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Posts Tagged ‘Shinleaf’

It takes about a half hour to get there from my house but the trip to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is always worth the effort at this time of year. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and is one of those places that approaches what true wilderness must have looked like before European settlers arrived. It is a botanical park; the only one of its kind in the state. People from all over the world come here to see the native rhododendrons (Rhododendron maxima) that grow here. The park contains the largest grove of these rhododendrons known to exist in New England. Common in south eastern states, they have reached the northernmost point of their growth here. Rhododendron state park was even designated a national Landmark in 1982.

This native rhododendron isn’t like others; it blooms 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 Captain Samuel Patch settled here in 1788. The higher surrounding land was farmed but not where the rhodies grew. In 1901 a subsequent owner almost had the land logged off for timber but instead it was bought and given to the Appalachian Mountain Club with the stipulation that it be protected and open to the public forever after.

The National Park Service calls them pink, but I see white when I look at the blossoms and though most of these plants are quite tall it is still easy to get close to them. Though the plants are much bigger than your average rhododendron the flowers and flower clusters are pretty much the same size as those found on other rhododendrons.

I did see lots of pinks and purples on some of the buds, and on the backs of some of the blossoms.

Included in the park is the center chimney cape that Captain Samuel Patch built with his son sometime before he died in 1817. Captain Patch served in the Revolutionary war and took part in the battle of Bunker Hill and, though his house has changed hands a few times since being built, it looks to be true to its original footprint. Surrounding it are a few garden beds containing various plants, including this moth mullein. Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) gets its common name from the way the flowers’ stamens resembled moth antennae to the person who named it. This plant was introduced from Europe and found in Pennsylvania in 1818 and immediately escaped gardens to become a roadside weed now found in every state except Wyoming and Alaska. It isn’t very common in this area however. I only know of two plants and they grow right here at the old Patch place. Its flowers can also be white.

If you visit the park be prepared to be surprised. I remember being shocked at the size of the rhododendrons the first time I came. People are interested; the parking lot was full of cars on this day. I saw many children on the trails too, and since getting children on the trails is one of the main things this blog is about, I was very happy to see them.

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.

Of course, rhododendrons aren’t all there is to see. There is a wildflower trail here as well and I saw many plants here that I had never seen before the first few times I came. Wildflowers bloom throughout the 2,723-acre park from early April into October. False Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) like the one in this photo are through blooming but they have plenty of fruit at this time of year. They can reach three feet tall where they’re happy.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal turn from green to red and for a short time they are speckled with both colors.  I’ve read that soil pH can affect the fruit color, but I think that means a deeper or lighter red. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) is one of our native wintergreens. It get its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. Its nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June. I find them in sandy soil in forests under pines.

I saw the fruiting bodies of a coral slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, V. porioides.) These objects that resemble geodesic domes are so small that I can’t see any of the detail until I zoom in on them with a camera. They are very fragile; a single swipe of a finger can destroy hundreds of them.  According to my mushroom books this slime mold is “very common and fruits in scattered clusters on well-rotted logs.”  That’s exactly where these grew.

Also known as rosebay and great laurel, these rhododendrons normally reach a maximum height of 15 feet but may become “tree like.” In the park their branches intertwine as they grow and for the most part you wouldn’t ever get through the thicket they’ve formed.

You may feel a bit small as you wander through and under these giant plants. Visitors might find that the common landscape shrubs they are used to seeing never seem the same again. 

A 0.6 mile-long, wheelchair accessible trail meanders around and through the grove and allows visitors close up access to these beauties. This is a good viewing spot, and popular; I had a hard time getting a photo of it with no people on it.

This is one of the views from the bridge in the previous photo. Rhododendrons as far as the eye can see.

There are also Mountain Laurels here but they bloom as much as a month earlier than the rhododendrons.

A hoverfly worked over a dewberry blossom and didn’t seem to mind me watching.

Other insects went unseen but their pathways told their stories. The thought of an insect so small that in can eat its way between the upper and lower surface of a leaf boggles my mind, but I see leaf miner trails everywhere I go.

Rhododendron State Park is open all year during the daytime but isn’t maintained in winter. During the summer months from May through October, you may find a State Park Ranger at the park. He or she is there to answer questions and to collect the $4.00 per visitor admission fee. When there isn’t a ranger on duty you can find the collection box shown above near the trailhead. Part of the money collected I assume is used for trail maintenance, so it’s important. I saw several trees that had fallen across the trail and had been cut up. Children and seniors are admitted for free. Pets are not permitted on the wild flower trail or other nature trails, but I think they can still be taken to other parts of the park. Just follow the instructions on the many signs and maps found throughout the park. The best time to see these spectacular rhododendrons in full bloom is mid-July.

On my way hone I stopped in the town of Troy to admire one of my favorite views of Mount Monadnock. I’m sure there were plenty of sightseers over there too; it is said to be the second most climbed mountain, after Mount Fuji in Japan.  

