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Posts Tagged ‘Soapwort’

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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