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Posts Tagged ‘Spring Beauty’

Some of our spring ephemeral flowers are finishing up and others, like goldthread, are just starting. Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. This plant usually grows in undisturbed soil that is on the moist side. I like its tiny styles curved like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club like petals behind. The ends of the golden petals are cup shaped and hold nectar, but it must be a very small insect that sips from that cup. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, and it was most likely sold under its other common name of canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

New goldthread leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and flowers will appear. Their leaves come in threes, and another common name is three leaved goldthread.

The rain and cool weather is keeping dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) blooming in numbers I haven’t seen in a while. I wonder how many realize that each “petal” in a dandelion “flower” is actually a tiny flower (floret) by itself, and what we call the flower of a dandelion is really a flower head, made up of hundreds of individual florets. Before the 1800s (before lawns came along) people would pull grass out of their yards to make room for dandelions and other plants that we call weeds today.

The strange flower heads of sugar maples (Acer saccharum) aren’t as showy as other native maples but they must do their job, because we have a lot of sugar maple trees. These are the male (staminate) flowers in this photo. Sugar maples can reach 100 feet in height and can live to be 400 years old when healthy.

Magnolias seem to be having a great year and I’m seeing them everywhere. Their fragrance is amazing.

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.

The wild plum (Prunus americana) grows in just a small corner of south western New Hampshire, so you could say they are rare here. I’m fortunate to have found three or four trees growing under some power lines, but a few years ago when the powerlines were cleared I didn’t think I’d be seeing them for long. The power company clears the land regularly and cuts every plant, shrub and tree down to ground level. Except these plum trees; they were left alone and unharmed, even though everything around them was cut. I wonder how the power company knows that they are rare enough to leave standing.

How I wish you could smell these plum blossoms. The fragrance is wonderful, and so unique that I can’t think of any other flower fragrance to compare it to. It’s very different than the fragrance of apple blossoms.

I’ve been smelling plenty of apple blossoms too, because old, “wild’ apple trees line our roads and even grow in the forests. In fact entire abandoned orchards, left behind when farms were abandoned in the industrial revolution of the 1800s, can sometimes be found off in the middle of nowhere, still blooming beautifully and still bearing fruit. Apple trees can regularly live for 100 years but 200+ year old trees have been known. There is at least one tree that was planted in 1809 that still lives. These days most of the apples from the old trees are enjoyed by deer and bears in this area.

I wonder if people realize that every apple tree in this country (except crabapples) has been imported from somewhere else or was planted by seed; either by man, bird or animal. That’s why John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) did what he did. There are four species of crabapple native to North America; they are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. I planted the example in the photo but I’ve long since forgotten its name. The crab apple is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. The nine herbs charm was used for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs. The other eight were mugwort, betony, lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, thyme and fennel.

Our native cherries are also blossoming but I liked the red stars in the blossoms of this cultivated variety.

These pretty viola flowers were quite large and I don’t know if they were escaped pansies or large violets but I loved their color and cheeriness so I stopped to get a photo.  Violets are native To North America but plant breeders have made significant changes to color, size and fragrance.

Boxwood is called “man’s oldest garden ornamental.” The early settlers must have thought very highly of it because they brought it over in the mid-1600s. The first plants to land on these shores were brought from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. I found this one blooming in a local park. I don’t think most people pay any attention to its small blossoms.

It’s already just about time to say goodbye to the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum.) Their stay is brief but spring wouldn’t be the same without them.

Trout lily flowers have three petals and three sepals. All are yellow on the inside but the sepals on many flowers are a brown / maroon / bronze color on the outside. No matter how you look at it it’s a beautiful little thing, but I think it’s even more so from the back side.

Unfortunately it’s also almost time to say goodbye to the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) I doubt I’ll see them for another post but you never know; this cool, rainy weather is extending the bloom time of many plants. I’m still seeing forsythia that looks like it just opened yesterday and they’ve been blooming for weeks.

Winter cress, also called yellow rocket, (Barbarea vulgaris) has just started blooming. This plant is native to Africa, Asia and Europe and is found throughout the U.S. In some states it is considered a noxious weed. In the south it is called creasy greens. It is also known as scurvy grass due to its ability to prevent scurvy because of its high vitamin C content. It is very easy to confuse with our native common field mustard (Brassica rapa or Brassica campestris.) Winter cress is about knee-high when it blooms in spring and it stays green under the snow all winter. This habit is what gives it its common name.

What a show the grape hyacinths are putting on this year.  Since blue is my favorite color, I’m enjoying them.

