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Posts Tagged ‘Smooth Blue Aster’

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) continue to bloom heavily in spite of the drought. This plant was growing in a dried up streambed and was doing well. Something I’ve learned about them over the years is that they’ll grow and bloom in shade, as this one was.

A New England aster flower is made up of many petal like ray flowers around the outer perimeter and disc flowers in the center. The disc flowers are sometimes called tube flowers because of their shape. At about an inch across they are the largest flower heads found on any of our asters but this year I’ve noticed they’re a bit smaller, probably due to stress from the drought. The Native American word for this plant is said to have meant “It brings the fall.” They used the plant medicinally to relieve many ailments, including pain and fever.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has grown back and is blooming again after being mowed down.  This European plant, according to the U.S. Forest Service, is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful. Here the plant is planted intentionally along with other invasives like crown vetch to stabilize hillsides. I’m not sure how we can complain about a plant being invasive when we are planting it along our roadsides.

And here was crown vetch (Securigera varia) growing right along with the knapweed. Some flowers seem to have a little extra spark of life that makes me want to kneel before them and get to know them a little better, and one of those is crown vetch. It’s very beautiful.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) are still blossoming but not as they usually do. I didn’t think anything could bother such a tough plant but apparently they do not like dryness. Theses examples grew in the shade and didn’t look quite as ragged as many I’ve seen. The Native American Chippewa tribe used this plant to treat snakebite and colds. The roots were used to rid the body of worms.

I saw this plant in a local garden and I wasn’t sure what to say about it. Though the flowers reminded me somewhat of a black eyed Susan the petals seemed strangely tubular. Luckily it was easy to find online. It is indeed a black eyed Susan called “Henry Eilers.” I’ve read that it is a “standout among black eyed Susans,” and I would guess that would be true.

Datura (Datura stramonium) is in the nightshade family and all parts of the plant are toxic to humans and livestock. Taken in small enough doses the plant is hallucinogenic, as British soldiers found out when they included Jimsonweed leaves in salad in Jamestown, Virginia in 1676. They were high for 11 days and had to be penned up to prevent them from hurting themselves. When the symptoms wore off they remembered nothing. You can read about the incident by clicking here. I can’t say that it sounds like a good time.

Datura has many common names, one of which is thorn apple. The unripe seed pod in this photo shows how that name came about.

Bog asters (Oclemena nemoralis) grew in standing water at the shoreline of a local pond. The small, sword shaped leaves had no stems (petioles) and each unbranched stem grew to about a foot tall with a single, light purple flower at its tip.

Because bog asters usually grows in thickets in wet, swampy areas many people never see them. They grow all around the shore of this pond in great numbers but this is the only place I’ve ever seen them. Each flower is about half the size of a New England aster.

Dandelions always warn me that the weather is going to turn cooler because they don’t like hot weather. I didn’t realize it until I started watching them closely for this blog but they bloom heavily in spring and then disappear in the hottest months, and then re-appear when it cools off in the fall. This is one of the first I’ve seen since June.

As flowers go Canada horseweed (Conyza canadensis) isn’t much to look at. The flowers are tiny and seem to stay closed more than they do open. This club shaped plant can be easily seen from a distance because it starts branching at about a foot or so down from the tip of the tall, 3 foot stem and always looks top heavy. This plant is a North American native but is considered a noxious weed over much of the world. Legend has it that dried horseweed stem is one of the best materials for a drill when making fire with friction. Its stems are weak, so rubbing it between your hands rather than using a bow is recommended. It is said to produce a glowing coal with very little effort.

You’d never know it by looking at the tiny flowers but horseweed is in the aster family. Each flower is smaller in diameter than a pencil eraser and it’s hard to catch them in bloom.

What I believe were smooth blue asters (Aster laevis) grew on a roadside. These small plants were most likely second growth because the roadside had been mowed, so it’s hard to tell what their maximum height would be but the blue green foliage, lack of hairs on the leaves and stems, smallish 1 inch flowers, and lack of leaf petioles all point to the smooth blue aster. Also, the plants grow as a single stalk for part of their height before branching, and that’s another identifying characteristic. What bothers me about saying definitely that is what they are however, is my color finding software. In this flower it sees blue and purple…

…and in this flower it sees purple. I know that flowers can be called blue when they’re really purple, like blue vervain for instance, but I’d like to see these plants again next year to be sure, preferably before they’ve been mowed.

I’m waiting for the darker purple asters to appear but so far all I’ve seen is this one in a garden. They’re my favorite colors for an aster but they aren’t as common as the lighter colors.

I like this cosmos with frosted edges I saw in a garden.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) still blooms, and is having the best year that I can remember. It must like dryness. I can’t think of another plant that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms at this time of year. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals, as these examples show. The plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites.

