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Posts Tagged ‘Spring Beauties’

I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog lately that I’ve been doing a lot of walking, so I thought I’d show you some of the things I see on these walks. If I choose to go this way, I can see a pond full of water plants like burr reed and yellow pond lilies. The big circular plant colonies are all yellow pond lilies, and they appear to be trying to take over the pond.

I’ve seen lots of hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) on an old hemlock stump and the pile of logs beside it. For the first time I’ve had a chance to see these mushrooms grow day by day and I can now understand that they grow quite fast. This one went from looking like a piece of dough to what we see here in less than two weeks. It’s about the size of a salad plate; less diameter than a dinner plate but more than a saucer. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom, and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) burned brightly in roadside ditches. This is our first yellow loosestrife to bloom each year and I sometimes see them in great numbers. They like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. In fact my knees were getting wet so this isn’t a very good shot.

Soft or common rush (Juncus effusus) also grew in a ditch alongside the road. Ditches are always a good place to find a variety of plants that like wet feet, like rushes and sedges. Soft rush can form large clumps and are easy to grow. They’re interesting if placed here and there around garden ponds.

Sedge stems are triangular and have edges but soft rush stems are smooth and cylindrical, with a light pith inside. They feel soft if you pinch them, not sharp. The flower head, shown in the above photo, looks like it grows from one side of the stem but the stem actually ends at the flowers. Anything appearing above the flowers is a bract, not part of the stem. The flowers are tiny and not showy, but overall the plant is pleasing to the eye.

Gray’s sedge (Carex grayi) always reminds me of the spiky mace weapons that knights used in the Middle Ages. A botanist would say this about that: each spikelet consists of a globoid cluster of perigynia that radiate in all directions. A perigynium is a fleshy cup or tube, which in this case comes to a point or beak. Coming out of each beak are the flowers, which are what look like threads in this photo. They start out white and brown as they age. Gray’s sedge is named after Asa Gray, who wrote Grays Manual of Botany in 1848. I read my copy about 50 years ago and have used it many times since that initial reading. If you have trouble sleeping at night just read Asa’s manual for a half our or so before bedtime. You’ll sleep like a stone.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) had recently flowered and I knew that because the tiny threads at the ends of the perigynia were still white. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds.

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) has flowered and is now producing its tiny winged seeds, which look a bit like stalks full of flakes.

If you look closely, you will see that each flake, which is more like a wing, has a tiny seed on it. It looks like a seed pearl at this stage but as they ripen and age the seed and its wing will turn brownish. Finally they will fall from the plant and the wind will catch the tiny wings and blow them to new places to grow. They will often persist through winter and fall the following spring. Since March is the windiest month, it is a sensible strategy for a plant that depends on the wind to get around.

Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) is another ditch loving plant that likes full sun and wet feet. This one had a fern ball on its tip. Fern balls appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like what the photo shows. Inside the ball is a caterpillar, which has pulled the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tied it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the fern leaflets and live completely in the fern ball until they are ready to become a moth. Emily Dickinson once wrote “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else,” and I wonder if she didn’t see a fern ball just before she wrote it.  

Native Americans called blueberries star berries, and now you know why; the blossom end of each berry forms a five-pointed star. They used blueberries, and also the plant’s leaves and roots, medicinally as well as for food. They cultivated the bushes and made a pudding out of corn meal and water and added the blueberries to it. They then baked it, and it saved the life of many a European settler, as did their pemmican.

I see several native catalpa trees (Catalpa speciosa) on my walks and right now they’re in full bloom and very beautiful. It’s like looking at a tree full of orchids.

Catalpa flowers are big; your index finger will fit right in there. The trees they grow on are also very big and a mistake I see people make over and over again is planting them too close to their house. Catalpa, for all its beauty, is also a messy tree. First the spent flowers fall by the thousands in early summer, and then in fall the giant heart shaped leaves turn yellow and fall. In the spring the seedpods come down. These are like two-foot-long string beans and they make quite a mess. It is a tree that creates a lot of work if planted where everything that falls from it has to be raked up but in spite of all of this if someone asked me if they should plant a catalpa I’d say absolutely, just keep it away from the house. Plant it at the edge of the property, or by a pond if you have one.

I saw a bittersweet nightshade plant (Solanum dulcamara) coming up out of the center of a yew, and it was loaded with its pretty blue and yellow flowers. It might be pretty but it’s a real stinker, and if you break the stems, you’ll smell something unusual. It produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic, so that might account for the smell. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. It’s originally from Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes. The fruit is a red berry, which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. I wouldn’t eat one though.

I like the flowers when they’re fully open like this one but you have to be quick to catch them this way because the petals recurve quickly. You can see that most of them have done so in the previous photo. Cranberry flowers do the same thing.

A button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) was budding up and preparing to flower. It will have a perfectly spherical flower head that looks a lot like a pincushion before it is through. I’ve seen lots of button bush flowers but apparently, I’ve never paid any attention to the buds. These reminded me of the game Jacks that we used to play long ago.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) flowers open in rings as they circle their way up the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else but I see more of it each year.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) has just started blooming. This now common plant wasn’t always common in this area. When I was a boy, I had a transistor radio and at night I used to fall asleep listening to it. One of the songs I could count on hearing every night was Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White. It was about a poor southern girl who had only pokeweed to eat because her mother was on a chain gang and her grandmother was eaten by an alligator. Her father and brothers were lazy, so all they had were the poke greens. Of course all of us school kids talked about both the song and the plant, but when we asked our parents what pokeweed was, they didn’t know. They just said it must be a southern plant, but no more; now it’s an everywhere plant, and it is big and noticeable.

Pokeweed 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. Native Americans called the plant pocon and used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses. People still use it to dye wool today. If you’d like to hear the song about Polk Salad Annie that I used to hear in 1969, just click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCSsVvlj6YA

Pokeweed is toxic unless you get the early spring shoots and I’ve read that it can make you kind of crazy if you eat too much of it, so that might account for all the grunting and oohing you hear from Tony Joe White.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is having an amazing year and the plants are huge. It starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. This plant was once so highly valued that it was traded among all the people of the earth, but now we hardly give it a glance. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it was found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and its value was most likely due to its ability to staunch the flow of blood. The Achillea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek god Achilles, whose soldiers it is said, used the plant to treat their wounds. Because of its being so freely traded it is one of just a few plants that now grow on every continent except Antarctica. I see it everywhere I go.

Poplar seeds fall from the female trees and often find each other in the wind, and then roll into a ball of what looks like cotton. This is the reason the trees are also called cottonwoods. A tree 100 feet high and five feet across can grow from a seed just 5/32 of an inch long. For a certain amount of time in spring the air is filled with them.

Back when I was a boy everyone said that when the wind blew hard enough to show the bottoms of the leaves on trees like silver maple, it meant that it was going to rain. I have since learned that what it really means is that the wind is blowing, and nothing more. The strong wind might be caused by a front passing through, but that doesn’t always mean rain. On this day all the leaves were showing silver but we didn’t see a drop fall.

I like to watch grasses flower and turn purple, and one of the most purple of them all is Timothy, named after farmer Timothy Hanson, who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720. Each tiny flower on Timothy grass has three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. I spent a lot of time when I was a boy chewing on a piece of this grass hanging while I walked the railroad tracks and as I’ve mentioned before, it is the grass I think of when I hear the opening line of the song Ventura Highway by the band America, which starts Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road… I just listened to it and it still sounds as good as it did in 1972. It reminds me of simpler times.