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius) has three leaflets which together make up part of a whorl of three compound leaves. Dwarf ginseng doesn’t like disturbed ground and is usually found in old, undisturbed hardwood forests. I usually find it growing at the base of trees, above the level of the surrounding soil. It is very small and hard to see; the plant in the photo could have fit in a tea cup with room to spare. It had two flower heads, and this is the first plant I’ve ever seen with more than one. It is on the rare side here and I only know of two places to find it. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine so it should never be picked.

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.

Almost every person, from childhood, has been touched by the untamed beauty of wildflowers. ~Lady Bird Johnson

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Forsythias have started shouting that spring has finally arrived. The other day I drove down one of our longer streets and saw that almost every house had one of these overused but much loved shrubs in their yards. Spring would be very different without them.

I checked the grape hyacinths 7 days before this photo was taken and didn’t see a bud. Now here they are full of blooms. Things can happen quickly in spring so you’ve got to keep your eyes open.

I saw a daffodil that looked perfect to me, so I had to take its photo. Daffodils are native to meadows and woods in southern Europe and North Africa, Spain and Portugal. They are an ancient plant that has been admired and grown by man since before recorded history. No matter what you call them; daffodil, narcissus, or jonquil, all are in the narcissus genus. According to Wikipedia the origin of the name Narcissus is unknown, but it is often linked to a Greek word for intoxicated (narcotic.)

The female flowers of speckled alders (Alnus incana) don’t seem to be as willing to show themselves this year as they have in years past, even though the male catkins have been shedding pollen for weeks.

The tiny crimson female (pistillate) flowers of alders are the smallest flowers that I know of; smaller even that the tiny threads of the female hazelnut blossoms. The female flower catkins often form at the very tips of the shrub’s branches in groups of 3-5 and contain tiny red stigmas that receive the male pollen. Once fertilized the female flowers will grow into the small, cone like seed pods that I think most of us a familiar with.

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) usually appear well after those of red maples. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance. Once you get to know them you realize that they are everywhere, because they were once used extensively as a landscape specimen. If planted where they have plenty of room they have a pleasing rounded, almost mushroom shape. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states because it has escaped into the forests and is crowding out native sugar maples. It is against the law to sell or plant it in New Hampshire.

Most people never see the beautiful flowers of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) that appear on tufts of grassy looking plants in mid-April. Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like, white female pistillate flowers but the female flowers always open first to receive pollen from a different plant. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. It’s a beautiful little flower that is well worth a second look. I see them just about everywhere I go.

Willows (Salix) were hit hard by the late cold snap this year and many of the furry gray catkins never blossomed at all, but you can find a flower or two if you’re willing to search a bit. Willows are one of those early spring flowers that don’t get a lot of fanfare but I love the promise of spring that they show.

The inner bark and leaves of some willows contain salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Native Americans chewed or made tea from the willow’s leaves and inner bark to relieve fever or toothaches, headaches, or arthritis, and that is why the willow is often called “toothache tree.” It was a very important medicine that no healer would have been without.

I thought it was too early for purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) and it was, but only just. Another day and their flowers would be fully opened, so I’ll have to get back to see them. Purple trilliums are also called red trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent. “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.

I found that a tree had fallen on my favorite colony of bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) and the branches were in a real tangle, so I could see the flowers but couldn’t get to them. With a little stretching and twisting I was able to get a photo of this single example, which I think was close to being gone by already. The flower petals drop off within a day or two of pollination, so their visit is brief indeed. The plant’s common name comes from the toxic orange red juice found in its roots. Native Americans once used this juice for war paint on their horses. You have to be careful of the juice because alkaloids in it can actually burn and scar the skin, so I wonder what it did to the poor horses. I’d love to show the root to you but I can never bear to dig one up.

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from long filaments. Each 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. Once they 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.

I saw a huge colony of coltsfoot; more than I’ve ever seen in one spot I think. They won’t be with us much longer though. Their stay is brief and once their leaves start to appear the flowers are done. I think they’ve done their job though, because I saw several bees and other insects buzzing around them.

For me flowers often have memories attached, and trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) always reminds me of my grandmother. She said that no other flower could match its fragrance and that was high praise, because she knew her flowers. We used to look for them when I was a small boy but I can’t remember ever finding any with her. That’s probably because so many of them were dug up by people who erroneously thought that they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens. The plant grows in a close relationship with fungi present in the soil and is nearly impossible to successfully transplant, so I hope they’ll be left alone.

The fragrant blossoms of trailing arbutus were once so popular for nosegays it was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England, and in many states it is now protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society. Several Native American tribes used the plant medicinally. It was thought to be particularly useful for breaking up kidney stones and was considered so valuable it was said to have divine origins. Its fragrance is most certainly heavenly.

