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Posts Tagged ‘Soapwort’

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

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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

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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

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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.

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1. Fragrant White Water Lily

Our aquatic plants have started blooming here in the southwestern part of New Hampshire and queen among them, at least in my opinion, is the fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata.) I happened to be with someone recently who crawled out on a fallen tree to smell one of these beauties. When I told him that people said they smelled like honeydew melons he agreed. Sort of-it was a hard fragrance to describe, he said, but a pleasant one.  I’m happy just seeing them; I like the golden fire that burns in their center.

2. Pickerel Weed

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is another aquatic that has small purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep. It’s a plant that often forms large colonies.

3. Pickerel Weed

A small sampling of what was a very large colony of pickerel weed. Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

4. Burr Reed

One of my favorite aquatics is American burr reed (Sparganium americanum,) more for its quirky appearance than for any other reason. Its round, spiky female flowers grow at the bottom of the stem and the male flowers with yellow stamens above them. Burr reed usually grows right at the edge of ponds and rivers in waterlogged soil but it will sometimes grow in still water. Ducks and other waterfowl love the seeds.

5. Purple Loosestrife

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. It likes wet, sunny meadows.

Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant like the one pictured above is becoming very difficult. I read of an experiment going on in Dublin, a town east of here, in which the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture is releasing European beetles to feed on purple loosestrife. The thought is that the beetles will control the plant but my question is, suppose they do control the plant and suppose one day there isn’t any more purple loosestrife. What will the beetles feed on then, native plants? Will we be any better off?  I think we need to be very careful what we wish for.

6. Purple Loosestrife

Though it is much hated you can’t deny the beauty of purple loosestrife. I’ve worked for nurseries and have had people come in wanting to buy “that beautiful purple flower that grows in wet areas.”

7. Mad Dog Skullcap

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) gets its common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge.

8. Mad Dog Skullcap

There is powerful medicine in both mad dog or marsh skullcap and when Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. The small blue and white flowers always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Those of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller.

9. Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet (Spiraea Ulmaria) is another plant that I look for at the water’s edge, though it doesn’t usually grow close enough to get its feet wet. It grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. This plant was one of three considered most sacred by the Druids and has been used medicinally for many thousands of years. Here in America it is an introduced invasive, but little is heard about it and nobody seems to mind.

NOTE: The scientific name I meant to use for this plants is Spirea alba.

10. Soapwort

I find soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) growing along river banks. The plant 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. It is said to be especially useful for waterproofing wool, and museum conservators use it for cleaning delicate fabrics that can be harmed by modern soaps.

11. Riverbank Flowers

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is just coming into bloom and I like its dusty rose pink color with the beautiful blue of vervain. I found them on the rocky banks of the Ashuelot River.

12. Canada thistle  aka Cirsium arvense

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) that most of us have tangled with. Though it does have spines along the leaf margins and stem, they are quite small. Despite its common name the plant is actually a native of Europe but has spread to virtually every country in the northern hemisphere. It has a deep and extensive creeping root system and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold. For that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states.

13. Orange Daylilly

Along with lilacs and peonies, the common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) is a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is also found in cemeteries often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. It is also very tough; my brother used to mow his when they finished blooming and they still came back and bloomed year after year. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common.

This plant was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes and all of which have the potential to spread just like the original has. If you find yourself doing battle with a particularly weedy daylily, no matter the color, there’s a very good chance that the common orange is one of its parents.

14. Phlox

Phlox whispered that fall is on the way but I didn’t want to hear it. It seems like just yesterday that I was taking photos of spring beauties.

15. Herb Robert

Herb Robert is a geranium that has never appeared on this blog because I’ve never found it in the wild until just recently on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Surry, which is north of Keene. My question, once I had identified it, was: Robert who? As it turns out Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

A very curious fact about this plant is how many people, scientists included, have discovered that it grows most abundantly in areas that have high levels of radiation. It is thought to absorb the radiation from the soil, break it down and disperse it. If I had a Geiger counter I’d go back and check the bedrock outcrop that I found it growing on.