There is white rattlesnake root and then there is white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima,) and of the two snakeroot is the one to be careful with. This plant is very toxic because of a compound called tremetol, which is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it. These days dairymen mix the milk from many cows and make sure this and other toxic plants are removed from their pastures so there is little chance of the plant having any real impact, but in days past if humans drank the milk or ate the meat of cows that had eaten this plant they could come down with what was once called “milk sickness.” The sickness caused heart or liver failure and Abraham Lincoln’s mother is believed to have died from it.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s  large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans.

A sunflower turned its back to the sun. 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. Since this one was not facing into the sun I’d say it has matured.

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them. ~John Ruskin

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It’s aster time here in New Hampshire and the will appear in all sizes and colors from now until a freeze. What I believe is crooked stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) has just started blooming. This native aster gets its common name from the way the stems zig zag between the leaves. The stems are smooth and the leaves clasp it. The flowers are about an inch across and are usually pale lavender but this one was in the shade when I took its photo and that made it appear darker. This plant was about three feet tall.

Whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata) gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaves of this aster really don’t fit the definition. Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall. It’s one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time and because the narrow white ray florets look like they were glued on by chubby fingered toddlers. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths. I love the beauty of asters but I don’t like their message of summer’s passing, so when I stop and admire them I always feel a bit of wistfulness and wonderment that a season could pass so quickly.

Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length. Indian cucumbers have tiers of whorled leaves as do some loosestrifes. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall.

I often find purple stemmed beggar’s ticks (Bidens connata) growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers. This example was growing at the edge of a pond.

Purple stemmed beggar’s ticks have curious little yellow orange ray-less disc flowers that never seem to fully open and dark, purple-black stems. It is closely related to bur marigold (Bidens tripartita), and is also called water hemp because of the leaf shape. The name beggar’s tick comes from its barbed seeds that stick to fur and clothing like ticks. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year so there’s no telling where it might turn up.

I was surprised to find showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) still blooming. This plant is a legume in the bean family and it gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals.

The flowers of tall blue lettuce have just about finished for this year. They can be white, deep blue, or ice blue. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. I haven’t seen a single one this year though. This one had hardly any blue at all until I looked closer.

If it was early June I wouldn’t have been surprised to find the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo at the edge of a meadow, but it’s almost September. They must be having a good year. These flowers look like their cousins the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does and it blooms later, usually in July. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows. Their colors can vary from almost white to deep magenta.

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees like it’s doing in this photo. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. These plants are annuals and grow from seed each year.

The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

Wild cucumber climbs by the use of tendrils and, as Mike Powell noted on his blog recently, they look like the coiled stretchy cords that we used to see on phones. (If you can remember that far back.) If you aren’t reading Mike’s blog and you’re a nature lover, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You can find it over in the favorite links section on the right.

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of wild cucumber have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. They look prickly but the spines are soft until the fruits dry out and drop their seeds. By then they’re so light and desiccated that they can’t be thrown at anybody. The fruit is not edible and doesn’t really resemble a cucumber.

Pretty groundnut (Apias americana) flowers are still blooming. They come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. The plant is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

Field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) doesn’t seem to be having a good year. I found a single plant with a single flower, and this is it. Or maybe I was just late; this flower head was showing yellow, which is something I haven’t seen. What look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green. I know of only one place where it grows and its beautiful flowers always make it worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and quite often that’s just what I do.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the slender, sword shaped leaves. The blossoms are very hairy and have a long curved protruding pistil and especially from the side look nothing like foxglove to me.

Slender gerardia is a shy little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of meadows and I usually find it growing in full sun. It has the unusual habit of dropping all of its opened flowers each afternoon. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

Native common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is unusual because it grows in woods or meadows and I see it in both. It’s considered a weed by many and is largely ignored by most, but it’s a very interesting plant. Its raw leaves can be chewed as a thirst quencher if you forgot to bring water on your hike. The Native American Kiowa tribe called it “salt weed” and used it that way for long walks. Its seed capsules can also be chewed but they can also explode when mature and can fling seeds up to 13 feet away. They are said to be tart with a flavor similar to rhubarb. The plant is high in vitamin C and it can be pressed to make a passable vinegar substitute.

When you’re trying to identify plants there are enough hawkweeds to make you crazy. While many have thin, wiry, leafless stems this one has thick, stout, one and a half foot tall stems with tough leaves most of the way up it. For those reasons I think it might be Gronovi’s hawkweed, which is also called queendevil (Hieracium gronovii.) I’m guessing that ranchers and pasture owners gave it that name, even though it’s a native plant.

Hawkweeds are slippery and hard to pin down, but I can’t find a reference to another hawkweed with leaves like this one except maybe rough hawkweed (H. scabrum.) The leaves actually make it look like it’s in the lettuce family, but the flowers are what you’d expect on a hawkweed and not the tiny flowers found on the various lettuce species. I find this one along trails right at the edge of the forest.

Since I started with an aster I might as well end with one. I think this one might possibly be a smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides.) It grew along the shore of a pond and stood about knee high.

There are other asters this could be but knowing its name isn’t that important to me. More often than not just being able to see such a pretty thing is enough for me these days.

He who does not become familiar with nature through love will never know her. ~Friedrich Von Schlegel

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