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Posts Tagged ‘Scarlet Bee Balm’

Though I’ve seen nursery signs that read bee bomb, the correct name for this plant is bee balm (Monarda didyma,) probably because whoever named it thought it pacified bees. But it isn’t just bees that love it; hummingbirds will come from all over to visit its flowers. Bee Balm is also called horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot. The Native American Oswego tribe (Iroquois) showed early colonists how to make tea from bee balm leaves, so it has been called Oswego tea ever since. Its leaves are also used as an ingredient in other teas as well, and they can still be found in many stores. Many Native American tribes also used this plant medicinally. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew.  

I was very surprised to see a native blue flag (Iris versicolor) blooming in July, but there it was. This iris usually blooms in April and May but plants seem to be doing odd things this year. These plants love water and near water is where I always find them. There is also a southern blue flag (Iris virginica.)

Another very odd thing I’ve noticed this year is how Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have been blooming continuously since March.

And I’m not just seeing a single plant with blossoms. I’m seeing many plants and hundreds of blossoms. This spring bloomer usually disappears in the heat of summer and re-appears in the fall but this year it is blooming right through one of the hottest, driest summers we’ve had in years. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant and the flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. The word pansy comes from the French pensée, which means thought or reflection.

I’ve seen a lot of white campion flowers but something told me to look closely at this one and when I did I saw something curious; it looked like a double blossom, with one flower growing over another. The petals on a white campion are split so what might look like 2 petals are actually one, but I took that into account and still counted 7 petals in all. If you look up white campion you find that it is supposed to have 5 petals, so that shows that flowers don’t read the flower identification guides. By the way, you can see that this is a female flower by the way its 5 elongated styles curl out over the central collar.

A side view shows how the petals were arranged over or on top of each other. Maybe this happens all the time, but I’ve never seen it. In the end I have to suppose that flowers can have as many petals as they want but to grow more petals they have to sacrifice something else, and that is often their reproductive parts like stamens.

I once thought that this plant was the only example of panicled trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) I had ever seen but then I found that I had misidentified them. Though the long thin shape of its flower head is correct the flowers are not.

After quite a lot of searching I’m not finding this one in my guide books or online under trefoil or Desmodium so now I’m wondering if it even is a trefoil. It’s definitely in the pea / bean family but that’s as far as I can go. It’s quite pretty and grows along a roadside in full sun. Each plant is probably about 3 feet tall but they lean on surrounding plants and each other so they’re all in a jumble. If you happen to know its name I’d love for you to let me know.

Native Rhododendron maxima (Rhododendron maxima) have reached the northernmost point of their growth here and there are very few of them in the area except for a pocket in Fitzwilliam New Hampshire, in a place called Rhododendron State Park. So rare is a place like it, it was designated a national Landmark in 1982.

This native rhododendron isn’t like others; its beautiful white to pink blooms appear in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since the first settlers came here. 

The big plants tower overhead in places and in a good year the white blossoms are everywhere you look. Anyone who loves rhododendrons or serious collectors of the shrubs should definitely see this.

Common quick weed (Galinsoga quadriradiata) comes from Mexico originally and how it happens to be in New Hampshire is a mystery. It is also called hairy galinsoga and is considered a weed even in its native range. It is said to be able to reduce crop yields by as much as half if left unchecked. The small flowers are about 3/8 of an inch wide and have five white ray florets widely spaced around the tiny yellow center disk florets. Another common name for the plant is shaggy soldier because of the very hairy stems. I almost always find it near vegetable gardens.

Purple loosestrife is an invasive plant that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures but though it is much hated you can’t deny its beauty. A field of loosestrife and goldenrod is a truly beautiful scene.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a tiny flowered native plant that likes to grow at the water’s edge in sandy soil. Dwarf St. John’s Wort’s foliage usually looks untouched by insects or animals because it is slightly toxic. Each flower has 5 petals and 5 light green sepals and is about the size of a pencil eraser. Though very small the flowers of Canada St. John’s Wort (Hypericum canadense) are even smaller; about half the size of these.

