Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Soapwort’

Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata,) another sign of summer’s passing, have come into bloom. Some of these flowers can be extremely fragrant and they’re a valuable addition to any garden. A walk along a garden border full of fragrant phlox on a summer evening is something you probably won’t ever forget. Many people think of English gardens when they think of phlox but this is actually a native plant with a range from New York to Mississippi.

Another sign of summer’s passing comes in the form of eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) but many people miss seeing these ankle tall plants full of tiny but very beautiful blue flowers. They bloom in the morning and each flower only blooms for one day before falling off the plant. Its common name comes from its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on the flower’s lower lip. It’s one of our prettiest mid summer natives and is worth getting down on your hands and knees to see. It likes poor, sandy soil like that found along roadsides, and that’s where I found this one.

One of the oddest plants you’ll meet at the end of July is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) Odd because it was introduced from Europe and of course almost immediately escaped gardens and is now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. According to the USDA it was first found in the wild in North America near Syracuse, New York, in 1878 and has now spread to 31 states. I see only a few plants each year and they’re usually growing in shade but in some areas they come up in lawns. They stand about knee high, but they can get taller with more light. The leaves, though smaller, closely resemble those found on false hellebore and the name helleborine in Latin means “like hellebore.” That’s another oddity about this plant; neither false hellebore leaves nor the leaves of this orchid look at all like hellebore leaves.

A third oddity about broad leaved helleborine orchids is how two plants growing side by side (it is said from the same bulbous root) can have different color flowers. The flowers, maybe slightly bigger than a pencil eraser, can be green with a hint of purple, or purple with a hint of green, as these examples were. In fact, this year the flowers have more purple in them than I’ve seen.  

The fourth and oddest oddity about this plant in my opinion, is how scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting one flower’s pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the intoxicating orchid for the buzz.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long yellow tipped, 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 (as this example was) 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.

Here is a fresh buttonbush flower head. Each small white flower is relatively long and trumpet shaped, with 4 short stamens and a single, long white style that is longer than the flower’s corolla, and that’s what makes them look like pincushions. Buttonbush is said to be poisonous to animals but beavers have been seen taking the wood. Whether for food or for the construction of their dams and lodges isn’t known.

One of the things that surprises me most about burdock (Arctium minus) is how, even though it grew everywhere when I was a boy and we used to throw the burs at each other, I never saw the flowers until I became an adult. I suppose my priorities changed; back then there was nothing more fun than covering your friends in the sticky burs. Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. When fully open long white styles grow from the often darker purple anthers, which form a type of sheath around it. Burdock must have come to this country very early, probably tangled in a horse or cow’s tail, because it was noted as being widespread in 1663. In fact, it was so common then that some who came later wrote that it was native. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) is also called false violet because of its leaves, and I think the resemblance might be part of why a lot of people never see it. Its small white flowers dot the forest floor like so many other small white flowers, and that also makes it easy to pass by with just a glance. Though I know of two colonies of them they are rare here, and are endangered or threatened in many other states.

Dewdrops have a secret; they produce flowers other than the ones we see. The hidden flowers don’t open but still produce seeds. They are called cleistogamous flowers and grow down beneath the leaves. The showy flowers like the ones in the photo are mostly sterile. In plants like hobblebush these bigger, showier, sterile flowers are used to attract insects to the smaller, less showy fertile flowers but I doubt that it works that way on dewdrops, because cleistogamous flowers are self fertile and don’t need insects to pollinate them. So why are the bigger, showier flowers even there? Maybe they’re just another way that nature expresses itself. Maybe all of creation rejoices when they come into bloom. Maybe that’s true of all flowers. Maybe it’s true of all life.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) gets its common name from the way the chopped and boiled leaves produce a soapy lather that is particularly good at removing grease. This plant is a native of Europe and is thought to have been brought over by colonists to be used as a soap substitute. Another common name for this plant is bouncing Bet. I’ve heard several stories about how this name came about but I like the one that claims that the curved petals catch the breeze and make the plant bounce back and forth in the wind. The flowers are very fragrant.

Bee balm (Monarda) is a native plant that is seen more in gardens than in the wild in this region. It is also called Oswego tea and bergamot. Many Native American tribes used this plant medicinally and a tea made from it can still be found in many stores. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew. It isn’t doing well here this year. The plants I’ve seen this year don’t have mildew but still seem weak and the flowers are small.

There are more than 43 different species of liatris so I’m never sure which one I’m seeing but I do know that though it is a native plant I’ve only found it outside of a garden just once in this area.  It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies and bees to the garden. I think it would be more striking planted in drifts rather than the one or two plants spotted here and there that I see. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of the plant; they are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

When you take a close look at the flowers the plant’s other common name, blazing star, comes to mind. It is grown commercially as a cut flower, so you might have seen it in an arrangement.

The beautiful blue of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) is hard to match in a garden. I and my color finding software see blue but some call it purple so if you see purple that’s fine. The plant is an Asian native with a common name that comes from its buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. In nature it grows on hillsides and in meadows. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. 5 white anthers surround a central stye that becomes 5 lobed as the flower ages. This example hadn’t been open long.

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 almost always find it growing in dry gravel under pine trees at forest edges. 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.

Bristly sarsaparilla 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. Each small, 1/8-inch flower sits at the end of a long stalk. They have 5 white petals that almost always curl back away from the center. 5 white stamens surround a central shorter style. I almost always see black ants swarming all over the flower heads of this plant but on this day there were only one or two.