I visited one of the trout lily colonies (Erythronium americanum) I know of last Saturday and didn’t see a single blossom. I went back on Sunday and there must have been at least a hundred plants blooming. Saturday was cool, cloudy and drizzly and Sunday was sunny and warm, so that must have had something to do with it. Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow but quickly turn brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect stigmata will catch any pollen that visiting insects might bring. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and attracts several kinds of bees. The plant will produce a light green, oval, three part seed capsule 6-8 weeks after blooming if pollination has been successful. The seeds of trout lilies are dispersed by ants which eat their rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs. They’ve obviously been working very hard with this colony.

There are tens of thousands of plants in this colony alone, but bloom times are staggered. Each plant grows from a single bulb and can take 7-10 years to produce a flower, so if you see a large colony of flowering trout lily plants you know it has been there for a while. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food.  Black bears love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) grow among the trout lilies in their own huge colony of many thousands of plants, so I couldn’t miss them. I also couldn’t resist taking far too many photos of them again.

What a perfect name is spring beauty for such a beautiful spring flower.

I’m guessing that I’ll be showing lilacs in my next flower post. I look forward to smelling their wonderful fragrance again.

A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions — so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect.  Terri Guillemets

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It’s that time of year when spring ephemeral flowers appear to live out their short lives before the leaves appear on the trees. Once that happens the trees will cast shade deep enough to keep most flowers from blossoming so they grow, bloom and go dormant in about a month’s time. Vernal pools like the one in this photo are good places to look for wildflowers. And frogs and salamanders too.

I find spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) near a vernal pool like the one in the previous photo. They seem to appear overnight, so at this time of year I check the spot where they grow every couple of days. I’m always surprised to see them, because just a day or two earlier there was no sign of them. This photo is of a very unusual spring beauty, like none I’ve ever seen. The white petals usually have purple stripes the same color as the purple anthers in this example, but this one had none. Each flower blossoms for just three days, but the stamens are active only for a day. The stamens consist of, in this case, a white filament tipped by a violet anther. The stamen is the male part of a flower and produces pollen. In a spring beauty the female part of the flower is in the center of the blossom and is called the pistil. It terminates in a three part (tripartite) style.

This example looks more like the spring beauties I know. I always try to find the flower with the deepest color and this was it on this day. 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. The Native American Iroquois tribe used the powdered roots of this plant medicinally and the Algonquin people cooked them like potatoes.

I usually see trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) blooming with spring beauties but on this day all I could find were the leaves, which are speckled like the body of a trout. The flowers will probably have appeared by next weekend and there should be many thousands of them in this spot.

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) are late this year; I often see them in March but these are the first I’ve seen this year. They like moist to wet soil and these examples were in a roadside ditch. Coltsfoot flowers would be hard to confuse with dandelion but I suppose it happens.

Coltsfoot flowers are flat and dandelions are more mounded. Dandelion stems are smooth and coltsfoot stems have scales. Coltsfoot is said to be the earliest blooming wildflower in the northeast but there are many tree and shrub flowers that appear earlier, so I suppose “earliest” depends on what your definition of a wildflower is. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

After having their flowers frostbitten again and again the red maples (Acer rubrum) are finally free to let go and open all of their blooms, as this photo of the male blossoms shows. Each tiny red anther will become greenish yellow with pollen, which the wind will then carry to the female blossoms.

These are the female (pistillate) flowers of the red maple, just emerging. They are tiny little things; each bud is hardly bigger than a pea and each crimson stigma not much bigger in diameter than an uncooked piece of spaghetti. Once the female flowers have been dusted by wind carried pollen from the male flowers they will begin the process of becoming the beautiful red seeds (samaras) that this tree is so well known for. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

Each tiny female red maple flower (stigma) sparkles as if it had been dipped in sugar. They must be very sticky.

American elm (Ulmus americana) flowers form in small clusters. The flower stems (pedicels) are about half an inch long so they wave in the slightest breeze and that makes them very hard to get a good photo of. They are wind pollinated, so waving in the breeze makes perfect sense. Each tiny flower is about an eighth inch across with red tipped anthers that darken as they age.

The whitish feathery bit is the female pistil which protrudes from the center of each elm flower cluster. If the wind brings it pollen from male anthers it will form small, round, flat, winged seeds called samaras. I remember them falling by the many millions when I was a boy; raining down enough so you couldn’t even see the color of the road beneath them.

