Posts Tagged ‘Spotted Wintergreen’

1. One Flowered Pyrola Side View

Plants in the wintergreen family, not surprisingly, stay green throughout winter and some are quite rare in this area. This post is for the plant people among us, of the kind who feel their pulse quicken when they find a plant they’ve never seen before.  And there’s a good chance that they’ve never seen this one called one flowered pyrola (Moneses uniflora) because it is quite rare; the two plants in this photo are the only examples that I’ve ever seen. This plant is also called one flowered wintergreen and single delight. It is found in dry, cool, undisturbed forests and was used by Native Americans as a cold remedy, and to reduce swelling and ease pain.

 2. One Flowered Pyrola

One flowered pyrola is quite small and easy to miss. These nodding flowers were probably about 4 inches high. The flowers are fragrant but don’t produce nectar and are thought to be pollinated by bumblebees. They are made up of 5 petals and 10 stamens surrounding a bright green style and ovary. Along with orchids, the seeds of this plant are among the smallest known.  A single seed weighs about two millionths of a gram.

Because I wanted to do a post on only wintergreens I’ve saved the photos of one flowered pyrola since late June. It is the earliest of the wintergreens to flower here. The following plants are shown in the order of their blooming period.

 3. Shinleaf Plant

After one flowered pyrola blooms in June shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) follows closely behind.  Shinleaf is quite common in this area and can form large colonies. It seems to be more successful than some other wintergreens. Shinleaf and other plants in the wintergreen family contain compounds that are similar to aspirin and shinleaf was used by Native Americans as a poultice on injured shins and other parts of the body. That’s how the plant comes by its common name. Shinleaf leaves form a rosette at the base of the single, 4-5 inch tall flower stalk.

 4. Shinleaf Blossom

Shinleaf blossoms nod toward the forest floor so they are very hard to get a good photo of. This isn’t a very good one but it shows the different flower parts.  Like one flowered pyrola, shinleaf blossoms have 5 petals and 10 stamens, but it tucks all of its stamens together up under the top 2 petals.  Another difference is the long, “J” shaped style, which seems to be a perfect landing spot for insects trying to get at its pollen bearing anthers. The petals appear waxy and give the plant another common name of waxflower shinleaf.

5. Shinleaf Seed Pods

Shinleaf seed pods hang onto the flower’s J shaped style as the seeds are forming.

6. Striped Wintergreen Plant

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has my favorite wintergreen foliage which in winter turns deep purple where the darker green is on the leaf. This plant is also rare here, though I’m finding more and more spots where 1 or 2 plants grow. In all I probably know of 10 or 12 widely scattered plants. It’s hard to tell from a photo but these plants are so well camouflaged that I have looked right at them many times and not seen them. The flowers stand out and help me locate them though, so I begin looking for them in mid-July just as shinleaf is ending its bloom period.

7. Striped Wintergreen Flower

The flower of striped wintergreen is very similar to that of one flowered pyrola but its 5 petals are swept back, as if it had seen a strong wind. It also has 10 anthers but its style is very blunt. I’m hoping the small fly on the blossom is pollinating this plant. The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love).

8. Pipsissewa Plant

My favorite wintergreen flowers are found on pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) because they seem to be the showiest and often have a blush of pink. This plant grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer.

Something I didn’t know was that both Pyrolas and  Chimaphilas have a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and are partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids.

9. Pipsissewa Flowers

Once again pipsissewa displays the 5 petals, 10 anthers and large style that are so common among many wintergreens. I just noticed that the flower pictured is a bit of an over achiever and has 12 stamens, which shows how flowers sometimes vary from what we consider “the norm.” These flowers also wear a little pink skirt at the base of the style, which makes them even prettier. As with the previous wintergreens shown, these flowers are from 4-6 inches tall.

10. Teaberry

When I think of wintergreen I think of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) which looks nothing like the previous wintergreens, either in flower or leaf. This plant is also called teaberry or checkerberry and its small white flowers resemble those of the blueberry. It is probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong, minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it medicinally.

11. Teaberries

American wintergreen was the first plant my grandmother taught me to identify. Because she had trouble getting up from a kneeling position she would have me crawl around and gather up handfuls of the bright red, minty berries, which we would then share. She always called them checkerberries, but nobody seems to know where that name or the several others it has originated.  The berries pictured haven’t ripened yet, but you can tell that it’s going to be a good berry year. I’ve never seen so many on one sprig.