Though when I was a boy hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) flowers were always pure white, I’m having a harder time finding white ones these days. Now most of them seem to be bicolor pink and white and I’m not sure why, other than natural selection. It could be that insects are more attracted to the bicolor flowers, which means that they have a higher probability of pollination and seed production. I took this photo because the flowers looked white to me but then when I saw them in a photo I thought I could see a blush of pale pink here and there.

I found a garden variety yarrow (Achillea) that I haven’t seen before. Its color was eye catching. Many tiny flowers packed together make up a yarrow flowerhead and this plant showed that off beautifully.

NOTE: A reader wrote in to say they were quite sure this plant is a cultivar called ‘New Vintage Violet’. Thank you!

I knew this plant was a hydrangea but it didn’t look like any hydrangea I had ever seen. It was like a lacecap, but not entirely. The colors were unusual and seemed to be several different shades all at once. Then I realized that I had been out of the professional gardening game for quite a long time. This was the tea of heaven hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata,) also called sawtooth hydrangea or blood on snow. It is a hybrid and I haven’t kept up with newer developments; my subscriptions to garden catalogs and horticultural magazines ran out long ago. But none of that matters; its beauty is what caught my eye and I thought it might catch yours as well. By the way, the leaves contain a natural sweetener called Phyllodulcin and they are used to make tea in some Asian countries. That’s where the name tea of heaven comes from. As for the name blood on snow, we’ll leave that for another post.

Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) had me going around in circles for a while because the USDA said it didn’t grow here, but what I wasn’t picking up on for some reason on was that this plant grows in a garden here, and not in nature. It was obviously in the mallow family like hollyhocks but the small, quarter size flowers were unusual in my experience. Then the helpers came to the rescue, and that’s why I’m adding this plant to this post; I should never forget to thank the many people who write in to help with identifications. They do it quietly, often in the background unknown by readers, but they are an important part of this blog and I’m very fortunate to have them there, waiting for me to get tangled up. So thank you, one and all. I do appreciate your help.

I’ll end this post with this peachy daylily, for no other reason than the fact that it is extremely beautiful.

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom. They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful.  ~Jim Carrey

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Our beautiful New England asters are now opening over a wider area and though I’m not seeing them everywhere I go yet I usually see them each day at least. They make summer’s end a little more palatable.

Nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) gets its common name from its drooping flower heads and the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. It doesn’t seem to bother ducks, geese, and all of the other animals that eat it, though. The plant is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers.

Nodding smartweed flowers never seem to fully open, but I got lucky on this day and found one. Each flower has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles. The tiny flowers are packed into a long raceme and can be white, red, pink, or a combination of all three. In my experience it is rare to find one as open as this one was.

Only one smartweed is called lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa,) but even nodding smartweed has the “thumbprint.”  The dark spot that appears on each leaf is said in legend to have been left by a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently.) It has been there ever since.

It’s time to say goodbye to chicory (Cichorium intybus) I think, because out of ten or twelve plants this is the only one still blooming.

Chicory one of my favorite summer flowers because of its large, easy to see flowers and beautiful blue color. I can’t think of another flower, either wild or cultivated, quite like it.

Nodding bur marigold plants (Bidens cernua) grow in the wet mud at the water’s edge at rivers and ponds. As they age the flowers of the nodding bur marigold nod towards the ground and that’s how the plant comes by its common name. The flowers look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. I like their deeply pleated petals. The plants grow to about knee high, often in standing water, and that can make them tricky to get a good photo of.

Panicled hawkweed (Hieracium paniculatum) has wiry stems that curve in all directions and end in a small, yellow, daisy-like flower. I often find this plant growing along old forgotten dirt roads in the woods. These native plants are sometimes confused with rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) but that plant has prickly flower buds and hairy leaves.

Each strap shaped “petal” on a panicled hawkweed flower head is actually a ray flower. Some have teeth on the end as this one did but others may not.

Seed heads are also what you would expect to see on a hawkweed. Panicled hawkweed is one of our latest blooming hawkweeds.

For the first time I saw a blue toadflax blossom (Nuttallanthus canadensis) with its “mouth” open. It’s hard to see but it’s there under that upper lobe. The name toadflax comes from its flax like leaves, and its toad like mouth. Whatever you call it it’s a pretty little plant that blooms for most of the summer. The side view shows its long nectar spur.

I have pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) in my yard but these examples in a local park bloom weeks earlier than mine. Unlike my plants, these plants often look terrible; all black and crisp leaves. My plants haven’t even showed color on the buds yet, but I hope they do better than these. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well in my yard and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

I always like to see if I can get a shot looking into the throat of the turtle. It’s very hairy in there but it doesn’t bother bumblebees. They can often be found swarming over these plants.  

At a local pond white boneset and purple loosestrife dominated the scene. If history is any indication it won’t be long before purple loosestrife takes over the whole area.

I’m seeing fewer soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) flowers these days and I think its run has just about ended for this year. Someday I’m going to chop up the roots and flowering stems and see if I can get soapy water out of them. I’ve read that it gets soapy enough to be able to be used to wash clothes.

No, it isn’t May but this flower head I saw on a viburnum shrub in a local park reminded me of May. It is an almost exact duplicate of our native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) flowers that bloom in that month, though it was about half the size. Like hobblebush flowers the large sterile flowers around the perimeter are there to attract insects to the smaller fertile flowers found in the center. I haven’t been able to identify the shrub, which was much taller and more upright than a hobblebush, but I was happy to see it.

Hydrangeas have been blooming for a while now. These plants live far back in my memory; my grandmother always grew them and called them snowballs. This old fashioned type is called “Annabelle.”