I find pretty gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) growing in a local garden. The plant is a fast spreading perennial in the primrose family. It originally comes from China and Japan where it grows in moist mountain meadows, near streams and along roadways. It is considered very invasive and Its extensive root system is what makes it so invasive. It can form colonies that choke out other plants but the good news is that it spreads by its roots rather than by seed, so it gets no help from birds.

Tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) can reach 10 feet tall, towering above other plants in the area. This makes it easy to see but sometimes it’s not so easy to get a good photo of. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even the leaves on the same plant looking different from each other. Though it can reach 10 feet tall its flowers are very small; no more than a 1/4 inch across, and appear in loose clusters at the top of wiry stalks. Native Americans used the plant for pain relief, as a stimulant, and for calming the nerves. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium, which has narcotic and sedative properties. It is still used in medicines today but should be used with caution because overdoses can cause death.

If you find this plant growing near water it’s best to maybe take a photo and pass it by because it is one of the deadliest plants known. In 1992 two brothers went searching the woods of Maine for American ginseng. After finding what they thought was ginseng, they ate part of the root. The younger brother became violently ill within 30 minutes and died in an emergency room less than 3 hours later. The older brother suffered through seizures and delirium, but lived. The brothers were 23 and 39 years old; old enough to know better than to eat unidentified plant roots. The root they had eaten was that of the water hemlock (Cicuta maculata.)

Water hemlock is in the Carrot family (Apiaceae) like Queen Anne’s lace and the root, which reportedly “smells delicious,” like a parsnip, can be mistaken for a wild carrot or parsnip. The lower stems are hollow and the white flower clusters, called umbels, are made up of small 1/8″ flowers with 5 petals and 5 stamens. The plant grows in moist places; usually near streams and ponds, and blooms in July and August. Water hemlock is closely related to poison hemlock (Conium maculatum,)  which is generally believed to be the poison that Socrates drank. Water hemlock is every bit as deadly and is listed by the USDA as the most violently toxic plant in North America. It grows in all but 2 states and is quite common.

The stem of the plant is smooth and hollow and often purple striped or spotted. It shouldn’t be broken because it contains toxic sap that can be absorbed through the skin. We should always remember to  teach children to never put any part of any plant in their mouth unless an adult is present. In this case even using the hollow stem as a pea shooter could be fatal.

When he went into the desert the singer of the song Horse With No Name by the band America says the first thing he met was a fly with a buzz. The question of where the fly got its buzz isn’t answered, but one of my theories is that it had visited a broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.)

The reason I think that is because the nectar of a broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for the buzz it got from its nectar. Look at that little pencil eraser size cup full of what looks like caviar. What insect wouldn’t want to at least try a little taste?

Suddenly I realized
That if I stepped out of my body
I would break Into blossom.
~James Wright 

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1-snowy-road

This is the road I drove down early one morning after a 5 inch snowfall the night before. The pre-dawn light was really too dim to take photos, but I didn’t let that stop me. It was too pretty, I thought, to pass by without recording it. As Scottish author William Sharp noted: “It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.”

2-winter-brook

A small brook wound its way through the woods. I loved its polished black surface against the snow.

3-beech-leaves

Beech leaves provided a touch of color.

4-monadnock

Mount Monadnock loomed dramatically over the surrounding countryside in a view of it that I’ve never shown here before. In another half hour when the sun kissed its flanks it would probably have made an amazingly beautiful scene but I was on my way to work and I didn’t have time to dilly dally. There was snow to move.

5-ice-shelf

Ice shelves have begun forming along the Ashuelot River. This one was clearly visible as a shelf but when they’re completely attached to the river bank and are covered by snow they can create a very dangerous situation, because there are times when you can’t tell if you’re walking on land or on an ice shelf. I’ve caught myself standing on them before and that’s why I now stay well away from rivers in winter unless I know the shoreline well.