NOTE: These berries belong to the Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), also called false lily of the valley. That plant comes up everywhere and was mixed in with the American  wintergreen. Obviously I wasn’t paying attention when I was taking the photo and, since I’ve never paid much attention to the unripe berries of American wintergreen, I was fooled. See how easy it is?
Thanks to the folks at the New England Wildflower Society for pointing this out, and for reading this blog so faithfully.

Plants are nature’s alchemists, expert at transforming water, soil and sunlight into an array of precious substances, many of them beyond the ability of human beings to conceive, much less manufacture. ~Michael Pollan

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Here are a few more of the wildflowers that I’ve seen recently.

 1. Chicory

Blue has always been my favorite color and I can’t think of another flower more blue than chicory (Cichorium intybus.) I’ve read that chicory flowers can also rarely be white or pink, but I’ve never seen them. These plants aren’t real common here but you can find small colonies dotted here and there throughout the countryside. The large, inch and a half diameter flowers on 4 foot tall plants means they’re easy easy to see. The roasted and ground root of chicory makes a passable coffee substitute.

 2. Blue Vervain

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see the same beautiful blue color that I see in the chicory flower in the previous photo. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Sometimes color blindness isn’t so bad! Vervain flowers are considerably smaller than chicory, but there are usually so many blooming that they’re as easy to spot as that plant is. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans.

3. Common Speedwell aka Veronica officinalis

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) is another flower that looks blue to me, but that some books describe as purple. In other books I’ve seen it described as “blue to white.” In any case the flowers are very small, so you usually have to lie on your stomach in the dirt to get a good photo of them. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries.

4. Ants on Bristly Sarsaparilla

This bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) flower head had ants all over it, so I’m assuming that’s how it is pollinated. This plant is a native but it isn’t common and isn’t well known. I find it growing in full sun in very dry, sandy waste areas. It is listed by the USDA as endangered in many states. The stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. The lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter, so technically it is considered a shrub.

5. Moth Mullein

Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) gets its common name from the way the flowers’ stamens resembled moth antennae to the person who named it. This plant was introduced from Europe and found in Pennsylvania in 1818 and immediately escaped gardens to become a roadside weed now found in every state except Wyoming and Alaska. It isn’t very common in this area however-I only know of one plant. Its flowers can also be white.

6. Tall Meadow Rue

In early spring it is easy to confuse tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) with columbine because their leaves look so much alike, but as you watch the plant grow to sometimes 6 feet in height it is obvious that it isn’t columbine. The flowers of tall meadow rue don’t have any petals-the yellow tipped white parts are male stamens on the example in the photo. Female plants have white pistils that appear much like the male stamens at a glance. It’s appropriate that these plants bloom near the 4th of July because they remind me of “bombs bursting in air.”

7. Partridgeberry

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) flowers have filled the woods this year. This is an evergreen trailing plant that can form dense mats that are quite large. The strange thing about partridgeberry is how its two flowers fuse at the base to form one ovary. In one flower the male stamens are long and the female pistil is short. In the other flower the female pistil is longer than the male stamens. This prevents self-fertilization. The two flowers produce one red berry that bears two dimples, showing where the flowers were.  I always try to show the very hairy white petals when I take photos of partridgeberry.

8. American Wintergreen

 American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is just starting to open its small white flowers that look a lot like blueberry flowers. Wintergreens get their common name from the way they stay green in the winter-what we call evergreen-and this plant is probably the most well-known among natives because of its shiny green leaves that turn purple when it gets colder. I call the plant teaberry because its red berries taste just like teaberry gum. My grandmother always called it checkerberry.

 9. Shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) is a common wildflower in the wintergreen family. Many plants in the wintergreen family contain compounds that are very similar to aspirin, and shinleaf was used by Native Americans as a poultice on injured shins and other parts of the body. That’s how this plant gets its common name. Shinleaf leaves form a rosette at the base of the single, 4-5 inch tall flower stalk.

10. Shinleaf Blossom

Ten orange tipped, pollen bearing stamens hide under the upper two petals on shinleaf blossoms. Shinleaf is pollinated by flies.

11. Shinleaf Blossom

The best way to identify shinleaf is by the long, curved style that hangs down from the center of the flower. It’s easy to see how an insect would use the stigma at the end of the style for a landing pad and leave sticky pollen behind.

12. Pipsissewa Colony

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate or Pyrola umbellata) is also in the wintergreen family and recently I found a large colony of it. This plant likes to grow in groups, but they are usually made up of 10-15 plants. This group had many hundreds of plants and is the largest I’ve seen. The shiny green leaves make this plant easy to find.