Sedums are just starting to show color. For those who don’t know, sedums have thick succulent leaves and fleshy stems and can be quite drought tolerant. They are also nectar rich and will attract butterflies.

I think it’s just about time to say goodbye to the beautiful little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum,) because I’m seeing more seedpods than flowers now. This plant is an annual so it will have to grow again from seed next year. These little beauties are usually barely ankle high and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun.

Winters have always seemed long to me because I’ve always been a flower lover. To make winter seem shorter I know that the secret is to stop longing to see flowers again, but how can you not long to see something so beautiful? I haven’t worked that out yet.

What happens to people who have witnessed the miraculous?  ~Jim Harrison

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Beautiful little marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) grows in the wet soil at the edge of ponds but it isn’t easy to get a photo of because it closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine the following afternoon. You never find them blooming on a cloudy day or in the morning so it is a plant that makes you go to it when it wants you to come, especially if you happen to be an insect or a nature nut. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow.

If you’re very lucky you might find swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) growing alongside the marsh St. John’s wort like I did. It’s hard to believe it’s already time to say goodbye to this beautiful flower. I do hope you’ve had a chance to meet it in person.

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is blooming and it hopes you’ll come by later and give it a ride. The plant is a good example of a biennial plant. In the first year of life it grows leaves and in the second year it flowers, sets seeds, and dies. This is what biennials do, so we know that its tubular flowers with purple stamens and white styles signal that it is close to finishing its journey. There is no reason to grieve though, because the germination rate of its seeds is high and there will surely be burdocks for many years to come, especially if you (or your dog) help spread them around.

Burdock is said to have been introduced from Europe because it was noted in 1672 by self-styled naturalist John Josselyn, who wrote that it had “sprung up since the English Planted and kept Cattle in New-England.” He said the same thing about the dandelion, but fossil evidence has proved him wrong. Native American tribes across the country had many uses for burdock, both as a medicine and food, so some form of the plant had to have been here long before European settlers arrived. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.  Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. As the above photo shows, when fully open long white styles grow from the dark purple flowers.

Pearl crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) seem to love burdock flowers. There were clouds of them around these plants.  I’ve read that males have black antenna knobs, so I’m guessing that this must be a female.

I’m seeing more tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) flowers this year than I ever have, and they seem to be everywhere I go.. These particular flowers were a lighter ice blue but sometimes they can be quite dark. They grow in a cluster at the very top of the sometimes six foot tall plant and each blossom is no bigger than a pencil eraser. They’re always worth a look because they’re always beautiful.

All flowers have, in my opinion, a divine light shining from them and few flowers illustrate that better than orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca.) It’s a beautiful thing that I don’t really see much of, even though it is said to be invasive. I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one in orange and I’ve wondered if maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. These flowers do reflect ultraviolet light though so you would think that some insects must find them, but on this day in the meadow these grew in there were tiny butterflies all over many other species, but not a single one landed on these blossoms.

In my last post that showed an  Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) I never showed a face on view, so here is one. I still don’t see a monkey. According to the USDA it grows in almost every state in the country and nearly every Canadian province, but I rarely find it. They usually grow to about 2 feet tall and growing in wet, sandy soil. Each plant has its flowers strung along the stem, coming out of the leaf axils. I’ve read that the flowers can occasionally be pink or white. 

It’s time to say goodbye to my old friends the purple flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus.) This shade tolerant plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, light gathering, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. The plant has no thorns but it does have a raspberry like fruit. The flower petals always look a bit wrinkled and once you know it, it’s difficult to mistake it for anything else.

The fruit of the purple flowering raspberry looks like a large raspberry and is edible but is on the tart, dry side. I’ve heard that it is sweeter if put on the very tip of the tongue but I haven’t tried that. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The ancient Greeks knew it well and it was grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. The flat flower heads are made up of many button-like disc flowers that have a peculiar, medicine like fragrance that some compare to camphor. The plant has a long history of use as an insect repellant and early colonials added it to the straw in mattresses to keep bedbugs away.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) gets its common name from the way the chopped and boiled leaves produce a soapy lather that is particularly good at removing grease. This plant is a native of Europe and is thought to have been brought over by colonists to be used as a soap substitute. Though it is also used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it.  Another common name for this plant is bouncing bet. I’ve heard several stories about how this name came about but I like the one that claims that the curved petals catch the breeze and make the plant bounce back and forth in the wind. The flowers are very fragrant.

The backward bending petals make soapwort easy to identify. They bend back as they age. The flowers will be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They are said to open toward evening, but I’ve seen them in the morning.

Lobelia inflata is called Indian tobacco because its round seed pods resemble the pouches that Native Americans carried their smoking materials in. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year and its tiny flowers are very hard to get a good photo of. Native Americans used all parts of the plant medicinally, and some tribes also used it in their religious ceremonies. Though the flowers closely resemble those of pale spike lobelia that growth habit does not. Pale spike lobelia grows in a single erect flower head and this plant is branched.

A friend at work grows Tomatillos in his garden and I noticed that the flowers were both unusual and quite pretty. I’ve never grown it.

The tomatillo fruit is even more unusual. It has a berry like fruit inside a papery husk and my friend uses it for salsa. According to Wikipedia the plant is also known as the “Mexican husk tomato. It is a plant of the nightshade family bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name.” They originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era.

Spearmint  (Mentha viridis) has been used since recorded time both medicinally and as a flavoring. Pliny wrote of it and the ancient Romans cultivated it to scent their bath water. In Athens where every part of the body was perfumed with a different scent mint was specially designated to the arms. Spearmint is originally from Europe but the pilgrims brought it on their first trip to America, so valuable was the plant to them, and now it is found in the wild. The flowers are said to be pink or white but these were white, blue, pink and lavender. I wish I could send you their scent because it was refreshing on a hot summer day.