I finally found a pussy willow (Salix) that was showing some color but I don’t know if it was coming or going. This example looks a lot like the seed pods I see when they’re done flowering, but the gray fuzz hints at its just opening. I’ll have to go back and see it again.

I saw enough crocus blooms on Saturday to fill this entire post with nothing but crocuses, but I thought I’d restrain myself and show just this one, which was my favorite.

I also saw my first daffodil blossom on Saturday. Unfortunately I also saw many with frost bitten buds and leaves that won’t be blossoming this year. It’s a shame that so many were fooled by the early warmth.

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. The Persians and early Romans knew it well and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the sour red, olive like fruit, which is high in vitamin C. 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.

Japanese andromeda blossoms (Pieris japonica) look like tiny pearlescent glass fairy lights topped with gilded ormolu mounts, worthy of the art nouveau period. Japanese andromeda 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 don’t know what it is that grabs me about a white flower with a simple blue stripe down the center of each petal but striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica) has it. The flowers are much like the scilla (Scilla siberica) that most of us are familiar with in size and shape, but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often and border on rare in this area. They’re worth looking for because they’re very beautiful.

Scilla (Scilla siberica) are also called Siberian squill and they are doing very well this year. Both striped squill and scilla grow to be about ankle high.  Scilla will spread and grow in lawns quite freely, so it’s wise to be careful when planting it. In some places it is considered invasive, but I haven’t ever seen that here. People usually plant it knowing that it will spread into large blue drifts.

Scilla has stripes on its petals and sepals much like striped squill but as far as I can tell they aren’t related. They look great planted together though.

Friends of mine grow hellebores that are very beautiful and when I see them I always wonder why, of all the people I gardened for, not one of them grew hellebores. I can’t even remember anyone asking about hellebores, and that seems odd considering their great beauty. 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. Maybe that’s why nobody I gardened for grew them.

I’ve seen flowers that were as beautiful but it’s hard to name one that could surpass the beauty of this hellebore blossom. It’s hard not to stare at it even here in a photo. it’s the kind of thing that I find very easy to lose myself in; mesmerizing, almost. I wonder how someone cannot love a life that is filled with things like this.

The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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There are spring haters out there. I know there are because I’ve talked to some of them. They complain of dirty snowbanks, brown grass, bare trees, wind and cold, and just the blah-ness of it all. No color, they say. Well, this post is designed to show them how wrong they are. Spring shouldn’t be about seeing tulips and daffodils out of the car window as you drive past. It should be about walking slowly, looking closely, and marveling at what is in my opinion the most beautiful season of all. It should be about seeing the incredible beauty of nature, and witnessing the miracles that happen each and every day. It’s hard to deny the beauty of red maple blossoms (Acer rubrum) for instance, as we see in this photo. Though this shot is from last year they have started blooming now. The blooming period doesn’t last long, so now is the time to look for them. You won’t have to look hard though, because these trees are everywhere.

Silver maple flowers (Acer saccharinum) look a lot like those of red maples, but the fruits (samaras) of silver maple are far more beautiful, in my opinion. You can find these in mid-May here and no, you don’t need to be able to tell a silver maple from a red maple; all you need to do is look closely, regularly.  These samaras look like this for only a day or two.

American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americana) have also just started to bloom. These beautiful, rarely seen things are very small, so if your eyes are as old as mine you might want to carry a loupe or macro lens. Or, there are also free magnifying glass apps that you can get for a cell phone. I have one and it works well. I took this photo at just about this time last year. Hazelnut shrubs grow along rail trails, roadways, and in waste places.

Other tiny flowers are those of the speckled alder (Alnus incana.) The cylindrical flower clusters are long and thin and often appear in groups at the ends of branches. They are called catkins or aments. Each flower cluster has many crimson, thread-like female stigmas just poking out. Don’t be afraid to grab a branch of a tree or shrub and pull it toward you so you can see better; you won’t hurt the plant at all. This photo was taken on March 26th of last year and I’ve already seen hints of them this year, so the time to look is now in this area. Alders get little hard black cones called strobiles on their branch ends and usually grow near water.

If you can’t find anything to marvel at on shrubs or trees check the stones. They’re often covered with lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) shown here. Unless the stones are covered with snow there are always lichens to see and they can be very beautiful.

If there aren’t any stones look in the bushes. You might be astonished by what you find. These robin eggs hatched in May two years ago.

The leaves of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) look like tiny fingers as they pull themselves away from their protective covering of the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub; this photo was taken in mid-April of 20105. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers, followed by bright red berries. One of life’s simple pleasures is watching buds like these open and it costs nothing but a few minutes of time each day.

