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Posts Tagged ‘Spring Ephemerals’

I wanted to see if the wild columbines were blooming so on a recent sunny day I walked the rail trail up in Westmoreland to the ledges they grow on. There are lots of other wildflowers here as well so you always find something blooming along this trail in spring.

I was surprised to find coltsfoot still blooming. I haven’t seen any in Keene for two weeks.

I should say that I saw a single coltsfoot blossom; most looked like this.

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) had started blooming, but the flowers hadn’t opened completely.

Each greenish white red elderberry flower is tiny at about 1/8 inch across, but has a lot going on. They have five petals which are called “petaloid lobes” and which curve sharply backwards. Five stamens have white filaments and are tipped with pale yellow anthers. The flower is completed by a center pistil with three tiny stigmata. If pollinated each flower will become a small, bright red berry. Though the plant is toxic Native Americans knew how to cook the berries to remove their toxicity. They are said to be very bitter unless prepared correctly. Birds love them and each year they disappear quickly.

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) grew here and there and was already budded. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from this plant’s burning roots to treat headache and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

The tiny flowers will be part of a large terminal flower head and will become bright white. The berries will form quickly and will turn bright red but before they do they are speckled red and green for a time. The plant is also called treacle berry because the berries taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative so moderation is called for.

True Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) also grew along the trail. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and it won’t be long before it blooms. It already had buds on it.

The Solomon’s seal flowers will dangle from the stem under the leaves and will be hard to see, so you have to look for them. They will eventually become small dark blue berries.

Ferns were yawning and stretching, happy to be awake and greening up once again.

Though the trail looks long in photos it doesn’t take that long to get to where the columbines grow.

Algae grew on the stone ledge you can see just to the right in that previous photo.

I believe it was spirogyra algae which always seems to have lots of bubbles. Looking at it is almost like being able to see through the skin of a frog. Spirogyra has common names that include water silk and mermaid’s tresses. It is described as a “filamentous charophyte green algae of the order Zygnematales.” I’ve read that they grow in nutrient rich places. They’re always interesting and they don’t feel slimy at all. They feel like cool water.

The trees are getting very green. All shades of green.

Some of that green came from the new leaves of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum). The road seen far below is route 12 north. It lets you know how high up this rail trail is; this part of the rail bed was cut into the side of a steep hillside.

New red maple leaves lived up to their name and were tomato red. The same pigments that color them in the fall color them in the spring.

Here we are at the ledges. What is left of the hillside after the railroad cut its way through is home to a large variety of plants.

Spring shoots of Jack in the pulpit grew up out of the moss. If you know anything about Jack in the pulpit you know that it grows from a bulb like root called a corm, much like a gladiolus corm. That’s fine until you start wondering how such a root works on stone. I’ve also seen dandelions growing on these ledges and they have a long tap root. Again, how does that work on stone? There are lots of questions here that I can’t answer but that’s okay; nature knows what its doing.

When I first found this place a few years ago there was a single group of red trilliums (Trillium erectum) growing here. Now that small group is much larger and there re trilliums all along the base of the ledges so they’re obviously happy here.

They’re very pretty flowers but they won’t be with us much longer. Once the tree leaves come out that’s pretty much it for these plants.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) grows in abundance here. I’ve never seen so much of it in any other place. It is named after a French monk who lived in the year 1000 AD and is said to have cured many people’s illnesses with it. 

And then there they were, the wild columbine blossoms (Aquilegia canadensis) I haven’t seen since last year. They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. 5 funnel shaped holes lead to nectar spurs and long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

This shot of a the back of a white garden columbine blossom that I took several years ago shows what I think is a good example of why columbines have always been associated with birds. As soon as I saw this shot I thought of five beautiful white swans with outstretched wings, come together to discuss whatever it is that swans discuss.

This shot is for those who have never seen how and where columbines grow naturally. When it rains all that moss soaks up water like a sponge and then releases it slowly, and I think that is why the columbines and all of the other plants do so well here.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts. ~Susanna Clarke

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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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1. Johnny Jump Ups

Cheery little Johnny jump ups (Viola cornuta) have done just that; it seems like one day they weren’t there and the next day they were. The unusual spring heat is causing some plants to bloom two weeks or more ahead of when they normally do and it has been hard to keep up with them.