I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.
~Jack Kerouac

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1-tree-club-moss

I see by the number of views that posts like this get that not everyone is interested in native evergreens but they make up a large part of the outdoors and are a pleasure to see at this time of year. I hope posts like these will show those who believe that there is nothing to see in the winter that there is indeed still a lot of nature out there to see. I thought I’d start with clubmosses, which aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered fern allies. Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall. But that was a very long time ago; the tree clubmoss (Lycopodium dendroideum) in the above photo is barely 3 inches high. It shows the upright yellow spore bearing strobili, sometimes called candles or clubs that give the plants their common names. The plant is also called ground-pine because of its resemblance to the pine tree.

2-club-moss-club

This clubmoss strobilus is still tightly closed and hasn’t released its spores yet.

3-club-moss-club

They look a bit ragged after they’ve released their spores.

4-club-moss-flash-powder

Clubmoss spores have been collected and dried to make flash powder for many years. They are high in fat content and when mixed with air become highly flammable. They’ve been used in fireworks and explosives for years, and also as camera flashes before flash bulbs were invented. These days they are still used in magic acts and chemistry classes. They also repel water, so if dip your finger in a glass of water that has spores floating on it, your finger will come out dry. This photo is from the Chemical Store.

5-running-ground-pine-lycopodium-clavatum

Running ground pine (Lycopodium clavatum) is another clubmoss that someone once thought looked like the tree. The “running” part of the common name comes from the way its underground stems spread (run)  under the leaf mold. Other names include lamb’s tail, fox tail, wolfs claw, stag’s horn and witch meal. Native Americans used clubmosses medicinally to cure headaches and to treat urinary tract problems and diarrhea. They were also used to treat wounds and to dye fabrics. The Lycopodium part of the scientific name comes from the Greek lycos, ‘wolf’, and podus, ‘foot’, because whoever named it thought it looked like a wolf’s paw.

6-fan-club-moss

Fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum) is one of my favorites. The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180 degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed.

7-marginal-wood-fern

I don’t think many people associate ferns with winter hardiness but we do have a few that stay green all winter, like the eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) seen here. It is also called the marginal wood fern because of where its spore clusters lay in relation to the pinnule (leaf division) margins. Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia,) Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides,) and polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) are some of our other evergreen ferns.

8-partridge-berry

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring. I’ve never seen a partridge eating them but I know that wild turkeys love them.

9-checkerberry

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is also called teaberry or checkerberry and its small white flowers resemble those of the blueberry. It is probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it much like we use aspirin. This photo was taken after a recent snowstorm and shows how wintergreens got their name. The small white object in front of the middle leaf is a starflower seed pod (Trientalis borealis.)

10-checkerberries

American wintergreen was the first plant my grandmother taught me to identify. Because she had trouble getting up from a kneeling position she would have me crawl around and gather up handfuls of the bright red, minty berries, which we would then share. She always called them checkerberries, but nobody seems to know where that name or the several others it has originated. The name teaberry comes from a pleasing tea that can be made from the leaves. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox, deer and bears eat the berries.

11-striped-wintergreen

Though I showed it in a recent post striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has my favorite wintergreen foliage so I’m going to show it again. In winter it turns deep purple where the darker green is on the leaf. This plant is rare here, though I’m finding more and more spots where 1 or 2 plants grow. In all I probably know of a dozen widely scattered plants. It’s hard to tell from a photo but these plants are so well camouflaged that I have walked right by them and not seen them.

12-shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, gets its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. Its nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June. I find them in sandy soiled forests under pines.

13-pipsissewa

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its name is fun to say. It’s a Native American Cree word meaning “It-breaks-into-small-pieces.” This is because it was used as a treatment for kidney stones and was thought to break them into pieces.

14-pipsissewa-leaf

Pipsissewa and some other native wintergreens form a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and are partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids. If looking for this plant look for the teeth on the outer margins of the shiny leaves.

15-trailing-arbutus

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers and she would walk in the woods to find and smell it rather than dig it up to plant in her yard.  It’s too bad everybody didn’t do the same because this plant was once collected into near oblivion. These days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. That’s true of most of these plants, in fact.

16-goldthread

New goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often 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 small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. 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, probably by its other common name: canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

17-swamp-dewberry

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves live under the snow all winter. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition.

18-swamp-dewberry

But though swamp dewberry leaves live under the snow all winter they aren’t always green. These beautiful beet purple plants grew just a few feet away from the green ones in the previous photo. Swamp dewberry looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly.

19-downy-rattlesnake-plantain

Some native orchids have flowers and foliage that look tender and fragile, but as downy plantain orchids  (Goodyera pubescens) show, looks can be deceiving. Its leaves are covered by soft downy hairs and this little orchid can stand being buried under snow all winter without being damaged. It’ll look just as it does now when the snow melts. I hope you’ll take some time to look at the evergreens in your own area. Don’t forget the mosses and lichens!