These are the leaves of staghorn sumac, which I see just about everywhere I walk and which in spring remind me of bamboo. Later on they’ll remind me of palm trees. If I’m lucky I’ll see them wearing bright red in the fall.

I hope you enjoyed this walk, just one of several that I do. There is nothing easier than walking; you don’t even have to choose where to go because the paths are just there and going right or left really doesn’t matter. I’ve always been more of a walker than a driver but until now I never really paid attention to the health benefits. I’m losing weight, my legs and knees feel better and I can breathe much easier than I could just a few months ago. I don’t think of distance or destination or anything else. I just walk until I’m ready to stop. If you’re healthy and interested open your door and start walking, and just see what you see. Give yourself the time and freedom to wander. You might be surprised by what you find.

The only way to understand a land is to walk it. The only way to drink in its real meaning is to keep it firmly beneath one’s feet. Only the walker can form the wider view. ~Sinclair McKay

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Purple (or red) trillium (Trillium erectum,) one of our biggest and most beautiful wildflowers, has just opened. Trilliums are all about threes and multiples of threes, which ia easily seen here. Though beautiful it has a a few secrets; flies are drawn to the plants because of the carrion scented flowers, and for that reason it is also called “stinking Benjamin.” Benjamin, according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word “benjoin,” which was an ingredient in perfume that came from a plant in Sumatra. According to the U.S. Forest service the root of this trillium was traditionally used as an aid in childbirth by Native Americans, and for that reason it is also called “bethroot,” which is a corruption of “birth root.”

I’m happy to say that the frosts we had didn’t wipe out the bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis,) though their numbers are down this year in this spot.

The flower petals, typically eight of them, drop off within a day or two of pollination, so their time with us is brief. It’s hard to believe that it’s already time to say goodbye to them for another year. I’ll look forward to seeing their simple beauty again next spring.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule,) which is usually one of the earliest flowers, has finally come around. I’m not sure what held it up but it seems very late. I usually see them by the end of March. Henbit is a “weed” in the mint family and gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked, so maybe that’s one way of getting it out of your garden.

I haven’t seen a lot of common chickweed (Stellaria media) this year either. This is another edible “weed” that is grown for human consumption in some countries, and is said to be far more nutritious than cultivated lettuce. Chickens can also eat it. The five petals are cut so deeply they look like ten on flowers that are smaller than a pencil eraser.

Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) is a native shrub that often blooms in late March to mid April, but it too seems to have been held back this year. The pale-yellow color of the flowers and the unusual way that they form in pairs that branch off from a single stem make this shrub very easy to identify. I can’t think of another like it. The unusual twinned flowers will become twinned, orange red, oval fruit. I’ve read that many songbirds love the berries. I can’t say fly honeysuckle is rare but I know of only four or five places to find it. It seems slow growing and isn’t a real robust grower. I know one shrub that hasn’t seemed to change at all in ten years. You can find it on the edge of woods, usually in shade or partial sun.

Myrtle (Vinca minor) is an invasive plant that forms large mats that choke out natives but it’s also a plant that’s been shared from neighbor to neighbor for almost as long as this country has been a country, so nobody really cares. Many of the people I once gardened for thought it was a native plant that they inherited when they bought their house. They were always surprised when I told them it was from Europe, but they always wanted to keep it. I’ve found it growing and blooming along with lilacs and peonies near old cellar holes out in the woods, all of it so old nobody could remember who had even lived there. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s exactly what the wiry stems do.

Blue violets (Viola sororia) are actually purple and they’re just coming into bloom. I’m sure many gardeners won’t be happy to hear that because if left unchecked these plants can take over a garden in no time at all. But really, you’re living in a dream world if you think you can beat them, because even when we don’t think they’re blooming their unseen petal-less flowers, called cleistogamous flowers, are flinging seeds out of their 3-part seed capsules. I used to dig and pull them from many gardens by the hundreds. Now I just enjoy them.

I was surprised to see common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) blooming already. It’s a common plant that some think is a clover, but clovers have oval leaves and this plant’s leaves are heart shaped. Unlike clover leaves they fold up at night and in bright sunlight, as they have done here.

Spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) are about at their peak of bloom now, and this shot shows how the tiny things can carpet a forest floor. It also shows the variations in color they have, from nearly all white to very pink. They’re beautiful little things and I hope everyone gets a chance to see them. They won’t be with us much longer.

I’ve read that it is the amount of sunlight that determines color in a spring beauty blossom. The deeper the shade, the more intense the color, so I look for them in more shaded areas. These grew in full sun.

Apparently, the petal shape can vary by quite a lot as well. I’ve never noticed it before but the petals on these flowers are far wider and rounder than the long, narrow petals on the flowers in the previous shot. Each flower lasts just three days.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are the same way with color variations. Some are deep blue and others are white and then you see everything in between, but the amount of sunshine doesn’t make a difference because they always grow in full sun.

All the magnolia blossoms that had come out before the frosts were browned on the petal edges but those that came out after were fine, as this one shows. They seem extra fragrant this year.

Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophyllas) has just started blooming and each plant has just a few flowers on it so far. The small flowers have great color.

Ornamental cherries have started blooming and are beautiful, as always. I like the star in the center of these particular flowers.

I found this blossom on a Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula Tibetica.)  It looked like it had slept in its clothes. I wonder if they de-wrinkle themselves as they grow. Tibetan cherry is also called the paper bark cherry because of the way its bark peels as it ages, much like a birch, and it is used as an ornamental tree as much for its bark as for its flowers. The mahogany bark has very long, closely spaced lenticels that give it an unusual appearance.

This was a challenge. This hellebore grows in the garden of a friend and the sun was very bright when I was there. I used three different cameras trying to get a shot where the color wasn’t bleached out and this was the only useable one. It was too bad because this flower has deep, rich color. I plan on planting a few more flowers around here in the near future and hellebore will be one of them.

Tulips have come out and many were wide open, but I saw few insects.

Grape hyacinths are having a good year.

The flowers of Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) look like they’re blown from milk glass and mounted on the stem with tiny, leaf shaped golden ormolu mounts. I don’t think that they really resemble lily of the valley blossoms but some do, so they call it the lily of the valley shrub. To me they look more like the blueberry family of flowers.

PJM rhododendrons have just started blooming. The PJM in the name is for Peter J. Mezitt who developed the plant and also founded Weston Nurseries in Weston, Massachusetts. They are also called little leaf rhododendron. They are very pretty, and well liked here and have become almost as common as Forsythia.

Forsythias are a good indicator of how cold and snowy it was last winter. Quite often you’ll see the shrubs with blossoms only on the lower branches, and that’s because the cold killed all the buds above the snow line and the only ones that survived were those protected by snow. These bushes are telling me that it was a mild winter. If the temperature had fallen below -20 F., they wouldn’t be blooming like this. There were many years I saw them with just a few blossoms down close to the ground, but not very often in the last decade or so.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

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Since violets don’t usually bloom here until the end of April, I was surprised to find them so early. I was doubly surprised to see that they were white wood violets (Viola sororia albiflora) because I see maybe one white one for every hundred blue / purple ones. I’ve read that the American Violet Society says that the white ones are just white versions of the common blue violet (Viola sororia.) A kind of natural hybrid, I suppose. They’re prettier in my opinion, with their dark guide lines that help insects find the prize.

That ancient plant the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) has bloomed. They are members of the dogwood family but you would never know it by the tiny flowers, each one about an eighth of an inch across. The entire flower cluster seen here is barely an inch across. Though I’ve never seen it they say that each flower will become a small red fruit.

