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Posts Tagged ‘Spotted Touch me not’

I was very happy to find a new colony of narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) on my recent trip to Pitcher Mountain. I saw a flash of blue out of the corner of my eye as I drove by and thought it was probably vetch, but I turned around and was surprised by what you see here. These plants are on the rare side in this area so finding more is always a good thing.

These flowers appear identical to those of bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but the foliage is quite different. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them in this area very often. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. I saw several trying to get into the flowers while I was with them on this day. Its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas.

Pretty groundnut (Apias americana) flowers have just started blooming. They come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. The plant is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river.

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. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

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 nuts.” 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 at tripping up hikers.

I found a forest of downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens) all in bloom.

The tiny flowers look like miniature versions of our native pink lady’s slipper orchid flowers. Each one is so small it could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. This photo shows where the “downy” part of the common name comes from. Everything about the flower stalk is hairy.

I like the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid’s mottled silvery foliage as much as its blossoms.  The flowers grow on a relatively long stalk and though I’ve tried hundreds of times I’ve been able to show the flower stalk and basal leaves together clearly in a photo only once. This orchid grows in the woods usually in deep shade, but I find that most plants get at least an hour or two of sunshine no matter where they grow.

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

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

I’m seeing more slender gerardia flowers this year than I ever have before. You can see in this shot how the blossoms seem to float in the air because the leaves and stems are so small.  

I know of only one place to find field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) and it is always worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and that’s just what I usually do.

On field milkwort flowers what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant but on this day they were covered in bumblebees. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

I thought I’d show you a field milkwort flower head on a penny so you could get a better idea of their size. You can also see the small sword shaped leaves in this photo, and how the flower heads sit at the very top of the stem. Both field milkwort and the slender gerardia we saw previously grow in gravel in full sun.

Native Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense) has deep red seed pods 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 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. These blossoms are tiny; less than the diameter of a pencil eraser.

It’s almost time to say goodbye to blue vervain (Verbena hastata) and you can tell that because the remaining blossoms are at the tops of the stems. This is another plant that loves water and it grows near ponds and rivers, and even wet roadside ditches. The bitter roots of this plant were used by native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into flour by some tribes, and others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to treat nosebleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the Europeans and they used it in much the same ways.

I just love the color of blue vervain.

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. I love the shade of blue that it wears.

I think I’ve seen more jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) this year than I ever have. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds. Jewelweed gets its name not from its orange flowers but from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

Jewelweed blossoms dangle at the ends of long filaments and sway in the slightest breath of a breeze, so it’s always tricky getting a shot of one. I like to do it for the practice, but it can make you crazy.

I’ve probably shown too many fragrant white waterlily photos already this year but this one was covered by what I thought might be tiny black water lily aphids (Rhopalosiphum nymphaea.) These insects feed by draining sap from the lily’s leaves, thereby weakening the plant so I wasn’t happy to see them. But when I got home and saw the photo I had taken I saw that even covered with insects, fragrant white waterlilies are very beautiful. It’s one of my favorite aquatic plants.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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You know it is high summer when our native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) start 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.

On this day bumblebees were all over the coneflowers.

There were lots of insects on the tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) too and that surprised me because 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. These insects must not have read the same books that I have because they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Tansy is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries and was brought over on the first ships to cross the Atlantic. 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. 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.

Pickerel weed likes to grow in shallow water and large amounts of it grow here in the shallows of a local pond. This plant tells the story of how low the water level is and can be a help to kayakers and canoeists who don’t want to find themselves stuck in the mud. This plant is blossoming much later this year than it usually does and some aquatics like pipewort and arrowhead I haven’t seen at all.

Pickerelweed’s common name comes from the pickerel fish because they were once thought to breed only under its leaves. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. Though humans can eat the seeds and new spring shoots of this plant there is no record that I can find of Native Americans using it for food, but I have read that some tribes used it as a contraceptive. I’m not sure how that worked.