On every stone, on every branch and in every puddle, the beauty of spring can be found. Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid-May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them in this photo from May 17th of 2014. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

Leaves can also be beautiful, as this photo of the deeply pleated leaves of false hellebores (Veratrum viride) from mid-May of 2015 shows. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants we have here, so you’re probably better off just admiring rather than touching this one. They like low, moist areas along streams and rivers.

The point of all this is to learn to see rather than to simply look. There is a difference; one day I met two college age girls on a woodland trail. They complained that they hadn’t seen a single wildflower, though the area was known for them. When I walked the same trail I saw flowers everywhere. They were small yes, but they were there. So how can this be? I’m guessing that they probably walked too fast and thought more about the end of the trail than what they might see along it. A toddler’s pace and a willingness to look a little closer would have let them see beautiful things that they probably hadn’t even imagined were there. Beautiful little Pennsylvania sedge flowers like those shown here are barely 4 inches tall, so you have to look the ground over carefully for them. They’ll appear along woodland edges and roadsides in mid-April, coming up out of what look like little tufts of course grass.

Orangey pink striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) are a good example of why, when a bud or flower catches your eye in the spring, you should watch it every day because changes come quickly. In a day or two your beautifully colored bud might have become leaves. The tree or shrub you happen to be looking at wants food, and food means leaves that can photosynthesize. There is no benefit to keeping its leaves tightly wrapped in the bud unless it is to protect the tender new growth from cold. If it is warm they’ll open quickly.

Box elder (Acer negundo) is in the maple family but it’s a “soft maple” and in this area is considered a weed tree because of how they come up everywhere. A box elder was the first tree I ever planted when I was a boy though, so they’re special to me. I think they’re at their most beautiful in April when they flower. The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers seen in this photo appear along with the tree’s leaves, just a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike a lot of other maples. The earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Fern fiddleheads just out of the ground are some of the most beautiful things to see in spring. One of my favorites is the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina.) Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams.

If you’re in a moist, loamy area looking for lady ferns you might as well look for some horsetails too. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by an infertile stem. I find these at around the end of April.

I know what the big buds of shagbark hickory look like when they open but even so, they’re so beautiful they always stop me in my tracks and make me stand there with my mouth hanging open. They are easily one of the most beautiful things in the spring forest and I start watching for them in mid-May. I usually find them growing near water; along river banks or near lakes and ponds.

So why  should you bother looking for all this stuff in spring? Well, why should you bother going to an art gallery, or listen to music, or read a book? We do these things to enrich our lives, to help renew and rejuvenate our minds and spirits; to make ourselves more comfortable with the unknown; more at peace, and more creative. Nature will do all of this for us and more. Nature, from my own experience, is very healing. If you face a rough spot in life try just walking alone on a favorite woodland path each day. In no time at all your problems will seem to have been solved with very little effort. I would never tell you this if it wasn’t true; it has happened in my own life again and again. I think it’s because nature study makes us meditate quite naturally, so we don’t even realize we’re doing so. It’s hard to worry and fret when something captivates your attention so just look at all that’s happening in the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) shoot above. Just up out of the soil and it’s already amazing. When I see it I want to draw it, and I think I could sit and look at it all day.

A large part of why I spend every free minute in nature is because of the incredible beauty I see. It’s amazing to think that so much beauty has been in plain sight all along. For a large part of my life I never took the time to see it and I hope you won’t make the same mistake. Everyone knows where there is a beech tree. Just start watching the branch tips around the first week in May. You’ll see the long, pointed buds begin to curl quite severely and then a day or so later miracles will happen; it will look like a host of angles has swooped down and shed their downy wings. Even the gloomiest among us will feel their pulse quicken and magically, a smile will appear on their face. If they spend time with nature it will be there for a while, so they’d better get used to it.

So here we are at the end of this post and until now we haven’t seen a flower with petals on it, so if you’re one of those people who think the beauty of spring means tulips and daffodils I hope I’ve changed your mind. But, if it is still flowers you want try a woodland walk in mid-April. If you’re lucky you might just find some spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) like those in this photo. All of what you’ve seen here and so very much more is just starting to happen, so I hope very much that you’ll get out there and see it for yourself.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

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1. Magnolia

The cold snap of two weeks ago has given way to relatively warm sunny weather and the magnolias have bloomed. The one in the above photo lives in a local park and is one of my favorites.

2. Magnolia

You can see just a little browning on the tips of this magnolia blossom’s petals due to the cold. It got well below freezing for two nights so we’re lucky to have any blossoms at all.