Wild thyme is blooming in lawns. Bees love these tiny blossoms so I’m sure they are just ecstatic.

And they are tiny; I won’t tell you how many tries this shot took. Ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming and the ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burned it as incense in their temples, believing it was a source of courage, so it has been with us for a very long time.

Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area.

Balloon flower is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful blue veins.

One day I stood on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of fragrant white waterlilies. The breeze was blowing over them and the incredible fragrance that came across the pond made me want to never leave that place. But of course I had to leave eventually, so I brought this photo home to remind me of that day. There are some things that happen to you in nature that you never forget, and for me I’m sure this will be one of those.

A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life. ~Lewis Mumford

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

The little flowers called dewdrops (Rubus dalibarda) are rare here, at least in my experience. I think I’ve seen them only 3 times in 60+ years. I first thought that they needed undisturbed soil to thrive, but I found this one growing in a powerline cut.  It is listed as endangered in several states and is threatened in Michigan and Ohio. It is said to be more common in Canada.

Dewdrop is in the rose family. It is called false violet and is also known as robin runaway and star violet. The name false violet comes from its heart-shaped leaves. Like violets, it has two kinds of flowers, but one of its blooms grows unseen under the leaves. The Native American Iroquois tribe are said to have used the powered plants medicinally, as a blood purifier.

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms and in the past it was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals it is said, the older the flower.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long yellow tipped, 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 in Swanzey, even though the town has done their best to cut most of them and other native plants down. 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.

It’s a good year for pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) I saw this beautiful scene along the Ashuelot River in Keene recently. Someone should paint it; the light was amazing.

Brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but is hard to find here. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched. I liked the way the heavy morning dew decorated its leaves on this morning.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

Though as a boy all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) it has gotten to the point where I see these bicolor ones as often as the plain white ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves.

This is closer to the bindweeds I remember as a boy; simple white trumpets. I don’t know when the bi-color pink and white flowers began to appear but I have looked them up and they and the white flowered plants are indeed the same species. But they’re not morning glories.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) starts blooming in late July, so it’s right on schedule. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name. Monarch butterflies love these flowers but they always remind me that fall is almost here, so I’m not always crazy about seeing them, especially in July.

This plant that I find in a local garden bed has taken me on a wild ride over the last few years because it has been so hard to identify. Thankfully a lot of helpful readers identified it as gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) last year. It turns out that it is very invasive but apparently it didn’t do well last winter because this year I’ve only seen about ten flowers, compared to probably a hundred last year. The plant is originally from China and Japan where it grows in moist mountain meadows, near streams and along roadways. Its extensive root system is what makes it so invasive.

There are a few orchids blooming now and one is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) These orchids are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. In fact they grow in shade so dark I couldn’t get a good shot of the entire plant this year, so I’m using this one from 2017. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore, though the pleated leaves are close to those of false hellebore.

After many tries I was able to get a shot of a helleborine orchid flower this year. Scientists have discovered that the flowers of the broad leaved helleborine orchids have a secret; their nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for its intoxicating nectar.

Big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) are one of the first asters to bloom in late summer. They need big, light gathering leaves because they grow in the forest under trees. The leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify. As is common on many asters the wonky flowers look like they were glued together by a chubby fisted toddler.

The leaves on big leaf aster are heart shaped and about as big as your hand. They are especially impressive when they grow in large colonies. I’ve seen whole hillsides with nothing but these big leaves growing on them, so they must shade out other plants or have something toxic in their makeup that doesn’t allow other plants to grow.

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susan and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of some of the more than 43 varieties of Liatris. They are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) has just started blooming. This plant originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant as this one did, and that can make it tricky to get a close photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love them and there are usually plenty flying around when I try to take its photo.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.) Pokeweed was called pocon by Native Americans. The Delaware tribe used the plant as a heart stimulant and other tribes made a salve from it and used it as a cure for rheumatism. If it isn’t used correctly pokeweed can be toxic.

I like pokeweed’s very purple stems.

I’m seeing pretty little Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) here and there despite the heat and dryness. I think of them as a cool weather flower but apparently they don’t mind a little heat. This wild form of the modern pansy has been known and loved for a very long time. It is said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heart’s ease and was used in love potions. Stranger names include “three faces in a hood.” Whatever it’s called I like seeing it. This one reminded me of a cartoon cat’s face.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

Thanks for stopping in. Happy August?

Read Full Post »

It’s time to say goodbye to chicory (Cichorium intybus) I think, though I have seen it blooming in late September before. I found these plants still blooming along a roadside. The flowers were small for chicory at about 3/4 of an inch across, but their beautiful shade of blue more than made up for their small size. Chicory is one of my summer favorites.

I found the first dark purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) of the season recently. I look for the darkest ones I can find each year and these were beautiful but New England asters are very beautiful, no matter what shade of purple they are. When light and dark flowers grow together the bees always seem to prefer the lighter ones but in this area there were no lighter ones so I had to hope I didn’t get stung. There were bees everywhere, and they were loving these flowers as much as I was.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I see them still blooming here and there. This one looked as fresh as they do in July. There are still plenty of pollinators about so I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) are very tall with large flower heads (panicles) and weak stems, so when all the flowers bloom the stems often bend and the flowers end up at ankle level. This is one of the earlier, more showy asters that spreads by underground rhizomes and usually grows in large colonies of plants. I see them on forest edges.