13. Pipsissewa Flower

 Pipsissewa has nodding flowers that grow quite close to the ground and this makes getting a good photo difficult. Luckily I found a plant with a bent flower stalk and was able to get a look at the large center pistil and the 10 odd shaped anthers. It is said that the plant’s common name comes from the Native American word pipsiskeweu which means “it breaks into small pieces.” This refers to their belief that pipsissewa would break up kidney stones.

14. Striped Wintergreen

Yet another plant in the wintergreen family is striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata,) but unlike pipsissewa, teaberry, and shinleaf, this plant is rare in this area. In fact, it is considered rare in Canada and all of New England. I’ve only seen two in my lifetime and the plant pictured is one of them. This plant is also called spotted wintergreen or striped pipsissewa. The flowers are very beautiful and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to find this plant again so I can show them to you. Native Americans used striped wintergreen medicinally for a variety of internal and external ailments.

He who is born with a silver spoon in his mouth is generally considered a fortunate person, but his good fortune is small compared to that of the happy mortal who enters this world with a passion for flowers in his soul. ~ Celia Thaxter

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This is another of those posts full of all of the things I’ve seen that wouldn’t fit in other posts.

1. Oak Apple Gall

This oak apple gall was about the same diameter as a quarter. Apple galls are caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluent) called the oak apple gall wasp. In May, the female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs.

 2. River Birch Fruit

The female catkins of native river birch (Betula nigra) will form cone shaped fruit called a strobiles. The seeds in the fruit, called nutlets, are dispersed by the wind. River birch is a popular ornamental tree because of its peeling and curling reddish brown bark. It’s my favorite birch tree.

3. Robin

This robin let me walk right up to him and snap a few pictures.

4. Blue Jay

This blue jay didn’t want any part of having his picture taken and thought he was hidden.

5. Frog on a Log

This bull frog sitting on a log was fidgety and his movements told me that one more step would make him launch himself into the water. I didn’t take it, and he stayed dry.

6. Frost Bitten Sensitive Fern

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) gets its common name from the way even a light frost damages it. This spring sensitive ferns and many other native plants miscalculated and came up early, and a late frost made their leaves wither and turn brown.

7. Interrupted Fern

Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) looks frost bitten, but it wasn’t. The brown parts are fertile, spore bearing leaflets that appear in the middle of the leaf, interrupting the green, infertile leaflets.

8. Interrupted Fern

 The fertile leaflets of interrupted fern are completely covered with spore-bearing structures called sporangia. The sporangia have small openings that the dust like spores are released through during the summer. The fertile leaflets will wither away and fall off after the spores are released, and by the time fall arrives each leaf will have a gap between its infertile, green leaflets.

9. Grapes

The flower buds of wild grape look like miniature versions of the fruit that will hang here later on.

10. Big Leaf Aspen Leaves

The white leaves of large toothed aspen (Populus grandidentata) mean the tree hasn’t started photosynthesizing. These trees, along with many oaks, are the last to green up in spring. Some call them white poplar (Populus alba,) but that is an entirely different tree, even though they are both in the poplar family.

11. Poison Ivy

The shiny, purplish bronze, spring leaves of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) make you want to reach out and touch them, but if you do you’ll be sorry. It usually takes about two weeks before the itchy and sometimes painful rash goes away. This plant can grow creeping along the ground, as a shrub, and as a vine like the one pictured. If you spend any time in the woods in this part of the country it’s a good plant to get to know well before you meet face to face. Later, these shiny purple leaves will become green and won’t be quite as shiny, and the plant will blend right in to the background.

12. Royal Fern aka Osmunda regalis

American royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) is probably the easiest fern to identify because there aren’t any other ferns that I know of that look like it. It can reach 5 feet tall and prefers growing near wateron stream and pond banks. I think that it is one of the most beautiful ferns in the forest. According to the book How to Know the Ferns, written in 1900 by Francis Parsons, the European version of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis) can grow to 10 feet in Great Britain.

13. Striped Wintergreen

Spotted wintergreen is an odd name for a plant with no spots, but that’s what someone decided to call it. It is also called striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculate,) which makes more sense to me.  This native plant is a close relative of pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate,) which is called umbellate wintergreen. The small, white to pink, nodding flowers appear in July. This plant is rarely seen here-I’ve found it in only two places and both are areas that haven’t been disturbed by man in 100 years or more. The U.S.D.A. lists it as endangered in Canada, Illinois, and Maine, and in New York it is listed as vulnerable.

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

Note that I have added a new page called Books I Use.

Have a great holiday weekend. Thanks for stopping in.


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