3. Shadbush

Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) gets its name from the shad fish. Shad live in the ocean but much like salmon return to freshwater rivers to spawn. Shad was a very important food source for Native Americans and for centuries they knew that the shad were running when the shadbush bloomed. In late June they harvested the very nutritious shad fruit, which was a favorite ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of dried meat, dried fruit, and animal fat.

4. Shadbush Flowers

Shadbush is our earliest native white flowered tall shrub, blooming along the edges of woods just before or sometimes with the cherries. Another name for it is serviceberry, which is said to refer to church services. One story says that its blooming coincided with the return of circuit preachers to settlements after winter’s end and the resumption of church services. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens.

5. Ginger Leaf

Exactly a week before this photo was taken wild ginger (Asarum canadense) was showing nothing but stems (Rhizomes) running along the soil surface under a collection of last year’s leaves. Scientists thought for years that wild ginger flowers were pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but several studies have shown that they are self-pollinated.

6. Ginger Blossom

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. In this photo you can see that the flower was just starting to shed pollen.

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.

7. Hobblebush Flower Head

The hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is one of our most beautiful native viburnums .It hasn’t quite blossomed fully yet but I decided to show this photo because it shows the inner cluster of fertile flower buds which are still green, and the just opened outer sterile blossoms which are a yellowish green. Soon both fertile and infertile flowers will be pure white and will grow into flower heads as big as your hand. They grow at the edges of woods and large groups all blooming at once can be staggeringly beautiful. Native Americans ate its berries and used it medicinally.

8. Wild Strawberry

I have a small sunny embankment in my year that becomes covered with wild strawberry blossoms (Fragaria virginiana) each year at this time. The soil there is very sandy and dry so I’m always surprised to see such large amounts of blossoms. The fruits are very tasty but also very small so it takes quite a bit of picking for even a handful. My daughter and son used to love them when they were small.

9. Viola

I saw these pretty viola flowers while on a walk one day. I don’t know if they were pansies or large violets but since I loved their color and cheeriness I stopped to get a photo.

10. Grape Hyacinths

And I love this color too; nothing does blue better than grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum.)  In the wild grape hyacinth is naturally found in woods or meadows. They prefer well drained sandy soil that is acid to neutral and light on compost and/or manure.

11. Female Box Elder Flowers

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

12. Male Box Elder Flowers

The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from filaments. Each 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. Once they 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.

13. Norway Maple Flowers

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) appear well after those of red maples. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. A few years ago I knew of only one tree but once I got to know it I started seeing them everywhere. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance.

14. Trout Lily

The last time I showed trout lilies I forgot to show the backs of the petals and sepals, which are my favorite parts. These flowers remind me of small versions of Canada lilies because except for their leaves, that’s just what they look like. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked their small bulbs or dried them for winter food.  Black bears also love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

15. Trout Lily Bud

I’m lucky to know of two places where trout lilies grow. In one spot they bloom later than the other by sometimes two weeks, so I can extend my enjoyment of them.

16. Spring Beauties

I couldn’t let early spring go by without paying another visit to the spring beauties I know of (Claytonia virginica). They’re in full bloom now and carpet the forest floor. Their scientific name is from the Colonial Virginia botanist John Clayton (1694–1773). They were used medicinally by the Iroquois tribe of Native Americans and other tribes used them as food.

17. Spring Beauties

Spring beauties are indeed very beautiful but with us for just a short time. If anything can stop me in my tracks it is this flower.

18. Trillium 3

One of our largest and most beautiful native wildflowers has just started blooming. Purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) are also called red trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent. “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. They’re very beautiful and will be at their peak of bloom soon.  As they age each petal will turn a deeper purple.

There’s not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. ~John Calvin

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1. Fly Honeysuckle

The unusual joined flowers of the American fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) usually starts blooming during the last week of April, so it’s a little early this year. Its unusual paired flowers branch off from a single stem and if pollinated will become joined pairs of reddish orange fruit shaped much like a football, with pointed ends. Many songbirds love its fruit so this is a good shrub to plant when trying to attract them. I see it growing along the edges of the woods but it can be hard to find, especially when it isn’t blooming. This photo shows the buds, which were just opening.

2. Fly  Honeysuckle

The trumpet shaped blossoms of the fly honeysuckle usually dangle downward like bells but this plant had a single open flower that was parallel to the ground and so I was able to get my first photo looking into one.

3. Red Maple

Many maples missed the recent cold snap and are still flowering now. It’s impossible to know how many were hurt by the cold but at least the weather has improved since.

4. Hazel

I was surprised to see the hazelnuts (Corylus americana) still blooming. The fine strands of the female flowers looked a little darker than their normal bright crimson though, so I wondered if they had been frost bitten.