It is the fruit of the Cornelian cherry that is the reason it has been used since ancient times. Man has had a relationship with this now little-known shrub for about 7000 years, and we know that from finding remains of meals from the early Neolithic period that included cornelian cherry fruit. They usually bloom at about the same time Forsythias do, but they are seen in the form of small trees rather than the shrubby form of Forsythias. From a distance it might be easy to mistake one for a dwarf crab apple when it wasn’t in bloom.

So far, I’ve seen just two magnolia blossoms, this one and a white one that had been nipped by frost. So far it seems like spring is moving very slowly because of the still cool nights. Days are running in the high 50s F. lately and showery to partly sunny for the most part.

Hyacinths have come along now, and they always seem to me to mark the midway point of the flowering bulb season. They’re very beautiful and one of the most fragrant of all the spring flowering bulbs.

All of the sudden there are daffodils everywhere. In the last flower post I did I showed some that had been hurt by frost but these were untouched. According to the National Trust in the U.K. the daffodil’s drooping flowers are said to recall the story of Narcissus bending over to catch his image in a pool of water.

The local college has some very early tulips. They stay small but after a while will have yellow along with the red in the blossoms, if I remember correctly.

Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica.) is a scilla size flower that is one of my very favorite spring flowering bulbs. I tried to find them years ago and had a hard time of it but I just looked again and they now can be easily found through most spring bulb catalogs. Still, even though they’re easy to find now I never see them. I know of only this one place to find them and they are very old, coming up in the lawn of a local park. Though the catalogs will tell you that the blue stripes are found only on the inside of the blossom they actually go through each petal and show on the outside as well. I think they’re very beautiful.

Johnny jump ups (Viola) are blooming by the hundreds now. I chose this as my favorite on this day.

The cool weather is being good to the coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) plants. I see more and more blossoms but not a single seed head yet.

This dandelion blossom was just waking up, and I put it here so those of you who don’t know could see the difference between it and the coltsfoot blossom in the previous photo. In truth the only thing they have in common is the color. Size, shape and growth habit are different but the easiest way to tell the two apart is to look at the flower’s stem. Coltsfoot stems are scaly and dandelion stems are smooth.  

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) are growing about an inch per day when the sun shines, and if you look closely, you can see tiny flower buds all ready to get started. These are the tall, old fashioned bleeding hearts that die back in the heat of summer.

Raindrops were being cradled lovingly by the new growth.

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are looking more cabbage like each day, but you wouldn’t want to eat them.

I’ve been looking for some moss spore capsules to try out my new camera on and apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) obliged with its tiny round capsules, fresh out for spring. Reproduction actually begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warmer rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny green globes, so their appearance is a good sign of spring.

Each spore capsule is about 1/16 of an inch in diameter. Tiny, but after a few failed tries the new camera was able to do the job. The pointed part seen is the calyptra, which is a hood or cap which covers the lid-like operculum. The calyptra falls off first as time passes and the spores ripen, and finally when the spores are mature the operculum comes off and the spores are released to the wind.

Here is an apple moss spore capsule against a U.S. nickel. I tried to find the height of the date text on a nickel but had no luck. It is safe to say that it’s very small.

Though the male catkins are looking a bit tired the female flowers of American Hazelnuts (Corylus americana) are still going strong.

Hobblebush buds (Viburnum lantanoides) are opening but you’d never know it unless you had watched the hard mass that was there in winter slowly soften and begin to expand. Still, even at this stage it isn’t much to look at, and it might be hard to believe that in about a month it will be one of our most beautiful native wildflowers.

It is indeed hard to believe that the unshapen mass in the previous photo will become something as beautiful as this, but come mid May the woods will be full of wonderful blossoms like this one. Hobblebush flower heads are large-often 6 or more inches across, and are made up of small, fertile flowers in the center and larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge. All are pure white. I can’t think of a better reason to walk through the woods in spring.

I haven’t seen any of the feathery female flowers of the elms (Ulmus americana) yet but I’ve seen plenty of the male flowers like those shown here. Male flowers have 7 to 9 stamens with dark reddish anthers. Each male flower is about 1/8 of an inch across and dangles at the end of a long flower stalk (Pedicel.)

Male (staminate) box elder flowers (Acer negundo) are just showing in the recently opened buds. Once they begin to show like this things happen fast, so I’ll have to watch them.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) buds are showing color, so it won’t be too long before I can smell their wonderful fragrance again. It was my grandmother’s favorite wildflower because of that scent. Several Native American tribes considered the plant so valuable it was said to have divine origins, and I think she must have thought so too.

Trout lilies are up but so far leaves are all I’ve seen. The leaves always appear before the small yellow, lily like blooms. It won’t be long.

I was lying on my stomach at the edge of the woods trying to get this photo, just a few yards from one of the busiest highways in Keene, when I heard “Sir, is everything all right?” I looked up and found a young Keene Police officer looking down at me. I assured him everything was fine, thanked him for his concern, showed him the first spring beauty blossoms he had ever seen, and off he went. I thought afterwards that he had closed his car door, walked down an embankment full of crunchy oak leaves and stood right there beside me, and I hadn’t heard a thing. This, I thought, is a good example of becoming lost in a flower. I could imagine by his look of genuine concern what must have been going through that young officer’s mind. It can’t be every day that a policeman sees someone lying motionless in the weeds beside the road. At least, I hope not.

If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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I had plans for last Friday; I took the day off from work to use up vacation time before I retire, and I was going to spend the whole day in the woods taking photos of interesting things for you to see, but nature had other plans. It started snowing at about 5 that morning and the roads were treacherous. I went out once (above) but quickly came home again, glad I didn’t have to drive for an hour. On Saturday I went to Beaver Brook and on Sunday we had pouring down freezing rain almost all day. So since I wasn’t able to get enough time outside, for the first time in almost 11 years I’m going to repost something I did a couple of years ago. It was quite a popular post then and I hope new readers will enjoy it. I also hope that regular readers won’t be bored by the repeat. I called it Nature Study 101.

Over the nearly nine years I’ve been doing this blog the question I’ve been asked more than any other is “How do you find these things?” So this post will be about how I find them; I’ll tell you all the secrets, starting with the jelly baby mushrooms above. Do you see how small they are? They’re growing in an acorn cap. The first time I saw them I was feeling winded and when I sat on a rock to rest, I looked down and there was a tiny clump of jelly babies, just like this one. That day a side of nature that I never knew existed was revealed and from then on, I started seeing smaller and smaller things everywhere I went. 

You have to learn to see small by seeking out small things and training your eyes, and your brain somewhat, to see them. It also helps to know your subject. For instance I know that slime molds like the many headed slime mold above appear most often in summer when it’s hot and humid, and usually a day or two after a good rain. They don’t like sunshine so they’re almost always found in the shade. I’ve learned all of this from the slime molds themselves; by finding one and, not knowing what it was, looking it up to find out. I’ve learned most of what I know about nature in much the same way. If you want to truly study nature you have to be willing to do the legwork and research what you see.

Another secret of nature study is walking slowly. Find yourself a toddler, maybe a grandchild or a friend with one, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have one yourself. No older than two years though; they start to run after that and they’re hard to keep up with. Anyhow, watch a two-year-old on a trail and see how slowly they walk. See how they wander from thing to thing. They do that because everything is new and they need to see and experience it. You need to be the same way to study nature; become a toddler. Slowly cross and crisscross your line of progress. See, rather than look. Why is that group of leaves humped up higher than all the others? Is there something under them making them do that? Move them and see. You might find some beautiful orange mycena mushrooms like these under them.