I liked this pond-side view with its patch of wildflowers blooming.

When our native yellow loosestrifes have all bloomed then it’s time for purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) to start in and despite the belief that they need wet places to grow in I found this river of loosestrife at the edge of a dry cornfield. Purple loosestrife is an invasive that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant is becoming very difficult.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) still blooms on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Its common name comes from the way the leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.

Individual white snakeroot flowers are small, bright white, and fuzzy. The plant seems to prefer moist, shaded locations and doesn’t mind disturbed ground. It can often be found quite deep in forests and blooms from August to September. If you should happen to have farm animals you should know it well.

It’s also time to say goodbye to the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea.) This one looked like it had been through the wash. Its color had faded and its dry petals felt like paper.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) must be one of the longest blooming wildflowers we have here. It usually starts blooming in May and I’m still seeing it in quite large numbers here in September. You can’t ask more from a flower than that. I love the shade of blue that it wears.

There are about 15 different species of agrimony but I think this one is woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata.) The small, bright yellow flowers grow in long spikes (racemes) on a small, knee high plant. The last time I showed its flowers I forgot to show the foliage, so this photo corrects that oversight. If you know it as something other than woodland agrimony I’d love to hear about it.

Woodland agrimony is also called roadside agrimony, and that is just where this one grew.  Agrimony has been used medicinally for many thousands of years, dating back to at least ancient Egypt, but though woodland agrimony is native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans.

I saw these beautiful chive blossoms in a friend’s garden. I think they must have been garlic chives (Allium tuberosum.)

Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small and beautiful, but it’s a plant that comes with a lot of baggage. As the story goes author and forager Samuel Thayer calls them ground beans rather than hog peanut because he claims that the name “hog peanut” was a racial slur against Native Americans. He says that the Europeans came to a point where they refused to eat them because even though the small legumes saved many of their lives they insisted they were only fit for hogs (implying that Native Americans were hogs.) Personally I find this story hard to believe because anyone who has ever raised pigs knows that they root around in the soil looking for just the kinds of legumes that grow on these vines, and it isn’t hard to imagine colonials, who raised pigs, saying “look, the hogs have found some peanuts.” I call it hog peanut here not to slander anyone but because nine out of ten people will use a plant’s common name when they look for it in field guides, and field guides call the plant hog peanut. If Samuel Thayer can get them to change that, then I’ll be happy to call it a ground bean.

Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds. Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good a tripping up hikers.

I tried many times to get a photo looking into these tiny but pretty flowers, but this is the best I could do.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I don’t know if this was tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) but it was a tall goldenrod that stood feet above the other plants in the surrounding meadow. Its height was amazing.

I tried and failed to get a shot of a single goldenrod flower for you, but it’s close. I think there are two here.

One of the things I like most about native pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is the way a child’s face will light up and break into a smile when they crush it and smell it. Usually when I tell them that it smells like pineapple they don’t believe it, so it’s a surprise. The conical flower heads are easiest to describe by saying they’re like daisies without petals, or ray florets. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and the leaves are also scented and have been used to make tea. The plant was used by Native Americans in a tonic to relieve gastrointestinal upset and fevers. The Flathead tribe used the dried, powdered plants to preserve meats and berries. It is said to make a nice pineapple flavored tea.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. Its flowers are sparse at this time of year but I find it blooming here and there. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heavens? ~ A.J. Balfour

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Asters in mid-July? I couldn’t believe my eyes when saw this aster blooming along a roadside. Asters will sometimes bloom in mid-August but most usually wait until the end of August and even into September. They can be hard to identify and this one had me scratching my head until I looked at the leaves. There is only one aster that I know of with big, hand size leaves and that is the big-leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla.) But that aster has always had white flowers in my experience, so I had to hit the books to find out what was going on. According to what I read the big-leaved aster can indeed have purple flowers, but this is the first one I’ve seen wearing that color. You really do learn something new every day in nature.

This is an example of the big leaf found on the big-leaved aster. They grow at the base of the stem at ground level, and get smaller higher up on the stem. Big leaf asters are one of the first to bloom in this area.

Our native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) have just started blooming. This plant is well known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, as a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

This is only the second time Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) has appeared on this blog because it is rare here. I first found the 6 inch high plant last year and I was surprised by how small it was. The single plant had a single flower that I thought it would be as big as a tradescantia blossom but it was only half that size. It is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive because I’ve seen exactly two of them in 60+ years. I’d like to see more of them; I love that shade of blue.

Brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but it is hard to find here. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. This example had lots of pollen to share. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully

When I was a boy all I ever saw were pure white bindweed flowers but then all of the sudden they became pink and white bicolor bindweed flowers. Now it has gotten difficult to find a white example but I saw this one and many more with it in a field recently. It reminded me of playing in milkweed scented fields with grass up to my shoulders watching big black and yellow garden spiders weaving their nests. I never see them anymore either.

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals it is said, the older the flower.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. Tansy is a natural insect repellent and was used as such in colonial times. Dried tansy added to the straw in mattresses was said to keep bedbugs away. Most tansy plants are seen in gardens but it had naturalized itself in New England by 1785 and can still be occasionally found growing along roadsides. It’s a good plant to use in vegetable gardens for pest control. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

I saw a beautiful flower on the side of the road and stopped to see something I had never seen. I loved the color of it.

A closer look told me it was a campanula and after some research I think it might be a clustered bellflower (Campanula glomerata,) which is a garden escapee. It is said to be a “vigorous rhizomatous perennial” originally from Europe and Japan. This is the first time I’ve seen it but I wonder how long it will take before it is a common sight along our roadsides, like the highly invasive purple loosestrife. There were several plants in this spot.