2. Painted Trillium

I was surprised to see a painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) already past its prime. You can see how the bright white has gone out of the petals and how they have become translucent. These are sure signs of age even though it should be just starting to bloom. Each white petal has a pink V at its base and that’s how it comes by its common name. Painted trilliums grow north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia. I hope I find a better example before they go by.

3. Lady's Slipper

The only time pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have appeared in May on this blog was in 2013 because they usually bloom in June. It’s a beautiful thing and I was happy to see it but all the flowers that are blooming early will also be passing early, and I wonder what there will be to see in June. Nature will take care of things and I won’t be disappointed, of that I have no doubt. Native Americans used lady’s slipper root as a sedative for insomnia and nervous tension. I never pictured natives as being particularly nervous or tense, but I suppose they had their fair share of things to worry about.

4. Native Azalea

If you were hiking with me and saw an eight foot high native roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) in full bloom and didn’t stop and gasp in astonishment I think I’d have to check your pulse just to make sure that you were still with us, because this is something that you don’t see just any old day. It had a rough time over the winter and isn’t blossoming as much as it did last year but it’s still a sight to behold.

5. Native Azalea

There are few things more beautiful than these flowers on this side of heaven. They are also very fragrant with a sweet, clove like aroma. This old azalea grows behind an even older hemlock tree in a very swampy area, surrounded by goldthread plants and cinnamon ferns.

 6. Gold Thread

Here is one of the little goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum) that grow near the azalea. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. This plant usually grows in undisturbed soil that is on the moist side. 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.

7. Gold Thread Leaves

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.

8. Fleabane

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms and its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. They’re a good indicator of where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes. If you are one of those people who mow around this native fleabane you might want to visit a nursery, because there are also many cultivated varieties of this plant.

9. Skunk Currant aka Ribes glandulosum

This is the first appearance of skunk currant (Ribes glandulosum) on this blog. I know a place where hundreds of these plants grow but I’ve never seen one blooming so I was never sure what they were. I’ve read that the plant gets its common name from the odor given off by its ripe dark red berries, which doesn’t sound too appealing but they are said to be very tasty. If you can get past the smell, I assume. This is a very hairy plant; even its fruit has hairs. The Native Ojibwa people used the root of skunk currant to ease back pain but it is not a favorite of foresters or timber harvesters because it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

Another name for Jack in the pulpit is Indian turnip (Arisaema triphyllum) because Native Americans knew how to cook the poisonous root to remove the toxic calcium oxalate crystals. They called the plant  “tcika-tape” which translates as “bad sick,” but they knew how to use it and not get sick. They also used the root medicinally for a variety of ailments, including as a treatment for sore eyes. This plant is also called bog onion because the root looks like a small onion and it grows in low, damp places. It is in the arum family and is similar to the “lords and ladies” plant found in the U.K.

11. Jack in the Pulpit

I always lift the hood to see the beautiful stripes and to see if Jack is being pollinated. Jack is the black, club shaped spadix surrounded by the showy spathe, which is the pulpit. The plant has a fungal odor that attracts gnats and other insects and if they do their job Jack will become a bunch of bright red berries that white tail deer love to come by and snack on.

12. Lilac

I love lilacs so they always have a place included here. Many people here in New Hampshire think that lilacs are native to the state but they aren’t. They (Syringa vulgaris) were first imported from England to the garden of then Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower.

13. Lilac

Until I saw this photo I never realized how suede-like lilac flowers look. I was too busy sucking the sweet nectar out of them as a boy to notice, I guess.

14. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley always reminds me of my grandmother because I can remember bringing her fistfuls of them along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw. She would always be delighted with my rapidly wilting bouquet and would immediately put it in a jelly jar of water. These plants are extremely toxic but I never once thought of eating or putting any part of one in my mouth, so I hope all of the mothers and grandmothers out there will give the little ones a chance to see your face light up as they thrust out a chubby fist full of wilted lily of the valley blossoms. I can tell you that, though it might seem such a small thing, it stays with you throughout life. It also teaches a child a good lesson about the great joy to be found in giving.

15. Trillium

It’s time to say goodbye to purple trilliums (Trillium erectum,) which are another of our spring ephemerals that seem almost like falling stars, so brief is their time with us. You can tell that this trillium is on its way out by the way its petals darken from red to dark purple, unlike the painted trillium we saw earlier with petals that lighten as they age.

16. Gaywings

Fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers often grow in pairs like those shown in the photo. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen. That pollination happens at all seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

17. Gaywings

I tried to get a “bee’s eye view” of one of the flowers, which also go by the name of gaywings. What beautiful things they are; I could sit and admire them all day.

I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — an endless prospect of magic and wonder. ~Ansel Adams

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day!

 

 

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I was going to do a post on spring ephemerals, but not all of the plants that follow are true spring ephemerals. Some plants however-even shrubs and trees-can have flowers that fit the definition of ephemeral, which is simply “lasting for a very short time.”

1. Bloodroot

Our native bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ) has just started blooming.  This is one of my favorite spring flowers. If we’re lucky and the temperatures don’t get too warm we might see two weeks of bloom.

 2. Bloodroot

A closer look at bloodroot. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful or perfect flower.

 3. Trout Lily

Yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum ) has also just started blooming.  These flowers have three petals and three sepals. All are yellow on the inside but the sepals have brown / bronze on the outside. Trout lily blossoms open in the morning and close in the evening, so you have to time your visits accordingly. The place that I go to see them has many thousands of plants there and I’m hoping to see great masses of them all blooming at once this year.

 4. Trout Lily

Trout lilies might stand 5-6 inches tall so getting a peek inside the nodding flower can be difficult, but I always try. The flowers are pollinated by ants, so they don’t have to raise their faces to the sky.

5. Trailing Arbutus Flowers

The tiny pinkish white blossoms of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) are also just starting to open. These are one of the most fragrant flowers in the woods and are the favorite of many a grandmother.  Mine called them mayflowers and she loved them. This plant isn’t a true ephemeral because its leaves appear year-round, but its flowers are fleeting.

 6. Fly honeysuckle aka Lonicera canadense

Native fly honeysuckle (Lonicera Canadensis) is one of the earliest shrubs to blossom. Its greenish yellow flowers are interesting because of the way they are joined. The flowers give way to oval red fruits which are also joined, but don’t share a single ovary like those of partridgeberry. Each blossom lasts only one day. The National Park Service uses this small shrub quite a lot to improve wildlife habitat, but in my experience they are rarely seen in local forests.

 7. Spring Beauties

 Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) are going strong after a slow start. I’m hoping to see large masses of these soon. Depending on how quickly it warms up, these flowers might appear for only a week. I’ve noticed that they do not like hot weather.

 8. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is another plant that seems to dislike hot weather. Dryness is also a potential problem for spring ephemerals as the wilting stems in this photo show. We haven’t had the usual April showers here this spring, so we might be in for a dry summer.

 9. American Elm Flowers

I think I’ve had more trouble getting a decent picture of American elm (Ulmus Americana) flowers than I ever have with any other flower. I know of only one tree with flowers on it and every time I go near it either the light isn’t right or the wind is blowing a gale. I’m going to keep trying but meanwhile this shot will have to do.

10. Fiddleheads

Ferns may not fit anyone’s description of ephemeral, but anyone who has tried to find the spring shoots, called fiddleheads, knows that it isn’t long before they have turned into fully formed fronds. We’ve had some warm weather recently and in just the last few days ferns have suddenly started growing fast. I think the ferns pictured are common ladyferns (Athyrium filix-femina.)

 11. Bluets

 Our native bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are always a welcome sight in spring but they usually come up in lawns so they get mowed off before they mature. In my lawn they have time to mature though, because I mow around them. These tiny flowers usually range from white to pale blue, but every now and then a clump of darker blue can be found. These were growing beside a road. Though bluets are categorized as ephemerals in some books I’ve seen them blooming throughout summer in cool, shaded areas.

 12. Trillium

Red trillium (Trillium erectum) has many common names. Some call it purple trillium and some flowers seem to be more purple than red, like the plum colored one in this photo was.  Another common name is wake robin, because the flowers are supposed to appear at the same time as robins do. Yet another name is stinking Benjamin, and I remembered why it had that name when I was taking this photo-phew! Red trilliums are pollinated by flies and one scent that is attractive to flies is rotting meat, and that’s what they smell like. It’s a beautiful sight, but don’t stand down wind.

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

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This past week I was determined to find some real live, growing things. I’m happy to say that my quest was a success.

1. Pines

The snow has melted in the woods now, so both hiking and finding plants has become easier.

 2. White Clover

White clover (Trifolium repens) was looking very spring like in a ditch beside the road.

 3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot bloomed happily in yet another roadside ditch. Other than skunk cabbage, this is the first wildflower I’ve seen this spring. The plant’s lack of leaves and the scaly stems make coltsfoot hard to confuse with dandelions. Coltsfoot originally comes from Europe, Africa and Asia and is considered an invasive weed in some areas. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years, but it can be toxic to the liver if it isn’t prepared correctly.

 4. Coltsfoot Closeup

Composite flowers are highly evolved, and coltsfoot is a plant with this type of flower. It has flat, petal like ray flowers in a corolla around the outside of a central disk shaped area that holds disk flowers. Botanically speaking, each “flower’ on this plant is actually a flower head made up of many flowers. This photo shows the lily like, pollen bearing center disk flowers just starting to open.

 5. Little Brown Mushroom

I’ve seen several mushrooms, even when there was snow on the ground, and I’m convinced that many mushrooms that guide books describe as “late fall” mushrooms also grow in early spring.  There is a group of mushrooms called LBMs, (for little brown mushrooms) that can be very poisonous and are often hard to identify.  Since I haven’t been able to identify this one I’ll just call it a little brown mushroom.  I can’t vouch for its edibility, but I know that I wouldn’t eat it.

 6. Pussy Willow

Pussy willows can be seen everywhere now.

 7. Common Alder aka Alnus glutinosa Catkins

Every now and then nature will put something in your path that leaves you standing silently- awestruck at the beauty before you.  I had one of those moments when I saw hundreds of these beautiful male alder catkins (Alnus glutinosa) hanging from shrubs that surrounded a small pond.  Soon the wind will blow pollen from these catkins to the waiting female flowers.

8. Poplar Catkins

Two weeks ago these poplar (Populus) catkins were as small as pussy willows, but now they have lengthened in preparation for pollen release. The poplar family is split into 3 main groups:  the cottonwoods, the aspens, and the balsam poplars. This tree is in the aspen group. The female blossoms appear on different trees and, if pollination is successful, they will develop cottony seeds that will fill the air in May. The old New England Yankee name for this tree was popple.

9. Trailing Arbutus

The flower buds of our native evergreen trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens,) also called Canada Mayflower, are all set to bloom once it gets a little warmer. These small, waxy, 5 petaled blossoms are very fragrant, and can be white or pink. This plant is also called gravel plant because the Shaker religious sect sold it as a remedy for kidney stones. Native Americans also used the plant for kidney ailments, indigestion, and joint pain. Modern tests have shown that the plant can be toxic.  Trailing arbutus was nearly picked into extinction in the past because of its strong, pleasant, almost tropical scent. Its flowers should never be picked.

 10. Skunk Cabbage Flower

 Nobody will be picking this flower because of its pleasant scent! We’ve probably all seen enough pictures of skunk cabbages to last us until next spring, but what we are usually seeing is the splotchy, red / purple / yellowish-green hood that covers the actual flower. This hood is called a spathe and protects the flower, which is called a spadix. In this photo you can see the spadix inside the spathe, as well as flecks of pollen on the outside surfaces.  The plant’s disagreeable odor attracts the flies and bees which pollinate it. Occasionally hungry black bears just out of hibernation will eat these flowers, but most animals leave them alone.

 11. Skunk Cabbage Flower

 The plant in the previous photo had a spathe with an opening that was large enough to sneak the lens of my Panasonic Lumix into, so here is a close up shot of the spadix, or flower, covered in pollen. If the plant is successfully pollinated it will produce a round, red fruit head that will contain several berry like fruits.  Each fruit will have a single seed. The strange lighting in this photo is from the sun shining through the spathe wall.

12. Mountain Haircap Moss aka Polytrichastrum pallidisetum

 The leaves of mountain haircap moss curl around the stem when they’re dry. The upright fruiting bodies are called sporophytes and each is covered by a pointed, whitish cap, called a calyptra. Each calyptra is covered with hairs and that is where the name haircap comes from. As the capsules, shown in the following photo, containing the spores mature and enlarge these calyptrae will fall away.

13. Mountain Haircap Moss Spore Capsules aka Polytrichastrum pallidisetum

These are the tiny capsules that contain the spores of mountain haircap moss. They are 4 sided like a box and have a lid, which eventually falls off to release the spores to the wind. The capsules in this photo lost their lids and released their spores last summer, but were still standing.

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 Jacques

Thanks for stopping in.

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