16. Radish

Friends let their radishes go to seed this year and among the rows of plain white flowers was a beautiful pink one. Since Henry David Thoreau instilled a spirit of nonconformity in me when I read his words as a boy, I was happy to see this plant breaking ranks and doing its own thing. Many of the plants found in nurseries are those that have done the same.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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1. Dark Aster

This dark colored aster was caught in the act of unfurling its petals. I think that New England asters have several natural color variants from light to dark purple, and even pink. This shade is my personal favorite.

 2. Blue Stemmed Goldenrod aka Solidago caesia

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod are blue because they are coated with a waxy “bloom” much like a grape, plum, or blueberry.  Quite often though, the blue coloring will have weathered away and the stem will be green, so it’s best to look for the little tufts of flowers that appear in the leaf axils on a usually horizontal stem. Zigzag goldenrod also blooms in the leaf axils but it has much larger, rounder leaves.

3. Blue Stemmed Goldenrod aka Solidago caesia

This photo shows a closer look at the blue stem. Blue stemmed goldenrod can stand quite a lot of shade and I often find it in places that get only morning sun.

4. Indian Tobacco

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. I think it should be called Catch me if you can because 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.

 5. Beech Drops

Beech drops (Epifagus Americana) is another plant that is hard to photograph, but only because it grows in deep shade under beech trees. It’s a parasite that fastens onto the roots of the beech using structures called haustoria and takes all of its nutrients from the tree, so it doesn’t need leaves or chlorophyll. These plants are annuals that die off in cold weather.

6. Beech Drop Closeup

Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish stripe are the only things found on beech drop stems. On the lower part of the stems 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. There isn’t much known about which insects pollinate this plant but in almost every photo I’ve seen of it the flowers are draped in webs.

7. Johnny Jump Up

Cheery little Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have suddenly appeared at the edge of my lawn. Every time we admire a pansy we have this plant to thank, because all of today’s pansies came from it.  The word pansy comes from the French pensée, which means thought or reflection. I’m not sure what thought has to do with it but folklore tells us that, if the juice from the plant is squeezed onto the eyelids of a sleeping person, they will fall in love with the next person that they see. Another name for it is love in idleness, and it can be found in its love potion form in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

8. Pink Turtlehead

Some see a turtlehead when they look at these flowers and that’s how they got their common name. I find the white ones, called Chelone glabra, in nature and the pink ones pictured here grow in my garden. Their name is Chelone oblique and they are sold in nurseries now. Pink turtleheads are a tough, very pretty, late summer / early fall perennial that prefers afternoon shade and needs absolutely no care at all. I planted mine many years ago and have done nothing to it since except remove the dead stems.

9. Soapwort Flowers

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) gets its common name from the way it produces lather when the roots or flowering stems are added to water. It gets soapy enough to be used to wash clothes and another common name is bouncing bet, which is an old name for a washer woman. As the fragrant flowers age the white petals begin to curve backwards. I find it growing along river banks.

 10. Sweet Everlasting

Sweet everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium) is another plant that warns that fall is coming. Its common name comes from the way it holds its scent for years after drying. Some say that, even after it has been dried for a long time, the plants will suddenly release a burst of scent as if they had just been picked. Sweet everlasting was an important medicinal plant for Native Americans, who used it to treat asthma and other lung ailments. To this day it is often used by herbalists for the same purpose.

 11. Sand Joint Weed

Just as its common name implies, sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) grows in sand, and I find it growing in very hot, dry sand where only the toughest plants grow. It stands about a foot tall and have thin, wiry stems and tiny white, pink, or rarely red flowers. The leaves are also very small and lie against the stem, making the plant appears leafless. The plant gets the second part of its common name from the odd way that the stems are jointed.

 12. Sand Joint Weed

I put a penny in the sand and leaned a flowering stem of sand jointweed over it so you could get a sense of how small its flowers really are. I can’t say that this plant is the hardest to photograph that I’ve ever seen, but it has to be right up there in the top five. It’s a beautiful little thing though, and is worth the effort.

Flowers are the plant’s highest fulfillment, and are not here exclusively for herbaria, county floras and plant geography: they are here first of all for delight. ~John Ruskin

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Here are a few more examples of what is blooming in southern New Hampshire at this time of year.