There are a few orchids blooming now and one is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) These orchids are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore, though the pleated leaves are close to those of false hellebore.

As I was taking photos of the tiny flowers an even tinier insect showed up. Scientists have discovered that the flowers of the broad leaved helleborine orchids have a secret; their nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone they say, and when insects sip it they get quite a buzz and tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. I’m sorry this photo is so poor but these orchids grow in the shade and this is an extreme close up.

Once the insect flies off it will most likely be stoned enough to be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for its intoxicating nectar. But it doesn’t happen quickly; this insect crawled right into the cup and decided to stay for a while. Maybe it was too tipsy to fly.

Arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible. It often grows in deep shade but it will also grow in full sun, so it has covered all the bases.

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late into summer.

I remembered a spot where last year I saw what I thought were the only examples of panicled tick trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) I had ever seen. When I returned this year I was very happy to see that there were even more plants but I have done more research and discovered that I misidentified them. Though the long thin shape of its flower head is correct the flowers are not.

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

The pale yellow flowers of tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted by red or pink on their edges. This is a native lettuce that can reach 10 feet tall with clusters of small, 1/4 inch flowers at the top of the stalks. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even leaves on the same plant looking different from each other.  Native Americans used this plant medicinally. The milky white sap contains lactucarium, a sedative and analgesic. It is still used in medicines today.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.
~Edgar A. Guest

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Now is the high point of the year for the flower lovers among us in this area. You don’t have to look very hard to find them. They’re in lawns, meadows, river banks and waste areas; really just about everywhere. Now is the time to see Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) which don’t have the jagged red ring around their center like a maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) and bloom later than maiden pinks; usually in July. The flowers are also smaller and the plant, rather than growing in large clumps of 40-50 flowers out in the open like the maiden pink, blooms shyly in threes and fours at the edges of meadows. It’s a pretty little thing that I wish I’d see more of. Though it originally came from Europe it can hardly be called invasive.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) has just started blooming and is a common late summer sight in the meadows. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name.

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals it is said, the older the flower.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant as this one did, and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love thistle blossoms; I had a bumblebee swoop right over my shoulder and almost push me out of the way to get at this flower.

Globe thistle (Echinops) is a garden thistle that isn’t very prickly at all compared to a bull thistle.  This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony.  On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. Finches might.

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susan and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of some of the more than 43 varieties of Liatris. They are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

There are a few orchids blooming now and one is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) These orchids are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore, though the pleated leaves are close to those of false hellebore.

Scientists have discovered that the flowers of the broad leaved helleborine orchids have a secret; their nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for its intoxicating nectar.

I’ve been watching the only northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) I know of for weeks now, waiting for it to bloom. Finally it did and I felt lucky to be able to be there to see it. I found this plant by accident two years ago when it bloomed in this same spot. Last year there was no sign of it so I assumed that I’d never see it again, but here it is.

Though the flowers of the northern club spur orchid aren’t at all showy in my experience the plant is rare, so showy or not I’m happy to see it. It is small at about eight inches tall and grows in very wet soil in the dark of the woods, and that gives it another common name: the small green wood orchid.

Each flower on this orchid has a long, curving spur that extends from the base, and that is where its common name comes from.

Brittle stem hemp nettle is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but is hard to find here. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

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

We have many different varieties of St. John’s wort but this is a first appearance on this blog for pale St. John’s Wort (Hypericum ellipticum.) That’s because for years I thought it was dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) until I took a closer look. Both plants grow in the wet mud at pond edges, often side by side, but dwarf St. John’s wort flowers are smaller and the plant is very branched, while pale St. John’s wort is not. The color of the flowers is a bit paler than other varieties but unless I saw them side by side I doubt I could tell.

Bright red seed pods help identify pale St. John’s wort. Oddly, Canada St. John’s wort has flower buds that are the same color, but that plant is much smaller and doesn’t usually grow near water.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.) Pokeweed was called pocon by Native Americans. The Delaware tribe used the plant as a heart stimulant and other tribes made a salve from it and used it as a cure for rheumatism. If it isn’t used correctly pokeweed can be toxic.

Though as a boy all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) it has gotten to the point where I see these bicolor ones as often as the plain white ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves. This flower was full of tiny insects, which are the black spots at the base of its throat.

I found some beautiful purple phlox growing on the unmowed side of a road. The flower heads were quite large and anyone with a garden would have been happy to have had them in it. I’m guessing that’s just where it escaped from; I doubt that it’s native but it certainly is beautiful. We do have a native phlox called Phlox paniculata but its flowers are blue. Native Americans used phlox medicinally and they were among the first wildflowers in the United States to be collected and exported back to Europe, where they became very popular. Wherever you happen to be in this world I hope that you are able to see beauty like you’ve seen here each day.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

Read Full Post »

1-asters-in-park

We do love our asters here in New England and right now you’d be hard pressed to find a roadside where they weren’t blooming. As if thousands of native asters along our roads weren’t enough, we also grow cultivars in our parks and gardens. I found the example in the above photo in a local children’s park. I don’t know its name but it was a beautiful thing and very big; probably 5 feet across and covered with blue and purple flowers..

2-annual-fleabane

Annual fleabane (Erigeron annuus) is an easy flower to ignore and I’m often guilty of doing so, maybe because it’s so common and I see it everywhere all through the summer, from June to October.