So you need to train yourself to see small, to toddle and think like a toddler, and then you need to know your subject. All that comes together in something like this female American hazelnut blossom. I first saw them when I had toddled over to a bush to see the hanging male catkins, which are very beautiful, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.

But all I could see was a flash of color because female hazelnut blossoms are almost microscopic. That’s a paperclip behind these blossoms. Even with eye problems I can find them though, because I know they’re tiny. I know they bloom in mid-April and I know they’re red and I know what shape the buds they grow out of are. All I need do is find one and the camera does the rest, allowing me to see its Lilliputian beauty.

That’s how I start the growing season each spring; by re-training my eyes to see small again. Most of what I see in winter is big so I need to get used to small again. Spring beauties like those above are as small as an aspirin, so they’re a good subject to start with. They’re also very beautiful and a forest floor carpeted with them is something you don’t soon forget.

Sometimes I’ll see something like this larch flower in a book or on another blog and I’ll want to see it in person. That’s what happened when I first found one, and I was surprised by how small they were. This is another example of my being able to only see a flash of color and then having to see with a camera. They’re just too small for me to see with my eyes but they’re beautiful and worth the extra effort it takes to get a photo of them.

I spend a lot of time looking at tree branches, especially in spring when the buds break. I’ve learned what time of month each tree usually blossoms and I make sure I’m there to see it happen. This photo shows male red maple flowers. Each flower cluster is full of pollen and the wind will be sure the pollen finds the female blossoms. When you see tulips and magnolias blooming it’s time to look at red maples. One of the extraordinary things about these blossoms was their scent. I smelled them long before I saw them.

Lichens aren’t easy to identify but there are easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere; on soil, on trees, on stone, even on buildings. But most are quite small, so walking slowly and looking closely are what it takes to find them. This mealy firedot lichen was growing on wet stone and that’s why the background looks like it does. You could spend a lifetime studying just lichens alone but it would be worth it; many are very beautiful.

Countless insects make galls for their young to grow in and the size and shape of them is beyond my ability to show or explain, so I’ll just say that I always make a point of looking for them because they’re endlessly fascinating, and you can match the gall to the insect with a little research. This one looked like a tiny fist coming up out of a leaf. Something else I like about them is that you don’t have to kneel down to see them. That isn’t getting any easier as time goes on. 

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind. I learned all of that by studying the moss and reading about what I saw going on, and you can too. And you can do it with virtually anything you find in nature. To me, that is exciting.

A good memory isn’t strictly necessary for nature study but it can come in handy if you wish to see a plant in all stages of its life cycle. I knew where some rare dwarf ginseng plants grew in this area and I knew when they blossomed but I had never seen their seedpods, so I had to remember to go back to see what you see here. It might not look like much but it’s a rare sight and I doubt more than just a few have seen it. I often can’t remember my own phone number or where I parked my car but I can lead you right to the exact spot where this plant grows, so I seem to have two memories; one for every day and one for just nature. The one for nature works much better than the everyday one.

Develop an eye for beauty. Give yourself time to simply stand and look, and before long you’ll find that you don’t just see beauty, you feel it as well, all through your being. This is just tree pollen on water; something I’ve seen a thousand times, but not like this. On this day it was different; it usually looks like dust on the surface but this pollen had formed strings that rode on the current. I wasn’t looking for it; I just happened upon it, and that shows that a lot of what you see on this blog is just dumb luck. But I wouldn’t happen upon it if I wasn’t out there. That’s another secret; you have to be out there to see it. You’ll never see it by staring at a phone or television.

This is another rarity that I just happened upon; a mushroom releasing its spores. Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in this photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. Once it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away. This is why it’s so important to walk slowly and look carefully. You could easily pass this without seeing it.

Something else that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did. You can’t plan to see something like this, you simply have to be there when it happens.

Do you know how many puddles there are with ice on them in winter? I don’t either, but I do take the time to look at them and I almost always see something interesting when I do. I’ve never seen another one like this.

Sometimes if you just sit quietly unusual things will happen. I was on my hands and knees looking at something one day and I looked up and there was a fly, sitting on a leaf. I slowly brought my camera up and this is the result. By the way, much of what I see comes about because I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees. If you want to see the very small, you have to. And before I get back on my feet, I always try to look around to see if there’s anything interesting that I’ve missed.

I was crawling around the forest floor looking for I don’t remember what one day and saw something jump right in front of me. It was a little spring peeper. It sat for a minute and let me take a few photos and then hopped off. Another secret of nature study is to expect the unexpected. If you want to document what you see always have your camera ready. I have one around my neck, one on my belt and another in my pocket, and I still miss a lot.

I was in a meadow in Walpole climbing the High Blue trail when I saw a blackish something moving through the grass on the other side. Apparently, it saw me because it turned and came straight for me. When it got close I could see that it was a cute porcupine. I thought it must have poor eyesight and would run away when it got close enough but then it did something I never would have expected; it came up to me and sat right at my feet. I took quite a few photos and then walked on after telling it goodbye. I still wonder what it was all about and what the animal might have wanted. I’ve never forgotten how we seemed to know one another. It’s another example of why you have to expect the unexpected in nature. You just never know.

Sometimes all you need to do is look up. When was the last time you saw mare’s tails in the sky? There’s a lot of beauty out there for you to see, and you don’t really have to study anything.

So, what you’ve read here isn’t the only way to study nature. It’s simply my way; what I’ve learned by doing. I had no one to guide me, so this is what and how I’ve learned on my own. I thought that it might help you in your own study of nature, or you might find your own way. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re out there having fun and enjoying this beautiful world we live in. I’ll leave you with a simple summary that I hope will help:

  1. To see small think small. There is an entire tiny world right there in plain sight but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it. Nothing is hidden from the person who truly sees.
  2. Don’t just look, see; and not just with your eyes. Use all your senses. I’ve smelled certain plants and fungi before I’ve seen them many times. I also feel almost everything I find.
  3. Walk at a toddler’s pace. Cross and crisscross your path.
  4. Know your subject. You probably won’t find what you hope to unless you know when and where it grows, or its habits. When you see something you’ve never seen if you want to know more about it research it.
  5. Be interested in everything. If you’re convinced that you’ve seen it all then you’ll see nothing new. Run your eye down a branch. Roll over a log. Study the ice on a puddle.
  6. Expect the unexpected. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest but I’ve never seen it happen. Tomorrow may be the day.
  7. Develop an eye for beauty; it’s truly everywhere you look. Allow yourself to see and feel it. Appreciate it and be grateful for it and before long you too will see it everywhere you go.  
  8. Let nature lead. Nature will teach you far more than you’ve ever imagined. It will also heal you if you let it, but none of this can happen if you spend all your time indoors.
  9. None of the things you’ve read here are really secrets. Nature is there for everyone and you can study it and take pleasure in it just as easily as I can.
  10. Have fun and enjoy nature and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cares melt away. Problems that once might have seemed insurmountable will suddenly seem much easier to solve.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long. 
~John Moffitt

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It seems like every flower I see comes with memories and lilacs remind me of carrying huge bunches of them to my grandmother when I was a boy. Lilacs, apple blossoms and anything else that had a fragrance found its way into my hands and up her stairs.

If the lilacs hadn’t bloomed yet I picked lily of the valley and violets for my grandmother and I can remember more than once carrying a fist full of wilted flowers up to her, even dandelions. Her name was Lilly and she loved all flowers, even the weeds.