6-snow-melt

The dark trunks of trees absorb heat from the sun and reflect it back at the snow, which melts in a ring around it. These melted rings seem to be a magnet for smaller birds and animals like chipmunks and squirrels.

7-black-eye-lichen-tephromela-atra

If I see whitish or grayish spots on tree bark I always like to take a look because it could be a script lichen or some other lichen that I’ve never seen. In this case it was what I think is a black-eye lichen (Tephromela atra.) According to the book Lichens of North America this lichen grows on stone, bark or wood from the tropics to the arctic.

8-black-eye-lichen-tephromela-atra-close

As you can imagine the raised rimmed, black spore bearing apothecia of the black eyed lichen are extremely small, so it’s always a good idea to carry a loupe or a camera with macro capabilities. Many features on this and many other lichens are simply too small to be seen with the eyes alone.

9-mealy-rim-lichen-lecanora-strobilina

Another small lichen on a different tree showed some unusual color in its apothecia but I couldn’t see any definite shape without the camera.

10-mealy-rim-lichen-lecanora-strobilina-close

The book Lichens of North America says the apothecia on the mealy rim-lichen (Lecanora strobilina) are flat to convex and a waxy yellowish color. They grow on bark and wood of many kinds in full sunlight and the apothecia are very small at about .03 inches. Though the color here looks more orangey pink I think the light might have had something to do with that.

11-pixie-cup-lichens

Pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata) look like tiny golf tees or trumpets, and they are also called trumpet lichens. They are common and I almost always find them growing on the sides of rotting tree stumps. Pixie cups are squamulose lichens, which means they are scaly, but they are also foliose, or leafy. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (Thallus,) and squamulose lichens are made up of small, leafy lobes. As can be seen in the center of this photo the stalk like cups (podetia) grow out of the leaf like squamules. This is the first time I’ve ever caught it happening in a photo. Pixie Cups were used by certain Eskimo tribes as wicks in their whale blubber lamps. The lichens would be floated in the oil and then lit. The oil would burn off of the lichen but the flame wouldn’t harm it.

12-red-maple-buds

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are just waiting for the signal from spring. These are one of my favorite early spring flowers and I’m looking forward to seeing them again. The flowers, twigs, leaf stems, seeds, and autumn foliage of this tree all come in varying shades of red. These buds are tomato red, according to my color finding software.

13-hawthorn-bud

Hawthorn buds (Crataegus) are also tomato red but they’re very small; each one no bigger than a single flower bud in the clusters of red maple buds in the previous photo. I had to try several times to get a photo of this one. I think an overcast day might have made things easier. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one variety native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. Since I see it regularly I know that it has white blossoms.

14-hawthorn-thorn

The hawthorn also has red thorns; as red as its buds and sharp as a pin. This one was about 2 inches long. Hawthorn berries and bark were used medicinally by Native Americans to treat poor blood circulation and other ailments.

15-box-buds

I was surprised to see the flower buds of this boxwood shrub (Buxus) showing color on one recent warm day. I hope it was telling me we’ll have an early spring! Boxwood is called “man’s oldest garden ornamental.” The early settlers must have thought very highly of it because they brought it over in the mid-1600s. The first plants to land on these shores were brought from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges.

16-winter-fungi

Jelly creps (Crepidotus mollis) are small, quarter sized “winter mushrooms” that like to grow on hardwood logs. They are also called soft slipper mushrooms and feel kind of spongy and flabby, much like your ear lobe. They grow with an overlapping shelving habit like that seen in the photo.

17-bee-balm-seedhead

The flowers of native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) are tubular and grow out of leafy bracts, and these bracts were all that was left of this bee balm plant. This is the first time I’ve noticed that they had stripes. The Native American Oswego tribe in New York taught the early settlers how to make tea from bee balm. The settlers used it when highly taxed regular tea became hard to find and it has had the name Oswego tea ever since. The plant was also used by Native Americans as a seasoning for game and as a medicine.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. ~Rumi

Thanks for coming by.

 

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