5. Dandelions

At the edge of the forest dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) bloomed profusely. After a two year near absence it’s good to see them again. Their disappearance coincided with two of the snowiest and coldest winters we’ve had in quite some time, but that could simply be a coincidence.

6. Mayflowers

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) have just started blooming. This shot is for those of you who have never seen it so you can see its oval, leathery, evergreen leaves in relation to its waxy flowers, which are small and are white or pink. The plant can form large ground hugging mats. Another common name for it is mayflower and that comes by way of its supposedly being the first flower the Pilgrims saw upon landing on the shores of the new world.

“God be praised!” the Pilgrim said,
Who saw the blossoms peer
Above the brown leaves, dry and dead
“Behold our Mayflower here!”

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that but I have to wonder if he ever saw the plant. I’ve never seen one with “brown leaves, dry and dead” because they usually stay green year round. And since the Pilgrims landed in September it’s doubtful that trailing arbutus would have been blooming. Several Native American tribes used the plant medicinally. It was thought to be particularly useful for breaking up kidney stones and was considered so valuable it was said to have divine origins.

7. Mayflowers

I’ll have to agree that the spicy fragrance of trailing arbutus is divine, but you have to be willing to get your chin on the ground to experience it, so low do they grow.  The fragrant blossoms were once so popular that the plant was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England, and in many states it is protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society.

8. Vinca

Vinca (Vinca minor) is another trailing plant and is also a slightly invasive one from Europe. It 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. But the word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the wiry stems do. They grow thickly together and form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through, and I know of large areas with nothing but vinca growing in them. But all in all it is nowhere near as aggressive as many non-natives so we enjoy its beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

9. Bloodroots

I was happy to see bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) just coming into bloom about the same time as last year.  I think it’s probably tender enough to have suffered in the cold, so I’m glad it waited. Bloodroot’s common name comes from the toxic blood red juice found in its roots. Native Americans once used this juice for war paint. I’d love to show it to you but I can never bear to dig one up.

10. Bloodroot

I always challenge my own camera skills by seeing if I can take a photo of bloodroot with the very faint veins in the petals visible. It isn’t easy unless the light is just right. On this day sunlight fell brightly on them but by shading them with my body I was able to get the petal’s veins in the shot.

11. Violet

They’re called broadleaf weeds and some people are less than happy when they find them in their lawn, but I welcome violets in mine and I’m always happy to see them.  In fact one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen was a large field of dandelions and violets blooming together and I’d love to have a “lawn” that looked like it did. Violets can be difficult to identify and, like the many small yellow flowers I see, I’ve given up trying. I just enjoy their beauty and notice that they have the same features as many other flowers. The deep purple lines on the petals guide insects into the flower’s throat while brushy bits above dust its back with pollen.

12. Violet

Some of my lawn violets are white, and shyer than the purple.  Native Americans had many medicinal and other 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.

13. Spring Beauty

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) are so beautiful and seem like such perfect flowers that I just can’t think of anything else to wish for when I’m sitting with them. It’s very easy to sit with them for a very long time too, if you should happen to lose yourself in them. I’ve read that those that grow in the shade are the most colorful but I’ve also noticed that the new, partially opened flowers are also more colorful than those that are fully opened, so age must also play a part.

14. Spring Beauty

This spring beauty blossom was much less colorful than the one we saw previously, but it didn’t seem to be growing in a spot that was sunnier. I think there is also a lot of natural color variation among them just as there is with most flowers. They’re very small; a single blossom could easily hide behind a penny. This one had a visitor. A leaf hopper, I think.

15. Trout Lilies

The trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have just opened in the huge colony of them that grow in a narrow strip of woodland in Keene. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Each plant grows from a single bulb and can take 7-10 years to produce a flower, so if you see a large colony of flowering plants you know it has been there for a while. Young plants start with a single leaf and then grow a second when they are ready to bloom, so you see many more leaves than flowers. Out of the many thousands of plants in this colony I saw not even a quarter of them in bloom, so I think most of them in this section are relatively young.

16. Trout Lilies

Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow like these but quickly turn brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect stigmata will catch any pollen that visiting insects might bring. 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. The plant will produce a light green, oval, three part seed capsule 6-8 weeks after blooming if pollination has been successful. The seeds of trout lilies are dispersed by ants, which eat their rich, fatty appendages and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs. On this day I saw bumblebees visiting them.