I don’t remember seeing dog violets (Viola labradorica) back then but she would have loved their pale blue color, I’m sure. But she would have had a surprise when she smelled them because the name “dog violet” means a violet without a scent, as opposed to sweet scented violets. I don’t see many of these but I’d like to see more because they’re very pretty.

I can’t explain how they did it but these bluets (Houstonia caerulea) came up in a strangely circular pattern.

I’ve seen lots of ajuga (Ajuga reptans) and have spent a lot of time weeding it out of lawns but I can’t ever remember seeing flowers this pretty on it, so I’m not sure if this is a cultivar or not. It did not have the deep bronze / purple leaves I’m used to seeing on ajuga.  Ajuga is a groundcover originally from Europe and it can be very invasive. It is also called “bugle weed” and in times past it was called “carpenter’s herb” for its supposed ability to stop bleeding.

From the very common to the very rare; dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) is one of those plants you have to look for because it doesn’t like disturbed ground and so will only grow in soil that has been untended for many years. It is very small and hard to see; the plant in the photo could have fit in a tea cup with room to spare. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine and it should never be picked. I only know of two places to find it and between the two there are probably only a dozen plants growing.

Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. Little seems to be known about which insects might visit the plant.

Our native hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) have now fully opened and they are blossoming beautifully this year. Easily one of our most beautiful native shrubs, they can be seen along roadways and rail trails, and even mountainsides.

The larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge of the hobblebush flower heads (corymbs) opened earlier and the small fertile flowers in the center have just opened and can now be pollinated. Hobblebush gets its name from the long wiry branches that are often under the leaves. They can trip you up or “hobble” you as was once said, and I’ve fallen a few times while walking through a colony of them.

There are thought to be over 200 species of viburnum and one of the most fragrant is the mayflower viburnum (Viburnum carlesii,) named after the mayflower or trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) because of its scent. It is an old fashioned, much loved shrub that is also called Korean spicebush. The flower heads are on the small size, maybe as big as a small tangerine, but the scent from one shrub full of them can be detected from a long way off.

Red currant (Ribes rubrum or Ribes sativum) bushes were once grown on farms all over the United States but the plant was found to harbor white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola,) so in the early 1900s, the federal and state governments outlawed the growing of currants and gooseberries to prevent the spread of the disease. The fungus attacks both currants and white pines (Pinus strobus,) which must live near each other for the blister rust fungus to complete its life cycle. Black currants (Ribes nigrum) are especially susceptible. The federal ban was lifted in 1966 but some states still ban the sale of currants and gooseberries.

The plant’s flowers might not win a blue ribbon for beauty but that’s okay because currants are grown for their berries. Fruits range in color from dark red to pink, yellow, white and beige, and they continue to sweeten on the bush even after they seem to be fully ripe. Though often called “wild currant” red currant is native to Europe and has escaped. I found these examples on land that was once farmland.

Peach trees are blooming. I don’t know the name of this one but its fruit only reaches the size of a walnut before dropping off each year. I think it gets too late a start here to fully develop its fruit.

This phlox has had me scratching my head for years, wondering what it was. Google lens says it is the native wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) but I don’t think that is correct. Wild blue phlox isn’t native to New Hampshire but since it’s in a local park it could be. It’s a beautiful plant that stands about two feet tall and has five petaled, fragrant flowers that are the palest blue. (Or maybe lavender) The petals are fused at the base and form a tube. If you happen to recognize it I’d love to hear from you.

Note: A reader agrees that this is indeed wild blue phlox, so hooray for Google lens.

I also find spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) growing in a local park. It’s a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to.

The small flowers are quite pretty. Like orchids, in a way.

Tulips are still blooming by the hundreds. The hot temperatures in April brought them along early and they’ve enjoyed the cool weather since, so it seems like they’ve gone on and on.

These lily flowered ones caught my eye but they don’t really remind me of lilies. Instead they reminded me of a lady I once worked for who had me plant hundreds of tulip bulbs each fall so she could cut the flowers and bring them inside in the spring. Once all the flowers had all been cut I had to dig all the bulbs from the garden and plant annuals. It was a lot of work even though the bulbs weren’t saved from year to year.

Even daffodils are still blooming.

I’ve been going to see the wild ginger (Asarum canadense) for a couple of weeks now and finally found it in bloom. Its heart shaped leaves are quite hairy and I can’t think of another plant it could be easily confused with. I’d guess that it’s blooming about a week or two later than usual this year. I think the cool weather held it back some despite all of its hairiness.

The flower buds are also very hairy.

A wild ginger flower has no petals; it is made up of 3 triangular shaped calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. You might think, because of its meat-like color, that flies would happily visit this flower and they do occasionally, but they have little to nothing to do with the plant’s pollination. It is thought they crawl into the flower simply to get warm. Several scientific studies have shown that they are self-pollinated. The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage. Native Americans also used the plant medicinally for a large variety of ailments.

It’s hard to believe but the tree leaves have come along already so our forest dwelling spring ephemerals like red trilliums (Trillium erectum) are all but done for another year. Their time is brief but they bring much joy while they’re here with us.

Beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) are the hardest of all the spring ephemerals to say goodbye to for me. They come early in spring and gladden the heart for a month or so and then disappear until the following spring. I visit them regularly while they’re here and miss seeing them the rest of the time, but I know they’ll be back. There is nothing quite like finding them blooming in the dead leaves on a cold, windy March day. All thoughts of winter are instantly erased from the mind.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change. ~Buddha

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We’ve had a colder week with daytime temps in the 40s and nighttime temps in the 20s and though it has slowed a lot of flowers down it hasn’t stopped them, as this new red trillium (Trillium erectum) blossom shows. Red (or purple) trilliums are our earliest, followed by nodding and then painted trilliums. Red trilliums are also one of our largest spring ephemeral flowers. Everything about them is in threes.

From one of the largest spring ephemerals to one of the smallest; goldthread plants have just started blooming. The shiny, three part leaves and small, aspirin size flowers are sure signs that you’ve found goldthread.

There’s a lot going on in a goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) blossom, despite its small size. The tiny styles curve like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens fill the center of a goldthread blossom. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club-like true petals behind. The ends of the petals are cup shaped and hold nectar.

I was dismayed to find that, as I was crawling around trying to get a photo of goldthread, my foot inadvertently pulled up a plant. Well, I thought, at least we’ll be able to see the golden root, and here it is in the photo above. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. I can tell you that many tens of thousands of plants would have had to have been destroyed to make up a pound of roots, because this one weighed next to nothing. Dry, it would have weighed even less. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) blossomed in a sunny spot on a lawn. Ground ivy was introduced into North America as an ornamental and medicinal plant as early as the 1800s, when it immediately began taking over the continent. But nobody seems to mind. The purple flowers have a very light minty scent that isn’t at all overpowering unless you mow down a large patch that has taken over the lawn. This is one of those flowers that takes me back to my childhood, because it grew everywhere that I did.

I don’t remember ever seeing henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) when I was a boy but it must have been here. It was reported in New York’s Hudson valley in 1751. It is another annual in the mint family and is edible.

I’ve read that small birds love the seeds of henbit and hummingbirds love their nectar. They always seem a bit clownish to me; like a cartoonist had drawn them.

If only you could smell these magnolia flowers. If the afterlife is scented surely one of those scents will come from magnolias. To sit outside on a warm spring evening with their scent in the air is something you just never forget.