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

Though I’m not foolish enough to think that I’ve seen every plant there is to see out there I’m always surprised to see plants I’ve never seen before growing in areas I’ve walked through dozens, if not hundreds of times. I first saw racemed milkwort (Polygala polygama) recently in a spot I frequent occasionally and then I found it growing in my own yard. It’s a small, shin high plant with flowers too small for me to see any real detail in without magnification.

The tiny flowers are about a 1/4 inch across with 2 winged sepals on either side of 2 petals rolled into a tube in the center. The flowers also have a fringed crest but this example hadn’t blossomed full so it doesn’t show. These flowers are like miniature versions of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers, which appear in mid-May.

This photo of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers that I took last May shows the similarities between them and the racemed milkwort blossom in the previous photo. The central tubular petals and two winged petals immediately led me to the polygala family when I was trying to identify the racemed milkwort. Other names for fringed polygala are fringed milkwort and gaywings. They’re very beautiful things that I wait impatiently to see each spring.

This photo shows how small the flowers of racemed milkwort really are. They’re hard on the eyes, but worth the effort to see in all their beauty.

Another tiny flower is found on native Canada St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense). The plant 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 sunshine for months now without harm 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.

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 that’s stretching it a bit. 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.

Enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis) is a woodland plant that likes a lot of shade and is one of those plants that is easy to miss until it blooms along trails in July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. To say that these flowers are difficult to get a good photo of is an understatement. I usually have to try many times, and I had to again this year. I think this was somewhere near the 10th attempt.

At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Enough of the tiny flowers for now. Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is a legume in the bean family. This plant gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks, much like the enchanter’s nightshade we just saw. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals. I saw these examples out in an unmowed meadow and by the time I had waded out to them I was chest high in plants.

Showy tick trefoil has very pretty flowers that are obviously in the pea / bean family. It is also called Canada trefoil. One odd fact about this plant is that there are no known uses of it by Native Americans or colonials. From my experience that’s rare among native plants in this area. Maybe they just picked the beautiful flowers and used them to decorate their homes.

Each inch long spotted jewelweed blossom dangles at the end of a long filament and can dance in even in the slightest breath of breeze, and this makes getting a good photo always a challenge. It usually takes many tries for blog worthy photos of the blossoms and this year was no different.  Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies pollinate these little flowers. You need a long tongue to reach all the way into that curved nectar spur. It is said that jewelweed is an important source of food for ruby throated hummingbirds.

I tried to get a bee’s eye view looking into a jewelweed blossom (Impatiens capensis) but when I saw the photo I could see that I had been only partially successful. The lower lip of the blossom looked like red candle wax had dripped on it, which is common. This plant gets its common name from the way its seed pods snap and release the seeds when touched. Other names include orange Jewelweed, common jewelweed, and orange balsam.  The name “jewelweed” comes from the way that raindrops sparkle on its wax coated leaves. The way the flowers shine, I wonder if the same waxy coating isn’t on them.

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is an invasive perennial 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 but will grow just about anywhere. It’s hard to deny its beauty, especially when you see a meadow full of it growing alongside yellow goldenrods, but the plant chokes out natives including goldenrod and creates monocultures. I know of 2 places where you’ll soon see nothing but purple.

This is the first time long leaf speedwell (Veronica longifolia) has appeared on this blog because I’ve never seen it growing in the wild before, as these examples were. It’s a pretty plant that is native to Europe and China and is usually grown in gardens. It has obviously escaped but certainly doesn’t seem to be aggressive or invasive. I love its showy blue flower spikes.

Any post that has two plants that I’ve never seen before in it has to be a good one and I hope you enjoyed it. I’m sorry it ran a little long but there is just so much to see out there. Something else I’ve never seen is so many black eyed Susans growing in one spot. This roadside display is actually about 4 times wider than what you see here and there is a drift of many thousands of blossoms, so they’re having a good year.

