchella repens) are ripe. This one shows the two dimples left by the twin flowers whose ovaries fuse to form one berry. This small trailing vine can form colonies that are several feet across under the right conditions.

This mushroom had released its spores, making it look as if someone had spray painted the pine needles. Mushroom spores should never be inhaled. There are documented instances of spores actually growing in human lungs. 

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is also called arrow wood. Its beautiful white flowers turn into blue-black berries, which aren’t often seen. This plant’s fall foliage is some of the most colorful in the forest and I always look for it. The shrub is called arrow wood because its branches grow very straight and some believe that Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. 

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) really lights up dark spaces in the fall.

If you have ever tried to get one of these spiky seed pods out of your dog’s fur you have a good idea of one reason rough cockleburr (Xanthium strumarium) is considered a noxious weed. The hooked spines on the seed pods get caught on just about anything and are why this plant has spread far and wide. I found this one growing on a riverbank, but they will grow just about anywhere.

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper ~Eden Phillpotts

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