As you can imagine you see a certain amount of death when you spend a lot of time in nature. Every now and then I stumble upon something that is as beautiful in death as it was in life; insects, mushrooms, and this magnolia blossom that looked as if it had been carved out of wood. I hope you too can appreciate its beauty.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is a trailing plant from Europe. It is also invasive but has been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship though. In the 1800s Vinca was a plant given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three still blooming beautifully near old cellar holes off in the middle of nowhere, as the plants you see here do. it is nowhere near as aggressive as many non-natives so we enjoy its beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

Another name for vinca is Myrtle and that’s what I’ve always called it. It has a flower of sixes, double that of trillium.

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis ) has just started blooming. Other than spring bulbs, this perennial is one of the earliest to bloom in spring. It prefers shady places so it is valuable in gardens that get little sun. During the middle ages in Europe lungwort, which is another name for the plant, was considered dangerous because the grey spots on its leaves were associated with an infected lung. Later, it was used to treat lung disorders. The scientific name Pulmonaria comes from the Latin pulmo, meaning lung.

Dandelions are having a great year so far. I’ve never seen them bloom so profusely.

Just look at all of those seed heads in waiting.

I’m seeing more and more trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) each year and that’s a good thing, because it was once over collected almost to the point of oblivion. My grandmother always called this, her favorite flower, mayflower. She always wanted to show it to me but back then it was so scarce we could never find any.

Violas are loving the cool weather. All plants in the pansy family can take a lot of cold and that’s why they’re an early spring staple for window boxes and flower pots. They chase away the winter blues that so many seem to suffer from.

Here is another look at the beautiful bulb bed that I showed in the last flower post. It’s just about done now.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) has just come into bloom and before long it will be in bloom everywhere I go. Creeping phlox is native to the forests of North America. Another plant called creeping phlox is Phlox stolonifera, native to the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia.

One way to tell Phlox subulata from stolonifera is to look for the darker band of color around the center of each flower; only Phlox subulata has it. Creeping phlox is also called moss phlox or moss pinks.

Hellebores are another plant that can stand a lot of cold. Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. I can’t even guess how such a belief would have gotten started.

This is a fine example of why I can sometimes kneel in front of a flower and have no idea how long I’ve been there.

My grandmother taught me that it was best to cut lilacs and bring them to her when the flowers just started to open. In that way all the  other buds would open inside so she could enjoy their fragrance longer. I would watch them closely and when just a few blossoms showed I’d bring them in to her. They seem to be doing well this year. In fact many plants are doing better than they have in a long time.

It’s time to say goodbye to the vernal witch hazels. What joy they’ve brought to spring,

A redbud tree (Cercis Canadensis) showed me how it got its name. Eastern redbud  is not native to New Hampshire but I do find them here and there. Do to the cold weather this one has refused to go beyond bud. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted.

I hoped to show you some trout lily blossoms in this post but they’re being stubborn so instead I’ll show you the spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) that grow with them. They’re with us just a very short time so I hope you won’t get tired of seeing them.

This is what a forest floor covered by spring beauties looks like. It’s a rare sight, and is one I’ve been wanting to show you for years. It isn’t a great shot but it gives you an idea of what forest flowers look like. Once the leaves come out on the trees, their short lives are over. And I will miss them.

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.  ~John Milton

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The weather people said it would be cloudy every day last week but we had sunshine each day and by the weekend it was 74 degrees. This of course brought out more flowers, including this magnificent magnolia in a local park.

Some magnolias are very fragrant but this one seemed to be scentless. It doesn’t matter; it was still very beautiful.

Very beautiful.

Red maples are still blooming despite the heat. I’m still seeing the flowers in all stages of growth, depending on where I am. These were the male flowers, ready to release their pollen to the wind.

This old silver maple was already producing seeds. I like the white fur that appears just as the seeds (samaras) form.

The female flowers of American elms have appeared and they’re also very furry and white. These flowers are much too small for me to actually see so I look for white and when I see it I take photos. If you’ve ever seen an elm seed you understand.

I know of a female American elm and a male tree, but they’re miles apart so the pollen from the male anthers will never reach the female tree. Still, I found seeds on the female last year so there must be another male I’m not aware of. There aren’t many left because of disease. This shot of the male flowers was taken previously, a year or two ago. When I went to visit the male tree this year I found that all the flowers had already passed on.

The male flowers of box elder (Acer negundo) are small and hang from long filaments, and aren’t very showy. Each reddish male flower has tan pollen-bearing stamens that are so small I can’t see them. The pollen is carried by the wind to female trees and once they’ve shed their pollen the male flowers dry up and drop from the tree. It’s common to see the ground covered with them under male trees.

The female lime green box elder flowers appear along with the leaves, and in addition to the flowers just starting to show you can see a new leaf or two unfolding in this shot as well.

The female blossoms of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) have just started showing. Though the tiny stigmas look like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) that I’ve shown previously beaked hazelnuts grow in areas north and east of Keene and I’ve never seen one here. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clam shell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth, as these were.

There isn’t anything surprising about seeing coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) in April but this one was a real surprise because it grew in the sand on a beach next to a pond. They do seem to like wet places but I was really surprised to find it there. The dark mass you see around it is last year’s leaf growth.

Though if I went deep into the woods I might find some snow, glory of the snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) usually blooms after the snow has gone in this area. I know of only one place to find these spring bulbs. They’re very pretty.

Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophyllas) is also called great forget-me-not. It’s a perennial garden plant native to the Caucasus that seems to prefer shade. It’s a pretty little thing that does remind me of a forget me not.

Many Forsythias have come into bloom, including this old overgrown example. It’s a hard shrub to keep up with but it blooms better if you do. It’s cheering after a long winter to see them blooming on nearly every street in town.

The hellebores have come into bloom but they missed Easter this year. Though another name is Lenten rose I think of them as an Easter bloomer.

The scilla (Scilla siberica) is beautiful this year. I love its intense color.

The little pushkins (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica.) are blooming. Also called striped squill, this scilla size flower is one of my very favorite spring flowering bulbs. Though catalogs will tell you that the blue stripes are found only on the inside of the blossom they actually go through each petal and show on the outside as well. I think it must be their simplicity that makes them so beautiful.

I got lost in a daffodil at a local park because it was absolutely perfect, without a single blemish.

Every flower has its good side but I couldn’t find a bad side on this daffodil. I could see it winning all the blue ribbons in a flower show.

Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) is an ornamental evergreen shrub that is very popular, and you can see why. Some think the blossoms resemble lily of the valley so another common name for the plant is lily of the valley shrub. Some varieties have beautiful red leaves on their new shoots. I’ve never seen them bloom like they’re doing this year and that makes me wonder if they like mild winters and warm dry springs.

The pretty, deeply pleated leaves of false hellebores (Veratrum viride) have appeared. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants growing in a New England forest and people have died from eating it after mistaking it for something else. Even animals won’t eat them, but certain insects or slugs will, and usually by July the plant’s leaves look shot full of holes. They have small green flowers later in summer but the flowers only appear on plants that are 10 or more years old.

I check for trout lilies at least twice a week at this time of year so I know their leaves have appeared almost overnight. I love the little yellow, lily like flowers that should appear soon.

Near the trout lilies grow spring beauties, and I was so happy to find them in bloom. I’ve read that it is the amount of sunlight they grow in that determines color in a spring beauty blossom. The deeper the shade the more intense the color, so I look for them in more shaded areas. I’ve seen some that were almost pure white and others with prominent stripes like these. I took this photo with my phone and then used Google lens on the photo. It didn’t know if they were Carolina spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) or Virginia spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) but I really didn’t care. To be honest plant names have lost their importance for me and the only reason I include them at all is for readers who like to know what they’re seeing. I’m interested more in their beauty than their name, and these tiny blossoms are extremely beautiful.