The world unwraps itself to you again and again as soon as you are ready to see it anew. ~Gregory Maguire

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1. Touch me not

Except for very late bloomers like witch hazel, late September is really more about which flowers are still blooming rather than which are just starting. Spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis) is a good example of flowers that will bloom right up until a good frost. As day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

2. Touch me not

When spotted touch-me-not flowers first open they are male, but then change to female. The way to tell is by looking for white pollen. If white pollen is present the flower is male. Female flowers will have a small green pistil in place of the pollen seen in this photo.

3. Black Eyed Susan

I used to think that black eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia hirta) were the longest blooming of any wildflower but once I started paying attention I found that wasn’t true. But it is a marathoner rather than a sprinter and can bloom from June right up until a hard frost.

This plant was always believed to have been given its common name by English colonists, but that caused a real conundrum among botanists who all agreed that it was a prairie native. Though everyone still agrees that it is a prairie native, recent research has shown that it was growing in Maryland in the 1600s. In other words it was most likely growing in all parts of the country then, just as it does today. I can’t understand why botanists thought that a prairie native would simply stay there. Why wouldn’t it have spread far and wide, just like plants do today?

4. Knapweed

Knapweed is terribly invasive and hated by pasture owners but even though I know all of that its flowers win me over every time. This was one of just a few left in a large group of plants that had all withered and turned brown.

5. Mullien

I was surprised to see this mullein (Verbascum thapsus) plant blooming so late in the year. I wonder if it will have time to set seeds. Mullein is a biennial and flowers and dies in its second year of growth. It is considered a weed but if all of its flowers opened at once along its tall flower stalk it would be a prized garden specimen.

6. Big Leaf Aster

By the time I got to the spot along the Ashuelot River in Gilsum where big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) grow they had almost all gone by, but I did find one or two that were still hanging on. The big leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify.

This plant taught me a good lesson; the photo I took of it last year was chosen by the State of Georgia for inclusion in its new wildflower guide because it showed both the flowers and leaves, so if you think that you might like to sell your wildflower photos try to include some foliage whenever possible.

7. Phlox

Even phlox, a plant known for its late bloom period, has almost gone by now. There are many varieties of phlox but I think the one pictured is Phlox paniculata, which is native to the eastern United States.

8. Tear Thumb

Arrow leaved tear thumb (Polygonum sagittatum) has small tufts of pinkish white flowers at the ends of long, weak stems. It is usually found sprawling on and around other stronger stemmed plants that help support it. It loves to grow near water.

9. Tear Thumb Stem

The reddish, 4 sided stems of arrow leaved tearthumb have tiny, backward pointing prickles that the plant uses to hang onto other plants when it crawls over them in search of more sunlight. These prickles are plenty sharp enough to tear into the flesh of your thumb (or any other body part) if you try to pull at the plant without gloves on, and that’s where the common name comes from.

10. Yarrow

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has a period of bloom in June through August and then rests for a while before giving it another go.  Mankind has had a relationship with this plant since before recorded history and dried sprigs of it have been found in Neanderthal graves. The ancient Greeks used it on wounds to staunch blood flow and so did Native Americans.

According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffey, in England if a boy put a sprig of yarrow in his nostril and twisted it around three times and got a nosebleed, he was sure to win his sweetheart. It is said that the boys in Suffolk call the plant green ‘arrow and recite the following rhyme:

Green ‘arrow, green ‘arrow you bears a white blow;
If my love love me, my nose will bleed now;
If my love don’t love me, it won’t bleed a drop;
If my love do love me, ‘twill bleed every drop.

11. Purple Morning Glory

I know that this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) isn’t a wild flower but I had to sneak it in because of the amazing light that seemed to be shining from it.

Autumn asks that we prepare for the future —that we be wise in the ways of garnering and keeping. But it also asks that we learn to let go—to acknowledge the beauty of sparseness. ~Bonaro W. Overstreet

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