There is no end to wonder once one starts really looking. ~Marty Rubin

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1. Sign

I have helpers that readers of this blog don’t ever hear from and who I don’t thank enough. They send me corrections when I’ve misidentified plants, reveal the names of plants that I don’t know, and pass along tips about places that might be worth a visit. One of the places mentioned recently was Dickinson Memorial Forest in Swanzey, which was once owned by a prominent local family. Since I’d heard of it but had never been I decided to visit.

2. Gate Posts

When you’ve reached this point you have a choice to make; you can turn right and follow the trail into the forest or you can follow this old road into Muster Field, so named because volunteer firemen used to muster and train here. I followed both but my first choice was through these old gate posts.

3. Road

I chose the old road because it follows the Ashuelot River which is off to the right, and because this is just the kind of place that I spent large parts of my boyhood exploring. Before I left this place my spirits had soared and I was feeling like a kid again and smiling from ear to ear. I’ve returned several times since because for me being out here is like walking into a time machine.

4. Striped Wintergreen

Old friends like striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) told me that this land has been this way without being disturbed for a very long time. I’ve read that this plant won’t grow on land that has been disturbed within the last century. It grows either in the woods or just at their edges; places where the plow wouldn’t have gone. I rarely see it and I think this is only the third or fourth place that I’ve found it. It’s very happy here and is going to bloom soon.

5. Shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, grew in a large colony here. This plant’s common name comes from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. It contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. The nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and very hard to get a good photo of.

6. River Bank

The river is doing what rivers do, which is eat away at their banks. Large sections of the silty embankment in this area have fallen into the river several times recently by the looks. In one spot it has fallen away right to the edge of the road. I drove out here one day not realizing just how close to the road the undercut embankment was, and I’m very lucky that my truck and I didn’t end up in the Ashuelot. Since then I haven’t driven past the gate posts in the second photo, but someone really should put signs warning people not to drive out here.

7. Canada Liliy

The reason I drove out here that day was because I was short on time and I wanted to see if the Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) that I saw on a previous visit were blooming. They weren’t then but they eventually did. I think that these plants succeed so well because they get tall enough to rise up above the surrounding vegetation to where the sunshine is. They soar to 7 feet tall sometimes and remind me of chandeliers at this stage.

In 1857 Henry David Thoreau was told by a Native American guide how the bulbs of this plant were cooked with meat in soups and stews to thicken them, much like flour does. Henry dug some and ate them raw, finding that they tasted somewhat like “raw green corn on the ear.” I’ve always been told that lilies were toxic when eaten so I’d say Henry was a lucky man. Cooking must remove the toxicity, which would explain how natives ate them regularly.

8. Canada Liliy

It’s nearly impossible to confuse the beautiful flowers of Canada lily with any other. Its large size, spotted throat, large red anthers and bright yellow petals and sepals make it unique among wildflowers in this area. We do have another native lily called the wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum,) but its blossoms are orange and point to the sky rather than nod like these do.

9. Canada Geese

A family of Canada geese relaxed on the far bank of the Ashuelot. This photo shows how low the water level is.

10. Turtle

A turtle was out for a stroll on the old road. She didn’t say where she was going but I’m assuming that she was looking for a suitable place to lay her eggs. She must have had quite a struggle to get up here from the river.

11. Spangled Fritillary

A spangled fritillary hid in the tall grass at the edge of the road. They and many other large butterflies love Canada lilies and like me were probably waiting impatiently for them to blossom.

12. Fallen Tree

In the Dickinson forest a dead tree had fallen across the trail and was hung up on some hemlock branches. This is a dangerous situation and I hope whoever maintains these trails will remove it. It wouldn’t take much of a breeze to blow it down and I hope there isn’t someone under it when it falls.

13. Bridge

A boardwalk and footbridge crossed a seasonal stream, which just a muddy ditch at this time of year.

14. Deer Print

I didn’t see any deer but I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw me. This hoof print looked very fresh.

15. Whorled Loosestrife

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) grew all along the river. This pretty little flower has quite a long blooming season and it and its cousin the swamp candle (Lysimachia terrestris) can be seen in moist areas throughout the hottest months. Its common name comes from the way its flowers and leaves grow in a whorl about the stem. Native Americans brewed a medicinal tea from the stem and leaves of whorled loosestrife to alleviate kidney ailments.

The plant also played an important part in the American Revolution. According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffee “With the Revolution came the refusal to drink the tea of commerce and our four leaved loosestrife, being dried and steeped, was used in its stead.” And that’s why another common name for the plant is “liberty tea.

16. False Hellebore

The biggest surprise here was finding false hellebore. It grew quite a distance from the river, which I thought was odd because it usually grows as close to water as it can. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in our forests. Eating just a small amount can be lethal and people have even gotten sick from drinking water that it grew in.

17. False Hellebore

Even more surprising than finding the false hellebore was finding that it was flowering. That told me that these plants had grown here undisturbed for quite a while. Only mature plants will blossom and can take 10 years or more to do so. The bright yellow anthers were missing so I knew these flowers had nearly gone by. I never realized that the flower’s green petals and sepals are as pleated as the leaves are. There are pairs of nectar glands at their bases and ants visit the flowers to feed on their sweet treats.

18. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots lined the river bank. There were thousands of them, far more than I’ve ever seen in one spot. Forget me nots or no, I won’t forget this place. In fact I’m having a hard time staying away.

A ditch somewhere – or a creek, meadow, woodlot or marsh…. These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.… Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches and the field, the woods, the ravines – can teach us to care enough for all the land. ~ Robert Michael Pyle

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1. One Flowered Pyrola Side View

Plants in the wintergreen family, not surprisingly, stay green throughout winter and some are quite rare in this area. This post is for the plant people among us, of the kind who feel their pulse quicken when they find a plant they’ve never seen before.  And there’s a good chance that they’ve never seen this one called one flowered pyrola (Moneses uniflora) because it is quite rare; the two plants in this photo are the only examples that I’ve ever seen. This plant is also called one flowered wintergreen and single delight. It is found in dry, cool, undisturbed forests and was used by Native Americans as a cold remedy, and to reduce swelling and ease pain.

 2. One Flowered Pyrola

One flowered pyrola is quite small and easy to miss. These nodding flowers were probably about 4 inches high. The flowers are fragrant but don’t produce nectar and are thought to be pollinated by bumblebees. They are made up of 5 petals and 10 stamens surrounding a bright green style and ovary. Along with orchids, the seeds of this plant are among the smallest known.  A single seed weighs about two millionths of a gram.

Because I wanted to do a post on only wintergreens I’ve saved the photos of one flowered pyrola since late June. It is the earliest of the wintergreens to flower here. The following plants are shown in the order of their blooming period.

 3. Shinleaf Plant

After one flowered pyrola blooms in June shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) follows closely behind.  Shinleaf is quite common in this area and can form large colonies. It seems to be more successful than some other wintergreens. Shinleaf and other plants in the wintergreen family contain compounds that are similar to aspirin and shinleaf was used by Native Americans as a poultice on injured shins and other parts of the body. That’s how the plant comes by its common name. Shinleaf leaves form a rosette at the base of the single, 4-5 inch tall flower stalk.

 4. Shinleaf Blossom

Shinleaf blossoms nod toward the forest floor so they are very hard to get a good photo of. This isn’t a very good one but it shows the different flower parts.  Like one flowered pyrola, shinleaf blossoms have 5 petals and 10 stamens, but it tucks all of its stamens together up under the top 2 petals.  Another difference is the long, “J” shaped style, which seems to be a perfect landing spot for insects trying to get at its pollen bearing anthers. The petals appear waxy and give the plant another common name of waxflower shinleaf.

5. Shinleaf Seed Pods

Shinleaf seed pods hang onto the flower’s J shaped style as the seeds are forming.

6. Striped Wintergreen Plant

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has my favorite wintergreen foliage which in winter turns deep purple where the darker green is on the leaf. This plant is also rare here, though I’m finding more and more spots where 1 or 2 plants grow. In all I probably know of 10 or 12 widely scattered plants. It’s hard to tell from a photo but these plants are so well camouflaged that I have looked right at them many times and not seen them. The flowers stand out and help me locate them though, so I begin looking for them in mid-July just as shinleaf is ending its bloom period.

7. Striped Wintergreen Flower

The flower of striped wintergreen is very similar to that of one flowered pyrola but its 5 petals are swept back, as if it had seen a strong wind. It also has 10 anthers but its style is very blunt. I’m hoping the small fly on the blossom is pollinating this plant. The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love).

8. Pipsissewa Plant

My favorite wintergreen flowers are found on pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) because they seem to be the showiest and often have a blush of pink. This plant grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer.

Something I didn’t know was that both Pyrolas and  Chimaphilas have a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and are partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids.

9. Pipsissewa Flowers

Once again pipsissewa displays the 5 petals, 10 anthers and large style that are so common among many wintergreens. I just noticed that the flower pictured is a bit of an over achiever and has 12 stamens, which shows how flowers sometimes vary from what we consider “the norm.” These flowers also wear a little pink skirt at the base of the style, which makes them even prettier. As with the previous wintergreens shown, these flowers are from 4-6 inches tall.

10. Teaberry

When I think of wintergreen I think of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) which looks nothing like the previous wintergreens, either in flower or leaf. This plant is also called teaberry or checkerberry and its small white flowers resemble those of the blueberry. It is probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong, minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it medicinally.

11. Teaberries

American wintergreen was the first plant my grandmother taught me to identify. Because she had trouble getting up from a kneeling position she would have me crawl around and gather up handfuls of the bright red, minty berries, which we would then share. She always called them checkerberries, but nobody seems to know where that name or the several others it has originated.  The berries pictured haven’t ripened yet, but you can tell that it’s going to be a good berry year. I’ve never seen so many on one sprig.