Another name for spring beauties is “good morning spring.” I’ve heard that each flower only lasts for three days but there are so many of them in this spot you’d never know it. I’m glad that I can be part of their too short lives each spring and I hope that you can say the same about the flowers you love.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~ Lydia M. Child

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After a warmer weekend many plants are responding and more flower buds are opening. At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. The flower type must be very successful because it is used by many other plants, from blueberries to heather. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to reduce inflammation and to treat fevers, headaches and sprains.

I put a single leatherleaf blossom on a penny so you could get an idea of their size. A penny is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter and a leatherleaf blossom is about half the size of a blueberry blossom.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have finally bloomed, about a week later than average but it seems longer. Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take from 7-10 years to produce flowers from seeds, so if you see a large colony of blooming trout lilies you know it has been there for a while. This colony has tens of thousands of plants in it and I’ve read that colonies of that size can be as much as 300 years old. To think that the first settlers of Keene could have very well admired these same plants, just as I do today.

These blossoms hadn’t been open long and you can tell that by the yellow male stamens in the center. As the blossoms age the 6 stamens quickly turn red and then brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect female stigma will catch any pollen an insect brings by. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and it attracts several kinds of bees. If pollination is successful a 3 part seed capsule will appear. The seeds are dispersed by ants, which eat the rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds behind to grow into bulbs.

I think my favorite part of a trout lily blossom is the back of the petals, which are tinted with maroon. They’re very pretty flowers no matter how you see them.

Spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) must like the cool damp weather because most plants still have buds, even though they’ve been blooming for about a month. This photo shows the variations in color. There are plants that can take me out of myself and cause a shift in my perception of time so that I often have no idea how long I’ve been kneeling before them, and spring beauty is one of them. How could you not lose yourself in something so beautiful?

I’ve never seen trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) bloom like it is this year and as I visited this colony I wished my grandmother could have seen it. She called them Mayflowers and she always wanted to show them to me, but we could never find them. She loved their scent and so did Native Americans, who though this plant had divine origins.

Each trailing arbutus flower has a tiny yellow star in its center.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a plant you have to watch closely if you want to see its flowers, because it can produce leaves and flowers in just days. Two days before these photos were taken these plants had no leaves opened.  

You can see how wild ginger’s unusual brownish flower rests on the ground in this photo. This makes them difficult to get a good shot of. For this one I turned on my camera’s onboard LED light. Because they grow so close to the ground and bloom so early scientists thought that wild ginger flowers must be pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but we now know that they self-pollinate. The flowers have no petals; they are made up of 3 triangular calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. Though flies do visit the flowers it is thought that they do so simply to get warm. The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage. Native Americans also used the plant medicinally for a large variety of ailments.

Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) have just started blooming and if the pollinators do their job each flower will become a small but delicious strawberry. My kids used to love them, and they’d eat them by the handful. The full moon in the month of June was known to many Native American tribes as the “Strawberry Moon” because that was when most strawberries began to ripen. The berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to pemmican, soups, and breads. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons,) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454, so they’ve been with us a long time.

Spring, like fall, starts on the forest floor with the spring ephemeral flowers and then it moves to the understory before finally reaching the treetops. Now is the time for the understory trees and shrubs to start blooming and one of the earliest is the shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis.)

Naturalists and botanists have been arguing for years over the many native shadbush species and hybrids. The 5 white flower petals can appear quite different in each, but none of the several variations that I’ve seen have had blossoms bigger than a nickel. All of them seem to have multiple large stamens. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples and some native cherries. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing.

This is what the flower buds of a shadbush look like. After shadbushes come the cherries, closely followed by the crab apples and apples, and then the peaches and plums. 

I’m finally seeing blue /  purple violets, about two weeks after I saw the first white one.

The deep purple lines on violet petals guide insects into the flower’s throat while brushy bits above dust its back with pollen. Native Americans had many uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers.

Lots of sedges are still blooming. The flowers stalks (culms) of plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) are about 4 inches tall and have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the butter yellow, terminal male (staminate) flowers.

I can’t think of anything much more delicate than female sedge flowers. They are living threads.

When you see these little black spearpoints sticking up out of what looks like grass you’ve found a sedge. Come back in a day or two and you’ll see flowers much like those in the previous two photos.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in forests so they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They’ll go dormant quickly when it gets hot and they can leave a hole in the garden but that trait is easily forgiven. It’s one of the oldest perennials in cultivation and it is called old fashioned bleeding heart. I’ve always liked them and they were one of the first flowers I chose for my own garden.

I believe this cultivated purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) is called “Purple Dragon.” Whatever its name it is a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf.

Dead nettle flowers always look like they have a chicken popping up out of them to me. They sort of resemble snapdragons but are in the mint family.

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. ~Marcus Aurelius

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is staying safe and able to spend time outside.

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We’re still getting light conversational snowfalls now and again but that’s common for April in these parts and most flowers and people just shrug it off. Here in New England spring snows are often called “Poor man’s fertilizer” because quite often the lawns have started greening up when they fall. Nitrates from the atmosphere attach to snowflakes and fall to earth and then are released into the soil as the snow melts, so spring snows do indeed fertilize the lands they fall on.

I don’t suppose, as a lover of spring, that I should complain about the cool weather because it is making the season go on and on, as this willow catkin shows. I think I saw the first one about a month ago.

Though it has been cool and damp more new flowers like the little bluets (Houstonia caerulea) seen here are appearing all the time. These tiny, lawn loving 3/8 inch diameter flowers make up for size with numbers and huge drifts of them several yards in width and length are common.  Though they bloom in early spring and are called a spring ephemeral I’ve seen them bloom all summer long where they weren’t mowed. This photo shows the variety of color that can be had with bluets, from dark blue to almost white.

Actually pale blue is more accurate but some are darker than others. I love seeing these cheery little flowers in spring and I always look for the bluest one. The native American Cherokee tribe used an infusion of bluet roots to cure bedwetting.

Hazelnuts have been blossoming since February and I’ve shown them here a few times, but this one might fool you because it shows the female blossoms of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta.) Though the tiny stigmas look like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) that I’ve shown previously beaked hazelnuts grow in areas north and east of Keene and I’ve never seen one here. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clam shell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth.

Purple flowered PJM rhododendrons usually bloom at about the same time as forsythia but they’re a little late this year. The PJM in the name is for Peter J. Mezitt who developed the plant and also founded Weston Nurseries in Weston, Massachusetts. They are also called little leaf rhododendron and take shearing fairly well. They are well liked here and have become almost as common as forsythia.

At first I thought I was seeing more ground ivy but when I looked closer I could see that these tiny blossoms belonged to purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum.) This plant is originally from Europe and Asia but has made itself right at home here. The leaves on the upper part of the stem usually have a purplish cast and the small purple flowers grow in a cluster around them.

Dead nettle has pretty, orchid like flowers but they’re so small that I can barely see them without a macro lens.

The dead nettle plants grow by the hundreds under some box elder trees that I go to see each year at this time. The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but they come a few days to a week after the male flowers have fully opened. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. This shot is of the female flowers as they had just appeared. They’re a very pretty color.

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) have just come up. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should never be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant. They bloom here in mid to late May.

This isn’t my favorite color in a hellebore blossom but there’s a lot going on in there. Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. I’ve never seen an eagle near one but I haven’t dug one up either. I’ve seen these plants bloom in mid-March but not this year.

Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) is one of our earliest blooming shrubs and one that not many people see unless they walk in early spring. This example that I saw recently had just these two blossoms open, and they were open even though it was snowing. Its unusual flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs.

Fly honeysuckle flowers form on branch ends of small shrubs and many songbirds love the berries, so it would be a great addition to a wildlife garden. Look for the flowers at the middle to end of April on the shaded edges of woods.

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) are loving this cool damp weather and are blooming better than I’ve ever seen. Long used medicinally in Europe, here it is a welcomed alien. Odd that I haven’t seen any of its cousins the violets blooming yet though.

I’ve tried several times to catch these bloodroot blossoms (Sanguinaria canadensis) open but they don’t like cool cloudy weather and they only stay open until about 3 in the afternoon. On this cold snowy day they had wrapped all their leaves around themselves and never did open, so I’ll have to keep trying.

Many years ago I dug up a bloodroot so I could see the roots but I didn’t take a photo of them so I found this photo of the cut roots taken by someone named “Slayerwulfe” on Wikipedia. It clearly shows how the plant comes by its common name. Native bloodroot is in the poppy family and is toxic, but Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red sap in its roots to decorate their horses.

I know I’ve shown these maple samaras too many times but I’m fascinated by them because I’m not sure if they are silver or red maple seeds. I do know that they are growing very slowly this year. They usually only display these white hairs for just two or three days but this year I’ve seen them for over a week now.

The brown sporangiophores of common horsetails have now come up by the hundreds. These particular examples grow in the gravel near a swamp. It took them about a week to reach this stage from the time they had just broken ground.

This horsetail was fully opened so we can see how the wind could get in there under the sporangiophores and blow the spores around. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. Once the horsetail has released its spores it will soon die and be replaced by the gritty green infertile stems that most of us are probably familiar with. Horsetails were used as medicine by the ancient Romans and Greeks to treat a variety of ailments.

The bud scales of lilacs have just opened to show the grape like clusters of flower buds within. I’ve watched lilac buds do this for just about my entire life, but It still gets me excited.

Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) showed a perfect example of what bud break means. This small tree has flowers that look almost identical to the brushes that I used to clean baby bottles with. That’s a job I don’t miss, come to think of it.

Aspirin size spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) are carpeting the forest floor now but they won’t be with us long. Once the trees leaf out our spring ephemerals disappear quickly, so I hope you aren’t tired of seeing them.

Each spring beauty flower consists of 5 white, pink striped petals, 2 green sepals, 5 pink tipped stamens, and a single tripartite pistil, which means that it splits into 3 parts. I always look for the deepest colored one and on this day this was the one. I’ve read that these flowers are an important early spring source of nectar for pollinating insects, mostly small native bees and some flies and I’ve noticed lots of insects flying around them this year. I’d guess they’ll be gone in a week.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change. ~Buddha

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is well and is staying safe. 

 

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Daffodils have finally arrived so it must really be spring. And spring, at least as it is spoken by flowers, is early. I went back to previous posts and this appears to be the first daffodil to show itself in March since I’ve been doing this blog. Most have appeared in mid-April.

There were more daffodils. Lots more.

I was also surprised to see hyacinths blooming. They’re also very early this year.

Crocuses get more beautiful each time I see them. I loved the color combination seen in this one.

Inside a crocus the central style branches into three feathery stigmas, which are its female pollen accepting organs. Below these and unseen in this photo are three anthers, which are its pollen producing organs. You can see how the pollen has fallen onto the petals. Many people don’t realize that the garden crocus is a very toxic plant which can kill through respiratory failure. The only crocus with edible parts is the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus,) which is unknown in the wild. Human cultivation of saffron crocus and the use of saffron has gone on for more than 3,500 years. 

Crocus buds have an upside down tear-drop shape formed by six petals in two whorls of three. The outer whorl’s petals are slightly larger than the inner whorl’s. But I forget all that when I see their beauty. I chose this one as the most beautiful I saw on this day. Pastel, quiet, and understated it easily loses itself in a bed full of cousins, but my eye was drawn right to it.

Last week I saw two or three grape hyacinths. This week there were more than I wanted to count.

I love the beautiful cobalt blue of the flowers with their little insect guiding white fringe around the opening.

The snowdrops have opened enough to show their little green spots on their inner petals. Snowdrops aren’t common here so I see very few of them. I have seen them blooming while surrounded by snow though, so they live up to their name. I read once that the plant is in the amaryllis family, which was a surprise.

The Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are finally blooming. The buds have been showing color for over a month but they refused to bloom until they were sure it was warm enough, and that was probably wise. This shrub is in the dogwood family and gets its common name from its red fruit. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years. Cornelian cherry often blooms at just about the same time as forsythias do. Its yellow flowers are very small but there are enough of them to put on a good show.

This year the Cornelian cherries have beaten the Forsythias into bloom, but it won’t be long.

Aquatics are just starting to show and they were beautiful to see coming up in this little pond. It’s rare to see very much real cold weather once they start to appear. The trees, the sunlight and blue of the sky reflected in nature’s mirror made me want to just sit and enjoy this scene.

I thought for sure that I’d find seed pods (samaras) of the red maples (Acer rubrum) but I didn’t see a single one. It was a cool week so that might have held them back a bit. After a very warm February March has been a bit anti-climactic, as far as spring goes.

There is a very old tree by a highway, standing all by itself. It’s an oddity because of how it was left standing when all of the trees around it were cut down when the highway was built. I like to think it was left because of the beautiful flowers it is positively loaded with each spring. They are male flowers and come into bloom slightly later than the red maples, and I think it must be a silver maple (Acer saccharinum.) I keep forgetting to go back and look at its leaves in the summer but this year I’ve written myself a note. I did notice when I took this photo that its bark looks different than a red maple, so we’ll see.

There is little that catches the eye like the catkins of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana) hanging golden in the low evening sunlight. It is one of the first signs of spring I look for each year.

Each male flower on the catkin consists of a pair of tiny bracts and 4 stamens but they’re almost impossible to see under the horseshoe crab shaped bud scales. You can see the golden colored flower buds at the very top of this catkin though. The male staminate flowers will bloom from the top down.

The female hazelnut flowers have been blooming for weeks, waiting for a dose of pollen. I’m not sure why they would open so far ahead of the male flowers. For those who don’t know, the bud that the scarlet stigmas come out of is usually about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti.

Poplar catkins have limbered up and lengthened and they will continue to do so for a while. A tree full of the gray, 3 or 4 inch long, fuzzy catkins is impressive.

If you look closely you can see, in this case, the reddish brown male anthers. Once pollinated the flowers will release their cottony seeds into the air and they will settle on everything. If you leave your car windows open near one you’ll have a fuzzy surprise inside.

Our willows are in full bloom now. I wish I could tell you this one’s name but I don’t know it. It doesn’t matter; you don’t need to know its name to appreciate its beauty. They’re so welcome in early spring when there are so few flowers to see.

It’s hard to explain what happens when I see the first spring beauty of the season but I go away for a while. I go to that joyous place you go when you are lost inside a painting or a beautiful piece of music, or when you lose yourself in your work. It’s a special place and while I’m there I wouldn’t even know if a parade passed me. I hope you also have such a place where you can go now and then.

Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought? ~Sophie Scholl 

Thanks for coming by. Stay safe and be well and if you can, think of creative ways to help one another. I’d guess that your abilities are far beyond what you believe them to be.

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