1. Upright Bedstraw aka Galium album

Upright bedstraw (Galium album) is also called upright hedge bedstraw, and that name is perfect because it describes where this plant is found growing. Where the meadow meets the woods there can be found millions of tiny white, honey scented flowers lighting up the shade. Bedstraws hail from Europe and have been used medicinally for centuries. In ancient times entire plants were gathered and used as mattress stuffing and that’s where the plant gets its common name. The dried leaves are said to smell like vanilla in some species of Gallium and honey in others.

2. Tickseed Coreopsis

Tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) gets its common name from the way that its seeds cling to clothing like ticks. The plant is also called lance leaved coreopsis and that is where the lanceolata part of the scientific name comes from. Coreopsis is found in flower beds as well as in the wild and can form large colonies if left alone. The yellow flowers are about an inch and a half across and stand at the top of thin, wiry stems.  This is a native plant with a cousin known as greater tickseed that grows in the south.

3. Swamp Candles

Our native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris,) not surprisingly, like to have their feet wet most of the time and are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. They bloom at about the same time as whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) and that is because both plants are closely related. These plants stand about 2-3 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers.

4. Swamp Candle

Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The stamens are streaked with yellow and red.

5. Wild Radish

Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) has pale yellow flowers similar in color to those of the sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) but they can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. I always find it growing at the edges of corn fields at this time of year, not because it likes growing with corn but because it likes to grow in disturbed soil. Wild radish is in the mustard family and is sometimes confused with wild mustard (Brassica kaber,) but that plant doesn’t have hairy stems like wild radish. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

 6. Bouncing Bet

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.

 7. Rabbit's Foot Clover

The feathery pink bits on rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) are sepals that help hide the tiny white petals on this plant. The sepals are much larger than the petals and make up the larger part of the flower head. This plant is introduced from Europe and grows on river banks and in sandy vacant lots. Its common name comes from the flower’s supposed resemblance to a rabbit’s foot.

 8. Monkey Flower aka Mimulus ringens

I didn’t think I’d see any native Allegheny monkey flowers (Mimulus ringens) this year because it usually starts blooming much earlier than it did. This plant likes sandy soil and sunny, wet places so I don’t see it that often. It is also called square stemmed monkey flower, for obvious reasons. The small but beautiful flowers are supposed to resemble the face of a smiling monkey, but I don’t see it. Does anybody else see a monkey here?

9. Canada Thistle

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is a small plant that is hated for its extensive root system that makes it almost impossible to get rid of in pastures. Not only does it have a taproot but also a large fibrous root system that can spread horizontally for several feet.  Canada thistle isn’t anywhere near as large or prickly as other thistles, but it does have small prickles on its leaf margins. I didn’t see the crab spider on the underside of the blossom until I looked at the photo.

10. Queen Anne's Lace

Everyone seems to be taking photos of Queen Anne’s lace from the backside this year, so since it is such a well-known plant that doesn’t need much in the way of explanation I thought I’d try it too. This plant is also called wild carrot and if you dig up its root and crush it, you’ll find that it smells exactly like a carrot. It should never be eaten unless you are absolutely certain of the plant’s identity however, because it closely resembles some of the most toxic plants known.

11. Hedge Bindweed aka Calystegia sepium

It was another day with bright, harsh sunlight, so I didn’t have much hope for flower photography, but this backlit hedge bindweed blossom (Calystegia sepium) stopped me in my tracks. This has been one of my favorite flowers for a long time-I can remember admiring it even as a small boy-but back then I called it a morning glory. Though it is in the morning glory family hedge bindweed is a perennial, while true morning glories (Ipomoea) are annuals.

12. Fragrant White Water Lily

I was determined to get close enough to a fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata) to get a decent shot and I did, but I also got my feet soaking wet. I wish I could have gotten close enough to smell it, but I would have needed a boat for that. Each blossom of this plant opens for just three days to let insects visit and after that the stalk coils like a spring, dragging the flower under water where it sets its seed. After several weeks the seeds are released into the water so currents can carry them to suitable locations to germinate.

I should like to enjoy this summer flower by flower, as if it were to be the last one for me.~ Andre Gide

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