NOTE: These berries belong to the Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), also called false lily of the valley. That plant comes up everywhere and was mixed in with the American  wintergreen. Obviously I wasn’t paying attention when I was taking the photo and, since I’ve never paid much attention to the unripe berries of American wintergreen, I was fooled. See how easy it is?
Thanks to the folks at the New England Wildflower Society for pointing this out, and for reading this blog so faithfully.

Plants are nature’s alchemists, expert at transforming water, soil and sunlight into an array of precious substances, many of them beyond the ability of human beings to conceive, much less manufacture. ~Michael Pollan

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Here are a few more of the wildflowers that I’ve seen recently.

 1. Chicory

Blue has always been my favorite color and I can’t think of another flower more blue than chicory (Cichorium intybus.) I’ve read that chicory flowers can also rarely be white or pink, but I’ve never seen them. These plants aren’t real common here but you can find small colonies dotted here and there throughout the countryside. The large, inch and a half diameter flowers on 4 foot tall plants means they’re easy easy to see. The roasted and ground root of chicory makes a passable coffee substitute.

 2. Blue Vervain

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see the same beautiful blue color that I see in the chicory flower in the previous photo. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Sometimes color blindness isn’t so bad! Vervain flowers are considerably smaller than chicory, but there are usually so many blooming that they’re as easy to spot as that plant is. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans.

3. Common Speedwell aka Veronica officinalis

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) is another flower that looks blue to me, but that some books describe as purple. In other books I’ve seen it described as “blue to white.” In any case the flowers are very small, so you usually have to lie on your stomach in the dirt to get a good photo of them. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries.

4. Ants on Bristly Sarsaparilla

This bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) flower head had ants all over it, so I’m assuming that’s how it is pollinated. This plant is a native but it isn’t common and isn’t well known. I find it growing in full sun in very dry, sandy waste areas. It is listed by the USDA as endangered in many states. The stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. The lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter, so technically it is considered a shrub.

5. Moth Mullein

Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) gets its common name from the way the flowers’ stamens resembled moth antennae to the person who named it. This plant was introduced from Europe and found in Pennsylvania in 1818 and immediately escaped gardens to become a roadside weed now found in every state except Wyoming and Alaska. It isn’t very common in this area however-I only know of one plant. Its flowers can also be white.

6. Tall Meadow Rue

In early spring it is easy to confuse tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) with columbine because their leaves look so much alike, but as you watch the plant grow to sometimes 6 feet in height it is obvious that it isn’t columbine. The flowers of tall meadow rue don’t have any petals-the yellow tipped white parts are male stamens on the example in the photo. Female plants have white pistils that appear much like the male stamens at a glance. It’s appropriate that these plants bloom near the 4th of July because they remind me of “bombs bursting in air.”

7. Partridgeberry

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) flowers have filled the woods this year. This is an evergreen trailing plant that can form dense mats that are quite large. The strange thing about partridgeberry is how its two flowers fuse at the base to form one ovary. In one flower the male stamens are long and the female pistil is short. In the other flower the female pistil is longer than the male stamens. This prevents self-fertilization. The two flowers produce one red berry that bears two dimples, showing where the flowers were.  I always try to show the very hairy white petals when I take photos of partridgeberry.

8. American Wintergreen

 American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is just starting to open its small white flowers that look a lot like blueberry flowers. Wintergreens get their common name from the way they stay green in the winter-what we call evergreen-and this plant is probably the most well-known among natives because of its shiny green leaves that turn purple when it gets colder. I call the plant teaberry because its red berries taste just like teaberry gum. My grandmother always called it checkerberry.

 9. Shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) is a common wildflower in the wintergreen family. Many plants in the wintergreen family contain compounds that are very similar to aspirin, and shinleaf was used by Native Americans as a poultice on injured shins and other parts of the body. That’s how this plant gets its common name. Shinleaf leaves form a rosette at the base of the single, 4-5 inch tall flower stalk.

10. Shinleaf Blossom

Ten orange tipped, pollen bearing stamens hide under the upper two petals on shinleaf blossoms. Shinleaf is pollinated by flies.

11. Shinleaf Blossom

The best way to identify shinleaf is by the long, curved style that hangs down from the center of the flower. It’s easy to see how an insect would use the stigma at the end of the style for a landing pad and leave sticky pollen behind.

12. Pipsissewa Colony

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate or Pyrola umbellata) is also in the wintergreen family and recently I found a large colony of it. This plant likes to grow in groups, but they are usually made up of 10-15 plants. This group had many hundreds of plants and is the largest I’ve seen. The shiny green leaves make this plant easy to find.

13. Pipsissewa Flower

 Pipsissewa has nodding flowers that grow quite close to the ground and this makes getting a good photo difficult. Luckily I found a plant with a bent flower stalk and was able to get a look at the large center pistil and the 10 odd shaped anthers. It is said that the plant’s common name comes from the Native American word pipsiskeweu which means “it breaks into small pieces.” This refers to their belief that pipsissewa would break up kidney stones.

14. Striped Wintergreen

Yet another plant in the wintergreen family is striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata,) but unlike pipsissewa, teaberry, and shinleaf, this plant is rare in this area. In fact, it is considered rare in Canada and all of New England. I’ve only seen two in my lifetime and the plant pictured is one of them. This plant is also called spotted wintergreen or striped pipsissewa. The flowers are very beautiful and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to find this plant again so I can show them to you. Native Americans used striped wintergreen medicinally for a variety of internal and external ailments.

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

Thanks for coming by.

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It has been hot and dry here and we really haven’t had a beneficial rain for a while now. Plants are still blooming but the flowers aren’t lasting long on many of them. I’ve seen some bloom and fade in less than a week but luck has been with me so I have a few pictures to show you.Pipsissewa (Chimaphilla corymbosa or Pyrola umbellata) has just finishing blooming. This plant is related to the shinleaf and striped wintergreen that have appeared on this blog recently. It likes things on the dry side and I find it in sandy soil that gets dappled sunlight. It is a low growing native evergreen that can be easily missed when there are only one or two plants, but pipsissewa usually forms quite large colonies and that makes them easier to find. The leaves are also very shiny, which also helps.  The white or pink flowers are almost always found nodding downwards, as the picture shows. These tiny flowers are on the black swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae ) plant. Though they are described as dark purple they look black to me. If I had a dime for every time I’ve tried to weed this very invasive plant out of a garden, I’d be a wealthy man. It is a vine that seems to like to grow in the center of shrubs and will twine around the shrub’s branches, climbing up to the top where it can get more sun. The plant is in the milkweed family and like other milkweeds its flowers become small green pods that will eventually turn brown and split open to release their seeds to the wind. This plant also has a sharp, hard to describe odor that is noticed when any part of it is bruised. It originally came from Europe sometime around 1900 as a garden specimen and has escaped. We seem to have two varieties of shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) here; one that blooms in late May and another that blooms about a month later. We have a shinleaf growing in our area called round leaf shinleaf but I haven’t paid close enough attention to tell which is which. Next year I’ll have to be far more observant when it comes to the wintergreen family. I’m quite sure the plant in the picture isn’t round leaf shinleaf because the leaves on that plant are much shinier and more round, but that doesn’t answer the question of why this one is blooming so much later than others I’ve seen.  I find this plant in dry, sandy pine woods. When I was young I used to have a transistor radio that I listened to at night (when I was supposed to be sleeping) and a song called “Poke Salad Annie” played quite regularly. For years I wondered what poke salad was until I finally found a pokeweed plant (Phytolacca Americana.) I think of pokeweed as a southern plant but it does grow here. In the south it is eaten mostly by the poor despite warnings that it is extremely toxic. Not surprisingly, the very young shoots are boiled as greens or used in salad-hence the song title Poke Salad Annie.  The song came out in 1968 and was sung by Tony Joe White. If you’re interested you can still hear it on YouTube. Pokeweed is native to the eastern U.S. A hover fly was visiting this plant when I took its picture. One rainy day I was walking through the woods near a local reservoir and came upon a large colony of white wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella.) Though this plant is supposed to be common this is the only time I’ve seen it, so I don’t think it is very common in this part of New Hampshire.  It is also supposed to, according to books, bloom quite early in the spring but I took this picture on June 24th. This plant was introduced from Europe and has escaped. The flowers were about the same size as those on our common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta.) I like the blue/purple veins that each of the petals have. Because it has three leaves on each leaf stalk some people call wood sorrel a shamrock, but a true shamrock is a clover (Trifolium) and wood sorrel isn’t. I visited a bog recently in an area known for its native laurel and rhododendrons and found the last blossom on a bog laurel plant (Kalmia polifolia.) This plant is also called swamp laurel and is a very small evergreen shrub that grows in acidic bogs. This one was growing in standing water, so I had to get my knees wet to get a picture of it. This flower was smaller than a dime but there was no question that it was a laurel. On laurel flowers the petals are fused into a bowl that has ten pocket-like indentations on its surface. As the flower grows larger the stamens expand and their anthers fit into these pockets. When the flower is fully open the anthers are held under tension like a spring until an insect triggers them and gets a pollen bath.  If you look closely at the photo you can see each stamen inside its pocket. Growing next to the bog laurel was the native large cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon.) There is also a small cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) but it is the large ones that are grown commercially. These plants were small, growing only about 5 inches tall, but had many small white flowers that made them easy to see. The flowers have petals that curve sharply backwards like those of a shooting star. I’m going to try to remember to revisit this bog and get some pictures of the ripe cranberries. If you look closely you can see the recently formed green berries here and there.A close up of a large cranberry flower (Vaccinium macrocarpon.)Another plant growing at the edge of the bog in standing water was the northern male berry (Lyonia ligustrina.) This native shrub was about 3 feet tall but can get as tall as 12 feet. With all of its white, urn shaped flowers you would think that this plant would be covered with fruit, but instead each flower becomes a hard, dry, reddish brown capsule. Male berry shrubs will also grow in dry forests. Their roots can withstand forest fires and will send up new shoots soon after a fire. I think that the pink/purple flower buds of Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium ) are more colorful than the flowers. This plant is a magnet for butterflies and bumblebees. There are at least 4 native species. Spotted Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) has flat topped flower clusters and eastern Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium dubium) has rounded flower clusters. Eastern Joe Pye weed is sometimes called pale Joe Pye weed or trumpet flower. Hollow Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) is the most common species seen in ditches along roadsides and other wet places.  Sweet Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) is probably the tallest of the species, sometimes reaching 8 feet. I bought one of these for my garden last year and it is reaching for the sky. Its flowers smell like vanilla. These plants are useful in the garden because they will tolerate quite a lot of shade and attract bees. There is also a white Joe Pye Weed but that isn’t often seen. Joe Pye, according to legend, was a colonial herbalist, possibly native American, who used this plant to treat a variety of ailments. The pale yellow blossoms of wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) are seen mostly on the edges of corn fields in this area but can also be found on roadsides.  The flowers on this plant aren’t as mustard yellow as those on wild mustard and this plant has hairy leaves where wild mustard does not. Flowers of Wild Radish can be yellow, light orange, white, pink, and sometimes lavender while wild mustard flowers are always yellow. Wild radish has a taproot much like a cultivated radish, but they are much smaller.Native Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina ) has just started flowering. Before long these flower clusters will be bright red berries from which a good substitute for lemonade can be made. This plant is much more common in this area than smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) Smooth sumac has very shiny, smooth leaves and does not have hairy stems. Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida ) is in the ginseng family but its flowers are hard to mistake for those of ginseng. In fact the entire plant isn’t easily confused with any other natives because of its bristly lower stems and foul odor. The plant can reach 3 feet tall but its weak stems give it a sprawling habit in the shade.  I found this plant growing in dry gravel under pine trees along a road. Medicinally, the dried bark can be used in place of sarsaparilla. This plant is also called dwarf elder, wild elder, or angelica tree. Its leaves look nothing like those of wild sarsaparilla. Its fruit changes from green to dark blue and finally to black. Close up of bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida ) flowers and fruit. The fruit on bristly sarsaparilla has a dull, matte finish and the fruit of native wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is very shiny.

Come forth into the light of things. Let Nature be your teacher ~ William Wordsworth

Thanks once again for stopping in to see what is blooming here in New Hampshire

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It wasn’t all that long ago that I was spending most of my wildflower hunting time deep in the woods, peeking around trees and under bushes. Now all of the sudden fields and roadsides are bursting with color. This certainly makes a plant hunter’s job easier and also means there are even more flowers to show you. If you, when you saw this picture, wondered if it wasn’t a little early for Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) to be blooming the answer is yes it is, but then everything is blooming early this year.  Still, I was surprised when I found what I usually don’t see until July. Black Eyed Susan is a native plant whose seeds are an important winter food source for birds. That’s why when they are grown in gardens they shouldn’t be cut back in the fall. The small, furry, light purple flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) are easy to miss. At a glance this plant might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is common along roads and in fields. This is another flower that it is easy to walk right by, because it grows at about ankle height. The small, white, tubular blossoms of the native narrow leaf cow wheat plant (Melampyrum lineare ) have a yellow lower lip which also helps make them a little more visible. The flowers always seem to grow in pairs and the plants usually form a colony, which also makes them a little easier to find. I found this plant growing alongside a shaded path in a forest of mostly pine and tamarack trees. It always grows close to shrubs and trees because it is partially root parasitic. There is another plant called Small Cow wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum) with lemon yellow flowers, and another called common cow wheat (Melampyrum pretense) that doesn’t have the two sharply pointed lobes at the base of the leaf like those seen on the narrow leaf cow wheat.  A calyx (at the base of the flower) that curls upward like an eyelash is a good clue to the identity of this plant. This one is a real stinker, and I’m not exaggerating. This is the female blossom cluster of the smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea.) One of its pollinators (the fly) was kind enough to stop in for our photo session. These female pistillate flowers with their stubby, three-lobed stigmas are much shorter than the male staminate flowers, which are shown below.  The plants carry only male or female flowers, so they can usually be found growing quite close together. This is the male flower cluster of the smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea.) Male blossoms have six white stamens. Each of these flower clusters, both male and female, are the size of a golf ball. Personally, I thought that the male flowers were much more malodorous than the female flowers.  This plant is a vine that can reach 8 feet long. Later on the female blossoms become globular clusters of dark blue fruit that will appear like Christmas ornaments all along the vine’s length.  The fruit is said to be edible, but you won’t catch me eating it! Crown vetch (Securigera varia) is very different in both appearance and color than cow vetch (Vicia cracca L. ssp. tenuifolia ) or hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) but the three plants are continually mistaken for one another.  Another vetch is bird vetch (Vicia cracca L.,) which cow vetch is nearly identical to. Hairy vetch, crown vetch and bird vetch all grow in New Hampshire but according to the U.S.D.A., cow vetch does not. Crown vetch is in the pea family and was imported from Europe and Asia for soil erosion control. As is usually the case, it has escaped and the long, wiry vines can now be found along roadsides and in fields. This plant is toxic and has killed horses. I can’t say if our native striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is rare but I can say that, other than on this one occasion I have never seen it, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the woods. Unfortunately I missed its white, nodding blossoms and got there just after it had formed the seed pods seen in the photo. This was on June 4th and the plant isn’t supposed to bloom until late-July. This plant is also called spotted wintergreen, striped pipsissewa, and prince’s pine. According to the U.S.D.A. it is endangered in Canada, Illinois, and Maine, and is considered vulnerable in New York. It seems strange to me that there are so few of these plants found in an area that has huge colonies of its close relative, pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate,) which is called umbellate wintergreen.I was being eaten alive by hoards of hungry mosquitoes when I took this picture so it isn’t the best one I’ve ever taken. This is the nodding, cup shaped flower of the shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica.) Unlike striped wintergreen, this plant is plentiful in pine woods and grows near trailing arbutus and pipsissewa.  The greenish white petals look waxy and sometimes will have greenish veins running through them. These plants were always thought to be closely related to the wintergreens because their leaves stay green all winter, but DNA testing now puts them in the heath (Ericaceae) family. Shinleaf foliage looks a lot like that of trailing arbutus, but the leaves are shorter.  A better photo of it can be seen by clicking here. The plant’s crushed leaves were applied to bruises in the form of a paste or salve and the aspirin-like compounds in the leaves would ease pain. Such pastes were called “shin plasters,” and that’s how the plant got its strange common name. The tiny flowers of Heal All (Prunella vulgaris) appear together on a club-like, squarish stem in enough numbers to make them noticeable. This plant is native to Europe but is found all over the world. Heal all  is also called self-heal and heart of the earth and has been used medicinally for centuries. It is edible and is one of those plants that most certainly would have appeared in medieval cottage gardens. Heal all tea was used by Native Americans, which makes me believe that it is native to North America as well as Europe.Even smaller than the flowers of heal all are those of Rabbit-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense.) If you look closely you can see 2 or 3 of the almost microscopic white flowers poking out of the feathery, grayish- pink sepals. These feathery sepals are much larger than the petals and make up most of the flower head. This plant is in the pea family and is used to improve soil quality. It is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered an invasive weed. It gets its name from the fuzzy flower heads, which are said to look like a rabbit’s foot.  I found a few plants growing on a river bank. This is another clover called golden clover (Trifolium aureum.) The 1/2 inch long yellow flower head is made up of tiny yellow flowers that resemble pea flowers. The flowers have 5 petals and are said to be decumbent, which means “lying along a surface, with the extremity curving upward.” As the photo shows, they overlap much like roof shingles.  These individual flowers turn brown as they age, and some think they look like hops when they are in that stage. This gives the plant one of its common names; large yellow hop clover. Like other clovers it has three leaves. These plants are common in waste areas and along roadsides. This one was growing near our local airport.Native Lance Leaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) is liable to be found in the garden or the meadow. Coreopsis is a large family of plants that includes many natives and hybrids that come in yellows, oranges, pinks and maroons. This plant was in a meadow with many others which were all being swarmed by bees. A common name for this plant is tickseed because the seeds are said to resemble ticks. They are one of the easiest plants to grow and will virtually grow in any soil that gets plenty of sunshine. I’ve even seen them thrive in almost pure sand.The native Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) blossoms have finally opened and are seen along almost every road at the edges of forests. If you aren’t colorblind the red stems make this plant easy to identify, otherwise counting the 4 petals (bracts) will be the clue to its being a dogwood. The flowers are fragrant and bees and butterflies love them.  By the end of summer the flowers will turn into clusters of light blue berries that birds and deer feed on. These shrubs get quite large, sometimes reaching 15 feet tall and twice that across. Red osier dogwood is an excellent choice for large shrub borders because their red branches stand out against the snow in winter. Growing right alongside the red osier dogwoods in many instances are native elderberry (Sambucus) shrubs.  Though they like the same growing conditions, elderberry leaves are quite different than those of dogwoods and the small flowers have 5 petals instead of 4 bracts. Elderberry flower clusters are usually much larger than those of dogwoods and the stamens aren’t as long.  Elderberry flowers become small, dark blue, almost black, berries. These berries are edible if they are cooked but can cause severe stomach distress if eaten raw. The leaves, stems and roots contain cyanide-causing gliconides and are toxic. When I was a boy we lived across the street from an Italian family who made elderberry wine from bushes that grew along the river but since I wasn’t old enough, I never got to taste it.

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous ~ Aristotle

That’s some of what’s blooming right now here in New Hampshire. Thanks for visiting.

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