3-annual-fleabane-blossom

At this time of year it would be easy to mistake annual fleabane for an aster if the fleabanes didn’t start blooming so much earlier.  There’s also the fact that they just don’t have the “aster look” when you see the entire plant. There can sometimes be 40-50 small, half inch flowers blooming at the same time.

4-bluestem-goldenrod

In spite of the dryness bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) is having a good year, but I can’t find a single plant with a blue stem. That’s probably because a very thin wax coating is what makes the stems blue, and the wax can melt in hot weather. I’ve seen the same thing happen to blue gray hosta leaves, which are also covered with a wax coating.

5-soapwort

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) still blooms on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Its common name comes from the way the leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

6-rose-of-sharon

When I see a rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) I always think of my time spent as a gardener in Florida. I worked in the gardens of a large hotel and the job included trimming what seemed like miles of tropical hibiscus hedges (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and rose of Sharon is a kind of hardy hibiscus in the same family as the tropical hibiscus. The hardy version shown here has large trumpet shape blossoms in early fall.

7-knapweed

Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) is still blooming but this year the blossoms are very light colored, while last year the plants in this spot had much darker blossoms. I wish I knew what determined what shade of a certain color a flower will be. Asters alone must come in every shade of purple known to man and knapweed appears to run a close second.

8-pink-rose

I saw this beautiful pink rose unfurling in a local park. It might have been the last rose of summer or the first rose of fall. I was disappointed by its lack of scent. Plant breeders often sacrifice scent in favor of color and / or size. After growing up with a yard full of heavenly scented Rosa rugosa it’s a practice that I’ve never been completely in favor of.

9-japanese-daisy

This daisy like flower also blooms in a local park and did so last year even when snow was falling. It looks like a Shasta daisy on steroids, growing two feet tall with tough leathery leaves that looked much like Shasta daisy leaves. After a little research I think it might be a Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum,) also called Nippon daisy, which tells me that it must be from Japan. Last year it was blooming beautifully after a 28 °F night, so it’s certainly cold hardy.

10-phlox

Nothing says fall quite like phlox, and I see a lot of them. Most of the plants I see are in gardens but I think the one pictured is Phlox paniculata, which is native to the eastern United States. Native Americans used many species of phlox medicinally and they were among the first wildflowers in the United States to be collected and exported back to Europe, where they became very popular.

11-gazania

I found this gazania at our local college. Gazanias are natives of South Africa and like heat and sunshine, which they’ve had plenty of here this summer. They are also drought tolerant, which was another plus this summer. I don’t know this one’s name but it was a bright, cheery plant.

12-ne-aster

 I don’t really know why but I always look for the darkest flower in a group. I suppose one reason might be because darker colors are often more intense, as this deep purple New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) shows. It’s very beautiful and for me, in the world of daisy like flowers, this one approaches perfection. It was very easy for me to lose myself in it for a while.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven? ~ A.J. Balfour

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

1. Marsh St. Johnswort

I first met the beautiful little marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) last year when I was in a kayak and I remember what a time I had getting a photo of them. This year though I found them growing in the wet soil at the edge of a pond. I still got wet knees but taking a photo was much easier. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our others St John’s worts are yellow. It likes saturated soil and will even grow in water at the shoreline. The flowers are small, about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

2. Marsh St. Johnswort Foliage

Most marsh St. John’s worts have green leaves but occasionally they will be colored like those pictured. This plant closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine, so you’ll never find them blooming on a cloudy day. The flower buds are a beautiful deep red.

3. Canada St. Johnswort

Native Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) also has deep red buds but its flowers come in the more traditional yellow. Though some very reputable websites will tell you that this plant likes wet soil I always find it in dry gravel. It has grown in full, 90 degree sunshine for months now without harm and I think most of the watering it has had has come from morning dew, so it’s a very tough little plant. I wonder if they might have it confused with dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) which likes the wet soil of pond edges, or if I have it confused with yet another variety of St. John’s wort that I don’t know about. Canada St. John’s wort is also called lessor Canada St. John’s wort, so I assume that there must be a greater Canada St. John’s wort.

4. Canada St. Johnswort

Canada St. John’s wort flowers are smaller than even dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) flowers are. They’re said to be 1/4 inch across but I think they’re half that. The Hypericum part of the scientific name comes from the words hyper, meaning ‘above’ and eikon meaning ‘picture’ in the Greek language. The flowers were once hung above pictures to prevent evil befalling the pagan midsummer festival. The popular festival eventually became the Feast of St. John, and that’s how the large family of St. John’s worts came by their common name.

5. Bluet

I was surprised to see a little group of bluets (Houstonia caerulea) growing beside the Canada St. John’s wort. I usually find them in mown lawns and I didn’t know they could stand such harsh conditions, but there they were. They seem delicate but are obviously quite hardy.

6. Slender Gerardia

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) is a shy little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of meadows and I usually find it growing by the Canada St. John’s wort. 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.

7. Slender Gerardia

Slender Gerardia 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.

8. Globe Thistle

Growing globe thistle (Echinops) is a good way to get more blue into the garden.  This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony.  On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. Finches might.

9. Knapweed

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  Even though I know all of that its flowers win me over every time. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

10. Burdock

Common burdock (Arctium minus) must have come to this country very early, probably tangled in a horse or cow’s tail, because it was noted as being widespread in 1663. In fact it was so common then that some who came later wrote that it was native. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.  Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. The examples in the above photo had just opened. When fully open long white styles will grow from the dark purple anthers. In this flower head they were just beginning to show.

11. Bee on Burdock

Pollination isn’t a problem for the common burdock because bees and insects of all kinds seem to love it. In fact I had a harder time finding a flower without an insect on it than I did getting a shot of this honeybee. A single plant produces 15,000 seeds on average, but some have been known to produce as many as 400,000.

