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Posts Tagged ‘Small Flowered Water Plantain’

Beautiful blue ribbons of pickerel weed flow in the shallows of ponds, rivers and streams in July. Thousands of flowers draw bees and other pollinators in such numbers it sometimes seems like the plants themselves are humming. And of course they really are humming; vibrating with life force. Pickerel weed is easily one of our most beautiful aquatics and they appear in far larger numbers than any other.

Pickerel weed has small blue / purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

One advantage of the drought has been the ability to walk up to plants that grow offshore and study them up close. This is a pickerel weed flowerhead in bud; something I doubted I’d ever get this close to. It’s amazingly fuzzy for a water plant. See how it spirals? Spirals are found everywhere; in the human ear, in entire galaxies billions of light years across, and in plants of many various species. Why? What is it about the spiral that makes it so special?

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow fringed loosestrife that I spoke of in a recent post. But fringed loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. Their name comes from the way their bright color lights up a swamp, just as they did here.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are less than half the size as those of fringed loosestrife.

Floating heart plants (Nyphoides cordata) growing close enough to shore to get photos are very hard to come by but I got lucky this year because the water is low. In fact I found hundreds of examples of this tiny native waterlily very close to shore. They have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from.  

This is the tiniest waterlily that I’ve ever seen; about the size of a common aspirin, but are still every bit as beautiful as the much larger fragrant white water lily blooms they resemble. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers.

Cattails (Typha latifolia) can form an impenetrable wall and can soar overhead in some places along the shoreline. I’ve seen them 8 feet tall or more. Cattails (Typha latifolia) were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread. Cattails are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the swamps, ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long white styles sticking out of the tubular flowers the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

Pipewort  grows in the mud just offshore. As the photo shows the stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum.) The quarter inch flower heads are made up of tiny white, cottony flowers. Another common name for them is “hat pins.” Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I’ve found that its flowers are close to impossible to get a good photo of.

When you see its leaves pipewort looks just like many other plants but its basal leaves normally grow underwater so you rarely see them. On this day the drought had left them high and dry. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize.

I bent a pipewort down to a penny so you could get an idea of size. It’s one of the smallest flowers you’ll find on pond edges. It is said that the water quality is good wherever this plant grows. 

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down. The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance. The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. Flowers are about an inch across. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

When I saw this plant growing at the edge of a beaver swamp I thought I knew what it was; swamp saxifrage, but something about it wasn’t right so I decided to wait and go back later to see what it did.

When I its flowers I knew it wasn’t swamp saxifrage. That plant has bigger and fewer flowers. After some searching I found that it was water plantain (Alisma subcordatum,) which is a plant I’ve never seen. I’ve read that it is also called mud plantain and its seeds are eaten by waterfowl. Native Americans cooked and ate its roots. Though it is a native plant I think it must be on the rare side in this area.

Water plantain’s tiny flowers have 3 green sepals, 3 white or pink-tinged petals, and several stamens and pistils, all packed into something half the size of a pencil eraser. Somehow nature can surprise, delight and amaze all at the same time.

Water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is on the rare side here; I only know of one pond it grows in. It is said to be a more northern species, so that could be why. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands.

The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water but these plants grew just offshore with flowers above the water. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl.

A small St. John’s wort grows that grows right at the water’s edge is I believe pale St. John’s wort (Hypericum ellipticum,) according to what I’ve read. Oddly, the flowers of pale St. John’s wort aren’t pale yellow, they’re bright lemon yellow, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. To anyone. Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) also grows at the water’s edge but its flowers are about the size of a pencil eraser. Canada St. John’s wort comes next but it grows in dry meadows and it’s flowers are less than half the size of a pencil eraser. It has taken me years to sort it all out.

But in the end what does it matter? The flowers are beautiful and, as Amit Ray once said: “Beauty is the moment when time vanishes. Beauty is the space where eternity arises.”

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) has the ability to make time vanish for me, because it takes me out of myself. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful of all the milkweeds and is one of those flowers that I most look forward to seeing each summer. I recognize a truly beautiful flower as something that makes me quiet because I’m so dumbstruck all I’m able do is stand and admire it.

Looking at the pond all I could think was that it is an incredible thing how a whole world can rise from what seems like nothing at all. ~Sarah Dressen

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When I was a professional gardener I always assumed that we would have a frost between September 15th and September 30th. More years than not, that assumption was accurate. Then last year happened and all of that went out the window. We still hadn’t had a frost when we got about sixteen inches of snow on Halloween. This year-here we go again-still no frost here. In fact just yesterday it reached the mid-70s.  The heat I can handle, but I’m hoping there won’t be another Halloween storm like the last. In any case, the flowers love it and many are still blooming.

This nodding burr marigold (Bidens) found a home with a roof, so it won’t have to worry about a frost.

 On a recent rainy day I found a clump of native beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) growing near the road. The Epifagus part of the scientific name means “upon the beech” and that is where these parasitic plants grow. They don’t produce chlorophyll to make their own food so instead they insert a root like structure called a haustorium into a beech root and take what nutrition they need to survive. Native Americans made a tea from this plant that was used to treat mouth sores.

Purple-brownish beechdrop flowers are very small and hard to photograph. Each flower is tubular and has two lip-like “petals.” They produce nectar and attract insects. Tiny, scale like leaves press flat against the stem and are very hard to see. These plants are found from Canada to Florida and west as far as Louisianna. 

Native Blue toadflax (Linaria Canadensis) is another tiny flower, but easier to get a picture of than beechdrops. I found this one growing in full sun on a riverbank recently. It had just about finished blooming. This plant resembles Kalm’s Lobelia (Lobelia kalmia) but the lobelia lacks the nectar spurs found in blue toadflax blossoms. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison.

 Native small flowered water plantain (Alisma subcordatum) was also blooming along the river a couple of weeks ago. The blossoms have now faded but the plants still thrive. These small white flowers have only tree petals so they are hard to confuse with other plants. The egg shaped, thick, fleshy leaves are also unusual. There is also a large water plantain (Alisma triviale) with flowers that are about twice the size as those shown. These plants often grow in the water at the edges of ponds and rivers. Native Americans used to eat the dried root. 

It’s easy, especially at this time of year, to be fooled into thinking that this plant is an aster, but it is actually a chrysanthemum-another popular fall garden plant. I found this one growing in a local park. Its leaves give away its identity.

This is an aster that I found growing on the side of the road. I turned around and went back to get a picture because it was such a deep, dark and beautiful purple-much different than the lighter purple varieties seen.

 This jimson weed (Datura stramonium) is another roadside plant, but it was growing in a pasture along with hundreds of others. Jimson weed is considered poisonous to both humans and livestock so I was surprised to see it in a cow pasture.  This hallucinogenic plant in the nightshade family is also called loco weed and was used by Native Americans on spiritual quests. The original common name was “Jamestown weed” which was given to it after English soldiers in the Jamestown colony began to behave oddly after eating leaves of the plant. It is said that they “behaved like animals for several days.”  This plant is considered exceedingly dangerous due to poisonings and deaths by people trying to get high.

 I have a white flowered native obedient (Physostegia virginiana) plant trying to overtake my gardens and not too long ago someone posted a picture of a beautiful pinkish purplish one like the one in this photo. I told the blogger that I hadn’t ever seen that color obedient plant flower and then, that very day, I found this one. It seems like if I can’t find a plant all I need to do is say that I can’t find it on this blog and before you know it, I’ve found one. That has happened several times.

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) is looking a little bedraggled, but still blooms just about everywhere I go. Native Americans made a tea from the plant for use as, among other things, a cough syrup. Today scientists are researching its value as a cancer treatment and for respiratory ailments.

 I wasn’t surprised to find sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) growing in pure sand along an old road but I was surprised to see it at all, because I had been watching for it for 2 or 3 weeks without any luck. These plants grow to about a foot tall but the thin, wiry stems and small white flowers easily blend into the sand and make them hard to see.  The leaves are small and lie against the stem so the plant appears leafless. The plant gets its name from the way the stems are jointed.

These sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) flowers looked like they had a bit of pink in them. These plants seem very hard to photograph-I had to make 2 or 3 attempts before I got something I could live with.

 

It’s easy to see why sedum is such a hit in the fall. This pink one I found in a local park is probably a cultivar called “Autumn Joy, “which is an old favorite. I think it would be even more beautiful planted with some dark purple asters.

 When I took its picture I thought this was the last rose of summer that I’d see on my rose bushes. They had a hard time this year with the extreme heat and dryness, but once the rains started in they bloomed more and more until now they are loaded with blossoms. Last year it was still blooming in December.

Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,

We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves ~ Humbert Wolfe

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