Flowers construct the most charming geometries: circles like the sun, ovals, cones, curlicues and a variety of triangular eccentricities, which when viewed with the eye of a magnifying glass seem a Lilliputian frieze of psychedelic silhouettes. ~Duane Michals

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1. Trillium

Spring is moving onward quickly now and the warmer temperatures are bringing out the flowers and tree leaves. Trilliums (Trillium erectum) couldn’t seem to make up their mind for a while but here they are in all their glory. This one is our red or purple trillium, which is also called stinking Benjamin because of its less than heavenly scent. “Benjamin,” according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word benjoin, which was an ingredient that came from a plant in Sumatra and was used in the manufacture of perfume. Apparently it looked a lot like trillium.

2.Trillium

Whatever you call it it’s hard to say that purple trilliums flowers aren’t beautiful. Just don’t get close enough to smell them.

3. Spring Beauties

It’s almost time to say goodbye to some of my favorite springtime friends, like these spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) Their time is brief and maybe that’s why they are so loved by so many. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder, but I doubt that I would like them any less if they stayed all summer. They’re beautiful little things and seeing a forest floor carpeted with them is a breathtaking sight that you don’t forget.

4. Sessile Leaved Bellwort

In botanical terms the word sessile describes how one part of a plant joins another. In sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) the leaves are sessile on the stem, meaning they lie flat against the stem with no stalk. These leaves are also elliptic, which means they are wider in the middle and taper at each end.  New plants, before the flowers appear, can resemble Solomon’s seal at a glance. The plants I find always have just a single nodding, bell shaped pale yellow flower but they can sometimes have two. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats.

 5. Shad

Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) gets its name from the shad fish. Shad live in the ocean but much like salmon return to freshwater rivers to spawn. Shad was a very important food source for Native Americans and for centuries they knew that the shad were running when the shadbush bloomed. In late June they harvested the very nutritious shad fruit, which was a favorite ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of dried meat, dried fruit, and animal fat.

6. Shadblow Flowers

Shadbush is our earliest native white flowered tall shrub, coming into bloom just before the cherries. Another name for it is serviceberry, which is said to refer to church services. One story says that its blooming coincided with the return of circuit preachers to settlements after winter’s end and the resumption of church services. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when it’s fruit ripens.

7. Common Blue Violet aka Viola sororia

The common blue violet (Viola sororia) likes to grow in lawns, and that’s exactly where I found this one. The markings on its lower “landing pad” petal are there to guide insects to its nectar but it is actually visited by very few insects. This violet doesn’t take any chances though, and in summer self-pollinating (cleistogamous) flowers without petals produce more than enough seeds to ensure future generations.

8. Green Hellebore

I saw another hellebore flowering in some friend’s garden. This one leaned toward olive green, which seems an odd color for a flower but is still beautiful.

 9. Trailing Arbutus

Trailing arbutus flowers (Epigaea repens) are also called Mayflowers in this part of the country and this year they lived up to their name by refusing to bloom until May first. The small, pinkish flowers are very fragrant and were my grandmother’s favorite wildflower. At one time Mayflowers were collected nearly into oblivion and laws had to be passed to see that they didn’t disappear altogether. I’m happy to report that it is making a strong comeback. This plant was thought to have divine origins by many Native American tribes.

10. Fly Honesuckle Flowers

The unusual joined flowers of the American fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) are a little late this year but still, there are few shrubs that bloom as early as this one, which usually starts blooming during the last week of April. Its unusual paired flowers branch off from a single stem and if pollinated will become joined pairs of reddish orange fruit shaped much like a football, with pointed ends. Many songbirds love its fruit so this is a good shrub to plant when trying to attract them. I see it growing along the edges of the woods but it can be hard to find, especially when it isn’t blooming.

11. Anemone

Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) is very similar to false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum.) but false rue anemone doesn’t grow in New England. True rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is also similar and does grow in New Hampshire, so the two plants can easily be confused. It’s complicated, so I try not to think about all of that and just enjoy the sometimes huge colonies of delicate white flowers.

12. Hepatica

This is the first time a hepatica flower (Hepatica americana) has ever appeared on this blog because this is the first one I’ve ever seen. These small plants are limestone lovers and since most of our soil in this part of the state is very acidic, they are rarely seen here. I was lucky enough to be shown this plant and many others that I’ve never seen in the woods of Distant Hill Gardens in Walpole, New Hampshire recently. In 1979 owner Michael Nerrie and his wife Kathy bought the property and, after finding so many beautiful and rare plants in the woods, graciously opened it to the public. We’ll be hearing a lot more about the plants found in the Walpole woods in the future but for now, if you live in this area you should definitely visit Distant Hill Gardens. You can find directions and much more by clicking on the word here.

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

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