12. Ground Nut

Groundnut (Apias americana) flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years.  Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

13. Ground Nut

Ground nut 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. The roots became an important food source and they forbade Natives from digging the tubers on colonial lands. And we wonder why they were upset with the settlers.

14. Soapwort

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

15. Soapwort

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals, the older the flower.

16. Morning Glory

Many flowers have a visible inner light but few shine it out as brightly as this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow.

17. Morning Glory Close-2

Maybe the postal workers stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just as I do.

Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery, man ceases to be man. Henry Beston

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

1. NE Aster

Some of you might be thinking what, another aster? Well yes, asters are everywhere at this time of year and though I showed a New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) in my last flower post it was much lighter in color than this example. I like the dark colored ones, but they’re much harder to find than the lighter colors. It’s said that if you rub the flower heads of this plant between your fingers they’ll emit an odor similar to that of camphor or turpentine, yet the Native American Ojibwe tribe smoked the root to attract game. I’m guessing that the smoked root didn’t smell like camphor or turpentine.

2. Bladderwort

The swollen, air filled, modified leaf stems of the native small floating bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) radiate out from a point on the stem like the spokes of a wheel and keep the flower above the water while currents carry it over the surface of ponds. The parts of the plant that trail under the water look like roots and are where the bladders are located. Each bladder has small hairs on it which, when touched by an insect, trigger a trapdoor that opens quickly and sucks the insect inside. Once trapped inside there is no escape, and the insect is slowly digested.

According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffee, Henry David Thoreau didn’t think very highly of this plant. He wrote that it was “A dirty conditioned flower, like a sluttish woman with a gaudy yellow bonnet.” That’s a side of Thoreau that I’ve never seen and it seems an odd reaction for a nature nut like him to have had. I would think he’d have happily studied and written about such an unusual plant.

3. Bladderwort

Gaudy or not bladderwort flowers are among the most challenging to get a good photo of, both because yellow is a challenging color to begin with and the plants float offshore, often just out of reach. Luckily the wind pushed this example very close to shore. You can get to these plants by kayak or canoe but even so, it’s a job to get a good photo.

4. Big Leaf Aster

Big leaf asters are never going to win a blue ribbon at a flower show but I enjoy a special bond with them because they were the subject of the first flower photo that I ever sold, and the biology textbook publishing people who bought it wanted it because it showed both the flowers and leaves. Since the leaves are almost ground hugging and the flowers rise up on 2 foot tall stems, showing both isn’t as easy to do as it might sound. Depth of field is important in the world of flower photography and both the leaves and flowers should be shown whenever possible. This plant’s large leaves are used for gathering as much light as possible because it grows in shade, usually on forested slopes. It can form huge colonies of several thousand plants.

5. Creeping Bellflower

Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in dry places that get full sun. This is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom, so I was surprised to see it. It is an invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It will choke out weaker native plants. I usually find it on forest edges.

6. Soapwort

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) blossoms quite late along the river. It always seems fitting to me that a plant that can produce a soapy lather should grow so near water. This introduced plant doesn’t seem at all invasive; in fact I often have a hard time finding it. It’s a plant that always seems to look a bit ragged and weedy and is probably ignored by most that frequent the riverbank, but I like seeing its simple, beautiful white flowers when little else is blooming.

7. False Dandelion

I see false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) almost everywhere I go at this rime of year. If you look at the yellow flowers on tall wiry stems without paying attention to the foliage this plant might look like hawkweed, but its leaves are very different and look more like narrow dandelion leaves.

8. False Dandelion

Both dandelions and false dandelions have a rosette of edible leaves and a central taproot. The flower stems of false dandelion are solid, tall and wiry while those of true dandelions are hollow and much shorter.

9. Pink Turtlehead

No matter how often I look at turtlehead plants (Chelone) I don’t see turtle heads, but I know that a lot of people do. This pink flowered plant was given to me by a friend years ago and I’ve divided it and given pieces away several times, so it has brought pleasure to many. Our native turtleheads (Chelone glabra) are white. Since I don’t know the history of this plant I don’t know if it’s a pink version of the native or if it’s a cultivar.  Butterflies and hummingbirds love these flowers so it’s a good addition to a garden. The plant is also maintenance free. In the time I’ve had it I’ve done nothing to it but divide it up to give away.  Native Americans thought highly of this plant and used it medicinally to cure a variety of sores and miscellaneous external ailments.

10. Beechdrops

Beech drops (Epifagus americana) grow in deep shade and can be hard to photograph, but a sunbeam came along and lit this one up for me. This plant grows near beech trees and is a parasite that fastens onto the roots of the tree using root like structures called haustoria. It takes all of its nutrients from the tree so it doesn’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. These plants are annuals that die off in cold weather.

11. Beechdrops

Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish stripe are the only things found on a beech drop’s leafless stems. On the lower part of the stem are flowers that never have to open because they self-fertilize. They are known as cleistogamous flowers. On the upper part of the stem are tubular Chasmogamous flowers, which open and are pollinated by insects and are shown in the above photo. Science doesn’t know much about which insects pollinate this plant. Sitting and watching a group of these plants and recording which insects visit them would be a good project for a budding biologist, but they would have to know their insects well or be very fast on their shutter button.

12. Tearthumb

Native arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open I’ve discovered recently that they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible.

13. Tearthumb Stem

But that isn’t all there is to the story of tearthumb. It comes by that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its red stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. It actually uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I find it near ponds, blooming quite late in summer.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »