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Posts Tagged ‘Spring Wildflowers’

The last time I visited the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland I mentioned in the resulting blog post the violets that grow here in spring, and several people’s ears pricked up. They said they’d like to see them so that’s what this visit is all about. I had been seeing lots of violets blooming in Keene so I felt confident that I’d see some here, but not in the part of the deep cut that you see above. I think of this as the “sterile” part of the canyon because few plants besides mosses grow there. The walls are close to 50 feet high in places I’ve been told by people who climb them, and though it is sunny in the photo it’s in deep shade for most of the day.

Instead we go south to where all the growth is.

And there is a lot of growth. Every surface, whether it is vertical or horizontal has something growing on it. When I was a boy I dreamed of being a plant explorer, travelling all over the world to find beautiful plants for botanic gardens, and one of the books I read back then was James Hilton’s Lost Horizons. I never became a plant hunter but I did find my own Shangri-La, right here in Westmoreland New Hampshire. The beauty and lushness found here are like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else.

By the way, for those new to this blog; this is what the canyon looks like in winter. All of the dripping groundwater you hear at other times of the year becomes ice, and in February you wonder how anything could ever grow here.

But things do grow here, and if anything it seems like it must be the ice helping them do so well. Foamflowers for instance, grow as well or better here than I’ve ever seen them grow anywhere else.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) are always beautiful no matter where they grow but the ones that grow here seem healthier and more robust.

The Jack in the pulpit flowers (Arisaema triphyllum) I’ve seen here get bigger than they are anywhere else I go, so I’d guess that they like all the extra water as well. I usually lift the hood of the striped spathe so I can see the spadix inside but this time I didn’t have to; a side view shows how Jack lives in his pulpit.

I’ve seen Jack in the pulpit plants reach waist high here while in other places they barely reach knee high. The leaves on this plant were huge and I wanted you to see them because they are sometimes mistaken for trillium leaves.

Here were two red trillium plants, also with huge leaves. If you compare them with the Jack in the pulpit leaves in the previous photo you’ll see that there are differences. The overall shape of the trillium plant from above is round while with Jack in the pulpit it is more triangular. The trillium leaves are more rounded as well, but the main difference is in how the trillium flower stalk rises out of the center where the three leaves meet. In a Jack in the pulpit the flower is on its own stalk that rises directly from the ground.

And here were the violets; thousands of them, doing better this year than I think I’ve ever seen. In years past I decided that they were marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) because the long flower stem (peduncle) gets the flowers high above the leaves. These violets aren’t shy; they shout here we are!

They’re very beautiful, even when they peek out of grasses and sedges. Though my color finding software sees lavender highlights here and there it tells me that most of these violets are cornflower blue.

Small waterfalls occasionally pour from the walls as they were on this day, and I think that’s why all of these plants can do so well here. The ice that forms here in winter is almost always colored in various colors and I think that is because this ground water is mineral rich. Those same minerals that color the ice are most likely taken up and used by all of these plants.

The tinkling, dripping sounds of water are constant no matter where in the canyon you may be.

All of that dripping, splashing water means that plants like violets can grow right on the stone. This shot shows how the flower stem on the marsh blue violet gets the flowers high above the leaves. If I understand what I’ve read correctly it is the only violet that does this. (And this is probably the only violet that can handle all of this water.)

Even dandelions, which have a tap root like a carrot, can grow on stone here. Note how wet the surrounding stone is. Even trees grow on stone here, but they usually fall before they get very old.

Kidney leaved buttercups (Ranunculus abortivus) grew here and there along the trail. They’re always a challenge to photograph because their wiry stems sprawl and move in the wind.

Each tiny flower is only about a quarter inch in diameter with five yellow petals and ten or more yellow stamens surrounding a shiny green center that resembles a raspberry in shape. This plant is also called little leaf buttercup or small flowered buttercup. Like other plants in the buttercup family it is toxic.

I saw a few groups of ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) here and I’ve got to try to remember they’re here because their spring fiddleheads look like no other that I know of and I’d like to come back next spring to get photos of them. Another name for this fern is the shuttlecock fern and that’s a good description, because that’s exactly the shape they have. Though I’ve read that they can reach seven feet tall under optimum conditions the examples I saw were about three and a half feet tall.

The leaf stalk of an ostrich fern is deeply grooved as seen here, and if you are going to forage for fern fiddleheads to eat you would do well to remember this. Other ferns like the interrupted fern and cinnamon fern have grooved leaf stalks but their grooves are much more shallow than these.

As this shot from 2015 shows. ostrich fern spring fiddleheads are smooth and bright, pea green. Even at this stage they have that deep groove in the stalks, and no wooly coating. They like to grow in shady places where the soil is consistently damp. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are considered a great delicacy by many and many restaurants are happy to pay premium prices for them in spring. I’ve always heard that ostrich fern is the only one of our native ferns that is safe to eat.

Unfortunately there was a lot of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolate) here. This plant is very invasive and can form large monocultures of nothing but garlic mustard. The plant was originally brought from Europe in the 1800s as an herb, and to be used for erosion control. Of course it immediately escaped and is now trying to take over the world. By the time native plants come up in spring garlic mustard has already grown enough to shade them out and that’s how it outcompetes our native species. It is edible in spring when young but increases in toxicity (Cyanide) as it ages. It has a taproot but it can be pulled, preferably before it sets seed. In the U.K. it is called Jack-by-the-hedge and we kind of wish it had stayed there. By the hedge, I mean.

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along the drainage channels here. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. It isn’t the same as the cultivated chervil used to flavor soups and it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley and resembles many plants that are very poisonous, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

I realized when I was here that I’ve never shown you what happens when you exit the canyon, so here you are. You can just see the roofline of the old lineman’s shack behind those trees to the left.

And here is what’s left of the lineman’s shack. The front wall is leaning back quite severely now and that most likely means the ridgepole has snapped, so the old place can’t be long for this world. The ridgepole is what the rafters attach to and without it, it all comes tumbling down. I’ll be sorry to see that. I’ve been coming here for so many years it seems like an old friend.

I hope all of you violet lovers out there enjoyed seeing how they grow in nature, and the beauty of this place. This violet was my favorite. My color finding software tells me it’s steel blue.

The superstition still survives in widely scattered countries that to dream of the violet is good luck. ~Cora Linn Daniels

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I didn’t think I was going to see our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) this year because every plant I visited had no flower stalks or buds, but then I saw this beauty growing in a roadside ditch. The name “flag” comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves. In this instance they were growing right in the water of the ditch, which shows that they don’t mind wet roots.

Beautiful blue flag irises always say June to me and here they are, right on schedule. There is also a southern blue flag (Iris virginica.) Though Native Americans used native irises medicinally their roots are considered dangerously toxic.

Dogwoods (Cornus) have just come into bloom and I caught up with this one on a recent rainy day. Dogwood blossoms have 4 large white bracts surrounding the actual small greenish flowers in the center. The dogwood family is well represented in this area, with many native species easily found.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is in the dogwood family and just like the tree dogwood blossom we saw previously 4 large white bracts surround the small greenish flowers in the center. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give it its common name. That little starflower in the lower part of the photo jumped in just as I clicked the shutter.

Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) blossoms also have 4 larger white bracts surrounding the actual flowers in the center but everything is so small it’s hard to see. Gray dogwood flower clusters are sort of mounded as is seen here, while silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) are flatter. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. The silky dogwood will have berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Now that the common lilacs are done blooming the dwarf Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri) take over. They are fragrant but have a different scent than a common lilac. Each year at this time I visit a a park where dwarf lilacs, fringe trees, and black locusts, all very fragrant flowers, all bloom at once and it is unbelievable. Though called Korean lilac the original plant was found in a garden near Beijing, China by Frank Meyer in 1909. It has never been seen in the wild so its origin is unknown. If you love lilacs but don’t have a lot of room this one’s for you. They are a no maintenance plant that is very easy to grow.

Bearded irises seem to be doing quite well this year. I’m seeing them everywhere I go.

Beautiful Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the native fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms, while 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, especially in cemeteries, it seems. This year I learned another name for them: wandering fleabane. That’s a good one because this plant gets around.

Another plant I often see in cemeteries is the old fashioned bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia). When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one and I liked them because they’re a low to no maintenance shrub that really asked for nothing. You could prune it for shape if you wanted but you didn’t need to. The 6-8 foot shrubs are loaded with beautiful flowers right now but I suppose they’re considered old fashioned because I seem to see fewer of them each year.

In Greek the word spirea means wreath, but the plant comes from China and Korea. Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune originally found it in a garden in China in the 1800s but it grows naturally on rocky hillsides, where its long branches full of white flowers spill down like floral waterfalls.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) was so highly valued that it was brought over from England by the colonists in the 1600s. They used it as an ornamental back then and it has been with us ever since. Though it is considered invasive most of us don’t really mind because it’s beautiful. This plant forms clumps much like phlox and can get 5 feet tall under the right conditions. It is very fragrant in the evening.

The easiest way to tell whether you’re seeing Dame’s rocket or phlox is to count the flower petals. Dame’s rocket has 4 petals and phlox has 5. If there are no flowers look at the leaves; phlox leaves are opposite while Dames rocket has alternate leaves. Even easier is to simply not care, and just enjoy their beauty.

This wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) grew right beside the Dame’s rocket and showed the differences very well. A close look shows that the flowers really don’t look anything like those of Dame’s rocket.

I know of only one red horse chestnut tree and it grows in a local park. The red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) I’ve read that bees and hummingbirds love the beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today in fact, but I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the small, pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and other insects.

The surface of the pipevine flower is roughly pebbled, presumably to make it easier for the butterfly to hang onto. Though it was used by Native Americans to treat pain and infections the plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some southeastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s. If you have a view you’d like to screen off just for the summer months this plant might be for you, but you’ll need a sturdy trellis.

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is a plant that is not doing well this year. I’m seeing plenty of leaves but this is the only flower I found. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, so maybe that is why. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

A mayapple colony is made up of plants with large leaves that grow close together, so to find the flowers you have to move the leaves a bit.

Red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) is a beautiful but tiny thing. I can usually only see a bit of color and  have to let the camera see the flower but on this day I was able to see the actual flowers, and there were many of them. Red sandspurry was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s but it could hardly be called invasive. It is such a tiny plant that it would take many hundreds of them just to fill a coffee cup.

Here is shot of a blossom overhanging a penny that I took a few years ago. Because it isn’t touching the penny perspective makes it look a bit bigger than it is. it’s really about the size of Lincoln’s ear.

It’s honeysuckle time and Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is one of the prettiest, in my opinion. Unfortunately it is also invasive, originally from Siberia and other parts of eastern Asia. In fall its pretty flowers become bright red berries. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre, according to the Forest Service. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, and the land around these colonies is often barren.

Morrow’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) is another invasive honeysuckle. It was imported in the 1800s for use as an ornamental, for wildlife food, and for erosion control. It has pretty white flowers that turn yellow with age. As is true with most honeysuckles the flowers are very sweetly fragrant. Unfortunately it spreads by its berries like Tatarian honeysuckle and it can form dense thickets and outcompete native shrubs. It seems more aggressive than Tatarian honeysuckle; I see it far more often.

While I was looking to see if the nodding trilliums were blooming I stumbled upon what I knew was a honeysuckle, but it was one I had never seen. After a couple of weeks of waiting for its buds to open I finally found that I had discovered a very pretty native wild honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica.) The plant is also called limber honeysuckle or glaucous honeysuckle and though I can’t speak of its rarity I can say that this is the first time I’ve seen it, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time outdoors.

Wild honeysuckle is a low shrub with vining characteristics, meaning that it will loosely twine around other shrubs that might be growing nearby, trying to reach more sunlight. One inch long red or sometimes yellow tubular flowers with bright yellow stamens appear at the ends of the branches. Their throats are hairy and like other native honeysuckles the stigma is dome or mushroom shaped. The leaves are white on the underside and you can just see that on the left in this photo.

I took this shot to show you the urn or egg shaped ovaries at the base of the flower tubes. Each tubular flower has a small bump at its base, just before the ovary. I’ve read that this honeysuckle likes sandy, wet places at high elevations in mixed hard and soft wood forests, but I found it just a few feet from a road. I’m hoping it will like it there and spread some.

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
~James Wright 

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Last spring when I visited Yale Forest in Swanzey I stumbled upon one of the prettiest horsetails I had ever seen, the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.) I have since read that it is indeed considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails and I wanted to see it again, so on a recent beautiful spring day off I went, back into Yale Forest. My chances of finding a single plant in such a huge forest might seem slim but I knew this horsetail liked wet feet, and I knew where the water was. 

An old road winds through this part of the forest and there is still plenty of pavement to be seen. Yale University has owned this parcel of land since the 1930s and allows public use. The old road was once called Dartmouth Road because that’s where it led, but the state abandoned it when the new Route 10 was built and it has been all but forgotten ever since.

Cheery little bluets (Houstonia caerulea) grew along the sides of the old road.

Many thousands of violets also grow alongside the old road. They reminded me that I have to get up to the Deep Cut rail trail in Westmoreland to see all the violets that grow there. It’s a beautiful sight.

Fern fiddleheads were beautiful, as always.

New oak leaves were everywhere, and they were also beautiful. New leaves are one of the things I love most about spring.

New oak leaves are multi colored and soft, like felt.

Beeches were also opening up for spring. This one showed how all of the current season’s leaves and branches grow out of a single small bud. The miracle that is life, right here for everyone to see.

There are lots of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) out here and many were showing off their new spring flowers. They’re pretty, the way they dangle and move with the breeze.

It was such a beautiful day to be in the woods. The only sounds were the bird songs, and they came from every direction.

Sarsaparilla leaves (Aralia nudicaulis) still wore their spring reds and purples when I was here. At this stage they are often mistaken for poison ivy and that’s another reason to know what poison ivy looks like. From what I’ve read the color protects young leaves from strong sunlight. After a time as they become more used to the light they slowly turn green.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew here and there in small groups and I would guess if it were left alone it might one day carpet the forest floor as I’ve seen it do in other places.

I saw an old dead tree, or what was left of it.

As I’ve said here before; you can find beauty even in death.

I was hoping I’d find some mallards in the beaver pond but instead I found that someone had taken apart the beaver dam. I’ve done it and it’s hard work but sometimes it is very necessary.

It was certainly necessary in this instance; the beavers had miscalculated and built the dam too high and the water finally spilled over the banks of the small pond and into the old road. If something hadn’t been done this whole area could have flooded. I’m all for letting animals live in peace without being disturbed but there are times when you have to do something to persuade them that maybe they haven’t made the best choice.

Shadbushes ( Amelanchier canadensis) grew by the beaver pond but they were about done flowering and their fruits, called June berries, were beginning to form.

It looked like the beavers had built their lodge partially on land, which I don’t see them do very often. I have a feeling this might be a young male beaver just starting out on its own, hoping a mate will come swimming upstream.

But I couldn’t concern myself with what the beavers were doing. It isn’t my land so I have to let them and Yale University straighten it out. I headed off into the woods, following the outflow stream from the pond. Right off I saw hundreds of goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum,) most still in in flower.

What pretty little things they are, just sitting and waiting for an insect to stop by and sip their nectar. Which they can’t do without getting poked by one of those long anthers. A dusting of pollen for a sip of nectar sounds like a fair trade.

Water plantain (Alisma subcordatum) grew by the outflow stream. I’ve read that it is also called mud plantain and its seeds are eaten by waterfowl. Something also must eat the leaves because they looked fairly chewed up. Maybe deer or bear. Native Americans cooked and ate its roots but I haven’t found any information about them eating the foliage. Though it is a native plant I rarely see it.

NOTE: I was thinking of another plant I’ve seen with huge leaves like this one when I wrote this; swamp saxifrage, but this is not that plant and neither is it water plantain. The swamp saxifrage I’ve seen had leaves that were chewed just like these but these leaves are very different when I compare the two photos. This could be skunk cabbage but I’ve never seen it out here and I’ve never seen its leaves get this big. I’m sorry for any confusion this might have caused.

And then there it was; the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.) Its foliage is very lacy; different somehow than that of other horsetails, and it is this laciness that makes it so beautiful. In the garden horsetails can be a real pest but out here where they grow naturally they’re enchanting.

I got my knees and pant legs soaking wet taking these photos but it was worth it to see such a rare and beautiful thing. Or I should say, rare in my experience. I’ve never seen it anywhere else but it is said to grow in the U.K and Europe. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forests,” and that’s where the title of this post comes from.

Landscapes have the power to teach, if you query them carefully. And remote landscapes teach the rarest, quietest lessons. ~David Quammen

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I haven’t been seeing many trout lilies blooming in the usual places that I find them so last Saturday I decided to take a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene to a colony of a few hundred plants that grow there. It was a beautiful spring day but the river was quite high. The Thursday before we had an inch and a half of rain and that brought all the rivers and streams up.

I thought I might be in for a solitary stroll but by the time I got back I had seen a dozen or more people.

The water had covered the base of a leatherleaf shrub (Chamaedaphne calyculata) but it didn’t seem to mind. I think I can also see some sweet gale catkins (Myrica gale) mixed in, and that’s a surprise because I didn’t know it grew here. I see it up in Hancock 25 miles to the north east regularly but never here that I can remember.

Blueberry buds were just about ready to open. The river bank is lined with native bushes.

Dandelions bloomed happily along the trail.

Cinnamon fern fiddleheads (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) were still surprisingly a week or more behind their cousins the interrupted ferns (Osmundastrum claytoniana).

Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense) are up and bent on taking over the world. Thought they’re a native plant they can be very invasive and are almost impossible to get out of a garden. If you try to pull the plant the leaf stem just beaks away from the root system and it lives on. This plant is sometimes called two leaved Solomon’s seal or false lily of the valley. The “May” part of the name refers to its flowering time. Native Americans used the plant to treat headache and sore throats.

Canada mayflower can form monocultures and I’ve seen large swaths of forest floor with nothing but Canada mayflowers, as the above photo shows. 

The tiny flower buds were already showing on many of the plants. They’ll be followed by speckled red berries that birds and small animals love.

I saw a very hairy fiddlehead of a fern I can’t name but if I had to guess I’d say bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum).

Canoeists were paddling upstream, probably thinking about how easy returning downstream would be. There are lots of underwater hazards in this river, mostly fallen trees, so canoeists and kayakers wait until high water in spring to navigate the river.

I always wonder what is over on the other side of the river. It’s a sizeable piece of land and is posted no trespassing so maybe it will remain in its natural state.

In the backwaters where the current doesn’t interfere, duckweed grows. If the ducks aren’t eating it yet they will be soon.

I saw a dozen turtles sunning themselves on a log. I told a man and his wife I met on the trail about how I’ll often tell small children that I meet out here about the turtles they always seem to miss. I’ll ask them “did you see the turtles?” “No”, they’ll say, getting excited. “They’re right there on the log. See them?” Then a parent will lift them up and they’ll spot the turtles and squeal with delight and all the turtles will slide into the water with a plop. The man’s wife thought it was a hilarious story, apparently, but it has happened again and again in just that way. The delightful squeal of a child is not something a turtle can appreciate, so if you have a little one you might want to warn them to just squeal on the inside.

These two obviously weren’t speaking. They didn’t even want to see each other. I didn’t ask.

A willow was golden against the sky.

And an old apple tree bloomed off in the woods.

And the red maples were so very red. Even I can see their color, and that’s always a surprise.

And there were the trout lilies, in shade so deep they thought it was evening and so had all closed up. It was only just after noon but they know more about when their day is done than I do. At least I got to see some that were actually blooming. I still wonder what is going on with them, because they seem to be blooming much later these days.

They’re a flower pretty enough to seek out and admire, so my walk wasn’t wasted. Far from it.

The trout lilies grow right near the bridge, which is always my turning point because there is a highway up ahead.

I had the radio on in my car when I was driving here and the song that was playing when I arrived was Grazing In The Grass, by The Friends of Distinction. I remembered it as I walked back:

Flowers with colors for takin’
The sun beaming down between the leaves
And the birds dartin’ in and out of the trees
Everything here is so clear, you can see it
And everything here is so real, you can feel it
And it’s real, so real, so real, so real, so real, so real
Can you dig it?

I could, and I did.

Your deepest roots are in nature.  No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.  ~Charles Cook

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Mother’s day to all you moms out there!

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On Friday, April 16th nature decided to surprise us. This photo shows what I saw on my way to work that day. Parts of the state ended up with a foot of heavy wet snow but it was too warm for it to last..

…and in a day or two it was all gone.

It did get cold for a while but that didn’t slow things down for too long. Ferns like this lady fern  (Athyrium filix-femina) still showed off their stamina with their naked spring fiddleheads. Lady fern is the only fern I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk in the fiddlehead stage. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers. They don’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there.

Interrupted fern (Osmundastrum claytoniana) fiddleheads wore fur and huddled together to keep warm.

Red maple (Acer rubrum) seeds (samaras) are growing by the many millions. These are one of the smallest seeds in the maple family. It is estimated that a single tree 12 inches in diameter can produce nearly a million seeds, and if the tree is fertilized for 2 years seed production can increase by 10 times. It’s no wonder that red maple is getting a reputation for being a weed tree.

For a short time between when they appear and when they ripen and fall American elm (Ulmus americana) seeds have a white fringe. When they ripen they’ll become dry and papery and finally fall to the wind. I grew up on a street that had huge 200 year old elms on it and those trees put out seeds in the many millions. Elm seeds contain 45% protein and 7% fiber and in the great famine of 1812 they were used as food in Norway.

As I write this the large, infertile white blossoms of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) have most likely fully formed, but when I last went to see them this is what they looked like; almost there. Hobblebush flower heads are made up of small fertile flowers in the center and large infertile flowers around the perimeter. The infertile flowers are there to attract insects to the much less showy fertile ones and it’s a strategy that must work well because I see plenty of berries in the fall. They start out green and go to a beautiful bright red before ripening to a deep purple color.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb. If we ate them maybe they wouldn’t be such a bother. Maybe in pies?

This mullein plant was one of the biggest I’ve seen; as big as a car tire. I loved the pattern the leaves made. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. They also used the roots to treat coughs, and it is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid. The Cherokee tribe are said to have rubbed mullein leaves in their armpits to treat prickly rash and the Navaho tribe made an infusion of the leaves and rubbed it on the bodies of their hunters to give them strength. Clearly this plant has been used for many thousands of years. It is considered one of the “oldest herbs’ and recent research has shown that mullein does indeed have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum), also called ramps, are up. They look like scallions and taste somewhere between onions and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable in many parts of the world, but they’ve been over collected so harvesting has been banned in many parts of the U.S. and Canada. They’re slow growers from seed and a 10 percent harvest of a colony can take 10 years to grow back. They take 18 months to germinate from seed and 5 to 7 years to become mature enough to harvest. That’s why, when people write in and ask me where to find them, I can’t tell them. The two small colonies I’ve found have less than 300 plants combined.

This photo is from a few years ago when I foolishly pulled up a couple of ramps, not knowing how rare they were. It shows their resemblance to scallions though, and that’s what I wanted you to see. They are said to be strongly flavored with a pungent odor, but they’ve been prized by mankind since the ancient Egyptians ate them. Each spring there are ramp festivals all over the world and in some places they’re called the “King of stink.” The name ramp comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum,) which is a cousin of the North American wild leek.

In one of the spots I go to find ramps I find false hellebore (Veratrum viride) growing right beside them. There is a lesson in that, and it is know your plants well if you’re going to eat them. Ramps are one of the most delicious wild plants and false hellebore one of the deadliest. As you can see from the photos they look nothing alike but people do still confuse them. As recently as 2019 a physics professor and his wife wanted some spring greens for breakfast at their cabin in Vermont. The greens they chose, instead of the ramps they thought they were picking, were actually false hellebore. They spent 2 weeks in the hospital and almost died. From 2014 to 2019 in Vermont 18 people were poisoned by false hellebore so again; know your plants. In this case it is simple: ramps smell like onions and false hellebore does not.

And then there is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) which is also up at the same time as ramps and false hellebore. Though I haven’t heard of anyone mistaking skunk cabbage for ramps,. when the leaves of skunk cabbage just come up and start to unfurl I could imagine some thinking they were ramps. In any event skunk cabbage won’t kill a person but after smelling it I can picture it giving a person a good tummy ache.

There are is magic in the woods; beautiful things that many never see, and the glowing spring buds of the striped maples are one of them. Velvety soft and colored in pink and orange, they are one of the things I most look forward to seeing in spring.

But you have to be quick and pay close attention if you’re going to watch spring buds unfold, because it can happen quickly. This striped maple bud was all ready to break.

I saw a porcupine in a tree where I work. This porcupine, if it is the same one, had a baby with her last year. This year she doesn’t look well but since you could fit what I know about porcupines in a thimble and have room to spare, I can’t be sure. I do know that three or four of us thought she looked as if something was wrong.

I felt as if I was being watched one day when I was taking photos of violets and turned to find a very suspicious robin wondering just what it was I was up to. I said hello and it hopped even closer. It looked very well fed and I wondered if it was hopping in the grass because it was too heavy to get off the ground. Of course I didn’t ask. Instead I stood and walked across the lawn and when I turned to look again I saw that it was still watching me. Probably making sure I wasn’t making off with any of its worms.

I don’t see many wooly bear caterpillars in spring but here it was. Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. We did indeed have a mild winter but I doubt the wooly bear cared either way because wooly bears produce their own antifreeze and can freeze solid. Once the temperature rises into the 40s F in spring they thaw out and begin feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually they spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live. Since this one was on a step I’m guessing that it was looking for a place to make a cocoon.

The new shoots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are up and leafing out. Usually even plants this small will have tiny flower buds on them but I didn’t see any on this one. Each year the above ground stem leaves a scar, or “seal” on the underground stem, which is called a rhizome. Counting these scars will reveal the age of the plant but of course you have to dig it up to do that and I never have.

I finally found the female flowers of sweet gale (Myrica gale.) They’re bushy little things that remind me of female alder catkins. Sweet gale is also called bog rosemary and likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent.

These are the male catkins of sweet gale. They’re much larger than the female catkins and much easier to spot.

If there is anything that holds more promise than new spring leaves I’ve never experienced it.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud.” It’s happening right now to a lot of trees like this sugar maple. I love the veining on sugar maple leaves just before they unfurl.

I complained in an earlier post how, though maple leaves often come out of the bud colored red, all I was seeing this year were green. Of course as soon as I say something like that nature throws me a curve ball and on this day all I saw were young red leaves. Actually my color finding software calls them salmon pink and orange.

All of the snow in that first photo ended up like this; spring runoff. That means of course that I get to enjoy the moisture in its two forms; first when it clothes every branch and twig and second when it becomes a beautiful waterfall. This is one of my favorite spring scenes. I call this the “disappearing waterfall” because it comes and goes depending on the weather. It was in fine form on this day but it could be gone completely the next time I go to see it.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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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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John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday,” and that was to prove very true last Sunday. I followed a rail trail in Swanzey that I’ve followed more times than I can count but saw many things that I’ve never seen here before.

Male American Hazelnut catkins swayed lazily in the slight breeze. They had lengthened to three times their winter length and were still heavy with pollen.

The tiny female flowers were waiting for a good dose of that pollen so they could become the hazelnuts that so many birds and animals eat.

There is a nice little box culvert out here that I always like to stop and see. There was quite a lot of water in the stream it carries safely under the railbed on this day. It’s amazing to think these culverts are still keeping railbeds from washing away 150 years after they were built, and without any real maintenance.

The stream rushes off to the Ashuelot River, which is out there in the distance.

The first thing I saw that I had never seen here were trout lily leaves (Erythronium americanum). I didn’t see any flowers but I found the leaves growing all along the trail, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t ever seen them.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail. This was where I was to get another surprise. I saw something swimming quickly toward me from those fallen trees you see in this photo. I thought it was ducks but I couldn’t see anything except ripples.

And then up popped a muskrat. At least I’m fairly certain it was a muskrat. Though it never showed me its tail it was much smaller than a beaver and nowhere near as skittish. It saw me up on the embankment but still just sat and fed on what looked like grasses. It probably knew I was far enough away; this photo isn’t very good because my camera was at the limit of its zoom capability. At least you can see the critter, and that matters more to me than a technically perfect shot.

I knew that apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grew here and I was able to find it. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.

Beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) are beginning to lose their straightness and that means the beautiful new spring leaves will be appearing before long. Beech bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the new leaves can emerge. The buds literally “break” and at the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.

New maple leaves were everywhere but every one I saw was green. That was unusual because young maple leaves are often red for a while.  

Raspberry plants were also showing their new leaves but blackberry buds had barely broken.

I saw native cherries in all stages of growth. Cherries usually leaf out and blossom quite early.

Some of the willows along the trail had thrown in the towel and were finished for this year.

This is what the flower buds of a shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) look like. After shadbushes come the cherries, closely followed by the crab apples and apples, and then the peaches and plums. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples and some native cherries. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing. I can’t remember ever seeing them bloom along this trail but there they were.

Forsythia has escaped someone’s garden and was blooming happily beside the trail. Another surprise.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear, but here they were blooming beside the trail. This is another plant I can’t remember ever seeing out here before. Trailing arbutus was once collected into near oblivion but these days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. The reason it was collected so much was because its small pink to white, very fragrant flowers were used in nosegays.

I reached the trestle and found that someone, most likely a snowmobile club, had overlaid the flooring, which was starting to rot out. This was a another welcome surprise because that little square that juts out to the right was a hole right through the boards. It’s quite a drop down to the river.

This trestle is the last one I know of with its tell tales still in place. These are pencil size pieces of soft wire that hang down low enough to hit the head of anyone standing on top of a freight car. They would warn the person, or “tell the tale” of an upcoming trestle. I can walk from the trestle to this one in under a minute, so whoever was on top of the train wouldn’t have had much time to duck before they’d hit the trestle, and that would have been too bad. Tell tales used to hang on each end of every trestle in the area, but this is the last one I know of.

The river has come up some since the recent snowfall and a few rain showers. I was surprised I didn’t see any kayakers. They like to paddle the river in spring when the water is high because in that way they can float over all the submerged fallen trees.

It still has to gain more run off before it reaches its average height, by the looks. We’re still in a drought according to the weather people.

I was surprised to find a small colony of bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) as I was leaving. This is another plant I’ve never seen growing here, so this day was packed full of surprises.

Bloodroot flowers don’t usually open on cloudy days and I couldn’t tell if this one was opening or closing, but I was happy to get at least a glimpse of its beautiful inside. These flowers aren’t with us long.

In a forest of a hundred thousand trees no two leaves are identical, and no two journeys along the same path are alike. ~Paulo Coelho

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Well, we’ve had an April snowstorm here in New Hampshire that dropped as much as 8 inches of heavy wet snow in the higher elevations. In lower spots like Keene it hardly amounted to more than a dusting but still, I’m glad I was able to see the bloodroots (Sanguinaria canadensis) in bloom before the snow fell. These flowers are fragile and I doubt they would have made it through the storm. They’re very beautiful and I’m glad I got to see them.

I’m happy to report that they’re spreading, so I expect I’ll be able to see them here in this all but hidden spot for years to come. You can see the flower to the left of center had already started dropping petals even though the plants had just started blooming.

This photo from Wikipedia shows how the plant comes by its common name. Bloodroot is in the poppy family and is toxic, but Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red sap in its roots to decorate their horses.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are up and adding their cheeriness to our spring days. They are a long blooming plant so will most likely do the same for our summer days as well. What looks like a four petaled flower is actually a single, tubular, four lobed “petal.” They’re very pretty little things and I was happy to see them blooming again.

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but they come a few days to a week after the male flowers have fully opened. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. This shot is of the female flowers as they had just appeared. They’re a very pretty color.

Here’s a closer look at those box elder flowers. I think they’re one of the prettiest of the early spring tree blossoms.

Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) is one of our earliest blooming shrubs and one that not many people see unless they walk old roads in early spring. Its unusual flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs. They are so early I’ve seen them blooming in a snowstorm in the past.

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

Willows are still blooming and I’m always happy to see them.

Sedges are beginning to bloom and one of the earliest is plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea). The flower stalks (Culms) are about 4 inches tall and have creamy yellow male (staminate) flowers at the tip of the stems.

Female plantain leaved sedge flowers appear lower down on the stem and are white and wispy.

Field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) appeared almost overnight.  

The fertile spore bearing stem of a field horsetail ends in a light brown cone shaped structure called a strobilus. 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 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. At this stage one little tap and what looks like clouds of pollen float off them but the “pollen” is actually a cloud of microscopic spores. Once the spores have been released the fertile strobilus will die and the infertile green, photosynthesizing stems pf the plant will appear.

The day after the snowstorm I walked and walked looking for violets but every one I saw was closed up due to the cloudy, cool weather. Every one but this one, that is. It had enough spunk to open. Maybe it was hoping a bee that didn’t mind the weather would come along. I’ve read that violet roots and leaves were used medicinally by some Native American tribes. They also used the flowers to make blue dye.

The otherworldly looking flowers of Norway maple have appeared. The flower clusters of Norway maples are large and appear before the leaves so they can be seen from quite a distance. Though invasive the trees were once used extensively as landscape specimens and you can find them all over this town. Unfortunately the tree has escaped into the forests and in places is crowding out sugar and other maples. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states and it’s against the law to sell or plant them in New Hampshire.

Ornamental cherries started blooming before the snowstorm and I was afraid that it might have killed off every blossom but no, here they were the day after the snow. In fact there was snow still on the ground under them when I took this photo. I think people who don’t see a lot of snow probably don’t realize that snow can fall even when the temperature at ground level is above freezing. In other words these and other flowers survived because it was warm enough where they were, even with snow falling. Snow that falls in such conditions is very wet and heavy and usually melts quickly. “White rain” is a good way to describe it.

They’re very pretty flowers and I was happy that they didn’t suffer. Not a single blossom was damaged that I could see.

Most of the magnolia blossoms and buds made it through the storm as well. I like the color of the buds on this one.

But the flowers don’t seem to have any real shape and it looks as if they more or less just fall open in a haphazard way. Something doesn’t need symmetry to be beautiful though, and I do like the contrast between the inside and outside of the petals.

The Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophyllas) has come into full bloom. At least I think so; I just met this plant last year so I’m not that familiar with its growth habits.

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

Speaking of Forsythias, they made it through the storm just fine. They’re blooming as well as I’ve ever seen them this year.

I saw this scene the day after the storm. Most of the spring flowering bulbs came through unscathed.

These tulips made me smile.

The only plants I saw that had suffered from the snow were the hyacinths and they suffered from the weight rather than the cold. Even bent double with their faces in the mud they were still very beautiful.

I know, these aren’t flowers, but they’re so beautiful I had to sneak them in because this beauty is fleeting. The furry seeds (samaras) of the silver maple appear quickly and are furry for just a day or two, so I had to check on them several times to get this photo. I hope you like seeing them as much as I do.

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

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In June our biggest and most beautiful wildflowers come into bloom and, though most wildflowers are now found in sunny pastures and meadows, there are some still blooming in the woods. One of the most notable summer woodland wildflowers is the pink lady’s slipper(Cypripedium acaule.) I can remember when it was hard to find this native orchid but now thankfully they are making quite a good comeback, I think that’s because people realize that they can’t just dig them up and expect them to grow in their gardens. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for them to reproduce. They will die in just a few short years if the fungus isn’t there. 

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. Many different insects pollinate orchids but in lady’s slippers bees do the job. They enter the flower through the center slit in the pouch and once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in.

Once it enters the pouch through the slit seen here there is only one way out for a bee; guide hairs inside the flower point the way to the top of the pouch or slipper, and once the bee reaches the top it finds two holes big enough to fit through. Just above each hole the flower has positioned a pollen packet so once the bee crawls through the hole it is dusted with pollen. The flower’s stigma is also located above the exit holes and if the bee carries pollen from another lady’s slipper it will be deposited on the sticky stigma as it escapes the pouch, and fertilization will have been successful. Isn’t evolution amazing?

At a glance the leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) are often mistaken for those of lady’s slippers, but lady’s slipper leaves are deeply pleated and blue bead lily leaves are not, they’re smooth like those seen here. The two plants like the same conditions and often grow side by side. It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. I like seeing both the flowers and the blue berries that follow them. It’s been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

Every time I look closely at blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) I wonder why they didn’t call it yellow eyed grass, but that’s not all that’s wrong with the name because the plant isn’t a grass at all; it’s in the iris family. Its light, blue green leaves do resemble grass leaves though.

Beautiful little blue eyed grass flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find. I think they must be sun lovers because that’s where I usually find them. Some plants like cool damp weather, but this isn’t one of them.

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 but 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 mowed lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes. I’ve seen several already.

Robin’s plantain has the biggest, most beautiful flower of any of the fleabanes in this area in my opinion.

I’ve never seen germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) bloom like it is this year. All of the sudden  I’m seeing them everywhere and I wonder if they’re becoming invasive. It’s also called bird’s eye speedwell and is another plant introduced from Europe and Asia.

After trying to photograph speedwell flowers that are one step above microscopic the germander speedwell seems gigantic in comparison because of its 3/16 to 1/4 inch flowers. It has the strange habit of wilting almost as soon as it is picked, so it isn’t any good for floral arrangements. Like all the speedwells I’ve seen it has one lower petal smaller than the other three.

So wait just a minute. I just said that “all the speedwells I’ve seen have one lower petal smaller than the other three,” but that can’t be true any longer because the common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) in this photo doesn’t have a smaller petal anywhere. Though I’m sure it’s common speedwell I can’t explain why the flowers would be so different unless the plant is a natural hybrid. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries. Its flowers are about a third the size of a germander speedwell blossom.

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower and each forms its own seed. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval, overlapping leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk. It is an introduced invasive and names like “yellow devil” and “devil’s paintbrush” show what ranchers think of it.

When we move out of the forest to their edges we find sun loving plants like hawthorn, which was in full bloom on this day. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms aren’t much in the way of fragrance because of a compound called trimethylamine, which gives the plant a slightly fishy odor, but they’re big on beauty with their plum colored anthers. They are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today. There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage.

The club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) are very easy to confuse with those of red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but that plant’s flower head is spherical rather than elongated. The flower head of white baneberry is always taller than it is wide and if pollinated the flowers will become white berries with a single black dot on one end. That’s where the common name doll’s eyes comes from. The berries are very toxic and can be appealing to children but luckily they are very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

I find goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis) growing in a meadow in full sun and that single spot is the only place I find them. Goat’s beard flowers close up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify. It is native to Europe but doesn’t seem to be at all invasive here. In fact I often have trouble finding it.

Bridal wreath spirea shrubs (Spiraea prunifolia) are loaded with beautiful flowers right now but I suppose they’re considered old fashioned because you never see them at newer houses. In Greek the word spirea means wreath, but the plant comes from China and Korea. Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune originally found it in a garden in China in the 1800s but it grows naturally on rocky hillsides, where its long branches full of white flowers spill down like floral waterfalls. After seeing the plant pictured it was easy to see why he chose to bring it back on board a ship.

When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one bridal wreath spirea growing in it but now I hardly see them. They’re very pretty, I think.

Lupines found in our meadows and along the roadsides in this part of the state are thought to be a cross between our western lupine (Lupinus polyphyllos) and various European varieties, so they are not native to New Hampshire, but they’re still very beautiful. Our native lupine is the sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis,) which is host to the endangered Karner blue butterfly. Lupines are in the pea family and like white and red clover fix atmospheric nitrogen into a soluble form that can be used by plants. It is said that the lupine has been cultivated for 2000 years or more, beginning in ancient Egypt, because the seed is so high in protein. These are beautiful plants to have in the garden but are very susceptible to aphid attack. 

Native azaleas can be hard to find in this area but I know a few places where I can find the early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum.) Even though it is called early azalea the Rhodora often blooms earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet. Finding a seven foot tall one of these blooming in the woods is something you don’t forget right away, and I think I remember the exact location of every one I’ve ever found. Unfortunately there aren’t many.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers, which you can see here on the buds. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them. It’s a great time to be outside finding beautiful things like these.

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

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Henry David Thoreau once wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that’s what this little two foot tall shrub does each spring, usually in mid to late May. The flowers usually appear just when the irises start to bloom but this year they’re a little early. I often have to search for them on the banks of ponds because they aren’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

The rhodora flower looks like an azalea blossom but it’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

Unfortunately it’s time to say goodbye to the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) I doubt I’ll see them again this year because the sudden hot weather seems to have shortened their bloom time. Out of many thousands of plants that grow in this location this little group were all that was blossoming. I love seeing these pretty little flowers in spring and they’re part of why spring is my favorite season.

It’s also time to say goodbye to the coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) that have bloomed for quite a long time this year. Though many blossoms  in this colony were wiped out when a huge old pine tree fell they’ve cleaned up the tree in time for the coltsfoot leaves to appear. That means they’ll be able to photosynthesize as they normally would,  so I’d guess they’ll all be blooming next year despite of the fallen pine.

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and a colony as big as this one is a beautiful sight. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their striking foliage as the flowers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

The small, numerous flowers of foamflower have 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. It is said that the long stamens are what give foamflowers their frothy appearance, along with their common name. Native Americans used the leaves and roots of foamflower medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “coolwort” because the leaves were also used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

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.

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

I saw a hillside with creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) flowing down it so I had to stop and get a photo. Though few of us think of this plant as a wildflower it is actually native to the forests of North America. It is sometimes called moss phlox or moss pinks and it loves growing in lawns. Luckily it doesn’t seem to mind being mowed and many people wait until it’s done blooming to do their first spring mowing.

Another plant called creeping phlox is Phlox stolonifera that has much the same habit, but it is native only as far north as Pennsylvania. One way to tell them apart is by the darker band of color around the center of the flower; if it is there your plant is Phlox subulata and if it isn’t you have Phlox stolonifera.

It’s lilac time here in New Hampshire and you can find them blooming in almost every yard. Though I like white lilacs I think the favorite by far is the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s also the New Hampshire state flower, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire 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.

As a boy I used to like sucking the sweet nectar out of lilac flowers and after I took this photo I found that I still do. I wish you could have smelled them!

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel which grows to about 6-7 feet in this area. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They do very well in gardens but aren’t well known. I’m seeing more of them now than in the past though.

Nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum) is a little later than the purple trillium and just ahead of the painted trillium. They’re shy little things with flowers that hide beneath the leaves like the mayapple, and this makes them very hard to see. Even though I knew some plants in this group were blossoming I couldn’t see the flowers at all from above. Nodding trillium is the northernmost trillium in North America, reaching far into northern Canada and Newfoundland.

When the buds form they are above the leaves but as they grow the flower stem (petiole) lengthens and bends, so when the flower finally opens it is facing the ground. My favorite thing about the nodding trillium blossom is its six big purple stamens. My least favorite thing is how hard they are to get a good photo of. At barely 6 inches from the ground there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver.

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, like last year, both nodding and painted trilliums are blooming at the same time. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia. I thought this was a rare plant with two flowers but it was actually two plants growing very close together.

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.

A small clump of violets looked like purple butterflies had landed on it. Violets seem to be having a good year. I’m seeing a lot of them.

If you’re tempted to pass by what you think are violets you might want to take a closer look, because beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) are blossoming. Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets has fooled me in the past. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in pairs as can be seen in the photo above. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen. The leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

Fringed polygala blossoms are also called gaywings and it’s easy to see why. They look as if they’re ready to take off. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals for a tube and two of the sepals form little wings. The little fringe at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringe the third sepal drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. I usually find this one in shady, mossy places and I think it prefers moist ground. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. I love to just sit for a while and look at them; they’re one of those beautiful and unusual flowers that I can find myself lost in.

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

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